Life with Father (and Mother)

The loins of my fruitEvery year for the past several years, my parents have made the 12-hour drive from their home in North Alabama to Central Florida during the month of December, ostensibly to spend a week with their favorite (and only) son. This past December was no exception.

If you ever want to get a glimpse of why you are the way you are, just get in a room with your ancestry for about a week. It will either be sobering or fun. In the case of my parents, it’s always the latter.

They both have a wonderful sense of humor and love to remember the amusing things that have happened over the course of their years together. There is no dearth of stories to tell and they still love to tell them, lo these many years hence.

Although thankfully my dad has mellowed over the years as far as being a practical joker, he still loves to tell how he played a trick on my mother while they were stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey (pre me). Here’s how it generally goes:

“I sat her down in the middle of the floor and gave her a fork; I had a glass of water and a towel. I poured the water on the floor in front of her between her legs and told her I bet I could wipe it up before she could stab me with the fork.

“Once she agreed to take me up on it, I got down in position. I said ‘Ready?’ She raised her fork and said ‘Ready’. I then grabbed her by the ankles and pulled her through the puddle of water.”

She didn’t stab him with the fork, although I’m sure there isn’t a jury alive who would have found her guilty if she had.

MaracasThen there was the time we were coming out of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry when I was a teenager. A guy was sitting on the steps of the museum playing a tune on a small woodwind instrument.

“What’s that guy playing?” my dad asked.

“That’s a recorder,” I replied.

“No – I’m pretty sure he’s really playing it,” he replied in all seriousness.

Explains a whole lot about me…

Anyway, the Lounge doesn’t host many visitors (if one doesn’t count the lizards and the occasional mosquito squadron) so, due to my high tolerance for clutter and grime, the only room I keep in show-ready condition is the living room, just in case someone from Publishers Clearing House shows up on my doorstep with that big check for a million dollars. So when the ‘rents come a-calling a flurry of good housekeeping ensues.

After the requisite week-long cleaning and deodorizing assault on the Lounge prior to their arrival, I was down to the home stretch the Saturday morning they were supposed to get here, with only toilet-scrubbing and kitchen-mopping left on the checklist. My mom called around 11:00 that morning telling me they would be there in two hours – easily enough time to get done what I had left to get done.

I was standing there in my boxer shorts and socks, the still-dry mop in hand, when they walked in an hour later.

“You’re early.”

“I know – we made good time.”

“You’re early.”

“Traffic wasn’t bad at all.”

“You’re early.”

Once that bit of truth was firmly established, I suggested that I go get dressed. Of course, they’ve both seen me naked but it’s been more than 50 years, so…ewww. As I headed off to find some pants, I warned, “Don’t look at the floor.” (No doubt the first thing they did was look.)

Once I was clothed and we had hugs all around, we launched head-first into a week-long whirlwind of music, buffets, and Disney magic, despite their (our) advanced ages.

First on the agenda were two performances of my church’s Christmas program, with Sunday School and a Chinese buffet in between. Since I haven’t been a Christian, much less a church-goer, for very long, this is a fairly new addition to our December visit. And I must say, we put on a pretty amazing program at First Baptist Church at the Mall, complete with choir, full orchestra (with me at the piano), costumes, lighting, and theatre (I also wrote the dramatic presentation for this year’s performance). Being lovers of music, in addition to being lovers of me, my parents thoroughly enjoyed the program, almost as much as they enjoyed the Chinese buffet.

They’re kind of Chinese buffet royalty. I hear they even have their own table at the one in their small town in Alabama. I can only imagine the numerous paddies worth of fried rice and droves of sweet-n-sour pork they’ve scarfed down over the years. They avow that the buffet we always frequent after church isn’t as good as the one back home, but I’ve never seen anybody push away from the table hungry. Just saying…

An additional perk of their visit has always been spending several days at the Walt Disney World® Resort, although for some time now I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that seeing Disney is actually the whole point of the trip, with seeing me being merely the additional perk. (Sort of like the little moist towelette that comes with your meal at the rib place even after you’ve licked your fingers clean and don’t really need it.) They’ll tell you otherwise, but they also tend to cheat at miniature golf, so it’s hard to trust them. More on that later.

So, as we have for the past eight years, we spent the rest of the week at Disney, where we enjoyed our favorite attractions, shows, and holiday events at each of the four theme parks.

Rather than give a ride-by-ride account of our romp through the 47 square miles, four theme parks, and at least one of the miniature golf courses of the Walt Disney World® Resort, I’ll just hit a couple of highlights (skipping the endless buffet tour as well).

Although my parents are more “show” people than “ride” people, each year we wait in the longest line in the free world (except for the line at the grocery store when chicken is on sale) to ride Soarin’™, a ride that lifts multiple rows of seats up in the air in a simulated hang-gliding trip over California, complete with the wind in your air and whatever aromas one might encounter sailing over the various vistas of the Eureka state (pine forests, orange blossoms, or sea air). My mother always lets loose a little squeal of delight when the ride mechanism first hoists us up in the air. (I like to think that’s the same squeal she emitted when she first saw me.)

At some point during the week we also catch a performance of the Candlelight Processional at Epcot®, a presentation featuring choir, orchestra, and celebrity narrator telling the Christmas story through traditional carols and the story of Jesus’s birth from the Bible. This year’s narrator was Lorraine Bracco of The Sopranos fame.

Although we love the music, especially the finale performance of “Hallelujah!” from Handel’s Messiah, we all admit to being fascinated by the sign language interpreter. Depending on the individual interpreter, the signing of the lyrics of the carols in time to the music is more like ballet than mere communication, with majestic, sweeping motions and engaging, almost angelic, facial expressions. After the performance, we all give our evaluation: “She was OK, but she wasn’t as good as that guy last year…etc.”, as though we are the American Idol judges for sign language interpreters.

CheaterFinally, we always make time to compete against each other in the “Elderly Open”, our own annual miniature golf classic at Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course.

The golf course is designed to look like an elf-sized vacation spot, with one half depicting Santa and the elves vacationing in Florida (the Summer course) and the other depicting a golf course at the North Pole (the Winter course). We always play the Winter Course.

I was actually joking above when I said they cheat, since I’m always the one stuck with keeping score; however, I don’t understand how one or the other of them always manages to win. They may be old people, but they can both knock a purple or green golf ball over the little lift bridge and through the blades of the windmill into that little hole with alarming accuracy. If it wasn’t for watching them get sprayed with water when the snowman squirts it out of his carrot nose I wouldn’t continue to put myself through the humiliation of playing with them.

Anyway, we always have a lot of fun and I’m always sad to see them go (and not just because they always pick up the tab and let me drive their new keyless Nissan). They’re fun and laugh at all my jokes and love me with unabashed ferocity.

Can’t beat that. Even if they do cheat…

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Plum Tuckered out

(As an added bonus, there will be a little surprise at the end of this post for he who perseveres to the end…)

The only thing that can make a visit to a Disney theme park even more fun is to take someone who hasn’t been. And if those someones played a key role in the most significant event in your life, then even better.

In front of the Tree of LifeRecently, Johnny and Judy Tucker (or Bro. Johnny and Mrs. Judy if you’re an old Southern Baptist boy like me) visited Central Florida and gave me the chance to spend time with them and host them as my guests at some of the theme parks of the Walt Disney World® Resort. Bro. Johnny’s father pastored the church in which I grew up in North Alabama, so the Tuckers and I have a long history. Bro. Johnny is a full-time evangelist and Judy helps manage the daily working of his ministry, whether traveling with him domestically or abroad on mission trips to the Philippines or Guatemala.

They started their week in Orlando by joining me for church on Sunday morning, after which we made short shrift of Ling’s Buffet, a local favorite for Asian cuisine. From conversations we’ve had since, both were hits: starting with my pastor for presenting God’s word with his usual veracity and ending with Ling’s.

Biblical truth and fried rice make a great combination.

In addition to the abundant selection of sushi and stir fried delicacies at Ling’s, we also played “spot the white beard”. You’d be surprised at how many we saw in one lunch period. (I got the impression Bro. Johnny would love to sport a face full of whiskers but his mama won’t let him.)

The next morning, I used my entrance pass to get them into the Magic Kingdom® Park for the day, after which I went on in to work. (There’s something so wrong about the end of that sentence…) They had been to the Magic Kingdom before, but I still left them with a few suggestions of some things I thought they would enjoy. They also hopped on the monorail and traveled the highway in the sky to Epcot® for part of the day. From what I understand (as I, of course, was toiling away at work while they played and wasn’t actually there to witness it) they had a great time.

A Day at Disney

Komodo dragonWednesday I met them at their resort in nearby Kissimmee. After a quick breakfast, we started the morning at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park. Our first stop was to see Festival of the Lion King in the Camp Minnie-Mickey section of the park. This colorful and energetic production features a quartet of human singers who perform most of the songs from the movie The Lion King along with a huge cast of dancers, acrobats, and stilt-walkers dressed in stylized animal costumes. As is typical with anyone I take to Animal Kingdom, the show was a highlight of the day.

The rest of our day in the park was spent watching the various species of animals, eating ribs and barbecued chicken, and enjoying Finding Nemo – The Musical.

A couple of events tend to stand out, though…

While taking one of the self-guided animal tours in the park, Judy and I both got a little present in the bird enclosure from one of its feathered denizens. Either he couldn’t make it to the little bird’s room in time or it was just his way of saying “howdy”, but out of the blue something warm and sticky hit my shoulder and then ricocheted off and landed on Judy’s foot. From the looks of things, it appeared as though the bird had eaten biscuits and gravy with asparagus shortly before we arrived. And, of course, I was wearing a black shirt.

I managed to tidy up in one of the nearby water fountains, but I’m sure I heard some birds giggling behind their wings afterward.

JT and the monkeyLater, we had to drag Bro. Johnny out of the gorilla house. He and one of the gorillas seemed to make some sort of male-bonding connection – or maybe he just wanted to share the leaves he was munching on (the gorilla, not Bro. Johnny).

Although the day was hot and we ended up “plum Tuckered out”, we still found the energy to have a long and deep philosophical discussion back at their condo (one of my favorite things to do). It was a great day and we had a most delightful visit.

This was actually the second year we were able to spend some time together at Disney. A little history on that…

On the Road – the Wrong One

Just a skosh over a year ago in June of 2010, I was hurtling hard and fast down the “path that evil men have trod”, as Job so poetically described it. Even though I was a nice guy and may not have seemed as evil as, say, Mr. Osama Bin Laden, I was every bit as lost and bound for hell. During the preceding four or five months, God, in His unfathomable love, eternal patience, and amazing grace, had begun to make me keenly aware just how lost and hell-bound I was. You see, I had been pinning my hopes for eternity on an experience I had when I was nine years old, an experience that, as it turns out, had pretty much been exposed as null and void based on the life I had led since then.

Coincidentally though, the Tuckers gave me a call right about that time (after not being in touch with me for several years) to tell me that, coincidentally, they were going to be in Central Florida and, coincidentally, would like to have breakfast with me.

The date of their visit coincided – coincidentally – with my nearing the breaking point on that colossal internal tug-o’-war I was having between continuing on in my current lost and lonely life or doing a total about-face and surrendering all that I had – heart, soul, and mind – to God. (You know, saying it like that makes it seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? However, the tug-o’-war side rooting for lost and lonely had somehow managed to make a compelling case for suppressing that conviction for change for a lot of years.)

Hopefully you’ve figured out the ending by now; events that line up so beautifully that only a sovereign God could orchestrate them are no coincidence.

Although, as the old hymn goes, “I Love To Tell the Story” because it speaks to the depths to which God will go to keep someone from being cut off from Him for eternity, I’ll cut to the chase (especially since that morning in June was months and years in the making). Suffice it to say that my (now) Heavenly Father arranged for me to have a breakfast date with Johnny and Judy Tucker, two of His kind, compassionate servants, at the moment of my greatest need; folks who, after that breakfast, sat under a shady arbor at one of the Disney resorts and held my hand; supplied me with tissues, answers, words of encouragement, and prayer; and became salt and light for me, leading me to accept Jesus as my Savior that morning.

God could have sent anyone to be His ambassadors that day; but, in His sovereign wisdom, He chose to send Bro. Johnny and Mrs. Judy Tucker, people I trusted and respected. And the cool thing was, they had no idea they had arranged a date to guide me to salvation. They were just planning to have breakfast.

They will always be special and precious to me because of that morning, and I count them among my greatest friends and as extended family members.

Free to All

Even though the who, what, when, and where of my personal salvation experience are unique to me, the gift of salvation by God’s grace is not – anyone can have it. Plus, there are no pre-conditions you have to meet. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been through tremendous and amazing change since I became a Christian, but God didn’t ask me to make those changes before He would consider saving me; He took me right where I was.

No doubt you’re familiar with verse 16 in the third chapter of the Gospel of John in the Bible. (Even if you’re not familiar with the verse, you’ve probably seen someone holding up a sign at a sporting event with “John 3:16” written on it in big letters.) In that verse, John tells us that God loves us so much – all of us, whether we’re nice girls who love puppies and kittens or bad guys who do their best to destroy others (like the now deceased Mr. Osama Bin Ladin) – that He provided a way for us to escape an eternity in the torment of hell paying for our sinful nature. He sent someone to die in our place, as our proxy; and not just any someone, but His son, the only one who could possibly manage to live a sinless, perfect life here on Earth.

That act of dying as me and as you was a gift – there were not strings attached. John tells us that anyone who believes that Jesus died for them and accepts that free gift will live for eternity in God’s presence. It doesn’t say that anyone who first gives up drinking, or cheating on his taxes, or gossiping about her co-workers, or sleeping around and then believes that Jesus died for them will spend eternity with God. In John’s own (inspired) words, he simply says:

“…anyone who believes in Him will not die but have eternal life.” (NIRV)

There are no other conditions listed. That’s grace, pure and simple.

If you haven’t received that gift, leave a comment and let me know – I’ll be glad to share what I know and help you find the resources for the rest.

Bonus

As promised, here is your bonus for reading to the end. As we were making our way through the Africa section of Animal Kingdom, we stopped to watch a group of musicians and dancers perform. To encourage a little audience participation, one of the guys circulated through the audience grabbing poor souls who were unable to protest enough to avoid public humiliation. Unlike me, Judy was able to elude capture, but she didn’t waste any time kicking her camera into video mode.

Although my performance went on for what seemed like hours, fortunately her camera only had enough memory to capture these few seconds of me shaking my groove thang:


What can I say? When the big guy grabs your wrist and says “dance!”, you dance…

A view from the ridge

Bok Tower - with marginPicture a mountain (albeit not a really tall mountain) crowned with a graceful pink and gray marble Gothic revival and art deco tower rising 450 feet above sea level (exactly like the one to the left); replete with carved images of birds, fish, and animals; and surrounded by a moat whose denizens include swans and Koi, all part of the flora and fauna of the beautiful gardens completing this grand, yet idyllic, locale.

Add a princess with really long hair and you got yourself the setting for a real-life fairytale – or an animated Disney movie.

Actually, Bok Tower and the associated gardens are kind of fairytale-ish, although the tower is home to a 60-bell carillon instead of a hirsute heroine. Located in nearby Lake Wales, Florida, the tower and gardens are the early 20th century creation of Edward Bok, then editor of the Ladies Home Journal, and sit atop Iron Mountain, one of the highest points in the Florida peninsula.

Iron Mountain sits pretty much smack in the middle of the “Ridge” in Central Florida which, due to its elevation, is home to more that 40 rare species of plants and animals, several of which are showcased in the gardens. In fact, if you type in “florida map” in Google Maps, set it to satellite view, and zoom in until you have three-quarters of the peninsula on screen, you can plainly see the light tan ridge running pretty much in a straight line from around Clermont down to below Lake Wales. (And you thought all we had was beaches and Disney World.)

The gardens themselves also have quite an impressive pedigree, being the design of noted landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead, famous for his work on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the White House grounds, and the Biltmore Estate.

On a recent warm and sunny morning, my friend Greg, his mother Vivian, and I made our way through the orange groves up Iron Mountain for a stroll among the gardens and grounds of Bok Tower Gardens. With his and his lovely wife Sharon’s membership (Sharon unfortunately had to work that morning), Greg can bring in two additional guests. Mrs. Vivian and I were more than happy to play the part of Guest #1 and Guest #2 that day.

SwanWe wound our way through the gardens, enjoying the azaleas and camellias in bloom and the huge variety of bromeliads. Greg and I also munched on some of the tangerines, kumquats, and loquats we pilfered while exploring the grounds of Pinewood Estates, a Mediterranean-style mansion located on the grounds of the garden. (Mrs. Vivian, recovering from a recent knee surgery, enjoyed a rest on a shady bench while we wandered and harvested – we brought her some of our forbidden fruit, though. Greg and I were kind of like the snake in the Garden of Eden, although I’m pretty sure the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil tasted a lot better than those tart tangerines.)

At Greg’s assurance that the round, brown seeds from my loquat nosh would one day become trees, I kept a couple of them and planted them in a pot back at the house. From the looks of things, though, it appears as though it will be next spring – or the next – before there’s anything to report regarding loquat trees on the grounds of the Lounge.

Missing from the photos in this post, of course, is any actual evidence of the three of us being there. I come by that naturally, I’m afraid.

When I was young and armed with my trusty Kodak Instamatic, I was known for bringing home rolls of film from our family vacations with none of my family pictured. This used to aggravate my mother to no end, and she would make me take at least a couple of pictures with people in them just so there would be proof we were actually at the Grand Canyon.

My explanation was that I knew what my parents and sister looked like and didn’t want to waste any of the 24 pictures on that roll on those familiar faces – what I really wanted was a good unobstructed shot of Niagara Falls or the Sears Tower. However, with the advent of digital photography and a quantity of photos limited only by ones storage media, I’ve embraced the concept of friends and loved ones in my photos, even though that isn’t evident in any of the ones that are part of this post.

On the other hand, Greg and his mom might not have wished to be immortalized here on the pages of “Live from the Lizard Lounge”, so I’ll just let the swans, azaleas, and Rapunzel’s tower be the stars of this post.

So even though the photos don’t attest to it, we had a lovely day, topping it off with a late lunch accompanied by a brief tussle for a to-go package of cheese biscuits. I felt compelled to let Greg win – after all, he had just graciously hosted me in my visit up on the Ridge.

Besides, he was surprisingly strong for man who had just eaten his fill of cheese and white flour…

Azaleas

Fall in

Fallen

You can keep your turning leaves and “autumn-in-the-air” feelings – just give me fall in Florida. I know our temperatures in the 80s during the day and 60s at night may seem more like summer where some of you are from, but here in Central Florida we’re starting to wear long sleeves around the house and see if our sweaters are still in fashion after being relegated to the back of the closet for the past several months.

This is weather that begs for open windows, inviting those balmy breezes visiting from the coast to empty the house of pent-up, conditioned air. Shelves are just begging to be prowled in hopes of finding a favorite book to sit and read or re-read on the porch.

Outdoor chores can be put on hold, even skipping a weekend (or two) mowing the yard. No one will notice – or care.

This is weather for homemade soup, hot cereal, baked squash, and sweet potatoes. The grill even invites you to hang out and enjoy the smoky aromas without being forced to escape indoors to avoid the combined bane of fire and humidity.

And then there are the sunsets – brilliantly-hued displays replete with crepuscular rays highlighting the fallen Florida sky. (Sunset photo taken by my multi-talented friend, John Pricone.)

If you’ve never been to Central Florida in October, start planning next year’s trip. If you’re a theme park fan, you’ll find lower room rates and fewer guests competing for a ride on Space Mountain. If you love the pool or beach, you’ll find the weather to be perfect for dips in either.

So what’re you waitin’ for? Fall in…

Of gardens and galleries

The boys

Monorail and gardensRecently, George – my trusty partner in crime and dining – and I made an excursion to the 17th annual Epcot® International Flower & Garden Festival, with an appearance later that evening at Gallery Q in Orlando for the opening of artist and friend Keith Theriot and three other talented local artists entitled “Our Tribes”. From garden to gallery, it was a splendid day.

Unlike our visit to the Epcot® Food & Wine Festival, where George and I just ate our way around World Showcase (twice), our excursion to the Flower & Garden Festival is actually something that’s kinda sorta related to the overarching theme of “Live from the Lizard Lounge”, as both the festival (totally) and this blog (partly) are about flowering and gardening.

PurpleAbove and beyond its usual botanic splendor, the park is particularly awash with agronomical grandeur during the festival, with lusher-than-usual planting beds and Disney character topiaries arranged throughout in whimsical themed tableaux, courtesy of partners Mother Nature and the Disney horticultural team.

Additionally, guests at the festival can hear and see demonstrations by various gardeners of note and horticultural specialists on topics ranging from successful herbal gardening to creating backyard water features. In fact, I’ve already made plans to return the weekend of May 14-16 to hear Ahmed Hassan, host of HGTV’s Yard Crashers, present information on landscaping.

Garden gnomeAnd, of course, there’s shopping (it’s Disney – there’s always merchandise). My favorite piece of festival bling available for purchase was a pink lawn flamingo fashioned after the animated flamingos in Disney’s Fantasia 2000 – only these are wearing mouse ears. If I didn’t think my neighbors would hate me…

As always, George was on the prowl for a new bonsai (don’t ask – it’s an obsession with him). To that end, we stopped at a couple of kiosks on the World Showcase promenade and interviewed a few bonsai, but none of them fit the measurements of the plant stand that would be its home in George’s apartment or his strict standards for poise and appearance.

Me and the Tree 2However, once we finally made our way around the promenade to the Japan pavilion and entered Mitsukoshi, the Epcot® branch of the Tokyo-based department store, George was in mini-tree heaven. We made our way past the selection of kimonos and sake sets to the back of the store where there was no dearth of bonsais available for purchase – and I dare say we touched and felt them all. George would lift one up and look under its hood (I’m assuming to be sure its undergrowth was in good condition and not to determine whether it was a boy or a girl) and then I would hold it up while he measured the pot it was in – and then we would move on to the next one. This went on for a while…

The selection at Mitsukoshi was pretty comprehensive and offered a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices of plants; but since George has a track record of keeping a bonsai alive for only about 2 years, $24 seemed to be the limit of how much he wanted to spend. (That comes out to about a dollar per month until its inevitable demise – a fair price, you must agree.)

Wrapping the treeDaisy toastsAll of the Cast Members who work in the international pavilions in Epcot® are actually citizens of the sponsoring country in the U.S. on a one-year work Visa. The beautiful young Japanese women who assisted us were pleasant and helpful with lovely names (at least they were lovely to me, citizen of a country where girls are named Tiffany and Apple). “Saori” rang George’s purchase up while “Nikona” deftly packaged the plant securely in a cardboard box and then in a double bag so that it would survive the rest of the evening in a crowded theme park with as little stress and damage as possible. In other words, it was heavy and ungainly and George and I were the ones stressed and damaged after spending the rest of the trip around the promenade taking turns toting the bulkily bundled bonsai.

After stopping along the way for a few good unobstructed shots of some of the neat topiaries (my favorite being Daisy Duck toasting a giant marshmallow on a stick over a campfire), we left the festival to enjoy a filling dinner and then wended our way to Keith’s art opening in downtown Orlando.

The artistKeith is a très talentueux artiste (and equally talented at envisioning the best way to hang and display art at a gallery), and this particular showing at Gallery Q was no exception. The four artists represented at the gallery displayed a captivating diversity of styles, and the eclectic crowd of supporters and art aficionados had both an artistically edifying and socially enjoyable evening.

Afterward, I hung around for a bit to help the artists clean up the tons of spent wine glasses and leftover hors d’œuvres – all of which they themselves prepared and provided.

To quote Stephen Sondheim, “Art isn’t easy.” But it certainly was stunning.

A jug of wine, a crème brûlée, and thou beside me…

The boys and the ball

Although digging, painting, planting, and building are definitely staples of life here at the Lizard Lounge, occasional field trips with the intent to explore one of the numerous attractions offered in Central Florida make for a nice respite from chores (even though those chores come with a certain reward). Such was the evening George and I recently spent at the 2009 Epcot® International Food & Wine Festival, an annual offering of the Walt Disney World® Resort.

A staple of the Epcot® fall season for the past 13 years, the festival features a park chock full of eats and drinks as well as opportunities for shopping and “info-tainment” centered around the food and wine theme, such as wine tastings and presentations by celebrity and master chefs and sommeliers.

Alas poor lambchop - I knew ye wellThe festival also features a nightly concert series, cleverly called the “Eat to the Beat!” Concert Series. As in previous years, this year’s series features a diverse lineup of musical acts, including Starship, Boyz II Men, and Sister Sledge. The evening George and I were there, we (briefly) enjoyed the music of pop/jazz group, Spyro Gyro.

Despite his prep school figure, George is a ravenous eater, definitely the ideal guest for an event such as the Food & Wine Festival. Following his nose for ferreting out morsels of culinary heaven, he and I noshed our way around the World Showcase lagoon, stopping every few feet or so to sample appetizer-sized portions of tasty treats and beverages from dozens of individual kiosks showcasing a planet’s worth of international cuisine. In addition to the 11 countries with permanent pavilions in the park, the festival imports unique offerings from non-represented countries such as Brazil, South Africa and Australia.

Dusty taking a biteWe had Seared Beef Tenderloin with Sweet Potato Purée and Mango Barbecue Sauce from the Cape Town, South Africa kiosk; Grilled Lamb Chop in a Red Wine Sauce from the Melbourne, Australia kiosk; Maple Glazed Salmon with Lentil Salad from the Montreal, Canada kiosk (just me); and Crème Brûlée au Chocolat au Lait from the Paris, France kiosk (just George). Of course, each of these dishes was paired with an appropriate beverage selection.

Every year, we experience a treat so sumptuous that George literally drags me back around the promenade for a repeat helping. Such was the case with the Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with a Bailey’s Ganache from the Cork, Ireland kiosk. Picture, if you will, an individual chocolate cake with a gooey chocolate center, plated and smothered in a rich, chocolate sauce spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream. (I’m picturing it right now.) Trust me when I tell you it was magically delicious.

Of course, by the time we made the 1.3 mile trip back around the World Showcase promenade to the Cork kiosk (and stopped to window shop in the Mitsukoshi Department Store for Bonsai trees, another of George’s consumer weaknesses) all of our indulgences had caught up with us, so we just stood and winsomely watched ladle after ladle of ganache being drizzled over chocolatey lava cakes and ended up settling for coffee in Norway, ending our evening out watching the sun set over the lake.

Yep – we’ll definitely do that again next year.

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