Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sami the Wonder Cat

by Christina Dagnelli
reposted- Original Publication for Simple Joy Magazine in 2003

Numerous television programs are filled with the splendor of animals with their marvelous talents They are often seen performing tricks and impressions of their human counterparts in joyous and graceless ways. I have had a good laugh at the expense of some unsuspecting cat falling off of the little piece of heaven he’s claimed.

I chuckle and look at my cat Sami, who doesn’t really care about TV unless its hockey or football. Sami is sitting quietly staring out the window at the world. This is no ordinary cat, this cat speaks at least three languages, cleans up after himself, is a faithful alarm clock, never gets onto a surface that a human doesn’t sit on, greets me at the door when I come home, knocks on the door when he is ready to come inside, and has saved my life once. His resume lists better than at least half of the men I’ve dated, and the jury is still out on whether that speaks well of him or poorly of me and-or men. He is not a candidate for anything, nor would he be bestowed the honor of winning one of those video programs.  He is not silly enough, nor is he some kind of ham. He will never know the fame of “Morris the Cat” or any of his colleagues. This doesn’t make him any less extraordinary.

Character Makes the Cat

 He is middle aged for a cat at the age of 7, and probably considered over-weight like the rest of America at a ripe 20lbs-regardless, I believe he is in his prime. He is a good judge of character and likes gentile and kind people, though he would say hello to anyone. He knows when you’re feeling down and will curl up on your chest or lap and just purr-he doesn’t have to be asked. Sami is your typical good guy, he never lets you down, adapts well to change, and takes his medicine like a man. Never a hassle at the vet, and he even can be taken to his favorite store on a leash. Sami loves dogs; he is not prejudiced or biased to his own breed, sex, or species. He has lived with 4 different dogs at different times and accepts visitors. Perhaps he was a dog in a previous life that would at least explain some of his rather non-cat-like behavior such as his gift for being able to not only tell time, but also wake me up in the morning.

Sami is underrated, and deserves his props! How can one video tape goodness? Most people would find goodness boring, but isn’t it as equally deserving of prestige and reward? Why not celebrate peacefulness and obedience. Both things I believe he just is naturally but he still works at it everyday like any of us should. Throughout the northeast, and even other parts of the land, Sami is known as the Wonder Cat. Faithful pen pal, champion mouser, and best buddy. He will never have his own line of cat food, but if he did it would be dry and each bag would come with a human cut out so someone is always watching him eat.

Sami looks out at the world from the window ledge, talking to birds in their language, making those around him wonder what he is actually saying to them. Is he trying to con them? Are they friends?  He only pretends to chase squirrels. He stalks them just long enough for them all to get away before he ever tries to get them. Sami has recently learned to mouse and I think he has different rules for home invaders, for they aren’t as lucky. Whatever goes on in his head, he has his own world of morality and value. He knows the difference between right and wrong and never gets into typical cat places like the sink or kitchen table, even if his food or treats are sitting there in his bowl. That’s just Sami the Wonder Cat, named so after waking me once when I feel asleep exhausted in the tub. Some how he knew what to do, as always. Yes he deserves recognition or even a parade, one full of leaves for him to pounce on.

In a way he has his own kingdom, he stands proudly on the little hill that he has created in the backyard. To a passerby it’s a pile of dirt, but to us it is Mount Sami. He stands there looking out at the world waiting to be called back inside, he runs like a lion into the house as I call him. He needs not a prize for he is one.

In Memory of Sami The Wonder Cat

Monday, January 16, 2017

What They Don't Tell you About Autism

Reposted from May 2012

I spend most of my writing time discussing ideas, tips and advice regarding autism-parenting. And after writing over a hundred articles about the subject I began to think about all the aspects of autism we as writers (and even parents) don’t discuss. Overall your perception changes, and your view of the world. Nothing is black and white anymore. But it’s not so much that life is grey, but rather it’s multi-dimensional. You gradually accept you can’t understand what you don’t have a full understanding.  There may have been a time when you would jump to judgment over the bad things people do, politics, various reports and articles you read; but now you realize you don’t know the whole story. You realize knee-jerk reactions just contribute to problems and feed the same anger and hate, which people claim to be offended about.

Autism makes you more understanding, empathetic, and open minded. Autism can make you hyper-aware of behavior and motivations in people, children and even animals. This starts early on, when you are trying to reach your child. You have to tap into to your empathetic nature and you need to be open because it's the way in. From doing this you begin to realize your own judgments tell a story about yourself. You now know you don't have all the answers and no one does; you cannot understand what is happening in everyone else's lives since you aren't in their lives. Judgement is one of the first things you let go.

You become more observant to people’s idiosyncrasy and how everyone has quirks, sensory issues, stims and does things to help balance themselves. This leads to understanding addicts more, since those choices are fueled by imbalances in the brain. You understand yourself more, and all bad behavior in children. This isn’t just in the area of addiction, whether its smoking, drugs, alcohol, food or shopping, but all things.  Because you have this ability to understand without judgment you can then focus on the solutions, instead of the problems.

Autism helps your realize you will try almost anything, which leads to lowering your comfort zone for trying other new things. You can see how there were activities you would never consider before but now suddenly it seems silly to not try. Overall autism will make you more peaceful and more stressed out.

You will change what you believed about friendship. You will realize how much deeper it can go, how you will find friendship in places you may not have thought. You will bond with people who go through what you do. You will forgive people who you originally wrote off as a ‘bad friend’, but you will remember who to spend your limited time.

You will disregard some of your previous beliefs. This can even come in the area of your budgeting and financial attitude. You will change how your define responsibility. You realize there are more things you can do without than you ever thought. Clothing and shoes can last a lot longer than your realize, and furniture is more for function. Autism makes you more conservative with your resources, but more liberal with your love.

Things you took for granted before you no longer do. You will spend a lot of your time being grateful, you will spend a lot of your time feeling worried. You will feel uncomfortable about looking into the future; you may not look forward to things as you did before, not the feeling of excitement because you have been taught all new things are problems. But you will still find some peace in this; you will still feel happy if you let yourself.

You will cry for happiness and pride, and you will cry from frustration and stress.

You may find yourself at a loss of words at times to explain to others exactly why it is as challenging as it is. People will tell you to treat special needs kids like any other, but they aren’t like other kids. And you are no longer like other parents. The rules are different. Even with the similarities, the challenges of 20 children can never measure up to the challenge of one who is autistic. It’s a different world. Much of what you learned about social rules and benefits as being part of society, or as a parent are suddenly gone, those rules don’t exist. So the way you should expect to be treated by your child is gone, it doesn’t exist for you. You will not have what your friends have. But in essence, you will have more.

Autism isn’t a death sentence; it isn’t something horrible that happened to you or your child. It certainly doesn’t “wreck your life”, but it can wreck some moments. It is a challenge and it is completely ok to feel terrible about it at times, just like anything. As long as you let it go and do not let it become who you are.  One of my favorite quotations is by Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”

Your life is how you define it. This may not be how everyone sees it. But this is how I have chosen to as it has made the most sense out of what can not make sense, and has given me not just purpose, but peace.

Friday, December 23, 2016

T'was That Night Skates into the hearts of guests at Christmas Town

In 2015 for the first time the stage of the Royal Palace Theater in the France Village of Busch Gardens was converted to a magical frozen pond to bring guests an ice skating show.
This year the ice skating experience with headliner 2 time Olympic silver medalist champion Elvis Stojko is back and is called T’was that Night.  The show is about 30 minutes in length, features music and original songs, some small fireworks, and of course Santa ice skating.   

Some of the highlights are the dancing/skating reindeer, and Santa skating in his sleigh.  The scenes retell the famous poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” by Clement Moore 1823 which most people refer to as T'was the night before Christmas with sugar plums dancing, Santa arriving and taking off as he tells you “Happy Christmas”.

The set is beautiful, colorful and the skaters do a wonderful job. This is the only theme park on the east coast (besides their sister park Sea World in Orlando) who offers an ice skating show and brings it to their guests for no additional charge. (Knott’s berry Farm in California puts on a Snoopy on Ice show). Other parks like Six Flags are following Busch’s lead and opening for Holiday magic with lights, hot chocolate and keeping a few rides open.

Besides the ice skating show, guests can take in Miracles in the other open air theater San Marco in the Italy village (you can also eat here, all the seating are tables with chairs). If it’s too cold for you, there are 3 indoor shows with heat such as Scrooge No More (a retelling of the classic Dickens tale) in the Globe theater in Englad (Pictured above); Deck the Halls a music review in Fest Haus the restaurant of Oktoberfest; and Gloria in the Abbystone Theater in Ireland which is a retelling of the first Christian Christmas. This in total gives guests 5 shows to enjoy.

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Williamsburg glows with over 8.2 million lights and is open now through January 2, 2017 from 2-10 pm daily except for Christmas Day. On New Year’s Day there will be bonus fireworks at 9:30 PM. Ticket prices vary and are no higher than $38.

For a full review on the Christmas Town Experience click here

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Busch Gardens Christmas Town Shines Brightest 2016

Busch Gardens Williamsburg has the distinction of being Americas Most Beautiful Park for some 26 consecutive years and it has deserved that title each and every year.  They also have the notoriety of the largest light display in North American with 8.2 million lights. For the past few years Christmas Town has come to town, it’s extended the enjoyment of America’s Most Beautiful Park an additional 6 weeks. The halls here have been decked since 2009 and each year is a little brighter and more exciting than the last.

Fun now in the Forest.

This year the park has opened up the Forest of Fun for the first time at Christmas Town, so the little ones will have more rides, and opportunities to meet their favorite Sesame Street characters. All of the normal rides are open in Forest of Fun, except for the water spray area. Characters will be in and out of the area and offer meet and greets as well as photo opportunities. 

Rudolph and Friends in Holiday Hills

Also new this year over in Fiesta Italy, (Holiday Hills), is an indoor opportunity to meet Rudolph and friends. The queue is mostly indoors, but on very busy days you will still have a line outside. As you walk through the queue you can enjoy scenes from the Rudolph movie and eventually get to meet Rudolph, Clarice, Bumble and Yukon.

  Even the floor is sparkly. There is a play and dine also set up in the back of Holiday Hills (what is usually La Cucina) called Dasher’s Diner and here you can enjoy a buffet and meet all the characters. The buffet will have holiday themed foods, such as carved turkey and/or ham, a salad bar and plenty of kid favorites (pizza, chicken nuggets, and fries). Pass members can book this online and receive a discount.

Christmas Town Shines Brightest

If you have never been to Christmas Town and need some holiday cheer this should be on your to-do list, especially if you live in the area. If you do not, it may be well worth booking a weekend trip.  (packages are available here) Besides Busch Gardens there are plenty of other holiday sights to see in the milder temps of Williamsburg and surrounding areas.  The tag line for the park this year is “Where Christmas shines brightest” and it does.  But it really does more than that.

 It’s not just what you see with your eyes at Christmas Town that makes it a Christmas town, it’s this beautifully orchestrated symphony of sounds, smells and good feeling. When it’s all combined you can’t be there and not feel like you just walked into Christmas. It is a completely immersive experience. Busch Gardens has always had a way about it to melt bad moods, soothe anxiety and if any place can give make a Grinch's heart grow, I believe it to be here.

Come for the Ambiance and Magic.

You don’t generally come to Christmas Town for the rides, as there aren’t as many open. However there are 22 rides available, mostly flat rides, plenty for kids. For thrill seekers The Mach Tower, Verbolten, Tempesto and the Sky Ride (hey that is sometimes scary!)will all be open in most conditions. These attractions are the parks 3 newest rides, and with the capability of technology they are designed better for colder weather.  (Griffon we will see you in the spring.) This time of year many of the rides go through checkups, tune up and improvements. The Train will also be open, which will give you the opportunity to rest your feet and take in all the additional lights. Kinda like their own Polar Express (maybe this year they will play Believe on it, if they did, that was my idea).

Besides its beautiful lights, there are also more than 20,000 ornaments and other decorations and displays. The smells of pine trees are everywhere as they also ship in over 1400 trees for the event. If you are the type who comes to the park for its food, you will get to enjoy holiday themed dishes and some of the best hot chocolate you will ever drink. (Refills from a park mug are also only $1.50! If you don’t have a mug you can get one for $6 which includes your first round) 

Holiday music is piped in throughout and is themed to the area. So in Germany (The North Pole in Christmas Town) its German holiday music, as is the case for France, Ireland etc.  The bridge that connects Oktoberfest to Italy plays “Let there be Peace on Earth”.When you are there looking over the water, seeing the display, listening to this choir sing it, you feel it, you believe it, and for that moment, there really is peace.

Additional Fun and Benefits of Christmas Town.

Photo Key

If you want to get some photos done Busch Gardens offers a Photo Key service which costs $35 for the day or $60 for the season. There are 8 locations throughout out the park.  (Includes Verbolten) as well as characters, Santa and other picturesque areas in the park. These are all noted on the Map you can get when you enter. With Photo Key you scan the card with the photographer after you have your picture taken or have ridden a ride. There are unlimited downloads. You can also opt to purchase photos printed for you and photo gifts off the website. If you opt for the Premium (Season option of $60) you do get a 50% discount on those items.  Santa’s Fireside Feast is a separate event which includes a meal and is a separate price, even though you can get photos done there (you can use your own camera as well).

Dining Options

If you prefer to dine with Santa and Mrs. Claus you can also do so!  Santa’s Fireside feast includes a buffet meal, cookies for dessert from Mrs. Claus and the big guy will read you a story. There is also a photo opportunity. Santa’s Fireside Feast (Castle O Sullivan in Ireland) is a holiday buffet and interactive show with Santa. You can meet Santa, tell him what you would like for Christmas and get a picture.

 He also will read everyone a story, there is a small show with this including elves but you are part of the show. Ms. Claus will bring cookies out for dessert. It was a real delight and a must for kids. You can book this for lunch or dinner; bring your appetite the buffet includes a carving station of turkey or ham, Swedish meatballs, homemade mac-n-cheese, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and Trapper’s Smokehouse Chili. Plus there is plenty of food for kids plus a salad bar and more.

Other dining options include the Buffet in the Black Forest and Tastes of Christmas Town in Das Fest Haus where you will also get reserved seating for Deck the Halls. (which if you go there on a busy day at the wrong time you certainly need). Both buffets have holiday themed food including roast turkey and ham. Both locations are heated; the Black Forest is in a pop up heated pavilion tent just to the left of Fest Haus.

Holiday Shopping

Shopping at Christmas Town can be part of the fun there is plenty of it around. The normal stores will be open selling Busch Gardens merchandise as well as holiday decorations and gifts. In Oktoberfest there is a traditional outdoor German market of items from local artisans, winery, handmade gifts and ornaments. With all of the holly jolly around it makes a good time to pick up some special items, or get pictures done for your holiday gift giving, regardless of what you celebrate. Cashless wristbands are offered and can be purchased once you enter the park to make your day a bit easier. You can prepay a set amount or link to a credit card depending on your preference and needs. If you pay up front with cash and don’t use it all, it is refunded to you at the end of your night. You can use these for all purchases including dining.


First of all you can visit Santa at his Workshop in the North Pole. (Germany). There are 6 shows you can enjoy throughout the park besides character meet and greets and carolers over in England.  Scrooge No More in England, an adaptation of the Charles Dickens Classic A Christmas Carol, takes full advantage of the technological enhancement done on the Globe in 2014. At Fest Haus there is a musical holiday review show called Deck the Halls. In Italy at the San Marco Theater is Miracles a winter themed acrobatic show. And for Christmas traditionalists you can enjoy Gloria, a classic retelling of the Christian “first Christmas” at the Abby Stone theater in Ireland.  But the crowing gem is T’was the Night, an ice skating show over in France in the Royal Palace based on the story T’was the Night before Christmas. For additional entertainment you will also find outside of the Fest Haus a 50 foot tree that will light up nightly to a musical score, properly named O’TannenbaumVideo here

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

You can visit Christmas Town in all its glory from now until January 2, 2017. For the first few weeks it is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday then the park is open daily from December 9th-January 2nd except for Christmas Day. Operating hours are generally 2-10 pm; the gates typically open before 2. You have the option to purchase a ticket at the park or online. If you think you will attend more than once you should consider the Fun Card. To do and see everything you do need more than one day. The shows alone would be difficult to all see in one day. And rushing around isn't really fun, you're not really in the moment. 

Parking for pass members is complimentary and $15 for non-season pass holders. Prices for a Fun Card is $38 and gives unlimited admission. Single tickets are $16-$38 depending when you buy (they are discounted at the writing of this piece). Best days to visit will be most weekdays to avoid crowds. Sunday's are usually a slower day as well. 

The only thing Christmas Town lacks is Christmas Karaoke, which I understand isn't everyone's cup of tea, and perhaps that would be a bit of merriement overboard. But a girl can dream.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Busch Garden's Williamsburg Show All For One Swings into Action Summer 2016

All For One swings into action this summer as part of the Summer of Thrills at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

For the first time in seven years a live action adventure show is being performed at the Royal Palace Theater in France. In 2015 an Ice Skating show was developed and shown during Christmas Town, which paved the way for future shows back where they belong.  The Royal Palace typically is the home for concerts typically in the later spring or summer season. This is where you will see Glory at the Gardens or any special performer for Busch Gardens Live.

The Royal Palace is an open air amphitheater that seats about 5,000, out of these seats most are available for a first come, first serve basis. The park puts a few hundred on reserve for various VIP.s including guests who purchase VIP packages and dinner.  The Royal Palace received a small face lift this spring changing the previously blue building to a faux brick fa├žade to go with the show.

All For One is a story full of action, adventure, a little romance and some pretty cool special effects. There is sword fighting, rope swinging, pyrotechnics and much more. It is a new spin and retelling of part of the Three Musketeers story.

Peter Dunklee VP of Entertainment said “This is the most ambitious show we have ever staged at Busch Gardens.” The show was a year in the making and it’s apparent between the effects and the choreography for the fight scenes.  

Anyone who loves pirate stories, the three musketeers, or even appreciates good costuming will enjoy this show. All for One is not a musical, though background music is orchestrated specifically for the show to add ambiance.

Will bravery, loyalty and the power of friendship be enough to win?
You will have to go see for yourself.

All For One will be shown throughout the week and weekend from July 1 through September 4, in the evenings. Show times can be checked on the website, typically there will be one performance during the week and two on Saturday and Sunday.  

And check out the new signs!