Orlando and Freedom

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After Wintering in a rural part of Southern Florida, it was refreshing to get back to “civilization” at Stage Stop Campground in Winter Park, a suburb of Orlando. The campground was set back off the road and had a good mix of full-time, seasonal, and itinerant guests, with ages ranging from young Disney fans to sun-seeking retirees. We had our pick of restaurants, grocers, and amusement parks. We practically lived at a cute little boba tea shop called Lucky Straws, which catered to gamers.

Battleship and boba at Lucky Straws

Battleship and boba at Lucky Straws

There was great nightlife at the Plant Street Market, a collection of local vendors including a brewery, pizza, sandwiches, coffee, chocolatier, honey, etc. These folks collaborate for some one-of-a-kind gastronomic experiences. We enjoyed a perfect Friday night with live music on the patio.

During this leg, I was wrapping up my day job and approaching my time of freedom. This included a two-week return trip to St. Louis for my final transition. Matt would join me, to sell the last of our material possessions from our previous life. Rather than board “the dogs” for two weeks, we decided to get a rental car and keep them at the hotel with us.

Never. Again.

“Little Dog” does not do well in cars. I can’t tell you how happy I am this motion sickness does not translate to the bus. We spent two days trying anything we could think up to stop Olivia from vomiting all over everything, including Maybe Dog. So glad I spent an extra twenty minutes covering every inch of the rental in bedsheets for extra protection! The only thing that worked was positioning her to look forward out the window. And so I held her…

I should mention that I am allergic to cats, but only when they are stressed and dropping dander. I can’t imagine what the passers-by thought, seeing some frazzled woman, sneezing endlessly while holding a cat up Simba-style towards the windshield. Eventually we rigged a hanging basket, with the only opening facing the windshield. Sorry Olivia, but we must be travelin’ on now.


The cat basket gave us a few hours of relief. We also wrapped her in a pillow case with eyes covered. Eventually, she would wear out and sleep through the afternoon.

The next two weeks were a haze of activity. My successor and I pushed hard to cover materials and wrap up projects, ensuring our amazing team would continue seamlessly after my departure. At the same time, Matt and I were working late into the night to prepare the blog for launch by my last day. During the day, Matt was meeting up with potential buyers to turn our extraneous possessions (furniture, lawn care items, audio equipment, etc.) into cash, which translates into extra days of freedom. We visited with family and made use of our preventative healthcare while we still had it.

By the end of the trip, Matt had converted the junk we were paying to store into $8,400 and we were able to close the locker. I left knowing that my successor was comfortable hitting the ground running and my team would not suffer from my absence. Although I hope they still remember me fondly! Our stress had magically melted away. The ride home was blissful, despite the puking cat in the backseat. I’m as free as a bird now.

This is one of my favorite photos of us, taken on our drive back to Florida, with the last of the ties to our previous life severed.

This is one of my favorite photos of us, taken on our drive back to Florida, with the last of the ties to our previous life severed.

To celebrate the end of an era, we bought 3-day tickets to Universal Orlando. Amusement parks are one of our favorite ways to spend a day (or three). We visited Universal a few years ago and couldn’t wait to get back. There aren’t many large coasters, but the theme rides are mesmerizing. Matt is not a Potterhead, so I got to be his guide through Harry Potter World. We did Universal in one carefully planned day. That allowed us to take our time over two days at Islands of Adventure. It was the perfect way to embrace the final leap into our crazy adventure!

Making new friends at the raptor encounter. Say cheese.

Making new friends at the raptor encounter. Say cheese!

Unfortunately, it was not all sunny days and roller coasters in Orlando. There was no off-leash area for Maybe Dog at Stage Stop. So we frequented two of the nicest dog parks we’d seen. West Orange Dog Park has separate areas for small and large dogs. There were smaller pens for doggie time-out, when a pup needed to cool off separate from the pack. Several shelters provided comfortable seating for dog parents. Lake Baldwin Dog Park boasts a sandy lake beach, hiking paths in the woods, and several dog wash stations. While we understand why folks enjoy these havens, Maybe had a run in with an aggressive dog at West Orange the put an end to our dog park days.

Cleaning up at the free dog wash at Lake Baldwin.

Cleaning up at the free dog wash at Lake Baldwin.

We were having a nice run around with some friendly pups. One dog held back with his tennis ball, not joining the more energetic group. Maybe Dog came over to check him out, and in a flash, he snapped at her. It happened so quickly, there was nothing we could have done to stop it. She scurried away, and luckily, that was the end of it. His “mom” mentioned that he is very possessive of his ball, even though Maybe made no attempt at it.

This was not the first time Maybe’s been snapped at in a dog park. After a cursory check for injury, we took her to the other side of the park to continue playing, so we could end the visit on a high note. The other pup left directly after, as he couldn’t behave himself. Maybe Dog didn’t show any sign of pain. There was no limp and she didn’t flinch or shy away from petting, but she also didn’t return to normal play. Instead, she hid behind me, even climbing up on the bench when I sat down. When it was clear that she was not going to get anymore enjoyment out of the visit, we cut our losses and headed home.

Any dog parent who frequents a dog park knows the woes of Dog-Park-Slime, a mix of dirt, drool, and drinking water. Your pup comes home coated in it. It’s the price you pay for good exercise. I was wiping off the DPS and noticed a streak of blood on the baby wipe. Upon closer examination, there was a scratch on Maybe Dog’s left side. I combed through her fur to discover a deep 6-inch long scratch which terminated in a dime-sized puncture wound, where the tooth caught her skin.

It looks worse than it really is. Maybe is a trooper.

Sorry for the graphic photo. It looks worse than it really is. Maybe is a trooper.

We whisked her to West Orange Veterinary Hospital, where she was quickly and gently cared for. We’ve struggled at the vet before. Maybe Dog get anxious when cornered by strangers. The vet is a house of horrors for her. I was so relieved at this team’s compassion. They managed to shave her, examine her wound, and even take her away from us to flush the wound without restraining or sedating her. I was truly impressed and deeply grateful.

Dr. Nadler gave us a few options for her treatment, including a recommendation of what he would do for his own pet. The wound was minor. So we chose to take the route of less intervention, and watch her closely for signs of unlikely complications, like infection or a punctured lung. The bill for the exam was surprisingly affordable. If we lived in the area, we would have immediately transferred Maybe to this facility.

The inflatable collar made the healing process much more bearable and hilarious. Bumper dogs!

The inflatable collar made the healing process much more bearable… and hilarious. Bumper dogs!

Her recovery was speedy and uneventful. The scar was hidden well before her fur finished growing out. On the advice of the vet and staff, we no longer take Maybe Dog to the dog park. Things just couldn’t be the same. You simply don’t know how the pups have been raised or if their parents know how and when to remove them from a tense situation. We now focus on exercising Maybe ourselves, with occasional 1-on-1 play dates with known dogs. For this reason, we will no longer be reviewing dog parks. We will continue to share other pup-friendly places, like restaurants or on-leash parks.

Despite the set back, Orlando will always be a fond memory for me, where we fully committed to turning our backs on the “white picket fence” and create our own success story. But all too soon it was time to move along. There’s too many places we gotta see. While the circumstances might be different, I can’t think of a better way to go out than what Conan O’Brien chose…

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