Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A long time ago...

...in a galaxy pretty close to ours...

...they used light sabers in the Revolutionary War!

Eat your heart out, Star Wars Kid!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Monday- My friend Anna was bummed that she wasn't going to Germany.
Tuesday- She said she was coming. Tomorrow
Wed- Anna arrives

Highlights from the week that was...

A pod of dolphins came up to the
sea wall looking for some food.

Of course, no trip to FL is complete without the most magical place on earth!

What an incredible week! It will go down as one of the better ones in my two years here.

Dolphins, Disney, Pier, Parade, Art Fair, Taste of Pinellas, Totally Awesome 80's Orchestra, Alligators, Canoeing, Beach, Dali Museum

And it ended with a sunset sail...

It is going to be hard to leave this...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Police Appreciation Run

Last night, I drove by my park and saw them setting up for a race.

As soon as I saw the faces of who it was for, I knew I had to run it. So I woke up this morning, not at all ready to run, and braced myself for the inaugural Police Appreciation Run.

For those of you who don't know, on 1/24 and 2/21, three St Petersburg Police Department officers were killed in the line of duty. These events hit me very hard, and I have done my best to show my support of SPPD as much as I could since.

This race was coordinated by Lorraine Yaslowitz, the wife of one of the fallen officers.

I watched the K-9 Officer Jeff Yaslowitz 10K, where a 15 year old kid blew away the field. The most incredible moment came as the SPPD SWAT team ran in cadence, led by Harvey Yaslowitz, the father of Jeff.

Then came time for my race, the Sergeant Tom Baitinger 5K, and ran pretty well considering at 8:30 AM it was already HOT.
Time: 30:34
10th in age group (out of 27)
170th Overall (out of 512)

Officer Yas' K-9 vehicle. Ace was freaking out in the back.

Harvey Yaslowitz and his wife,
parents of Jeff Yaslowitz

"I'd rather have a live coward than a dead hero
but God had other plans...
I know we'll be ok,
and I know I'll see my son again"

Lorraine Yaslowitz, wife of Jeff Yaslowitz

"This is heaven- this is what Jeff
is feeling ten-fold...
Thank you all for being a part of it."

After the award ceremony, the morning concluded with the Officer Dave Crawford 1 Mile Walk to Remember. This was a chance to reflect and a short walk to remember the acts of the brave officers.

During the walk, I got to share a few moments with Harvey Yaslowitz. I thanked him for his son's service, and told him that ever since his son died, I have worn this bracelet. I haven't taken it off in 4 months. And I will continue to wear it with pride for as long as I can.

He told me that it is words like those that lift him up and keep him strong.

I will never forget that conversation.

The faith and strength of Harvey, Lorraine, the entire Yaslowitz family, and all of the families of the officers are so admirable and inspiring.

Stay strong. And we'll never forget.

"Baitinger and Yaslowitz - EOW 1-24-11"
Officer David Crawford - EOW 2-21-11

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blue Horizons

Ok... I know I'm a bit of a Disney snob.

I go to places and compare everything to the most magical place on Earth.

In most cases, things come up short. I mean WAAAAYYY short. With very few exceptions.

Yesterday, I found one of those exceptions. Something at Sea World that rivals most things at Disney. This is incredible.

Here is the best video I could find, stolen from Youtube. Does not come anywhere near doing it justice.

Blue Horizons
Sea World - Orlando, FL

Go right now. Seriously. Go to Sea World.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Backstage Magic

I was fortunate enough to go on the Backstage Magic Tour at Disney.

My advice: You NEED to go on this tour once in your life.

Yes, it's expensive. Yes, you have to wake up early. Yes, it lasts all day. But it is so worth it! It gives you a completely new perspective, and I learned more in this one day than at all 20+ combined over the past 2 years.

I don't want to give away any of the Disney Magic, but here's a quick run-down of the day:

EPCOT: You start the day at EPCOT before the park opens. Hours before World Showcase opens. It was great to walk through W.S. when it was a ghost town. The only people we saw were maintenance staff, who were using a sledgehammer to fix a section of the sidewalk. Not something you ever see when the park is awake. Then we were told stories about the American Adventure and how it came to be. We learned about how some of the plants and trees are taken care of, and how the aesthetics of the park quickly die once you go backstage. The best part of the stop (and the entire day) was going behind the scenes at A.A. and seeing how it works- the technology that is used, the machinery, the animatronics. Truly a one-of a kind experience.

Magic Kingdom: We took a quick loop through Main Street USA and caught the Move it! Shake it! Celebrate it! Street Party. As we watched, we learned about how the music is played throughout the park during the parade. Then, we went into the world famous Utilidor, which sits underneath the park. This is a side of Disney that you NEVER see. The best part was seeing cast members pushing little black bags on a cart, and knowing that one of the character costumes is inside. Were we seeing Mickey? Donald? Stitch? It reaffirmed the notion that 95% of the Disney characters are played by small women. FYI- yes, they actually pump scents of cookies, popcorn, etc. into the park- Disney Deceit! I think my favorite part of the Utilidor was seeing a slideshow of photos taken throughout the park. We were told that the purpose was to motivate the cast members as they walk by- sometimes, after long days, monotonous shifts, day after day, you might lose some of that drive- some of the magic. But seeing the pictures of smiling faces throughout the park is really inspiring- that is why the whole thing was done. The entire reason of why Disney World exists. So seeing the joy on peoples' faces, who have traveled from all over the world to have an amazing time and create memories, is enough to remind anyone that everyone plays a part in making a magical experience.

Central Shops: One of the favorite stops of the day was to the place where just about everything is created. Everything from the attractions to the signs. From roller coasters to the animatronics. The teacups. The animals of jungle cruise. The seats on Spaceship Earth. All of these were created here (and so much more). It was like walking through a Disney junkyard. A hippo from Jungle Cruise sitting next to a giraffe from Animal Kingdom. A seat from Spaceship Earth next to a flying carpet from Aladdin next to a car from Dinosaur. All in for some sort of repairs or maintenance.

Lunch: We had an AMAZING lunch at Wilderness Lodge. Family style ribs, chicken, sausage, corn, mashed potatoes, etc. and an incredible strawberry/apple cobbler to finish the meal. Then back on the road.

Hollywood Studios: We made 2 cool stops here: Tower of Terror and Creative Costuming. We went into a room and learned about how Tower of Terror was created- the story, the concept, and even the collaboration with OTIS elevators to develop the technology. This part would have been a million times better if we could have seen the control room, but I am assuming that's impossible while the ride is operating. But it was great learning more about it. Creative Costuming was great! We learned about how some of the costumes are created, and saw some of the team hard at work. A few of them were working on a brand new Tinkerbell costume (shh! you didn't hear that from me!). It was incredible hearing about how everything is imagined, ideas are created, then how those ideas are turned into actual costumes.

Tree Farm: We made a quick stop where they grow and maintain the plants that are seen throughout the parks and where they grow some of the food for the animals. When one of the plants goes bad in the parks, someone is called, then they simply switch them out. Crazy! It was also cool being there while Flower & Garden Festival was going on at EPCOT. We learned about how the topiaries are created, and saw a few of the works-in-progress. A whole Lion King crew was ready to go to EPCOT!

Animal Kingdom: Right before the tree farm, we made a very quick stop to the storage building where the parade floats are kept when not in use. Cast members were in checking on the floats and the equipment, and a few were arriving and getting into costume for the big show. The last stop of the day was back to A.K. for a viewing of the Jammin' Jungle Parade. It was great seeing the show come to life after we saw everything behind the scenes.

Sometimes, the more you know about something, the less you are able to appreciate it. The magic gets taken away. When you learn how a magician did the trick that just blew your mind, you suddenly become unimpressed. With Disney, it is the complete opposite! I have come to appreciate everything so much more. People don't realize the hard work that goes into everything at Disney. From the Imagineer that had an idea, to the countless people that help create it, to the people that maintain it, it is truly an incredible process that I can't even comprehend. On our tour, we learned that out of the 60,000 Disney cast members working at Walt Disney World, only about a third of them are on the front lines- that people see. The rest are the ones behind the scenes ensuring that everything goes off without a hitch. It's believing in something enough to make it a way of life- to dedicate yourself to something that isn't for yourself. It's for the smiling faces that you will never see. All to tell a story. A story that will live on forever.

To me, that's the Disney magic.

It all started with a mouse. And that mouse has gone on to change the world, one story at a time. And he will continue to do so for many generations to come.

Thanks to Brian and Mickey, our 2 amazing tour guides (who both said I should look into working for Disney).

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Everest Challenge

Expedition Everest Challenge - Walt Disney World - Animal Kingdom

I hate running with people.

Hate it.

Because usually, it's with people faster than me (doesn't take much) who leave me panting in their wake.

So when I signed up for this team race, I was less than thrilled. Especially considering I was running it with Miss Half Marathon herself.

I apologized over and over before we started, knowing that she would have to slow down to my pace.

But it turns out that is an incredible motivator! Just like in any sport, playing with someone better than you is the best way to help you improve. In the same way, I was able to push it with a little faster pace than normal. 3.1 miles later, it was the fastest I have ever run a 5K. And the fastest race by over a minute. Woohoo PR!

That includes the first quarter mile where we literally skipped because the crowd was too large and slow to start running. And the obstacles in the race (hay bail hurdles, tires, cargo net). And the side cramp at mile 1.2.

5K Time: 30:13

Then came the fun part! After the 5K was completed, we were given the first clue of a scavenger hunt. The clues led us throughout the park, solving riddles. Because we're smart (sarcasm font) we decided to sprint from clue to clue. That ended up being another couple miles (uggghhhh!). So needless to say, I pulled a muscle because I'm too competitive.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Master Parker

I remember day one, walking into orientation with a group of 30 strangers. I never knew that these people would have such a profound impact on my life. I have never met such an amazing, caring, and inspiring group of people - who in the course of two years, have all become my family.

We have laughed, cried, worked our butts off, listened, been so frustrated we've wanted to pull our hair out, challenged each other, learned from each other, and made a million memories.


What a ride it has been!

2 years in the making...

...I now present to you:

Master Parker

I really can't believe that it's over.

I can't believe that I have a Master's degree.

Jeff Parker, M.Ed.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

St. Anthony's Triathlon

"If you have dedication, and pride, and never quit, you'll be a winner.
The price of victory is high, but so are the rewards."
- Paul "Bear" Bryant


Thousands gathered near the start line, saying good morning to the rising sun as it peeked over the horizon. They have been up for hours, noting the last minute alterations due to the weather. The wind caused a lot of headaches and changes, yet everyone’s spirits were high. The determination gleaming from their faces said that they wouldn’t let anything get in the way of their goal.

2 minutes until race time.

The professional athletes took their places, staring 100 meters in front of them- the orange glow reflecting on the waves, beckoning them to enter its cool grasp.

The horn sounds!

Dozens of men sprint, dive, swim, then disappear, becoming nothing more than faint splashes as they make their way through the salt water.

The women start 2 minutes later, sprinting into the bay.

Wave after wave begins. Hundreds splash their way through the water, around the turns, and to the shore.

After 1.5K, the swimmers crawl their way out of the water, gather their steps, and start running toward the transition area, clearly spent by the grueling swim, but their race is now in full swing.

They grab their bikes, and some more gracefully than others (a few near face plants occurred) mount them and pedal around the corner and through the 40K course.

As the sky brightens and the day gets hotter and hotter, the athletes dismount their bikes and start the final stretch of their race – a 10K run.

Step after step, they get closer. And closer. And finally, they take the final turn. Some are so spent that they can hardly jog across the finish line. Others sprint past everyone else, giving everything they have to the final 100m of the race. Agony. Smiles. Exhaustion. Joy. If you want to see raw emotions at their finest, look no further than the finish line of a race.

Not a bad way to start my day - watching all of this unfold.

It made it more fun knowing somebody in the race. Thanks to Lauren for being in inspiration in everything she does! And a shoutout to my friend Shannon who made the trek from Miami to help work the race.

Top 3 from Saint Anthony’s Marathon

3. Team Shake n bake – these 5 or so incredibly obnoxious guys wearing mullet wigs and dressed in American flag robes made their way to the starting line, screaming, shouting, and pumping up the crowd. Hilarity ensued for another few minutes before they started their races. It turns out they were running in support of and raising money for the fallen officers that we had in our community just a few months ago. Way to go, guys!

2. A man rounding the final turn, running toward the finish line with one last burst of energy, with his four year old daughter sprinting by his side, hand in hand.

1. The numerous athletes competing in the “physically challenged” category. This really hit me as I saw them finish their swims and come out of the water. The most vivid was a man who had both legs and an arm amputated. As he came out of the water, his family had to jump in, carry him to a chair, put his legs on, and then off he went. I don’t know if I have ever felt as much inspiration. The thunderous applause and standing ovations as several amputees crossed the finish line is enough to give anyone chills.