Salutations, Disney!

Today was my last day at work and, as such, was filled with bittersweet moments. When I got in this afternoon, I was immediately ushered to a goodbye party filled with a Coldstone ice cream cake and signs posted all around the common area saying, "Good Luck at Haavaard!" Along with the cake, I was ceremoniously given some chocolate pudding in honor of the Hasty Pudding, which I need to research more to completely understand, and a going away card signed by our team. I felt very loved and was honored that so many members of the team seemed truly interested in hearing about my upcoming journeys.

At the end of the day, it was definitely sad saying goodbye and giving out those hugs that to me, so often convey a desire to hold on to the time and place that you're at forever, and at the same time, a prayer that the future doesn't change the way that person remembers you (as it always inevitably does...details are blurred, experiences are jumbled and you slowly become a generalization instead of a specification). So before my memories become generalized, I wanted to look back and recount 10 of my favorite moments in my 21 months as a member of the amazing public relations team at Walt Disney World:

10) The very first time I spoke to my future boss Gary, he was calling from Hong Kong and thus dialed my home number at 10 p.m. my time. And while that phone call elicited many memorable moments, perhaps my favorite is when he told me, "You know, I'm going to decide if I like you based on who wins this weekend's football game," (he was a Tennessee Volunteer alum and I a Florida Gator) to which I laughed and he replied, "No, seriously." The Gators did in fact win that weekend, but I think slowly Gary came to like me anyhow. :)

9) Traveling to Disneyland for a publishing project. I got to stay for four nights and five days at the Disneyland Hotel for free so I could experience the theme parks, dining and night life and use that information to help edit and review the Birnbaum Guides (official Disney guidebook brand) for 2009. I had always wanted to go to Disneyland, but never thought I'd be able to swing it on my own dime, and here I was park hopping, dining in the finest restaurants and enjoying the southern California atmosphere at no cost. A true gift!
8) Shadowing my predecessor Sarah Benson at the (then) Disney-MGM Studios and meeting John Tartaglia (of Avenue Q original Broadway cast fame). Granted this memory happened before I was hired, but I felt like a kid in a candy story the whole day: getting taken in backstage at the Studios and entering the park before it was open to day guests; meeting a real-life photographer (David Roark -- whom I later worked with many-a-day); and watching a celebrity whose vocals I had revered for months and whose show I had LOVED on Broadway participate in a photo shoot in front of the hat. And then to have said celebrity shake my hand! I was in heaven (and little did I know I'd meet so many celebrities and come in backstage so many times that it would become commonplace and comfortable by the time I left).

7) Spending a day with the Jonas Brothers before they were the "it" group they are today. During the 2007 Disney Channel Games, the brothers were performing at the concert since they had recently been signed to Hollywood Records, a Disney-owned label. One of the publications attending the games, the teeny-bopper magazine Popstar! asked Disney to arrange for a half-day photo shoot with the boys at Disney's Polynesian Resort. I coordinated the shoot from soup to nuts and spent several hours with Kevin, Joe and Nick in a relaxed setting where they seemed to be just normal guys (normal guys with makeup artists, straightened hair and some of the funkiest clothes I've seen on three teenage guys, but hey, they are rock stars, right?).

6) Having my boss Gary throw random small items at me from Dianne's neighboring cubicle (sometimes it was Hershey's kisses, occassionally M 'n' M's -- it all depended on Dianne's candy of choice for the week) and attempting to fight it off with a fly swatter so kindly passed down to me by said predecessor Sarah (she knew it would come in handy!). Let's just say I passed that same green fly swatter onto my successor Betsy, and I think she made use of it several times as well!
5) Speaking of my successor Betsy, I never thought I'd say this, but passing the torch onto her makes my top 10 list of favorite moments because I gained a great friend out of it. I originally told her that I hoped I wouldn't like her because then I'd have a good reason to begrudge her for "stealing my job." But in the end she was just too sweet to hate and we've become very close friends in the last year. I'm so thankful that she of all people was able to experience when I experienced -- we understand each other and the demands of the job like no one else can!
4) Having the privilege of being with the Dream Squad when the Cinderella Castle Suite was awarded to a family for the very first night. The event coincided with our PR Press Event and I was on reporter duty for the day with the task of sending information back to home base where a press release could be drafted and sent out asap. For this reason I was with the Dream Squad from the beginning of the day when they found the selected family, to the photo shoots with Cinderella on the castle ramps, to the evening when the family was dressed up in royal garb and presented to the entire press event population in a regal stage show. Although I wasn't the one getting the prize, seeing the joy that it brought to this family made me feel the magic as well.

3) Meeting Brad Garrett at the Magic Kingdom. I had worked really hard planning his photo shoot and was thrilled when he offered to take a photo with me. Seriously, this guy was one walking joke -- perhaps one of the most innately funny people I've met -- and so kind, too! It's not often that you meet a celebrity who actually wants to stop, sign autographs and take photos with fans and he did just that. I was truly impressed by his lack of pretense and always secretly prayed for good ratings on his show, 'Til Death, since then.

2) All of the amazing restaurants I got to eat in (California Grill, 'Ohana, Narcoossee's, Flying Fish, Le Cellier, etc.), hotels I got to stay in (Contemporary, Polynesian, Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Saratoga Springs, etc.) and all the amazing extra events I was able to attend (Party for the Senses, Pirate & Princess Party, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, etc.) that I never would have been able to afford had I not been in the position I was. My life was so enriched by working in the roles I had.

1) Attempting to "leave" Disney five times before I successfully made it out alive this afternoon ;) Now don't get me wrong, I never wanted to quit, but I was originally signed on a 9-month contract with an end date of July 27, 2007. This was extended for six weeks while a replacement was found, which was then further extended for an additional 4 days so I could assist on "one last project." Lo and behold, after my third "last day" I was hired on a three-week contract to assist with the Mom's Panel search and after my fourth last day I was subsequently hired three weeks later to work as a publishing consultant in the same office, one desk over. This time though, there's no turning back (for two years at least!). The funny part is that I never once wanted to leave my job and it seems to me as though whatever higher power is out there was keeping me at Disney for a reason -- and the reason seems to be showing itself now (my acceptance to Harvard was probably due in large part to my two years work experience at Disney and my two recommendation letters from Disney co-workers who probably couldn't have provided the same insight had I stayed only the first 9 months).
And now it's time to say goodbye to all my company (I'm exhausted and have a weekend full of packing and errands ahead). See you real soon!

Will you be my penpal?

Ever since I was little, I've loved having penpals. I used to tear out the Penpal matching sheets from BOP and Teen Beat, mail in my $2.00 and anxiously await receiving a penpal (do you remember those?). Nowadays with the advent of the internet, people don't write letters so much, but I still love receiving mail that's not a bill or a Victoria's Secret catalog (I get one every 3 days, don't ask why). With that said, I've received my HBS mailing address and would like to ask that you write me real mail so I can feel special and not pathetic when I check my mailbox daily. Please write to:

1112 HBS Student Mail Center
Boston, MA 02163
Cute stationary and/or cards that I can proudly display on my dresser are preferred, but care packages, plain old postcards and other correspondence will also be accepted. :) I can start receiving mail there as soon as I arrive (Aug. 11) so this gives you plenty of time to get that first letter, detailing how much you miss me of course, in the mail. Seriously though, when I was at UF it meant the world to me to get cards and letters -- a little slice of home in an unfamiliar place -- so please do take a few minutes to keep me up to date on your lives. I'll love you for it!

Birthday Festivities, part two

As our move draws closer, things are really picking up -- yesterday I went practically non-stop from the time I woke up to the time I hit the pillow at 11:30 p.m. With movers coming by to give quotes, countless "last minute" errands, my last few days at work and all the packing that has to be done around the apartment, I feel like my body is just getting more and more exhausted by the day. Thank goodness I'll have a little over a week to unwind before kicking it into high gear again once Analytics starts on the 13th.

But for now, let's continue to focus on the remainder of my fabulous 24th birthday extravaganza!

On Saturday morning my best friend from high school Aynsley (see her blog, linked at left for more on her life) came into town from Gainesville and we got our nails and toes done at a cute, chic salon called Magic Nails, complete with a smoothie and the endless girly gab that I miss so much when she's not around. Later that afternoon my closest friend from college Melissa came in from Tampa and the three of us, along with my closest friend from work Betsy, met up for a four-course feature dinner at none other than The Melting Pot.

I swear, this has to be one of my favorite restaurants, especially for a group setting. It took us nearly 2 1/2 hours to dine, which makes for plenty of conversation -- something you don't always have time to do say, at Chilis, where they rush you out faster than you can finish your appetizer. The four of us shared the Wisconsin cheese and the Smores chocolate fondue (heavenly, especially when paired with the brownie chunks and the chocolate covered marshmallows). We each got a side salad and then paired off for the entrees. Melissa and I shared a portion of chicken, shrimp, salmon, beef tenderloin and teriyaki marinated steak, and Ayns and Betsy shared a portion of shrimp, duck, teriyaki steak, dumplings and something I'm forgetting. No matter we were all busting out of our clothing by the time we left, which just so happened to be the time everyone wanted to take pictures (seriously girls, couldn't we have posed before we ate so I didn't look like a whale in my when-I-put-it-on-it-was-loose but now-I'm-busting-out-of-it Michael Kors number?). Overall though, it was great to spend time with my closest friends since moving to Boston means I probably won't get to see them as often as I'd like.

My weekend concluded with a day of snacking and shopping with Melissa at the Milenia Mall. We literally walked the entire mall (and for those of you not in Orlando it is a HUGE mall with more than 300 stores), a feat I don't think I've done before in one shopathon. We didn't wind up buying too much, but I was blown away by the sales at The Limited. A case in point: Last fall I bought a gorgeous, warm, turtleneck sweater in burgundy for ~$40. I wound up wearing it to the Admitted Students Weekend in Boston in Feb. and was so warm in it that I regretted not buying it in every color they had. Well, lo and behold, somehow these fabulous sweaters didn't get eaten up in the tropical Florida climate and now they had them on sale for $4.98. I'm not kidding! You should have seen how quickly I snatched up a sweater in brown, black and off-white. Adding to my purchases I snagged a cute pair of dark-wash jeans for $13.99 (down from $70!) and a pair of white cargo bermuda shorts also for $13.99 (down from $50). My grand total came to $45 -- perhaps the most bang I've ever gotten for my buck at the mall.

And so my weekend came to a close and I actually felt really sad when Melissa left and I was again alone at home with the pups. I think some chord finally struck in me as I realized how imminent this life-changing event is. And as much as I want this, and know it's right, it gets so hard sometimes to push yourself out of your comfort zone to enter the unknown. In the end, whether or not I'm ready, my flight to Boston is booked for Aug. 10 and there's no backing out now!

Birthday Festivities Part 1

Well folks, I'm officially 24 and boy do I feel old. But despite my paranoia over the fact that 24 is close to 25, which is close to 30, I had a great birthday weekend filled with great food, great friends and great fun. I'll be chronicling my activities over a few entries since I have so much to share. I'll also be updating my blog more frequently now that my HBS adventures are drawing near, so stay tuned!

On Friday night, my mom and I dined at Victoria & Albert's, the most elegant and upscale restaurant on Disney property, which is on the second floor of the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (Disney's flagship resort). V&A's, as it's affectionately known, is the only AAA Five Diamond restaurant in central Florida and due to its exclusivity and price tag (the 7-course prix fixe menu demands $125 per person), I never thought I'd get there, but thanks to some Disney magic and a lot of hard work, we were able to make it happen for the night of my birthday.

Here we are at our table enjoying our first glass of Heidsieck Monople "Blue Top" Brut Champagne NV (we had two) before our dining experience began. Actually, this picture doesn't do the restaurant, or the experience, justice. The room was absolutely gorgeous -- there are two dining rooms, one with about 15 tables, and a second, more cozy room with a fireplace that has 5 tables (we were in the second room, which I had requested). The main dining room has a gorgeous domed ceiling painted ethereally with tables both surrounding and underneath the dome. When you arrive, each table is set with splendid china emblazoned with the Victoria & Albert's logo, along with red roses and a candlelit lamp. The lighting is dim (which means when taking a picture with a flash the ambiance doesn't read in the photo) and there is a harpist playing. And although it's a formal restaurant (women must wear dresses and men must wear jackets), it's not stuffy as I worried it might be. Rather, the staff was extremely warm, joking jovially with us throughout the evening and offering every courtesy.

As each guest enters the restaurant, they are greeted by the Maitre d'Hotel who knows who you are and what you are celebrating (one of my co-workers passed along the word that I was accepted at HBS, so in addition to the normal happy birthday I was congratulated for that as well).

Upon being seated, the waiter and assistant waiter greet you promptly, pour that first glass of champagne and present your personalized menus for the evening (those are the small black "books" on the table in the first photo). These are personalized with your name, the date and the reason for your dinner (if it's a special occasion). Once you make your selections from the menu, the 3+ hour adventure begins.

After the champagne we were served a quartet of bite-size appetizers sent over by the chef -- unfortunately these aren't printed on my personalized menu so all I remember was a pineapple square with balsamic drizzle, a chilled melon soup and pickled watermelon, which was actually very tasty (from here on out I have the official, hard-to-understand-what-you-are-eating real names of the dishes and wines we enjoyed).

Our first appetizer was the Jumbo Lump and Dungeness Crab with California Asparagus Salad. The crab was wrapped in radish and served on top of the baby asparagus -- delicious! I also chose to do the wine pairings for the night, so I enjoyed this with a Pascal Jolivet, Sancerre 2006. For our second appetizer, we tried the Poached South Carolina Quail with Black Mission Figs and Fuji Apples, paired with a Dr. Zenzen Valwiger Herrenbery Riesling Auslese, Mossel 2001, which was by far my favorite wine of the night. My mom and I were both a little nervous at ordering quail, but it was surprisingly good, not gamey at all and very tender. And before I begin to sound like a lush here with the wine, each was a 2-3 oz. pour (although I did get a little tipsy when I attempted to maneuver my way to the restroom mid-evening!).

For our first entree, we ordered the Florida Pompano Amandine with Bean Ragout and Marcona Almonds paired with a Rosenthal "The Malibu Estate" Chardonnay, San Luis Obispo 2006. The fish was very light, flaky and buttery and with the crunch of the almonds, absolutely amazing. I could have eaten two of these (see below for the visual magnificence of this dish)!

Before receiving our second entree, the chef sent over a half portion of Pan Roasted Foie Gras with Georgia Peach Tart and Mostarda di Cremona paired with an unknown, very sweet wine. I was in heaven as I tried -- for the first time -- this buttery, melt-in-your-mouth meat (I later found out that not only had I enjoyed duck liver, but that it's also a controversial dish. At the time, however, I was literally in love.)

At this point, my mom and I started to get full, but had to brace ourselves because we still had our second entree, two dessert courses and an after-dinner treat sent over by the chef. This was our one and only complaint about the restaurant -- there was way too much food (perhaps they can do smaller portions on the two entrees or maybe it was just my mom and I's lack of control since we loved the beginning courses so much). Unfortunately, the pleasure of eating started to creep into the displeasure zone as our clothes tightened and our bellies stretched, but we made room to enjoy the rest to at least some degree.

Our second entree was the Marcho Farms Veal Tenderloin with Braised Veal Cheeks and Burgundy Poached Sweet Breads paired with a Prior d'Scala Dei, Priorat 2003 (this wine I didn't care for much and only sipped).

For our first dessert course, my mom and I ordered both of the options and shared them. The first was a cheese plate with three kinds of cheeses, baby champagne grapes, a piece of date bread, etc., which we only nibbled on. We gobbled up the White Chocolate Gelato with Fuchsia Petals and Lindt chocolate shavings (they placed an edible flower on top of the gelato, which I ate upon a dare from my mom and actually found to taste much like you'd think a flower would. It was very fragrant and sweet, but a little grassy!). This course was paired with a Quinta do Crasto Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2001, which I could not drink since it was so strong (I expected this of a port wine, but tried it anyhow). We concluded our meal (or so we thought) with the most amazing chocolate trio of desserts (a sampling of each): Tanzanian Chocolate Pyramid, Hawaiian Kona Chocolate Souffle and Peruvian Chocolate Ice Cream and Puff Pastry paired with coffee.

As our food settled (and our heads sobered up), the chef sent over what they call a "kiss goodnight": a trio of very small desserts to send you off with a sweet taste in your mouth. Unfortunately I was so uncomfortably full at this point that I couldn't enjoy them, but my mom praised the small butter cookies and bite-size chocolate candies.

Before we left, we were brought back into the kitchen to meet and compliment Chef Scott Hunnel, the Chef de Cuisine and mastermind behind this extravagant dinner. I had met him twice before on public relations photo shoots, but was happy to finally be able to congratulate him on his culinary wonders. My mom was also excited to tour the kitchens and say she met the chef (this was a special treat since I work for Disney, unfortunately not every guest is allowed this privilege).

After we paid, we were presented with our personalized menus, a small loaf of orange date bread (baked fresh in the Grand Floridian Bakery every morning and said to be a treat so you don't "go to bed hungry" as if that were possible after this meal!) and two long-stemmed red roses all in a beautiful gift bag. It was a lovely evening and despite being stuffed, we were sad to go, yet anxious to return in the future.

We had arrived at 5:45 and left the restaurant at 9:15 -- a 3.5 hour dinner (definitely the longest I've ever had), but well worth the cost and time spent. I would definitely recommend it to anyone celebrating a special occasion. And if you go, don't be afraid to try the more exotic offerings -- you may never have the chance to order quail or foie gras or caviar again!

Tomorrow I'll continue with the second day of my birthday weekend...see you then!