Once Upon a Time . . . the beginning of a magical new story.

I can remember it like it was yesterday. At the start of three summers ago, I sat in the casting office in front of an interviewer and his trainee, and they asked me a very important question: “How would you like to work seasonally in food and beverage at Blizzard Beach?” My heart simultaneously soared and fell. They offered me a job! I was going to work for the most magical place on earth! I was going to be able to go to Disney for free whenever I wanted! But I would not see little girls in princess dresses walk up to my register. I would be working with food, not working with characters, or anything with a recognizable story. I would be in a place that most guests never saw, part of a half-forgotten and seldom recognized sector of the gigantic playground known as Disney World. I would be working in one of the few places that I had never ever been to, despite being a Florida native. When I told people I would be working in Blizzard Beach, responses varied from, “What’s that? Disney has water parks?” to “Is that the one with the giant wave pool?” (No, that’s Typhoon. Yes, there’s more than one water park.)

What I didn’t know on that day is that the people I met at Blizzard would become my family. I didn’t know that I would learn to love food and beverage, and working a cash register (which I had been desperately afraid of), and that I would love being able to create things like ice cream sundaes and mac ‘n’ cheese hotdogs for our guests. But most importantly, I didn’t know just how much working in the water parks would make me appreciate Disney. Working in Blizzard Beach gave me an appreciation for Disney that I never would have had if I had started in Magic Kingdom like I hoped.

Today I feel like I have come full circle. I put on my name tag, just like I have done at the start of every workday since day one, but today my name tag had an addition: a shiny red tag with the words “Earning My Ears.” Today I began my first day of training in the Magic Kingdom. After three years, I am finally where I have always wanted to be. But I know that three years later, this day means so much more than it would have if it had come any sooner. Working in the water parks, I learned the importance of interacting with each and every guest I met, because there were so few who came through our gates. Most importantly, I understood the magnitude of the Walt Disney company, because I saw firsthand what many cast members never really see. I saw Disney from a daily-workings perspective of one of the “forgotten step-children” of the theme parks. I became and advocate for and defender of Blizzard Beach. I made guests and cast members aware that Disney is so much bigger than just four parks. Disney property has so much more to offer than rides. If I had started working at Magic Kingdom immediately, I would have continued to ignore the other less glamorous sections of Disney property. I probably never would have set foot inside the ESPN complex. I wouldn’t have had a reason to go to the water parks, because I was never a water park person before Blizzard. I wouldn’t have had an excuse to branch out from what was familiar. And I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Disney in the way that I did, because what I love about Disney is its universality. There is truly something for everyone.

And so when I finally took that bus from Westclock to the utilidoors, all dressed up in professional clothes instead of an impeccably themed costume, I felt an incredible sense of triumph. I felt like all of my dreams had in fact come true. I had a moment in which I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of love and magic my Blizzard family had shown to me over the years, and how grateful I was for their guidance and support. But as I stepped off the bus into my new home, I felt as if Mickey were welcoming me home. As if he were saying, “Oh boy, you did it! You earned this.” It seemed as if everything I had done at Blizzard was just the dress rehearsal, and now here I was, arriving at the opening day of the greatest show on earth. It was time to show Disney what I could do.

Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but Disney often makes me emotional. I’m known to tear up during the Festival of Fantasy parade, which is the happiest parade you’ve ever seen. It’s a good thing I’m not supposed to actually watch the parades in my new job, or else I’m sure I would cry every day. Tears of joy, but still tears.

Of course, I was immediately given a rude awakening when the orientation class (entitled “Once Upon a Time . . . is Now!”) began with a four hour walking tour of the Magic Kingdom. Let me repeat that. FOUR. HOURS. Maybe it was a little shorter than that, but seriously you try walking through every single area of the entire park in four hours and tell me how you feel. But it was so worth it. Our tour guides told us all sorts of little bits of trivia in addition to the important things like where all the bathrooms are. I learned that the oldest attraction in the park is even older than the park itself: Prince Charming’s Carousel was built in 1917, and Walt liked it so much he bought it and moved it here. About half of the horses on it are the original horses from 1917. Pretty neat stuff. We also got to ride the Haunted Mansion really close to park opening (oh yeah, did I tell you we arrived at 7 am? That’s way too early to be walking around Disney, or doing anything besides sleeping), so there was almost no one on the ride. It was pretty awesome. And then after the tour and a lunch break, I met my first trainer on Main Street, who gave us another tour. While not as large in scope, we were still walking around for about 3 more hours, getting an intensive lesson in Main Street history and trivia. Next time any of us are in Magic Kingdom together, I’ll tell you about it, but there’s far too much information for me to even remember it at the moment. I wouldn’t know where to begin! Except to say that Walt was a mad genius. Also, anything to do with Walt makes me tear up. We watched part of Walt’s opening day speech, and I almost cried.

I guess after writing all this, I really just wanted to say that I’m incredibly excited to finally be a member of the Magic Kingdom family, but I promise I’ll never forget where I come from. And I think that’s incredibly important. The lessons I learned in food and beverage, in Blizzard Beach, and in all of my EHH shifts that I was forced to pick up due to my seasonal status are all things that have shaped the cast member I am today, and I’m grateful for that. I know I am much more confident in myself than I was when I first went through training, and anyone who has worked PAC will tell you that confidence is the most important thing to success on the parade route.

And so this is my story. I shared my travel stories on this blog when I lived abroad, and I think it’s still appropriate to write about Disney through “wanderlust” because I’m still a traveler. I will be living in a world very different from the outside world, every day I will travel through stories and kingdoms far, far away, and most importantly I will be responsible for bringing these stories and places to life. So if you’d like to listen in and hear my stories, I will try to recount them to the best of my ability, and share my musings on Disney life. After all this time in Disney, I feel like I’ve finally earned my place in the magic. And I couldn’t be more excited to be “earning my ears” in the most magical place on earth. :) DSCN0773

Creating Happiness Where it Counts

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To the millions of people who visit Walt Disney World each year, Disney is the happiest place on earth. It is a place where children are allowed to believe that the world is full of magic and wonder, and a place where adults can rediscover their childhood dreams. Nearly 100 million people visit Walt Disney World every year, and almost 80 percent of those are first-time visitors. But that being said, there are still a large number of individuals who will never have the wonderful opportunity to visit Disney World. 

This past year I was given the wonderful opportunity to bring two girls to Disney that would never otherwise have been able to go. They were your average young girls: they liked princesses and fairy tales, they spoke their minds, they loved candy and everything sweet, and they wanted to go on the most thrilling rides we could find. They talked and played and argued like sisters do, but the older one was particularly protective of her younger sister. For the oldest one, this instinct wasn’t just a natural part of being sisters. It actually served a purpose. The oldest girl was used to protecting her younger sister for a number of reasons, but most notably because their home life was not the greatest. The reason the girls had come into my life was not the happiest of reasons. My mother had become their Guardian ad Litem, which means she has been assigned by the court system to look out for them. For whatever reason, the parents of the girls were caught up in legal battles, facing time in prison, drug charges, and a whole host of issues. My mother’s job was simple: look out for the best interests of the children, and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. So she petitioned the judge for things like new clothes for school and doctor’s visits, she gave her opinion on who the children should live with, and she established a positive and stable relationship with the girls so they would have someone to go to if needed.  In their upheaval, my mother became their rock.

As my mother got to know the girls, she knew that they had been forced to grow up much faster than they should have. They were facing very adult issues, and instead of worrying about which color hair clips they should wear, they worried about the next stranger they might have to live with. It’s the kind of stuff no child should have to live with, but it’s a reality for many, many children.

There is only so much my mother can do as a GAL, but if nothing else she wanted to do something to make their lives a little better. She asked if I had any ideas, and I only had one. “Why don’t we go to Disney World?” Being a cast member, I always see Disney as the ultimate get-away from reality. It’s where I run when I have a bad day, and where I want to bring all of my friends when they come to visit. To me, Disney is one of the greatest places on earth, and it has a magical quality that allows you to forget just for a moment that there are troubles outside its borders. In the midst of their turmoil, I wanted to give the girls the opportunity to escape from the harsh realities of life and make memories that they would be able to hang onto forever. Maybe working for Disney has made me a little idealistic. The idea, however, was a complete success. At the beginning of the trip, the girls had no idea what Disney was all about, and all they wanted to know was where the biggest and fastest rides were. By the end of the day, we had engaged in a serious conversation about where Pooh actually lived on Disney property, and how much honey he ate in a given day, and whether or not Aladdin and Jasmine lived in the castle or if they flew home to Agrabah every night. On the way home, they spent the whole two hours talking about all of the wonderful things they had seen and done, and from what I’m told they proceeded to talk about it for the next few months as well. But most importantly, they asked a lot about when they would be able to come back. I told them honestly that I didn’t know, but I hoped they could come back sometime soon. 

These girls are not alone in their situation. When my mother recounted the trip to the other Guardian ad Litems, they also asked if there was a way for the children they looked out for to also go to Disney. Unfortunately, as a seasonal cast member, my passes are extremely limited. But that’s when I had an idea. Being a cast member is all about creating magic and instilling happiness, but none of us can do it alone. It is the combined effort of the thousands of cast members which creates the wonderfully magical place we know and love. And so, through a combined effort, perhaps we can create just a little bit more magic. If a few cast members were willing to use one of their Maingates or a few comp tickets to bring children like them to Disney, I know it could make a world of difference. The children would of course have to be accompanied by their Guardian ad Litem, and the date of the trip would have to be arranged through individual communication between the cast member and the Guardian ad Litem. But it could work. And it could just be an awesome experience. In short, the cast member would end up being like a fairy godmother, making a child’s dreams come true. We would be fulfilling our mission as cast members: to quite simply create happiness.

To make it work, the cast member would have to accompany the Guardian ad Litem and children for at least part of the day in the parks, and be willing to act as a sort of tour guide. Cast members have the unique ability of knowing how to navigate Disney like they do their own home. They can tell you which rides are worth the wait and which rides aren’t. They can tell stories about characters and almost effortlessly slip into the themed language which characterizes many of the park areas. They possess the knowledge to tailor the experiences of the park to the particular interests of the family, especially when they are asked a hundred times a day, “What’s the best ride to go on?” Every cast member quickly learns that the “best ride to go on” is not necessarily your particular favorite, but rather the one which your family will all enjoy together, be it the thrilling Rockin’ Rollercoaster or the calming Soarin’ Over California. And so naturally, a cast member would ideally be able to provide the most magical and personal experience by volunteering their time and expertise to this kind of once-in-a-lifetime trip.

If you or a cast member you know would be interested in volunteering to give a child or two the opportunity to spend a day in Disney, then your efforts would be incredibly appreciated. You can contact Meg Devereux at mmbdevereux@gmail.com if you would like to sign up to volunteer, or simply if you would like more information.

The Care and Keeping of Letters

I still remember the day I made my first sorority letter shirt. It was spring break of my freshman year, and I came home with a swatch of anchor fabric determined to turn it into a shirt. I turned to the woman whom I credit with all of my creative genes and asked for help. My mother’s sewing machine was even older than I was, and no matter how often she had said, “I don’t think I can make that,” somehow she always managed to make whatever crazy thing I had come up with. I’ve learned a lot of lessons since that first shirt (like the fact that I shouldn’t sew both sides of the shirt together if I actually want to wear it), and I’ve made several adjustments since then. I’ve learned the importance of interfacing to make the letters lay flat, and that at least three layers of fabric are necessary to keep the fabric from bunching up in my machine. I’ve discovered that stitch-witch is the greatest sewer’s helper, and that a little bit of starch before ironing makes wrinkled letters look like new. I learned the hard way that letter shirts shouldn’t be machine dried, because even if the shirts are pre-shrunk it doesn’t mean that the letter fabric won’t shrink. But perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is that even when I don’t have any clean letter shirts to wear, I am always wearing letters.

Our letters are the gateway to everything we stand for. They are the lens through which we view our sisterhood. These letters are what our founders began with in 1873, when they decided to form their little club on that snowy Christmas Eve. Every good idea must be given a name, and this club was named Delta Gamma. Those Greek letters were not arbitrary. They were not randomly selected from the other 22 Greek letters. They are the initials of the motto that is at our core, the motto that is basis of our ritual and our way of life. After being a part of six initiations, I can probably recite the words in our ritual by heart. I know now more than ever what our letters symbolize. I know how important it is to live up to the honor of wearing them. And I know that no matter where I go, no matter what I do, our ritual will be forever marked on my heart.

Anna, Eva, and Mary charged the future generations of Delta Gammas with one mission: to do good. But they also asked something else of us. They asked for us to uphold a set of values, and to become the best versions of ourselves that we could possibly become. Each time we wear our letters, we are reminding ourselves of the promises we made on our own initiation day. We also are meant to show the world just what our ritual means to us, and what our letters have allowed us to become. I suppose I can’t speak for everyone, but I know my letters have given me the strength to go out into the world and follow my dreams, and the courage to stand up for others. My letters have bound me in honor to my fraternity and connected me to sisters bearing my letters around the world. My letters have encouraged me to find the joy that lies in each day, and to live life to the fullest.

I represent my letters in everything that I do. My letters have become as much a part of me as I have become a lifelong member of Delta Gamma. As a member of Delta Gamma, I know it is my duty to take care of those letters. It’s not an easy task, especially when so much media attention is directed at shaming Greek letters for mistakes made by a handful of members. But those letters must be built up and strengthened by the rest of its members. It is not an option, or a possibility, or merely an ideal. It is an obligation.

I hope that on this initiation weekend, the new members of Delta Gamma come to love their letters even more dearly than they already do, and that they honor their new letters not merely as a symbol that can be removed. I hope that they make a mark and become imprinted on their hearts. We have entrusted our letters to a new set of absolutely wonderful women. Wear them well, ladies. Wear them well.

A picture tells a thousand memories

I should be working on senior seminar right now. But instead I decided to upload some pictures from my camera onto Facebook. And while looking at the album I uploaded, another album caught my eye. I titled it “Nutella for Breakfast, Gelato for Lunch.” If you can’t guess, it’s my album from my week of backpacking through Italy. If I remember correctly, I didn’t exactly finish telling my stories from Italy, although there are certainly plenty.

I realized that almost a year later, so many of the pictures have become simply that: pictures. Half of my pictures from the Vatican are just pictures of paintings, or ceilings, or statues. I can’t begin to tell you which hallway they were found in, let alone their names. I realized that as tedious as it was, one of the best ideas I had in Europe was to take a picture of every description plate that I could find. It allowed me to look back on my trip to Europe and remember what I found interesting, or beautiful, or fascinating, and most importantly why.

But there are many pictures that don’t need words to bring back nostalgia. Seeing the beautiful images of the streets and canals of Venice bring a smile to my face. I may not immediately remember the name of every fountain that I photographed in Rome, but I remember that someone once said, “A trip to Rome is worth it simply to see the fountains and piazzas.” Which is true. There are fountains everywhere, and all of them are beautiful. Or I may not remember the name of the beautiful building that I photographed in Florence, but I remember the beauty of Florence. Despite the rain.

I may not have many pictures from museums that banned photography (like the Uffizi Gallery in Florence), but the few illegal pictures that I do have are ones of utmost importance. Florence was a turning point in the trip for me. It was the day where we got lost, and it rained all day, and we couldn’t decide where we wanted to visit. It was a day filled with frustration, and I struggled to see the famous beauty and wonder of Florence through my own frustrations. So for a few hours, my traveling buddy and I split up. Perhaps that wasn’t the smartest idea, to be alone in a foreign city that barely spoke English, in a museum with hardly any cell phone reception, but it was the day that reminded me why I had wanted to travel in the first place. In the Uffizi gallery, after getting lunch and a glass of wine (which made the day just that much better), I stumbled upon two great works of art: the famous statue David by Michelangelo, and the original painting of “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli. Seeing these famous works of art made me feel suddenly small and insignificant in the grand scheme of history. When we had planned our trip, I marked down the Uffizi gallery as a place of importance because the guidebooks said there were important works of art there, but after going in and out of museums I couldn’t remember which museum held works by whom. They all run together after a while. So when I found these two works of art, which were instantly recognizable, it reminded me of the great history of Europe that I had come to explore. Then in a random room on the top floor of the gallery, I found this beautiful work.
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It caught my eye from across the room, not in the way that “The Birth of Venus” had because I recognized it, but because it was the exact view I’d had seen just a few days earlier. It is the image of San Marco Square in Venice, as seen across the canal. I remember my first view of the square from our little vaporetti boat-bus and how beautiful it was, and this painting captured it exactly. There was just one small difference: the painting was 300 years old. I was struck by how little the square had changed in 300 years, that after all the wars and turmoil that the centuries had seen, that little piazza looked untouched. Yes, the clocktower had been restored, as had various buildings I’m sure, but somehow it looked untouched by time. I knew in that moment that this was why I had made this incredibly daunting journey. I knew that in years to come, I would see paintings like this, and instead of marveling at it and saying, “What a beautiful view,” I would instead be able to say, “I saw that view once.” I knew that images of Europe would bring back memories, not wishful thoughts or unseized opportunities. Somehow that single painting of Venice put the entire trip in perspective, and made all the frustration of traveling worth it.

It’s amazing how a single picture in a photo album has the ability to trigger such emotion-filled memories. Tourists are often criticized for taking too many pictures, and not actually stopping to enjoy the sights around them. And I’m certainly guilty of that, especially in the beginning of my trip. But I think I learned to tailor my picture-taking to only things that I absolutely wanted to remember forever. And as a result, my pictures from Italy remind me of what an incredible journey it was. I remember the awe I felt in the Vatican, the sheer beauty of the landscape (and the weather!), the wonder of the ancient buildings and ruins, the simple joy that came with a cup of gelato, and the beauty of wandering and discovering places like a hilltop park. I am reminded of the beauty of the “eternal city” of Rome, the art of Florence, the surreal canals of Venice, and the feeling of “home” that accompanied Bologna. Perhaps the greatest moment of the journey came when we stepped off the train in Bologna after that frustrating day in Venice, an hour later than expected—which is typical of the Italian trains—and were greeted by two familiar faces. Two friends who were studying abroad in Bologna had walked all the way to the train station, hoping that they could meet us there. We hadn’t told them to do so, we had only mentioned when she should be arriving, and yet there they were. It’s the small memories like these that remind me of how great of a journey that was.

Looking through my pictures is like remembering a dream. It feels so long ago and far away, and there are some images that I just can’t remember. But others come back with intense clarity, and other memories almost make me doubt that they could have happened. Did I really walk the ruins of the coliseum? Or survive being lost in Venice and Florence? Or see the Pope at his window? These are the stories that other people tell, but they can’t possibly have happened to me. And yet they did. And I am eternally grateful. Even if I never make it back, the photographs that I took will always have the power to transport me back to those places and moments in time. I suppose it’s true, a picture is truly worth a thousand words. Or perhaps more accurately, a picture can tell a thousand memories.

Southern Snow Days!

I may be a Southerner, but I still can say that I’ve lived through and experienced snow. And I can also now officially say that I’ve experienced a snow day. The two facts, however, are entirely separate.

Almost exactly a year ago, I woke up on my first morning in my dorm room to see a snow dusted courtyard just a few floors down. And the sheer excitement I experienced on my first full day in England was incredible. Never mind the incredible fear I was also experiencing about being alone in a foreign country. I got to go outside into a snowy place that I would call home for the next six months. It was perfect.

People who have lived in cold places where it snows regularly will tell you that snow is a pain. It’s cold, and wet, and when cars drive through it or people walk through it then dirt gets mixed in with the snow and turns it to a gross brown slush. And then maybe it will melt a little, and refreeze into ice, and another snow will fall on top of it, and it will start over again. I had heard it said that nothing is quite as beautiful as the first snow of a season. I certainly understand that. Nothing compares to the beautifully smooth, glittery white landscape after a good snow. However, once it is tainted by footsteps and cars, or when it begins to melt into the dirt (or is melted with sand and salt), it is never quite as beautiful.

A little snow is certainly the best way to go. I’ve trudged through six inches deep of snow, and I don’t want to do it again. An inch of it, however, I can handle. An inch is just enough to cover the grass and turn everything into a winter wonderland. It’s enough snow to grab a handful and throw at a friend, although not quite enough to make a good snowman. However, even an inch of snow in a climate that is completely unused to it and unprepared is a very bad thing.

When you live on the Gulf Coast, you dream of white Christmases and snow days, never expecting to see one. I once had a day off of school as a little girl because temperatures were going to reach near freezing (not freezing, and no snow was forecasted), and the school was afraid the children didn’t own warm enough jackets. It was the funniest excuse for a “snow day” I have ever heard.

But that’s the truth of the South. We are unprepared for the cold. My brother jokes that when it snows in Alabama, the entire state shuts down while it tries to track down their three snow plows. But he probably isn’t far from the truth. A few weeks ago, the temperatures hovered around freezing. We didn’t dip too far below, we certainly didn’t reach single digits, let alone negative temperatures! But then it rained, as the South often does. And I watched as slowly the rain drops began turning into tiny balls of ice, and the roads wet with rain began to freeze over. No one was prepared to salt the roads, no one owned snow tires or had ever driven in conditions like that. But the temperature was hardly enough to make it snow. I never saw snowflakes. It was ice that fell and covered the ground, and in the fluctuating temperature the ice melted and refroze, melted and refroze, creating smooth, slick surfaces all over the city. Schools were cancelled, roads were closed, and “snowball” fights ensued. And so, without any snow in sight, I experienced my first real snow day.

Am I complaining? Absolutely not! I reveled in the awe and beauty of our campus covered in ice. I never would have dreamed that I would see such a sight. There were icicles dangling from palm trees! Who would have imagined?! And of course in true British fashion, it gave me a good excuse to drink even more tea than usual. So this Southerner experienced the best of both worlds: the awe and excitement of a Southerner raised in a warm climate, and the experience of a Northerner who had seen it all before. I knew where to step and what to avoid. I actually owned sweaters and scarves and a warm enough coat (and I knew better than to call it “snow). But I loved it all the same. I watched the ice accumulate while I sat safe and warm inside, yet I still ventured outside to throw a few fistfuls of ice at my friends and to explore the pristinely white gold course. And if this starts happening once a year, I certainly wouldn’t complain. Although I hope Alabama figures out how to handle ice!

The Spirit of Spring Hill

There is a tradition in schools taught by the Jesuits that each new school year is begun by a mass dedicated to the Holy Spirit. It is a time to bring the community back together, to unite our newest members to our community, and to rededicate our lives to God. The Mass of the Holy Spirit is kind of a big deal, and I certainly couldn’t imagine coming back to Spring Hill without attending it.

When I was a freshman one of the first things my parents did after moving all my stuff into my new dorm was to go find campus ministry. They wanted to greet the people who they had known from my brother’s time on the Hill, and to meet any new members of the staff who had recently joined the family. Of course, they had to mention that I was an altar server/Eucharistic minister/lector. And of course, as soon as Billy (the head of campus ministry) found out, he asked me to altar serve at the Mass of the Holy Spirit. How could I say no? As long as I wasn’t doing it alone, I knew I could do it.

I’ll never forget the feeling I got when I stood at the back of the church, cross in hand, ready to lead the procession through St. Joseph’s Chapel. I was so incredibly nervous that I would mess something up and look like an idiot. As the music started, I glanced back at Father Salmi, who nodded, and I began to walk. It was at that moment that the choir began to sing, and I felt almost overwhelmed by the beautiful acoustics and voices. It was something that I hadn’t expected. It instantly gave me a feeling of awe and respect, and something told me that the next four years were going to hold more for me than I could ever imagine. I felt an immediate connection to this community that was gathered together in God’s house, the body of Christ proclaiming His glory with one voice. I knew that I was home.

I don’t know where these past three years have gone. I can remember that first mass as if it were yesterday. But when Billy approached me for the fourth year in a row to serve at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, I knew that there was no way for me to say no. As I stood in the back of the church, dressed in the same white alb and carrying the same beautiful cross, it occurred to me that I’ve come full circle. I was no longer walking down the aisle as a scared and nervous freshman, but as a seasoned and confident senior. I knew many of the faces in the church looking back at me. I not only knew all of the priests by name, but they had all remembered mine. Several of them, without even missing a beat, had asked me how my time in Manchester had gone. They didn’t have Facebook to keep up with my travels, so the fact that they even remembered where I had been meant a lot. Most Spring Hill students that study abroad go to our center in Italy, so it is often assumed that when a student is gone for a semester abroad, obviously they are in Italy. But no, the Jesuits remembered. That’s what it means to be a family.

There’s something special about coming home. It’s certainly true that home is never the same when you leave and return, but that doesn’t make it any less of a home. As I carried the cross down the aisle, I was flooded with memories of that same walk from freshman year. It was enough to almost make me cry. How much has changed in the past 3 years! I thought of the faces staring back at me, the faces of new badgers who I hadn’t met yet, and the familiar faces of friends I had yet to greet. I realized that no matter where I go, who I met, or what I do, Spring Hill will always be here. It’s part of the Spring Hill spirit.

As I carried the cross down the aisle, I realized that I was a bundle of nerves, just like I had been freshman year. But each time was subtely different; freshman year I didn’t know what to expect from college, and this year I realized that I didn’t know how I was ever going to be able to say goodbye to the Hill. I had been so ready to start college, and suddenly I felt extremely unprepared to leave. Not because I haven’t learned skills to succeed in “the real world,” but because I can’t imagine leaving this behind. I’ve only just gotten back. And I’m determined to enjoy this last year as much as I possibly can.

The Hill is always changing. This year there are almost 450 new faces in our community. There are new organizations, new teachers, new trees and new random statues. But St. Joseph’s chapel has been standing there for over 100 years. The Jesuit presence has been on this plot of land since 1830, forming students in mind, body, and spirit, and teaching the ideals of faith, justice, service, and learning for life. The heart of the Hill doesn’t change. The Hill is always here to welcome its badgers home.

The Cure for Wanderlust (My “Adventure” in Wales)

Maybe I’m arriving a little late to this game, but apparently there’s been a game floating around Tumblr known as the “MapCrunch Airport Challenge.” Basically, you can go to mapcrunch.com, and it has the ability to drop you anywhere in the world by using Google Maps Street View. If you click the “stealth” box, you can hide your location so you don’t know where you are. What’s the point of seeing some random street in a country you’ve probably never been to? Your goal is to find your way to an airport, from which point you can find a way home. The problem is that you can’t stop and ask for directions, you can’t access every single street (only those photographed by Google Maps), and you might not understand the language of the street signs in a given country. And did I mention that it’s completely random? You could end up in the middle of nowhere. It’s almost as if you literally were dropped off, blindfolded, into a random pinpoint on the globe. Sounds slightly terrifying, doesn’t it? Well to me, the idea sounds absolutely fantastic! When are they turning this into a reality show? Because I’ll sign up in an instant!

As soon as this idea was presented to me via Pinterest, I had to try it. My first attempt I was dropped in Singapore (which I found out later, after Google searching) and I think I actually did find the airport. I found Airport Rd, and signs that warned of “low flying airplanes,” but then I couldn’t go all the way to the end of Airport Road. The Google Street View pictures ended. So I have to assume I was on the right path. How long did it take me? Approximately 3 hours.

The second time I was a bit more strategic in my approach. I also knew where I was (vaguely) from the moment I was “dropped down.” This time, I ended up in Wales. I know this because I’ve been to Wales once, and I know that the street signs are all in both Welsh and English. Welsh is a pretty distinctive language. Also, the moors, little stone walls around pastures, excessive amounts of sheep, and lack of cities also gave it away. It was distinctively part of the UK. That much I knew.

But where to? I thought for a moment. The capital of Wales is Cardiff. Cardiff is (roughly) in southern Wales. It certainly would have an airport. I was unsure if there were any other airports in Wales. Of course, there are airports in the UK that are closer to certain parts of Wales, but not knowing where I was at all, I headed south. If all else failed, I could find a coast and follow it. Not that hard, right? This is gonna be way easier than Singapore…

Wales 1

This is roughly where I started. I only thought about it after I had started on my journey that I should photo-document this one, so I backtracked to approximately the spot I began at. But this is the lovely town (*cough* village) of Llanfair Talhaiarn. As you can see, I clearly have a lot to go on at the moment.

Wales 2

I followed signs for Llansannan, because it sounded like a major city. It wasn’t. I debated turning at this street, but quickly realized that the street looped around to go back in the direction that I had just came from. So I just kept going south.

Wales 3

The road I was on came to an end, but it met with another north/south road. Again, I took the south-bound route. Still hoping to find signs for Cardiff. Or Caerdydd in Welsh. Either or, I’m not picky!

Wales 4

Llyn Brenig. That looks like it’s a major city, right? It’s highlighted in brown. It must be important. And that road also goes south bound. Time to take a left.

Wales 5

Welcome to Llyn Brenig. Still no major city. There is, however, a Visitor Centre. I could stop there to ask for directions! Except wait . . . no I can’t.

Wales 6

I bet I could ask this nice looking family for directions . . .

Wales 7

Oooh yay, a slightly bigger town! Looks promising.

Wales 8

Well, I might not have found an airport, but I found a hotel. And at that point it was actually time for me to go to bed. So if this were real life, and I had actually been travelling through Wales in real time, then this would be the perfect place to stop and sleep (and ask for directions). Guess I’ll continue my journey in the morning!

So the next day I picked up where I left off. But just beyond the hotel you can see there is a crossroads. The B4501 ends and meets with the B5105, and I had to decide to go left or right. Let’s look at what the road signs say . . .

Wales 9.1

Hmm, the nearest town is 12 miles away. The next nearest is 20. But the A5 sounds like a major motorway . . .

Wales 9.2

The next nearest town is 14 miles away. And why is one of them graffitied over? The other direction sounds more plausible. But this direction is more southerly. Hmmm…

I chose the other direction, towards the A5 motorway. In less than a minute, I came to this sign:

Wales 10

Awesome. I’m fairly certain I passed signs for Betws-y-coed a long time ago, so taking that route would probably be backtracking. Time to take a left towards Llangollen!

Wales 11

Found a cute pub!! I would totally stop there in real life. And they have cheap fish and chips! I miss real fish and chips . . .

Wales 12

Although apparently I’m in the middle of nowhere. Great . . .

But this sign made me laugh. Gotta love the UK!

Wales 13

And again, only in the UK:

Wales 14

What is a sheep dog centre anyway? And what I don’t understand is how all of these pictures seem to be taken on beautiful, bright sunny days. Like, how does that happen?? Does Wales have a different climate than the rest of the island? Or did Google Maps literally waste weeks in the UK just waiting for that one beautiful sunny day to say “Ok guys, let’s get out there today and drive as much as possible!” I mean, I’m certainly not complaining. The views are gorgeous!

And can you say precious??

Wales 15

If it wasn’t the middle of the day, I might suggest we stop here for the night.

And then whoa! What is that? Oh look, it’s the first actual traffic light that I’ve encountered in Wales!

Wales 16

And what is this?? I do believe it’s raining! Finally…

Wales 17

And also some cute tourist place that I would probably stop at in real life. They serve tea. Obviously I would have to stop there. And you can see all the cute little sheep in the pasture!!  (And hey, you know what else I could do there? Ask for directions…)
I also noticed at this point that I’ve stopped going south, and am going almost due east. That isn’t really a problem though. East will bring me closer to England. Where there are more cities, and more major roadways.

And then I find this sign…

Wales 18

This wouldn’t mean much to most people. Except that Chester is a city in England. The International Society that I was a part of in Manchester did a day trip there once, but I didn’t go with them on that trip. The problem is that the road goes back north. I feel like not only would this be backtracking, but Chester is (probably) a lot farther away than Cardiff. Although who knows at this point? So do I take the chance and go towards a city I recognize? But then again, is there more than once city named Chester? I think the one that I remember is a lot farther north in England that Wales is. That would probably be a pretty far trek. Hmmmmm…..
I think I’m gonna take my chances and continue on the A5.

Wales 19

Now I really have a decision to make though.

This road goes in a more southerly direction. It’s not as major a roadway as the A5 (although how many major roadways are in Wales to begin with?), but it comes to some towns fairly soon. And a campground, or something like that. My gut is really telling me to stay on the A5 though . . .

But then the A5 turns into Bridge Street. And then I see a sign for a “town centre.” The town must be big enough to have a centre….that’s a good sign, right?

Wales 20

I promise I won’t bore you with a bunch of pictures of this town (which I later discovered was named Corwen), but I did find a hotel, a Spar convenience store, an HSBC bank, a post office, a craft store, a few cafes, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker (literally!), a monument to some guy named Owain Glyndwr, and then somehow I ended up on a street named London Road. Which turned into the A5 again. And then it became Holyhead Road. And just as soon as I had come upon this town, I left it behind. It was probably the most exciting part of my entire trip. I felt like jumping up and down. Oh boy, a real town!! (Am I getting too involved in this little game? I think I have a problem. Oh yeah, it’s called Wanderlust.)

I also passed about 5 Bed and Breakfasts on the Holyhead Road. I would love to actually stop at one.

And this:

Wales 21

Do you know what this means?? There’s a train station! With a tea room! I can stop for tea, and catch a train to the next major city with an airport! Except the game doesn’t quite work that way . . .
But Holyhead Road turned back into the A5, as I had hoped it would. And I continued to follow it. It brought me back south again, and then back east, and it went back and forth like that for a while. But I realized ultimately that I’ve been going east for far too long. My chances of getting to Cardiff are pretty slim at this point.

Oh hey look, an emergency phone!

Wales 22

I could totally use that! But oh wait . . .

It’s okay though. I made it to this city of Llangollen. Apparently it’s a big deal.

Wales 23

They have a steam railway AND horse drawn boats. Can I stop here? Pretty please? A little sightseeing tour? I also saw a sign for whitewater rafting back up the road a ways. Sounds like a cool place to stop!

And hey y’all, I found a hostel!

Wales 24

But as the buildings started to get farther and farther apart, I decided to turn around and go back to follow signs for the Town Centre. Maybe there would be more major roads intersecting in one place?

Wales 25

Let’s follow signs for the train station. If all else fails, I could give up at the train station. So I took the right down Castel Street, and then a left down Market Street.
Except it didn’t bring me to a train station. It brought me in a giant loop, and I ended up back on the A5. Stupid signs. Somewhere along Market street I should have turned for the train station, except someone forgot to put up a sign saying that. Dumb. Oh well. Guess I’m stuck on the A5!

After a long, boring drive, I pass these signs:

Wales 26

OH MY GOODNESS is that an airplane sign?!?!

Wales 27

*sigh* Of course not. It’s a cross. Gosh darn it.

But hmmm…

Wales 28

A marina? As in, like, a harbor? On the coast? Perhaps this is worth a detour . . .
Except at that point my computer decided to shut down and install updates. I lost this page, not to be recovered.

So what did I do? I pulled out my book of Great Britain that I had gotten before my trip to England, just to look at the map of Wales and try to figure out where I was. I thought Googling just felt too much like cheating, after all the hard work I had put into this. But guess where I was?
The whole time I was “travelling,” I was in north Wales. And I mean like, super northern tip. I was closer to Liverpool and Manchester than I was to Cardiff. And honestly, I was heading in the more in the direction of Manchester than Cardiff. Or at the very least, Birmingham.
Here’s a map:
Wales 29

If I had taken that route towards Chester, I actually would have been on a good path. It was actually the same Chester I was thinking of, and it was actually that far north. Also, it takes wayyy longer to click through a road then it does to drive it. You know how many miles I travelled? Thirty-eight. It should have taken me less than an hour to drive it in real life, whereas I spent an embarrassing amount of hours trying to play this stupid game.  It would have taken much too long to get to Cardiff at that rate. I never would have made it. Not virtually, anyway. If I had continued playing, then I would have come to a major motorway pretty soon, the A483, which I probably would have taken because the A5 ends, and the A483 goes south. If I had followed that to where it merged with the A470, I would have ended in Cardiff.

But really, if this had been real life, then I would have at the very least stopped at the nearest train station, bought a ticket to the nearest city (which probably would have been Liverpool, or Manchester), and gotten a plane from there. So I’m going to go with that, and say that I won. Because I found not one, but two train stations.

The moral of the story: this game is utterly pointless. Except, of course, if you suffer from a case of Wanderlust. In that case, then this game is just what you need to “wander” through the unfamiliar streets of a foreign land, imagine what it would be like to stop at all the touristy (or not so touristy) spots, and then be reminded that there is no place like home. Don’t be surprised if I attempt this game again. Although I may only try the “urban button.” No more of this middle-of-nowhere nonsense, even if it was wonderful to “see” the UK again.

I do miss Europe. Nothing will ever be the same. But, all the same, it’s good to be home.

Do as dreamers do…

Perhaps this is a random observation, but I’ve always loved how in Disney’s Electrical Parade, there is a “bridge” float between Cinderella and Peter Pan. It’s the simplest float because it’s simply a giant tolling clock. The hands are at midnight, symbolizing the infamous time of transformation in Cinderella, but it’s also the same clock that Peter and Wendy land on before flying off to Neverland (it’s Big Ben, in case you never noticed). But as I watched the parade last night for like the hundredth time this summer, it struck me just how important that clock is. In both movies, the clock symbolizes that no matter how hard you try, time moves on. Cinderella couldn’t spend all night at the ball, and Wendy had to face the fact that she needed to grow up. And it’s a fact that we have to live with.  None of us can spend forever doing something. We need to grow up, move on, and accept change. The clock in the parade is just a simple reminder that although you may have just had the most magical day (or week, or month, or summer) in Disney world, it’s the end of the day, and it’s almost time to go home.

For the second time in 6 months, I have to say goodbye to a whole group of friends that I don’t know if I’ll ever see again. Sure, I’ll be back to work at Disney in a few months, but it will be with a whole new group of college-programmers. Once again, I’ll take the time to get to know them, and once again they’ll leave. Three months isn’t nearly enough time. But as the summer winds down, I know that with the end of summer comes a beginning as well: the beginning of school. Although even that is an “end” . . .  but I won’t talk about graduation yet. It’s far too soon for that.

One of my favorite parts about working at Disney is being able to meet people, whether I talk to them for five minutes at my register, or whether I see them every day. I now have friends from all over the world, and even if I never see them again, I treasure the fact that I got to know them and spend even just a little bit of time with them. I think this comic that I found actually describes how I feel quite perfectly:
smbc

In Peter Pan, the movie begins with Wendy’s father telling her that she will have to stop sleeping in the nursery, as it’s time for her to grow up. She fights this fact by flying off to Neverland with Peter Pan. In Neverland, time seems completely irrelevant. In the same way, Disney is a place where time seems to stand still, and perhaps that’s why so many people like it. For a brief period of time, you are reminded of what it feels like to be a kid again, and for children, it feels like Neverland. You are there without a care in the world. Disney places you in a continual state of wonder, hope, and happiness. (Unless of course you’re confronted with a screaming Brazilian tour group, but I promise I won’t rant on that monstrosity.) And for cast members, especially those of us who only spend a brief time there, Disney often feels like a wondrous thing that will never end. Time seems like an irrelevant detail. But nonetheless, as the clock reminds us, time does inevitably march on. And sooner or later, we’ll have to face its toll. Summer is nearly over, and it’s time to go back to “the real world.” It’s time to go back home.

I’m not sure that I got all that I possibly could have gotten out of the summer, but I’ve certainly tried my best. Although it’s gone by quickly, it has also been filled with happy memories that I’ll never forget. Because you know, when you wish upon a star, it makes no difference who you are. When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. So I suppose it’s time to make a wish, and do as dreamers do . . .

The Disney Transformation

Most people have discovered this, but there’s something special about Disney. There’s something that sets Disney apart from other parks, something that is more than just fast rides and cute shows. There’s quite literally something magical about the effect Disney has on a person. After being gifted with the priviledge of experiencing the parks with many people (both first-timers and old hats), I’ve started to notice a pattern that I call the “DisneyTransformation” that affects people from the moment they step off the monorail.

  1. It all starts with a mouse. Walt Disney would have been nothing without his faithful pal Mickey Mouse, and so Disney World is a living testament to the big cheese himself. No matter how you feel about Mickey when you enter, you leave with a deep appreciation for him. So much so, that it’s almost impossible not to want a pair of Mickey ears for yourself.
  2. You come craving rides, but you leave craving stories. The first question I get asked on a typical outing to Disney is, “What rides are we going to go on?” In today’s day in age, we crave things that are bigger, faster, and more exciting than average. We’ve come to expect a high qualiy from Disney, so many first-timers assume that means that Disney rides are just bigger, and faster, and more exciting. But what truly makes each ride special is the story behind it. The detailing of each ride is what makes it come to life. It gives me goosebumps when I’m able to watch an 8-year-old go from, “I want to ride a rollercoaster!” to saying, “I bet Peter Pan designed that ride. He had to. He wanted people to know how to fly, so he made us pirate ships that flew to Neverland.” It’s the story that really makes the ride worth riding.
  3. You start wondering how Mickey can actually get from one place to another so fast. Because there’s obviously only one Mickey. How could you ever have thought otherwise? I mean, if there were two Mickey’s, then one of them would be an imposter. And we can’t have that in Disney World. Mickey is the boss. He runs the show. He is the only one. And you finally firmly believe that.
  4. Once you can accept that there’s only one Mickey, it opens up a world of new ideas. Like, meeting the princesses sounds like a completely valid way to spend an hour and a half of the afternoon. It’s not as weird as it used to sound, and totally not just for babies. Meeting characters becomes a new obsession.
  5. You accept the fact that it’s totally normal to see Tigger bouncing through Fantasyland.
  6. No matter how much you complain about being hot or tired or uncomfortable, when presented with the option to leave you definitely don’t want to. Because even complaining is better than leaving the magic behind.
  7. If you ever doubted that Disney would be a fun experience, your doubts have turned into, “When are we coming back?”

Hearing your guests ask those words after a long, hot, exhausting day is probably the most rewarding thing that a cast member host can hear. “When are we coming back?” It means so much in just a few words. It means that the transformation has successfully taken place. It means that my guests, no matter how old they are, have been captured by Disney magic, that they have found something here that they are sad to leave behind, and most of all it means that there’s at least a little part of them that appreciates all the hard work that cast members do to create the experience of Disney. Maybe that person won’t thank every cast member they meet, but every cast member deserves a thank-you for participating in a magical day. It might not have been flawless, but at the end of the day you know it’s been a successful trip when all of the minor setbacks have been forgotten. The only thing left is the magic, and although that magic may wear off in the “real world,” you know it will always be there at Disney, waiting to welcome you home again.

The Magic of Park-Hopping . . . Alone.

Oh hello blog. Sorry I’ve neglected you for so long. And I never finished writing my European travels….oh well.  I hope you’ll forgive me.

But ever since I’ve been back in the States, back to my job at Disney, I find that the lens through which I view the world is just a little bit different. I find that I have more patience when dealing with foreigners, I have a greater appreciation for how exhausting a “vacation” can really be, and perhaps strangely enough, I’ve discovered the joy of going to Disney on your own.

Perhaps this sounds weird to you, especially if you don’t work at Disney. Why would anyone go to the parks by themselves? Isn’t that awkward/boring/lonely? Perhaps for some people it is. I certainly used to think that it was. But there are lots of good reasons why going to the parks by yourself is actually pretty great.

  1. You don’t have to wait for anyone. You know that moment when you’re walking along, trying to keep a schedule, and then someone in your party pipes up, “I need to use the restroom.” Great. Now you have to go out of your way to find a restroom for that one person, and everyone else is just like, “Nah, I don’t have to go.” Then you’ll end up taking two restroom breaks in the afternoon, instead of just one.
  2. You don’t have to compromise. Mom wants to ride It’s a Small World, but Johnny wants to ride Expedition Everest. Is there anything more annoying than when your family/friends can’t even decide which park to go to? When you’re on your own, you go where you want, whenever you want.
  3. You can do all the stuff that no one wants to do. Ever wanted to watch those shows in Epcot that no one sticks around for? Everyone wants the big rides like Soarin’ or Test Track, but who really says, “Hey, let’s go see Oh Canada!”? No one. Except maybe Canadians. But when you’re by yourself, you can take the time to go see stuff you wouldn’t normally see.
  4. You can wait on lines if you want. Have you ever wanted to meet the Disney Fairies, but couldn’t justify the 45 minute wait? As a 21-year-old, I never had anyone that wanted to meet the fairies with me. If the line were shorter, I might be able to convince people to do so. But it’s always long. However by myself, I can wait for as long as I want, and not worry about bothering people! I can wait an hour for the Peter Pan ride if I want to, because it’s one of my favorite rides with one of the longest waits. I’m not going to make my friends wait for it, but by myself? Why not!
  5. You can get a more personal character experience. Once you meet a character, there is a character attendant (and probably PhotoPass) who is more than willing to take your picture for you, so you don’t have to worry about having a friend take it for you. And you get personalized one-on-one time with the character too! Usually if you’re in a group, they encourage you to take group shots and meet the character all together. It saves time and helps keep the line moving. I get it. I know the importance of keeping the line moving. But sometimes it’s really nice just to be able to talk to your favorite character and not have to fight for attention. You can think of clever things to say to elicit a reaction from that character.
  6. You can spend time just enjoying the atmosphere. Sometimes all I want to do is sit in front of the castle with an ice cream cone and people watch. And then if I see a family trying to take a photo, I’ll probably offer to take it for them, because it’s hard to completely turn off the helpful-cast-member urge. I’ll walk all the way to the other side of the park to buy a churro if I really want one, and I don’t have to worry about others complaining about how far it is. I can wander through the shops without having to keep track of a group. You can just go with the flow, instead of planning every minute of the day.
  7. And lastly, you can do things faster and more efficiently. Want to see Fantasmic, but there aren’t seats left? You can almost always find space for one more. But finding space for a whole group at the last minute? Not a chance! Or maybe you want to ride Rockin’ Rollercoaster, but there are no more Fast Passes for the day and the line is over an hour long. You can go in the single rider line and not think twice about it. Better yet, if you’re waiting in a fairly long line for a ride, and the attractions cast is looking for a party of one or two to fill in the last seats of a car, you might be able to skip half the line. You can also eat lunch on the go if you don’t feel like stopping for long. You can weave through crowds without having to worry about getting separated. Then when you’re hot and tired and don’t feel like being there anymore, you can just leave. You don’t have to worry about pleasing a group.

So I guess when it comes down to it, I’ve learned that if I want to go to the parks I don’t have to wait for my co-workers’ next day off. I can just go, and have just as good (if not even better) of a time. I can go wander around the World Showcase in Epcot and reminisce about my European travels. I can go one rides, meet characters, see shows, and eat food in places that I might not otherwise go to with my friends. So if you’ve got a (free) way to go to Disney, but don’t have anyone to go with, don’t be afraid to go by yourself! You might have an unexpectedly magical time.

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