Sunday, December 21, 2008

I love Christmas. And you probably do as well. I don't imagine I'm alone in my affinity for this time of year.

I'm a nostalgic guy and I spend more than enough time in my head. Thinking about things. Remembering things. People. Sometimes it's the road not taken. Sometimes it's just walking down a road and revisiting old places and people.

What is it about Christmas that finds me more and more inside my head?

We watched A Charlie Brown Christmas a few weeks ago. And I remembered being a kid watching it and feeling sad that I didn't live in a place where there was snow on the ground. Growing up in Florida, we didn't have seasons. There was no fall. And there was no winter. But from my Family Room, ALL Christmases, except for ours, were celebrated in snow. Even McDonald's commercials celebrated winter wonderland scenes as requisite for Christmas.

Ours was warm. Muggy. Humid. Dense.

Which made me think I was missing out. I'm not saying that Charlie Brown and McDonald's are the reason I eventually moved to the northwest, but surely in the recesses of my mind, I unwittingly succumbed to the romanticized version of Christmas I'd been fed by my television.

And yet, snow and icicles, snowmen and roaring fires have as much to do with Christmas, the true reason for Christmas, as Santa Claus and his goofy little reindeer.

Sorry if that pops a balloon.

I was telling some friends the other day that I think I enjoy thinking about going to Disney World almost as much as I enjoy going to Disney World. The times we spend in our house planning a trip, talking about where we want to stay, looking up pictures of different places on line, reading the menus, all of that is a lot of fun. Almost as much as actually being there. Maybe even more so. Because in the planning, there are no tour groups, there is no rain, there is no such thing as favorite ride being rehabbed, your resort's counter service restaurant being reconstructed. Nothing smells bad. In your head, it's ideal. Romantic.

The snow covered Christmas scene in my head is the same way. It's pretty to look at. It evokes images of a warm fire with bulging stockings hanging on the mantle.

That's the romantic vision. The reality is far different. We've been in a snow-covered cold snap now for a week. It's pretty to look at but stressful to contend with. The roads are covered with snow and ice. Which means my car has remained parked and I've been driving Mrs. Z's 4wd SUV. And while I've been able to get where I need to be, my assistant has made only sporadic appearances in the office. Worse still, Mrs. Z and the little Zs have been unable to get out of the house. So I've had to do the shopping. Run the errands. Stand in line at the post office. And while Mrs. Z and the girls have gone with our neighbors to play in the snow in the park, Mrs. Z hasn't been able to attend any of the things she normally does during a week.

ZZUBY and I have been out playing in the snow, sledding off our front hill, down the long sidewalk to the park. Throwing snow balls at de Schpup! And it's all fun. I love that part. But the anxiety about whether a mediation will go forward, whether witness meetings will take place, whether we'll lose power, is lurking somewhere below the surface. As such anxieties often do with me.

So I reckon snow and the winter wonderland really isn't very Christmassy after all.

I'm sad by how far removed from Christmas this time of year has become. ZZUBY and I were in Lowe's last week and all the Christmas stuff was already down. Put up. I reckon when you start selling the stuff in September, by December 15, it's enough already. In other words, Christmas isn't about the celebration of Jesus' birth: it's just a marketing season.

The miracle of Christmas, that God sent His son to be born of a virgin, to be birthed among animals, to live and to die as the sacrifice for our sins. How did this get so mixed up with trees and presents, candy and lights, ornaments and fireplaces and yes, snow? When the story is beautiful and pure, simple and sacred, why did we layer on top of it the things of this earth which couldn't have anything less to do with Jesus?

I'm not anti-tree and I'm not anti-snow, but in the ways we celebrate Christmas, we've got to hearken back to our Savior. His humble birth. His ultimate death for our sins.

The world is spinning faster and faster anymore. There are hundreds of things competing for our attention. But maybe in this time of year, for a few days, we can resist those temptations. Maybe we can locate the sheer wonder and excitement of the shepherds, who upon hearing the good news, "came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger." (Luke 2:16 NASB).

Like us, the shepherds were in a hurry, too. Only they ran to Jesus. And there they found salvation.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Chapter Eight: The Olive Garden is For White Trash

One nice thing about having my own blog, I can say white trash again. For some reason, white trash is banned on the Disboards.

Consider if you will the variety of words which can be posted on those boards.

But white trash is verboten.

That should have been my cue to start a blog.

It's winter here. Where I live. It's winter and there's snow on the ground. On the roof. The trees. The cars. There's a beautiful white blanket covering my yard, my street. My town. Everything looks pretty with snow on it.

But it's cold. And on a night like this when my nose is still cold from the timeI spent outside sledding with ZZUBY and beaming Stafford J. with snowballs, when I sit down in my study and remember those warm September nights in Disney World, I'm unusually nostalgic.

Have I told you of my love for EPCOT at night?

You know what's funny? I don't know why I love EPCOT at night. But I do. I love it at dusk and I love it at night.

Which explains in part why we were having dinner at Tutto Italia. We wanted to enjoy a nice meal in EPCOT and wanted to try someplace new. We originally had an ADR for Coral Reef: the Seafood Restaurant That Doesn't Actually Sell Seafood. Coral Reef is like going to McDonald's to eat a salad. It's like running for president on a platform of change and then getting elected and keeping your predecessor's Secretary of Defense. In other words: stupid. I've heard from some friends that they'd had a nice meal at Coral Reef and it was fun, what with the diver signs and personalized menus. But when we looked more closely at what CR was actually serving, it didn't appeal to us.

Neither does Katie Couric, by the way.

Judging from her ratings, we're not alone.

So then we went searching for another decent place to eat dinner in EPCOT that wasn't fast food and wasn't Le Suckia. Those of you who insist on eating there, admit it: even you don't think it's as good as it used to be.

We almost ate in Japan.

If for no other reason than the sheer comedy of it all.

But alas, even I couldn't bring myself to darken their door again. So to speak.

Mrs. Z wasn't as crazy-go-nuts-for Biergarten as I was. Which is something of an understatement. She enjoyed Biergarten as much as I enjoyed the SEC Championship Game. It'll be awhile before I can bribe her to go back there.

So we decided we'd take a gamble on Tutto Italia.

I don't think I've been in Italy since EPCOT opened. Let's face it, there's not much reason to go to Italy. No ride. Now show. And eating Italian food in EPCOT seems stupid. Like eating a hamburger. Why bother?

I knew a girl in high school, her name was Chandra. She was the kind of person about whom you'd say, "she has no personality." When she walks into a room you think someone just left. I've had sneezes which left a bigger imprint on the world. One time, me and my buddies made a list of people we knew and gave them nicknames. Next to Chandra's name we wrote, "why bother?" Which is roughly the equivalent of eating Italian food in EPCOT.

Tutto Italia wasn't bad. It wasn't like eating at that well-known crapateria, The Olive Garden. Which advertizes, "when you're here, you're family." Which makes me think, "hey, guess what?! I moved 3,000 miles away from my family, so that ain't making me want to eat there anytime soon!" There commercials are as stupid and as insulting as Applebee's. "You belong at Applebees" That's just rude. "You belong at Applebees?" Really?! In other words, the best you're gonna do is some lame ol' riblets and crappy hamburgers. Talk about aiming low.
I'm no fan of The Olive Garden. My favorite thing they serve is salad. And y'all know how I feel about salad. You'll be relieved to find out that Tutto Italia wasn't as bad as The Olive Garden. It has a nice kind of atmosphere. But when you're hot and you've got kids with you, it feels kind of awkward to be in there. I actually thought they were segregating families with kids from normal people until they sat this young, stupid couple next to us. I felt bad for them. Because they got sold a package by some shifty travel agent who oversold them on Disney and Universal tickets. And these two hadn't made any reservations for any restaurants. During Free Dining. Which is why they were at Tutto Italia.
That Tutto Italia is one of the places you can walk up to should tell you all you need to know.
It didn't suck. I want to reiterate that. I don't remember what my entree was but I ordered a Caeser salad and paid a hefty price for a stalk of romaine lettuce drenched under a very out-of-the-bottle dressing. I think with tax, that salad cost me in the neighborhood of $29.

Even now, in the midst of a winter storm as I wistfully remember a warm night in EPCOT, I cannot recall why I ordered a salad before my entree. One can only imagine I must have been plugged up and thought the ruffage would be good for me.

The service was good and the food was middling. Tutto Italia does, however, stock Sweet n'Low, making it the only place on property where I found it. But when Mrs. Z didn't order a drink with dinner and ordered coffee with her dessert, those schmucks tried to charge her.

I said, "HEY! Antonio! We're on the freakin dining plan and it includes a drink."
He said, "It doesn't include coffee."

I said, "Guess again, mojambo. It includes a drink and since she didn't have a drink with dinner, she's having it now. So make with the coffee."

He said, "We're not supposed to do that. But let me see what I can do."

To which I replied, "Tips aren't automatic anymore, so I expect you'll find a way to take care of the coffee."

Turns out we both got free coffee.

Dessert, by the way, was the bomb diggity. Bomb Digg-it-ty! It was so good, that after the first bite I bummed a cigarette off the young, stupid couple sitting next to us.

I had the meanest canole I've ever had. It was pretty dadgum good. It's now my second favorite dessert at Disney World. And while I don't plan to eat another dinner at Tutto Italia, I'll stop by for a canole. Whether they sell it to go or not, I do not know. But I will make them sell me one if I have to. I can be persuasive when I have to be. Or so I tell people.

So now you know that my new favorite dessert is at Ohana. Big surprise. But let me tell you a little bit about our experience there.

I've never wanted to eat at Ohana. I'm not a big Polynesian guy. NOTikiman. I enjoy Kona and I have fond memories of our stay there as children, but it has never been high on my list of places to stay. Ditto: the Beach Club/Yacht Club. I also think Coronado Springs is THE UGLIEST DISNEY RESORT EVER! Seriously, if the only rooms open were at Coronado Springs, we'd either stay off property or not go. If I wanted to stay at a LaQuinta Inn, I'd vacation with the LaLas.

I also hate how people refer to the Polynesian as "the Poly." That is so gay. Not gay meaning Clay Aikenesque, but gay meaning stupid.
Wow! This got un-pc pretty quickly, didn't it?

I like Kona but generally, I think the atmosphere at the Polynesian is pretty schlecky. So Ohana has never been high up on my list of places to try. In case you're wondering, other places I have no designs on trying: Victoria & Alberts, Spoodles (can't get past the gay name), Wolfgang Puck's, Tony's, Maria's, Cathy's, Nancy's or LaShaun's.

I also NEVER plan to eat at Mickey's Backyard Barbecue.

For the obvious reasons.

So how did we end up at Ohana? Our stupid friends, Glenn and Lori. I blame them for everything. Except for global warming. Which is REAL! And a CRISIS!

They suggested Ohana and I thought,"well, how bad can it suck?! They serve meat. I like meat." My expectations were as low as my law school advisor after 6 semesters of advising me. Maybe a touch lower, actually. If that's possible.

We arrived a few minutes early because I hate to be late. The check in area was loud and packed. Which immediately annoyed me. I hate loud and packed. I do NOT belong at Crapplebees. We checked in and found a place to wait for our friends. Who were late.

We didn't have to wait too long; it seems like they seated us within about 10 minutes of our ADR. Or about the time the McBrides showed up.

We were seated somewhere in the dining room. I can't tell you where we were in relation to the food pit or even the windows. Seriously, I was so consumed with hunger, I have no recollection of where we sat. I'm reasonably certain it was inside.

The whole "Ohana means family" schtick is as gay as Olive Garden's "when you're here, you're family." I don't go out to eat to feel a part of a community. I go out to eat to get full, fart and then dump off the excess about 2-4 hours later. I don't need to feel connected to the wait staff.

So don't call me cousin. Or I'll stab you with my steely knife. Or a big spoon. Whatever's handy.

If Mrs. ZZUB is right (and let's face it, she most often is), food is love to me. Which is why I think Ohana is Polynesian for Beat Auburn.

One thing I loved about the place, no sooner had we sat down then they started bringing me food. There was some salad that didn't suck and some pretty good bread. And then the noodles and the meat. And then some peapods. ZZUB loves him some pea pods. And then more meat.
Good night nurse! They kept brining us meat!

Mrs. Z was busy catching up with Lori and I think Glenn was trying to talk football but all I could hear was, "More steak?" The answer to that question is always yes!

It was so freakin' good that Ohana was and is the ONLY time it's correct to say, IT'S ALL GOOD!


It was so good, I didn't even care that Ohana looks like Obama.

I was knocking on full and a little voice told me to save some room.

So I did.

And oh my lands am I ever glad I saved space.

Because the banana bread pudding was THE BEST FREAKING' THING I'VE EVER HAD AT DISNEY WORLD!

I never thought I'd say this and even now I can't believe I'm writing it, but it was better than Butter Grilled Pound Cake.

It doesn't sound very good and I was pretty skeptical when other people talked it up. Bread pudding sounds like something they serve at a homeless shelter. Or a middle school cafeteria. But the banana bread pudding at Ohana was like beating Auburn 36-0 and getting Tommy Tutone fired. It was like finding out that for just $50,000 I could be the next junior senator from Illinois. Like paying for 4 days and getting 3 days free. Like having your office Christmas party cancelled so you don't have to go and spend an insufferable evening with people you spend too much time with anyway. Like throwing a shoe at George W. Bush. Like eating at a really expensive restaurant and expensing it back to your firm. Like $1.68 a gallon gas. Like getting bumped to first class. It was like everything I wrote about Butter Grilled Pound Cake. And it was like having your Trip Report locked so that you finally start your own blog.

In other words, it was very good.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Welcome to ZZUB's World

Well then. It is Update Monday after all. And a little reshuffling shouldn't stop an update, now should it? Only I think before I continue The Battle For My Wallet VI: The Trip Report That Isn't a Trip Report, I should clear the air.

Which is a funny expression for a guy like me.

On account of the whole Teppanyaki incident.

And my penchant for unleashing the power. You've got to love a blog which begins with farting.

Let me dispense with the questions many of you are asking, "What happened and why was your Trip Report moved and then locked?" The answer: I DON'T KNOW.

While I obviously didn't agree with the decision to move, then lock, my Trip Report, I respect that I'm not the one making the decisions at the Disboards. And because I'd like to be able to continue visiting there and because I'd like for you to be able to as well, we won't be talking any more about it. So let's move on.

I'm here now. And I hope you'll be here too. Please feel free to add your comments to the stuff that's posted. I welcome and invite comments from friends new and old. I reckon there ought to be some clearly defined ground rules. So here they are: no cussing. Feel free to express your wit in any way you see fit, but be advised that attacks on my faith, my family, my alma mater and my dog will not be tolerated.

In all seriousness, I’d like to keep it clean. Unless your mom is Pamela Anderson, guide yourself by this rule: would you want your mom to read this?

I plan to continue writing Battle VI and I will most likely continue posting updates every other week, usually on a Monday morning. I'll have my next chapter posted next Monday. Because I know y'all are itching to find out whether it was Ohana or Tutto Italia that made our socks go up and down. Plus, how can you sleep until you find out which Disney Dessert I would be willing to serve in an Obama Administration for.

One more thing, there's no farting head on a moped here. Which is a crying shame. So I'll have to end my posts with a Z. Which, as you know, is better than an X.