Monday, July 11, 2005

We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Program: I Fell for Flo

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Okay, where was I before my Vegas/Jewish weddings post interrupted me...?

Oh, yes, a well-planned-out trip by hubby and Pearl trying to rain on his parade for several months...

In any case, that binder with its dividers worked well -- except when it came to all the Kosher food establishments that hubby had printed off the Internet for the region. Just about every place we called had a number that was no longer in service, or the number had been changed. When we called the new number, THAT was no longer in service.

One day we traveled about 45 minutes away from Universal Studios to a place where they carried Kosher groceries and frozen meats and bread. In fact, the day before, the store's proprietor had traveled 4 hours away to Miami to bring back Kosher bread to sell. We were looking to buy food for Shabbat, and we hadn't realized just how difficult it was to find Kosher "real food" in the Kissimmee region.

Of course, we'd come loaded down with tuna, peanut butter, crackers and some other canned goods, dishes, cutlery, a 2-burner stove, sandwich maker, etc., but we thought we'd have an easy time of finding Kosher groceries.

People, Kissimmee is not Miami. We did have a Kosher restaurant nearby that charged BIG BUCKS for lousy food. We ate there the first night, but after seeing the menu, the place and the service, we were tempted to walk out. But because we didn't want to impress total negativity around our young and impressionable children, we stayed and paid to the nose for our food, which was not worth a quarter of the price that five meals cost.

We hauled around sandwiches and bottled water and snacks whatever day trips we took. For once I actually wished I wasn't Kosher and didn't have to shlep all this stuff with us down South. More than anything, for two weeks I yearned for pizza from the pizza parlor down the street from where I live; okay, so in an earlier post, I condemned all the fast-food joints around me, and here I wanted a Kosher fast-food item.

In the Publix supermarkets or Super-Wal-Mart stores near our hotel we could not find Kosher hard cheese or kosher frozen products really, except for vegetarian cutlets, which we bought. Yes, there are so many more Kosher products overall in the U.S. than in Canada, but to my surprise, many were missing in action!

Perhaps for that reason regarding Kosher food being sparse in the region, I only saw a handful of obviously frum people while were in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. I wear short sleeves, short skirts or longer shorts, so I'm not obviously frum-looking. My daughter wears shorts and tank tops, so she too does not portray obviously frum, nor do my husband or sons, as they wear the same t-shirts and shorts and baseball caps that thousands of other males wear. Their tzitzit are not always hanging out, either.

But I saw teenage girls with sleeves down to there, skirts down to there. I was "chaleshing" (feeling weak) from the heat as I was dressed; I felt it even more for these girls!

Okay, so there may not be countless obvious-looking Jews floating around these parks and other attractions we visited (besides, it was June, not December school break), but as I said earlier, there were countless other religious folks. Even if people sported tattoos and some multiple ear piercings, or nose or chin or lip piercings, they also sported crosses around their necks.

So picture this: religious, FAT people with tattoos on their backside (yes, Doctor Bean, this time I do mean "backside"), crosses around their necks, sitting at a table with a cardboard packet of fries and a juicy burger in front of them. Oh ya, many are not wearing hats, so their heads must be frying, just as mine did that one afternoon, and I begin to wonder if they're even wearing suncream...

And then it starts to rain in the park, and people act as if they've never seen rain -- okay, so it's coming down in buckets for 15-20 minutes and it is unpleasant a bit (although we preferred to call it "refreshing" in light of the heat). People run into stores to buy overpriced ponchos for $6 (we bought ours at Wal-Mart for 97 cents) or umbrellas for $15. And after the rains stop, some of these same people in these new rain ponchos of theirs go on water-based rides WEARING these ponchos, hoping not to get wet! How stupid is that?

I generally dislike amusement park rides, but I welcomed these water-based rides. They were FUN, a good outlet for playful screams, FUN, sometimes a bit scary, get the picture. I certainly did not wear a poncho on any of them. Okay, so I toted along extra clothes for my kids if they were uncomfortable walking around the park afterwards in wet or just damp clothes (more likely wet), but the heat would dry you off soon enough.


Americans are truly patriotic people--a flag in front of just about every house we passed. And on July 4th, as we stood at Universal's CityWalk area by a lagoon with thousands of people watching fireworks over the water (the display delayed by 45 minutes due to Mother Nature's own version of fireworks: thunder, lightning and rain) that were magnificent, we felt patriotic, too. I thought of American soldiers and U.S. independence, I thought of the myriad natives and tourists standing side by side watching the sky light up with tame fireworks, not bombs. And I think I understood what July 4th, President's Day (aside from great store sales!), Thanksgiving, etc. mean to the American people.


In Ontario, and perhaps in other Canadian provinces, we have laws to wear helmets while riding motorcycles. Throughout Florida and in some other states we traversed, it was obvious this law is not shared. I'm not used to seeing motorcyclists and their passengers without helmets; to me, it's the equivalent of not buckling up in a car...also a law.

I think that a helmet-wearing law should be passed in every state. After all, better safe than sorry...or STUPID!


There is lots more I could share with you about our trip, but I'll quit while I'm ahead. If any of you have questions about specific places we visited (aside from the parks, the Orlando Science Center, Gatorland, Cocoa Beach, we drove our own airboat in a swamp/creek), write to me and I'll be happy to share my knowledge with you.

I will just end with these thoughts.

Just before we left, a friend asked if each of my kids was bringing along a camera. We hadn't thought of it and rushed out to buy them disposable cameras. Yesterday, we printed the boys' film (my daughter hadn't yet finished her roll), as well as those films from my and my husband's cameras. It was fun to look at the pictures, and as parents we also kvelled to see the quality of photos that the boys took, and their unique take on some of the subjects they photographed. I bought the kids photo albums in which to display their holiday pictures, and my oldest, who went off to day camp today, happily and proudly toted along his album to show his friends his pictures of Jaws -- from the park ride -- and T-Rexs at the park, and alligators and crocodiles, flamingos and a shark we watched being caught, etc. His personal touch was imprinted on every one of his photos.

Traveling as we did -- in a van, with borrowed personal DVD player and a TV/DVD player on which my kids watched DVDs and played GameCube -- is not how I recall traveling as a child through NY state, NJ, Pennsylvania, Illinois or down to Alabama. Something (a youthful innocence, perhaps?) was definitely lost, and every now and again, we had to remind the kids to look out the window instead of at the movie screens in front of them. My five-year-old pleased me when he got the hang of it and several times shouted out to his older brother, "A., there's some scenery. Let's look at the scenery!"

I hope that the scenery that passes by your car/van windows is as beautiful as some of the scenery that passed by our van window. After all, scenery helps make up the stuff that memories are made of.

Viva Las Vegas...and Jewish Weddings

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Between my engagement in August 1993 and my marriage in December 1993, I used to say to my then-fiance: "I wish we could find a Jewish wedding chapel in Vegas, elope and start our life together already."

Apparently, these days you can do just that!

Tying the Knot While Rolling the Dice

by Leah Hochbaum

Between the drinking, the gambling and the legalized prostitution, Las Vegas just might be the most romantic spot on the planet for the biggest drunken gamble of them all: marriage. But while making your inebriated way down the aisle in this marriage mecca is as easy as pie for the average citizen, you have to look a little harder for the perfect wedding package if you’re one of the tribe.

Because while that bright-light city might set your soul on fire, it sure doesn’t make it easy to rustle up a rabbi on a moment’s notice. They tend not to cruise the strip. Slowly but surely, however, area hotels and chapels are breaking into the Jewish nuptials game.

The swanky Bellagio hotel offers the “Ani L’Dodi” (“My Beloved”) package, which includes a half-hour of chapel time, the services of a rabbi, a half-hour’s use of the bridal room pre-ceremony, a chuppah decorated with flowers and tulle, a kiddush cup, a Mazel Tov glass and lace bag by which to remember the big day, a personal wedding coordinator, a complimentary buffet for two and one bottle of Dom Perignon champagne — all for the low, low price of $6,000.

Caesars Palace offers a similar “Simchah” (“Happiness”) package that includes all the basics a Jewish wedding should have — rabbinical services, a kiddush cup, the signing of a ketubah (marriage contract) — as well as a wedding planner, champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, a two-night stay at the hotel and online Webcasting of the actual ceremony for those relatives who couldn’t make the trip. An outdoor garden ceremony (and the musical accompaniment of either a violinist or guitarist) goes for $3,700. Use of the Palace Chapel (and a classical pianist) is $3,200.

To help put these prices into perspective, multimillionaire serial wife Britney Spears wed her childhood chum, Jason Alexander, in what she later called “a joke” that went out of control, ponying up $55 in cash for a marriage license at the famed Little White Wedding Chapel (where a pre-Ashton Demi Moore wed a pre-bald Bruce Willis back in the day) and shelling out $200 more for a package that included photos, a bouquet of pink roses and a video to commemorate a union that was annulled just 55 hours later.

For Jews on a budget — or those who, like Spears, can’t seem to pass up a bargain when they see one — there’s always the Princess Wedding Chapel, conveniently located on the strip. For only $550, their “L’Chayim” package includes the bare bones necessary for Jewish nups — wine, a kiddush cup, photos, a boutonniere, a bridal bouquet, music, a coordinator and a video. The place performs about 40 weddings total each week — two of which are generally “L’Chayims” officiated by a rabbi.

But while a holy man might be present to make sure that couples get hitched without a hitch according to Jewish law, many people who come to the Princess come for a true Vegas experience.

“We’re not dealing in traditional here,” said Renee Garduno, owner of the Princess Chapel. “We can bring Elvis.”

Yes, the King — who, according to reports, was once a Shabbos goy — can make an appearance to walk a jittery Jew down the aisle, to sing a love song or two, or to belt out “Viva Las Vegas” as the newly married couple exits into the night.

Whatever marriage method a Jewish duo decide on, once they’ve made up their minds to say “I do” in a city where, as Elvis once sang, “All you need’s a strong heart and a nerve of steel,” there’s most probably a wedding package designed for them.

But if the hotels are too pricey and the Princess is too kitschy, there’s always the Las Vegas Hilton’s Star Trek: The Experience wedding package. There may not be a rabbi or even another Jew for blocks, but hey, there’s Spock memorabilia and a makeshift bridge of the USS Enterprise upon which to conduct the ceremony. Few things feel as Jewish as a Klingon in the wedding photos.

Still, make sure that marriage is really what you want. If you regret the wedding tomorrow, Scotty can’t beam you out of this one. Only a divorce lawyer can.

This article originally appeared in the Forward, and is reprinted with permission.

Leah Hochbaum is a freelance writer living in New York.

Some More Random Ruminations

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When my husband made plans for our trip, he planned every fine detail, preparing a divided binder listing attractions, travel routes, Kosher restaurants and markets, etc. I have to admit that he deserves so much credit. I, for one, was very negative about the upcoming experience (how could we travel in the van for 22-23 hours when my kids can't even get into the van without bickering just to get from point A to point B?) and while he talked about traveling to Orlando/Kissimee since March, I was talking about traveling to California. Yes, I wanted a family holiday, but for the first family holiday we'd travel so far? I believe in starting small: a 5-hour drive to Montreal or upstate New York would have been fine for me for starters.

But Mr. TorontoPearl was pretty adamant about this trip, and after all was said and done, I do have to thank him for his planning, his resourcefulness (but it was I who got the best deal on the park tickets -- you can, too. Go to, look under theme parks and see the 2-day, get 5-day deal) and his insistence. It was a memorable trip in many ways and a fun family vacation. be continued...

Here's Lookin' At You, FLO!

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Any tried and true blogger will experience or view or hear something and think: I need to blog about this.

But said blogger must also use editorial skills because too much information can be extraneous, frilly and actually detract from the essence of a post. To that measure, I will not give you 14 days' worth of Kissimee/Orlando schedules, but will share with you some observations that were constants over the two weeks, not just random happenings.


1. When you travel, and if you're lucky, you lose sense of time. It doesn't matter what day of the week it is or what the time on your watch says. What matters is that you're living a vacationer's idea of "here and now."

I hadn't really yet recovered from my L.A. trip, arriving at 6:00 a.m. on a Tuesday and going directly to work from there, when we left after Shabbos of the same week. So I was already not quite in a normal frame of mind mode. And as we traveled through various states on our journey southward, my husband and I lost track of what state we were in at times. The "Welcome to..." signs are not overly huge, and if you miss one that says, "Wecome to South Carolina," then you begin to think that North Carolina is a mighty big state. It's not the kids asking that infamous question, but rather you turn to your spouse and repeatedly ask, "Are we there yet?" (meaning: South Carolina)

And as I mentioned in my post-return post, I'd been away from computers, Internet, blogs and blogging for two weeks. That alone is -- surprisingly -- a holiday too. I didn't feel strong urges to have to seek out computers to check in with blogs or personal messages over the two weeks. And when I finally sat down yesterday after Shabbos at the computer to review my messages alone, it was unbearingly time consuming. And then I felt the need to read some of my favorite blogs and see what I'd missed over fourteen days. That, too, took its toll, and when I finally consulted my watch, I saw that I'd been on the computer from about 11:15 p.m. until 3:30 a.m. -- not healthy in the least. (maybe it's time for another holiday!)


2. What I continue to read in the media about fat people is true. I have NEVER EVER seen so many overweight adults, teens and children as I did in Florida during our Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure, Science Centre, GatorLand, supermarket and store outings.

Men and women alike: FAT RULES!

These people apparently had no shame as they paraded in skimpy tops and short shorts or muscle shirts throughout public arenas. It was hot and I was schvitzing; I tried to imagine what these people felt like. And I imagined them getting into these little cars and boats and wagons for all the rides. NO SHAME; NO EMBARRASSMENT.

And why were there so many fat people? Was it because I was in the South and lots of fried foods are served and enjoyed in that region? Was it because there are fast-food restaurants and drive-thrus at every degree of a 360-degree circle that you make?

Once upon a time I was known for being tall and skinny. Such hasn't been the case for a while, but when I'm named "obese" because I am over the weight that my height and body structure deserve, I feel like laughing because you'd look at me and think, "You might not be skinny, but you're certainly not obese. They'd better redefine the word." And when I look at myself alongside these countless overweight people, I say, "Hey, no fair. I'm not obese; they are!"

Of course I know that medical problems, heredity, or even medications often make for overly large stature, but I don't think such was the case for the majority of people I was seeing. I think, "Fries with gravy, chicken fingers, and chocolate cake," "beer and ribs," "nachos with cheese and salsa and a margarita to go" probably helped them along to their "larger than life" statures.

To be comfortable in one's own skin is very admirable, but that's not quite the case when you see that many people must live by the motto: Let it all hang out!


3. Tattoo you. (isn't that a Stones song title or album title?) In any case, tattoos rule. Just as one sees fast-food joints everywhere you look in Florida and neighboring states, one sees tattoos everywhere you look because they really are everywhere you look. Men, women and kids have them.

I figured that many men, having been in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, might have gotten tattoos along the way during their service time, but women...and kids?

Yes, there were many henna/temporary tattoo booths set up throughout the Universal parks, but I can tell the difference between temp. and permanent and much of what I saw was permanent.

And some tattoos in obscure places -- yes, the obvious peak of the derriere for women, or at the calf, but I saw some men with them at the back of their neck, behind the knees or set as landscapes across their entire backsides. What? Did they say to the tattoo "artist": "Consider my body your canvas."


4. The water in the Kissimmee/Orlando region stinks like rotten eggs wherever you are. So much so that my kids now know the meaning of "sulphur."
So much so that en route home my five-year-old announced at one point: "I made sulphuric gas!"


5. Cleanliness is next to godliness. I was very impressed with the cleanliness of just about all the public bathrooms I visited, and if the first statement in this section is true, then it stands to reason. I noticed many many religious people along the way, wearing crosses. Or I saw roadside billboards announcing biblical passages and churches.

I am used to copy editing Christian romance books. I know that our main reading audience is in the Bible belt in the southern States; I know that I was crossing paths with many of them unwittingly...and perhaps often in these very clean public rest rooms. Because, of course, as I already said, "Cleanliness is next to godliness!"


Okay, those are probably enough personal insights for tonight. Might throw some more your way tomorrow. In the meantime, happy thoughts, happy trails...and be good to yourself (and your neighbors).