Month: October 2009

The Proof Is In The Passion

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What do you think that you will be doing when you are 64?¬† I’ll bet that some folks out there reading this may have started singing the Beatles tune. How about when you are 61?

I so admire people who prove every day just by the example of the life they lead that life is what you make of it. A case in point, Let me tell you about Connie and Bob Muirhead.

I was first introduced to Connie and Bob last year just before the start of New England’s great State Fair, the Eastern States Exposition, aka The Big E. Once I saw their booth however I realized that I had seen them many times before in my previous visits to the fair, which, by the way, those of us local to the area have been known to refer to as the Big Mess because the traffic during those weeks makes it absolutely horrendous to get around if you live in close proximity to the fair grounds.

Connie likes the action, a lull in the crowd leaves her bored. Bob was busy giving a customer rep for American Express the what for because he was not able to take their cards like he was supposed to.
Connie likes the action, a lull in the crowd leaves her bored. Bob was busy giving a customer rep for American Express the what for because he was not able to take their cards like he was supposed to.

Anyway. Bob and Connie own and operate Connie Crafts and have been a regular vendor at the Big E for 27 years straight. They’re like royalty there. Hugs and hand shakes are frequently exchanged by long time friends, customers, and vendors alike who make sure to stop by, say hello and buy a new Christmas ornament. Connie told me that she is always amazed at how many people recognize her every year; even the attendant who monitors the lady’s bathroom nearest to their booth. Not only does the attendant give her a smile and a hug, she even escorts Connie to one of the stalls and gives the seat a extra wipe to make sure it is clean for her. Now that is service. On one busy night when she did not want to leave Bob alone at the booth she called the Storrowton Tavern restaurant, which is right there on the Exposition grounds, and asked if they could wrap up a meal for her that she would walk over and pick up; the manager did her one better and had it delivered right to her booth; she was amazed that she would receive such service.

This year I met them 3 times, once just after they arrived and were unloading the truck, once during the fair and then again the day after the fair closed as they were breaking the area down and loading up the truck for their next engagement. Though they have a legion of friends and family who will stop by and assist in some of the heavy work, make no mistake about it, both Connie and Bob are fully involved in the whole process; they know where every single thing is and belongs. Bob, a seasoned wood worker, designed and built their display area and though it consists of many components it is quick to set up and break down, which he is closely involved in as well.

The loading and unloading of the truck is closely monitored and choregraphed by Bob; each item placed in almost the same exact place each time, everything fit to stay together and remain firmly in place during the long rides from home and from show to show. And he thinks nothing of it to grab a box, the end of a shelf unit or any other piece of furniture to help carry it to or from the truck.

Connie runs the operation in regards to what is displayed and where items are placed once they are brought off the truck; she has an encyclopedic memory about every little detail; if you have any questions about an item just ask Connie.

Any Ornament you buy at their booth will be personalized free of charge. Bob and Connie do the personalization themselves; with rock steady hands they will print the names or words of your choice in small crisp clear lettering.

Stay still in their booth and you may well get run over; there are no shuffling feet or vacant senile stares here, these folks are spry, sharp as a tack, and rarely stand still for long.

Connie is the little general of the operation, From the moment the door of the truck opens and stuff is being unloaded she is watching everything and making sure things are going smoothly.

She moves with purpose and if you ask her a question she looks you directly in the eye while you’re talking.

Unless she is sitting in the chair to personalize ornaments she can be found stocking or organizing everything in her domain – that is when she is not greeting her long list of fans.

Though the bodies may be wearing, their minds are as sharp as ever. During lunch the other day Connie surprised me when she asked me key questions about my family, job, and other things we had spoke of the year before. Mind you I had only met them at that time and had not spoken to either of them since. But they both remembered the details of what we spoke about.

As you have probably figured out by now, these are not two seniors who just have a little booth to call their own and then have minions running around handling all the work.

After the booth is set up they do have friends who help during various hours throughout the day, but Bob and Connie are there from open to close, every day, for the whole 17 days of the show. Connie told me that they are usually up at about 7am and do not get to bed till midnight or later. It is a tough schedule, but I do not think that she would rather be anywhere else. In fact Connie was asked at the end of this years fair if she was happy to be going home for a bit. “No”, she said flatly, “I want it to go on and on forever”. And you know that she means it; watching her you can tell she really loves what she is doing. She is in her element when it is busy and she is hustling around the booth, answering questions, ringing up orders and taking turns with Bob in the chair to personalize the items their customers have purchased. Some of the people who make purchases are more than customers really, they’re loyal fans who come back year after year to get new items for themselves, their friends, family, even their pets.

Opening this story I asked what you thought that you would be doing when you are 61. The reason I asked is because, according to my math, that is about the age Bob was when he and Connie first came to the Big E twenty seven years ago. That’s right, Bob is 88 and Connie is just about to turn 87.

If they are not proof positive that passion is the elixir of life I don’t know what is.

Connie said that she would give me a call next year when they are in town again for the fair. I told her that now that I’ve met them I am counting on seeing them there at the Big E another 50 years. Her bright eyes beamed as she looked up at me with a big smile and said “Okay!”

Connie knows that time is her enemy; she is determined to keep going as long as she can but she knows that it is getting harder on Bob who has had some health issues over the past 6 months and she fears might be ready to stop touring. I know this much though, if it is any way possible, this is a woman who would move heaven and earth for them to be there for 50 more years…..I just hope that I can keep up with them.

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YAY!!! We’re going back to Disney World!!

Sorry, do I sound a bit childish? Well I am. In Fact I often tell people, with a touch of pride, that I am Susan’s oldest child.

WDW has always been a delight for us to visit, but there has been, for me, one part that has always left me uncomfortable, and that has been dining there.

Don’t get me wrong, although Disney does have a few less than stellar restaurants, Susan, in her ever diligent research, has always guided us away from those and we have had some of the best food we have ever had. The problem for me though was that I was always in pain afterwords.
This of course was before my issues with Gluten were Identified. But even after that, try as I would to avoid obvious gluten containing foods, something would still cause me discomfort afterwords.
When we found out that Disney takes food allergies very seriously, we made sure to tell the dining reservation folks we spoke with about my problem and a note was made on the reservations when we called to make our dining plans for our trip last June.

My, my, what a difference. I had ZERO issues the entire trip.

When we got to the restaurants we made sure that they knew about my problem, they always did and we could see it mentioned on the slip the host left on the table for the server. The server would take our drink order and then go to the kitchen and get the chef, or, in the case of the new restraunt at the Japan Pavilion at EPCOT , the manager (the chef didn’t speak English I guess). The chef would come to the table and very politely go over the menu, or if it was a buffet take me to the buffet area, and go over every single item explaining why I could or could not have it, or how they could make it special so that I would be able to have it. At one restaurant the Chef pointed out that I could of course have the shrimp, but advised against the cocktail sauce for the simple reason that they did not make it so they could not be 100 percent certain it was gluten free. If there was a safe item on the buffet that was close to something not safe, to avoid any concerns about cross contamination with a spoon, for instance, the chef would offer to bring me a fresh batch of anything I desired – and let me tell you, there was quite a bit they could get for me, special or otherwise, that I could have.

So that I could be certain that the meal presented to me was indeed made special & gluten free the chef themselves brought it out to me; there was no worry that a busy server had grabbed the wrong plate. It was fantastic and I can not thank enough all the Disney staff, especially the chefs, who made certain I did not feel like I was a bother. The Chef at the newly renovated Tuskar house even posed for pictures with some of his staff. When it comes to making you feel welcome few, if any, can match the folks at Disney.

Two things that touched me the most was when the chef in the new reatraunt at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Vacation club came out after wards to not only bring me my dessert but a little mickey pin as well. The second thing was on our last day there when we had breakfast at Boma’s at Animal Kingdom Lodge. The chef brought out for me a breakfast of delicious freshly made gluten free french toast along with a few muffins for the flight home. It brought a tear to my eye.

Well a couple months back I had made plans with our neighbor, Delores, to drive her car down to Florida for her. She had the year before spent the winter down there with a friend, loved it, and bought a little trailer  to stay at every winter. She bought a second car up here and wanted to have her old car down there to use. I offered to drive it down for her, Susan, after I told her, thought that it would make a great road trip. Not only we would stop off and see my sister on the way down but Рsurprise surprise Рwe could go to WDW a few days before we came back! After that she was off and running making plans.

Plans changed and Delores was not going to need me to take the car down for her. Sue though had her mind made up; we’re going anyway. So the plans are made, the reservations are made, with a note about gluten, and we cant wait to head down the day after thanksgiving. We still wanted to see my sister in Virginia, so now we will rent a car and drive down stopping at Sharon’s house along the way for a brief visit and a little rest.

Life is Good

Update: A more recent and extensive review of my experiences with gluten free dining at WDW can be found HERE