Friday, April 14, 2017

April Brings Autism Awareness May it bring Acceptance

April Brings Autism Awareness May it bring Acceptance

Autism awareness exists largely because Autism was once a much less common condition, or so it seemed. When my son was diagnosed in 2005, he was 1 of 150; in 2014 he became 1 of 68. So more people are aware for that reason alone. According to the National Institute of Health, back in the 70’s and 80’s autism rates were more like 1 in 5000 and 1 in 2500 respectively. I am not here to discuss the reasons why, no one honestly knows that anyway.  These facts are just mentioned as to why there is such a thing as “Autism Awareness Month”. 

Autism is complex; it takes more than just a short article to explain or bring “awareness”. Autism is an entire way of thinking different. Therefore this yields an entire way of behaving and functioning differently than what is considered “normal” or “typical”. Autistic people have a lot of the same needs and abilities as others, but they also have skill deficits in some areas, and advanced skills in other areas. Such as sensory issues much stronger than what humans usually deal with, their ears and nerves can just hurt much more than yours. But that same person may also have some strong fascination with baking they could teach Betty Crocker a thing or too. Just because people with autism have disabilities and deficits is not a criticism, nor something to feel bad about. It’s just a fact. The negatives of the disorder still yield many positives, culminating people into little puzzle-filled snowflakes.

And I am not talking about the way all people are different, but in some respects it is the same as that. As with many disabilities, people seek to find the balance between being treated the same where applicable and also not punished because of their limitations and needs. They have enormous challenges and live the life of the unexplainable-hence the acceptance part.

Autism in a way gives us all the opportunity every day to work on being accepting.  This is connected to why it’s important to know yourself. Love and respect yourself so you can do this for others, to not bother wasting energy on judging others. For all it does is paint a picture of yourself. That picture can be a nice picture or a nasty one, that choice is always yours.

When you see, hear, read things about anything really, you don’t have to make assumptions and judge if it isn’t being directed at you, or involves you directly. You can actually just accept it. You will never know why something happened, or why someone does what they did, because it isn’t you. Like the beauty of a snow globe, you can shake it up and look at the snow gently falling around in a beautiful setting, but you can never know what it would feel like to be in that globe because you are outside of it. It could be awful in there, or the opposite could be true. You simply cannot know.

Acceptance is not about being in agreement, it isn’t about what you like, love, or hate. 

Acceptance is your chance to be who you are. Acceptance is what gives you the ability and the right to even have an opinion.  You accept your opinion, if you didn’t you wouldn’t have a valid opinion because you didn't accept it. You can accept something and still not agree with or like it.  

Acceptance allows you to try something new, like a new taste, a new experience, or a new friend.
Acceptance allows you more peace; it gives you freedom from worry. Acceptance can free you from arguments.  You accept your friend’s opinions about being vegan, even though you would never ever stop eating bacon. But you accept their beliefs for themselves and appreciate that they won't be eating your meat. Their beliefs actually helps the planet and gives you more of what you want. Everyone gets to be who they are. 

You accept the things that can not be changed. 

You must first acknowledge and be aware of what can not be changed, or that is not your business to change. 

This then makes it obvious that you have a choice to be more accepting in life to allow more goodness into it, more peace. You aren't wasting energy and time trying to change anyone.

You choose to accept people or you don't, that is the your decision, the beauty of life.  If you want to have more peace, you accept more and fight less.  Its that simple. You pick your battles.

I often remind my son to not concern himself with the opinions of others that are full of anger, disapproval and basic non-acceptance. For if that is what they think of him, then what they think doesn't matter. Why value the opinion of someone like that? I have told him, not everyone will like you, but the ones with negative things to say only show us who they are, not who we are.

Awareness about Autism or anything really isn't enough. You can be aware the sun is shining, but if you don’t accept that it is a nice day and choose to go out into it, you will miss it.

For more on seeing Autism differently and learning acceptance here's my book!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

What's Happening at Busch Gardens Williamsburg 2017 Season

Busch Gardens Williamsburg, A.K.A America’s Most Beautiful Theme Park, is open once again with another exciting and fun-filled season this year.

Your journey begins with InvadR which is invading Busch Gardens on April 7, 2017. This is the park’s first wooden roller coaster and something thrill seekers have been asking for some time. InvadR has 9 airtime hills, a 74 foot drop and is Viking themed. The speed is considered moderate at just less than 50MPH, and the height requirement is 46 inches so it’s considered Family Friendly. This non-rider is planning on taking a voyage on InvadR shortly after it opens, at least once. 

InvadR is in the New France section (its more or less Canadian) near the Caribou Train Station. The coaster interacts with both the train and the Log Flume Le Scoot 4 different times during your journey.

Some exciting features of this coaster are sound effects being used indoors of the ride and two tunnels, one where the coaster goes underground briefly. InvadR is both wooden and steel so you get the best of both worlds. The feel of a wooden coaster, with the support and lower maintenance of steel. InvadR is brought to you by Great Coasters, they make Coasters great.

We have watched InvadR grow over the past year and it was an exciting time, especially the hard hat tour with previewing the progress and learning about how the coaster was being constructed. More tracks were still to be laid down back in February. This photo below is the stuff of nightmares. Don't worry, the coaster doesn't fly through the air here, they did finish laying the tracks. 

Busch Gardens has been very good over the years at keeping their secrets of any development plans they have. There still is plenty more land and more things in development but we all have to wait. (Psst...there is Virtual Reality coming in 2018 in Ireland). This coaster was announced in 2016 at Member preview day (which is typically the weekend before opening weekend). The ride was also partially designed by fans and guests.

Some examples of guest influence were during the "Decide the Ride Campaign". Fans took part in the naming of the ride, as well as the face of InvadR (a person to portray a Viking for the media aspects).

Busch Gardens is open every day from March 31 to April 23, to accommodate vacationers and spring breakers. Then they will resume a half-time schedule with just being open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday until May 26 (memorial day weekend)then the park is open all week long again. Springtime is always a fun time to visit as the weather is mild to warm, and the park has flowers everywhere you go.

Other Elements in 2017

A new Fry shop has opened in France called Pierre Les Frittes. It features hand cut French fries with numerous toppings such as Canadian themed-gravy and cheese curds, the park's signature Chili, Carnitas Pork, or a combination of other toppings like cheese, bacon and more. Below is a picture of the Gravy and Cheese Curds. Delicious, reasonable priced snack.

Every time a season pass is purchased this April, a day ticket is donated to children who are members of Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula and of South East Virginia. Park President David Cromwell stated “Kids are very special to us, and we couldn’t have found a better partner than Boys & Girls Clubs, We are excited to kick off this unique collaboration between our guests and team members."

There are a few artistic aspects showing this partnership in the park at the back of the Wildlife reserve into France.  (Photo to be added)

Two New Shows.

Over in England at the Globe you will find Elmo Rocks in the Spring and a New Show in the summer called Britmania. OktoberZest in Das Fest Haus began March 31, and is a German themed show featuring a 4 person band with a violinist. Das Fest Haus is in the Oktoberfest section of Busch Gardens. It’s also a great place to eat when the weather is too hot, too cold or too wet. It is the largest seated area in the park, and the only one indoors. The food is pretty awesome too. Here you can get German sausages and sides, mile high corned beef sandwiches, desserts, and pizza.

Food & Wine

The Food & Wine Festival is extended this year for the first time and is running from May 26-July2. (typically it is just 4 weeks ending the 3rd week of June). This year there are 3 new Kiosks.  We are only losing one from last year. Typically they add 2 new ones each year and replace the lesser performing ones. We got lucky it seems this year, as the event is getting more popular!

The new kiosks are India (in Oktoberfest near Dark Castle), Mediterranean (replaces the Greek stand and also where you normally get pizza cones etc.) and a Frozen Drink stand near the Mach Tower called Island Freeze. Island Freeze will serve a variety of frozen drinks including Rum Runner, Frozen Mojito, Pina Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri and a Frozen Bellini as well as a few more.  This stand if it does well, could possibly stick around like Crepes and Coffee did in France, and the dessert area of Italy near Marco Polo Marketplace.

As usual Busch Gardens will have options for vegetarians. The Mediterranean Kiosk will have some similar food as years past, (Halloumi-the Griddled Greek cheese with honey and pistachios; and Baklava are back) and there is the new addition of a Lamb Burger and Falafel (which is vegetarian). India will have Chicken Tandoori, Samosas (pastry with lentils, potatoes, peas in a curry sauce), and a dessert that is Mango and Coconut Snowballs. 

Some changes this year did happen but so far not too many. (However the menu can still change). In the American Southwest a Ghost Pepper guacamole is replacing the Chicken Adobo with mole sauce.

The dips were removed from Hawaii and Virginia but otherwise the menu is the same. Which means those delicious Spam Sliders are back on the menu this year.

Some new drinks added, such as in Ireland a Specialty drink called a Leprechaun. It sounds like it just might be magically delicious.

Its Food AND wine, so there will be wine tasting areas throughout the park, and the kiosks will have wine, beer and specialty drinks. The day you go, there will be a printed menu with map so you are sure to not miss anything. More details on this later, typically we have a media event the day it opens. Here is last years review.

We have visited for all 5 years of Food & Wine, as it opens around Noah's birthday, and we have celebrated each of them here since 2013.  Video of Busch Gardens and Noah  to Orange Colored Sky.


As summer rolls in you will  find new entertainment, culinary experiences and illuminations for the ”Summer Nights”  which runs from the first of July until the end of August. All for One returns at the end of June (30th) and runs until September 3. Which if you haven’t seen it last year; this swashbuckling adventure is over in France at the Royal Palace Theater. (a.k.a Palladium). It features sword fighting, adventure, a little romance and some pretty cool special effects including some pyrotechnics.  It is a new spin and retelling of part of the Three Musketeers story.

Also on June 30 opens Britmania which will replace London Rocks in the Globe Theater of England.  This is a musical revue type of show (similar to London Rocks). It will feature British hits from the 60’s through current times. The Globe had received a revamping 3 years ago which includes more state of the art-technological equipment and better sound. 2000 speakers were added, giving each seat 2 speakers, and 79 around the stage. Plus visually the ability to project 110,000 lumens of video mapped imagery through 5 projectors (a typical home theater yields 3,000 lumens). If you haven't enjoyed it yet, now may be a good time.

There is also a set schedule of concerts that will be performed every Saturday night at the Royal Palace Theater from July 8th through August 26th. These concerts are free and are included with your ticket/pass. Some bands coming this year are MercyMe, Kool and the Gang and 38 Special.

Fireworks will occur in honor of Independence day on July 3rd and 4th in the evening around 9pm, they can typically be seen almost anywhere in the park.


Bier Fest is back and extended with more opportunities for you to enjoy this year. This will be the third year for this German fest in the Oktoberfest village. Guests get to enjoy German music and dancing as well as beer sampling from around the world. Bier Fest runs select dates from Sept 1-17.(the first 4 days of September plus 2 weekends). Maybe you will learn some German, and dance with this guy. (well I did, Ja..I did)


Some people's most favorite time of the year will also be extended this year to having a few Thursday nights and be open until midnight on select nights. The total amount of days is actually just increased by one. But for locals, the Thursday nights may provide additional enjoyment when the park isn't as crowded. This will most likely be run as an experiment this year. 

For kids this year there will also be a daytime event. For the first time the Count’s Halloween Spooktacular(always at Sesame Place and Seaworld Parks) will be a Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. Children will be allowed to be dressed up for the event, and join in family friendly activities, including a costume parade. This will occur during the day-time hours only on just Saturdays and Sundays October 7-29. After 6pm the park will turn into a more terrifying place. The No Escape Room is back. You didn't get a review from me last year as I had the pleasure of being a Stage Manager for the event! However, here is the review from 2015.

And to wrap up the season Christmas Town will be back November 24 and run until January 1. The Park is open from 2 or 3pm most days until 10pm. Not all rides are operating and this is a separately ticketed event. It is quite reasonable at around $30 (and funcards go on sale early and are cheapest the earlier you buy them).

More exciting events and concerts will also occur and we will update in more detail throughout the season. We always consider Busch Gardens to be an affordable, beautiful place that is full of friendly people. They grow fun there and you can feel it with the customer service you receive and your interactions with team members. We also have been thankful for the options available for those with special needs.

Many people go to a theme park for the rides, but Busch Gardens offers much more than that, so even if riding isn't your thing, you can still have a lot of fun. You feel like you are somewhere else. Plus they have some pretty delicious food.   Here is a video walk through with the music to Europe in the Air (which is now defunct...remember I psst'd you earlier about the Virtual’s going to be in there)

If you are an animal lover you can enjoy interactions here between the Pet Shenanigans show, and with the Jack Hanna Wildlife reserve. Who you may also get to meet in the spring with some of his animal friends each year.

 SeaWorld parks puts their money where their mouth is and have spent millions of dollars rehabbing and saving animals, and the planet. You can feel it in every inch of this place and meeting the animals here. There are 4 bald eagles who can not fly (most have broken wings, or were shot) and they live here.

Tickets and Passes 

There are a variety of options of tickets and passes.  The Fun card is $80 and is good until Sept 3, it allows you to enter over and over like a season pass and is cheaper than a season pass, but doesn’t have all the perks. (no free parking or discounts, plus expires by September 3). But is a good choice for anyone wanting to go more than once.  

For people who plan to go  a few times in the year there is the 1-park pass good all year from date of first use, $144 or $12 a month EZ Pay; or the 2-Park pass which includes Water Country- $192 or $16 a month EZ Pay. The Platinum pass is for all the SeaWorld parks except Discovery cove- $228 or $19 a month and is what you may choose if you know you are going to another park, or live near a different park. We had these before I wrote for the park and we lived near Sesame Place. They were a tad cheaper in 2010 ($12.50 a month) and they never went up in price because of the EZ Pay, so that is also something to consider for people who want to go here for years. Since your prices will remain the same. 

EZ Pay can be accessed through the passmember portal and when you sign up for your pass online. You link whatever credit or debit card you like to it. You also have the option to pick the day it draws. 

Other perks for having a season pass are the 10% discount, pass member only days or late nights, free parking (platinum passes have free preferred parking in VA parks, free general in all others) and discounted tickets for friends and family.

For example, pass members will have a late night ride option for InvadR on May 12-14 and a swim night coming up at Water Country on June 16, where the park will be open only for pass members from 7-10pm. Water Country opens on May 20th. It is the most beautiful water park I have ever been to. But more on that later. 

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