Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Tradition

My husband, who likes horror and horrifying movies (see his website here, and it is occasionally NSFW), and I started our own little Halloween tradition a few years ago; on Halloween night we watch a horror movie.

The year before last we watched the original Halloween, which was very good, and very scary, and though I closed my eyes during a few extra scary parts, it didn't bother me too much.  Last year we saw Paranormal Activity in the movie theatre, and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that every time I get up in the middle of the night to go pee I am afraid I might run into a demon.

And I get up every night to go pee.

And I don't even believe in demons!

This year my husband is really super excited about the new remastered blu-ray of The Exorcist.

Well, you can see where this is going, right?

Okay, when I was a teen I read the book, and it made me so nauseous and upset in certain parts that I actually had to put the book down until I could be sure I wasn't going to puke.  A couple of years later, I did see the movie -- on network television, edited for tv.  And it still scared the crap out of me.

Honestly though, it is a brilliant movie, and quite possibly the scariest movie ever made.  A classic!  And it's Halloween.  Our Halloween TRADITION.

What do you think?  Should I watch it?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


My mother had three brothers, two older and one younger.  They grew up in Southwestern Virginia.

Her oldest brother joined the military, returned to SWVA, stayed with his family, never married, was very active in his church, and died two years ago.

Her other older brother George went to college and majored in German.  He spent a couple of years living in Germany, and during WWII he worked with the military as a translator.  He never married, and became a German professor at a university in California, where he lived until his death.

Yesterday.  In his retirement home, at the age of 95.

My mother's younger brother went to Virginia Tech (like my father, although not at the same time).  He married and moved to New England, where his wife's family was from, and they still live there together.

He was diagnosed two years ago with Alzheimer's.  He seems perfectly fine some days, and some days talking to him on the phone is hard for mom.

My mom assures me that she's sad but okay, and I don't need to drive up there to be with her.  With the death of my father almost three years ago, I know she must feel like everyone is leaving her.  Or leaving without her.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Marigold Project: Phase Two

Well, like I told you here, I started my marigold project with love and hope, and unfortunately it didn't turn out as well as it might have.  By which I mean, nothing happened.

Time for a new beginning!  Meet my tiny baby marigold plants:

Aren't they cute?  Hopefully they will fare better than my poor too-old seeds planted out of season.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Did It

I finished my novel!

I started thinking about it seriously last May (2009), making notes and character sketches and a vague plot outline.  I intended to start writing right away, but couldn't find the internal fortitude to take that intimidating first step.  Then I decided Nanowrimo would provide the butt-kicking that I required, and I started actually writing on November 1.  By November 30, I was 50,000 words in.

And apparently overwhelmed and burned out, because I basically couldn't write anything for months afterward, despite obsessing about the novel.  In June I finally got back to work, and now here I am, at just over 70,000 words, at THE END.

I am simultaneously really proud of myself, and excited to get going with editing/revising, and also extremely sad.  It's surprised me, but I've walked around for the past couple of days feeling positively bereft, and a little weepy.  These characters have been walking around in my head for over a year, and I miss them!

I've decided to skip Nanowrimo this year, even though I was looking forward to it and had already started planning a new novel, because I just can't stand the thought of pushing my current work in progress aside, even for a month.  I'm going to print out the whole thing -- first sentence to last sentence -- and start revising.

But, I did it!  I feel like I can now officially call myself a writer.  I'm a novelist.  Yay, me!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WWoHP Part Three: In Which I Go On A Bit Longer

The thing that really got me about the WWoHP was the lack of characters.  I mean, you expect to see characters in a theme park, right?  Either actual people wearing suits and walking around like Mickey and Minne Mouse do at Disney, or at the very least lots of merchandise with the character's images.

There is nothing like that at the WWoHP, which might be why it's called the Wizarding World, instead of Harry Potter World.  It's clearly meant to make you feel like you are walking around in a world that really exists, not that you are walking around in a world dedicated to the characters.

There are plenty of souvenirs for sale.  I did see a few t-shirts with characters on them, but shockingly few. One stuffed white owl puppet that could have been Hedwig, but then again she probably wasn't the only white owl, right?  Pretty much everything jived exactly with what you'd expect to see if you really did go to Hogsmeade/Hogwarts.  They sold a lot of t-shirts and hoodies with each of the four houses on them, and notebooks with the Hogwarts crest, and candy items in Honeyduke's and jokey items and toys in Wonko's. There is absolutely no reference to Voldemort himself, or any of the specific teachers, and only minor references to Harry, Hermione and Ron.

And that, above everything else, was what really got to me.

Knowing nothing at all about the planning process, I'm going to go ahead and just assume that I can give JK Rowling all of the credit.  I mean, you know that Universal must have wanted to sell stuffed Voldemort dolls and have employees dressed up as house elves, right?  I'm just going to imagine a big conference room in London where JK yelled at them and told them how it would be!  And I'm also going to assume that she did it just for her readers, so they'd have a place to go and experience the books, not the commercialization.

In other words, I think she made it just for me.  And it is perfect.

After the little intro movie, if you click on Hogsmeade, you can see just what it looks like HERE (this is even the same Hogwarts Express engineer guy we saw) and/or click on Hogwarts.

And... now I'm finished.  :)

See also:
WWoHP Part One: In Which We Park The Car And Walk For Miles
WWoHP Part Two: In Which We Actually Get There

Sunday, October 10, 2010

WWoHP Part Two: In Which We Actually Get There

Halfway across the bridge, I can see the gates of Islands of Adventure in front of me, and I am thrilled!  From that moment on, I completely forget to worry about the car.  Being me, I had done the research and looked at the maps on Universal's website, and had plotted the quickest way to get to WWoHP, so we turned right, walked through the Dr. Suess area, and as we walked through the Lost Continent I saw it suddenly, in the distance; the rooftops of Hosgmeade.  OOOoooooooo!

The terrible weather had not yet arrived, but it was cloudy, so the very first view we had was against a cloudy gray sky, and it looked exactly like a dreary, snowy English day.  SWEET.

The entrance is a big stone archway with a black metal sign saying: Hogsmeade  -  Please respect the spell limits.

The first thing you see is the big red Hogwart's Express, which spews smoke every few seconds and looks utterly real.  It manages to look clean and yet used at the same time, and it comes equipped with an engineer guy, who will happily pose for photos, speak to you completely in character with his British accent, and when not being bothered by tourists he appears to perform mainentance on the engine. 

And the street stretches away before you, with cobblestones and street lamps and shops right out of Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley.

Okay, full disclosure here.  It was at this point where I started crying a little.  It's just so perfect.

There's an Owlery, with real fake owls flapping high in the ceiling rafters, and real fake owl poop underneath them.

The Hog's Head pub is right next to the Three Broomsticks restaurant.

Visitors can buy a butterbeer or pumpkin juice from the stand.  I tasted both, and pumpkin juice is sweet with a spicy, pumpkin pie flavor.  You can buy one of the pretty pumpkin-topped bottles to take home.  Butterbeer is only sold in the WWoHP, and it's a two part drink: the carbonated butterbeer part and the foamy top part that they actually add separately.  It tastes a little like cream soda, maybe with a hint of butterscotch, and I thought it was delicious.

There's an owl post, selling quills, sneakoscopes, and Hogwarts stationery.  It was a tiny shop and extremely crowded, that's someone's back pressed up against the door.

There's a Gringott's ATM!

Several of the shops are fake, but look so real, and have wonderful details.  In the picture below, the shop on the left sells quiddich supplies, and has a set of bludgers in the window, rattling around and struggling to get free of the chains.  The shop on the right is a bookstore with a display of Gilderoy Lockhart books in the window.

One of the real shops is Zonko's, where you can buy pygmy puffs and extendable ears.  This is a view of the fun, colorful ceiling at Zonkos.

Another real shop is Honeyduke's, which is attached to Zonko's.  You can buy chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans here. 

At the end of the street, visitors walk around a little curve, and then there it is.  Hogwarts!

Oh, it's just breathtaking.  The actual Forbidden Journey ride is in a structure right below Hogwarts, which appears to be on a mountain above you.  Visitors don't get to walk around inside the castle seen above, but just to stand below and look at it is genuinely amazing.

The idea of the Forbidden Journey ride is that you are a Muggle, on a tour of Hogwarts.  The tour starts outside in the greenhouse, and then goes into the Portrait Gallery, which is purely amazing.  We stood for quite a while looking at the paintings, which do look exactly like a painting until suddenly it begins to move, and talk to you.  The effect is flawless. (The big one at the bottom that appears black was actually moving when I took the pic.)

The next part of the tour is Dumbledore's office, where you see the pensieve, and then Dumbledore appears and gives a little talk welcoming the guests.  Then into the Defense Against Dark Arts classroom, where Harry, Hermione and Ron suddenly appear and, instead of letting you suffer through the boring talk about the history of Hogwarts (which is actually really interesting, Hermione protests) they are going to sneak you out to take you on a ride.

The ride itself is a lot more intense than I expected, and I got a tiny bit motion-sick, but overall it was exciting, and really well-done.  There are giant spiders (ack!), dragons, dementors, and the Whomping Willow.  

The ride, of course, exits into a gift shop, Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods, and this is the only place in the whole of the Wizarding World that I saw items for sale with specific characters on them.  There are a couple of t-shirts with Harry, one with Bellatrix (THAT BITCH!), and you can also buy a Marauder's Map and quiddich supplies.

Outside Hogwart's is a small performance area, and we were lucky enough to be right there at just the perfect time.  There is a Tri-Wizard performance, with Durmstrang students performing a choreographed martial-arts type demonstration:

And Beaxbatons students doing a pretty, twirly dance.  She might be a Veela, don't you think?

We heard barking coming from Hagrid's house.  Fang must be home!

We headed back to the Three Broomsticks for lunch.  Visitors are not allowed into the restaurant unless they are having a meal, so you really can't get a good look at the awesomeness unless you're going to eat there.  But why wouldn't you want to?

Again, I did the research beforehand and all reviews said that the shepherd's pie, while delicious looking, is dry and tasteless, so I ordered the fish and chips.  My fish and chips were actually very good, and Greg confirmed that the shepherd's pie is not the way to go.  The butterbeer was great, and I kind of regret not shelling out the cash for the souvenir mug, which, although plastic and fairly small, was very cute.  Here's my butterbeer in the generic cup:

Attached to the Three Broomsticks restaurant is the Hog's Head Pub, which sells their own specialty Hog's Head Brew beer.  I didn't try the beer, but did enjoy the actual head of the hog, behind the bar.  He periodically moves around and snorts.

There are two other rides in the WWoHP, one is a small, fairly gentle rollercoaster called the Flight of the Hippogriff, and also the Dragon's Challenge, which is basically just a re-theming of the already existing Dueling Dragons coaster.  While I do like coasters, there was kind of a long wait, and we'd ridden Dueling Dragons, so we skipped it. 

We spent some time just hanging out, and looking around.  There are an amazing number of tiny, perfect details that make it so real.  The sun came out, despite the dire warnings from the doomy weatherpeople, and the snow and icecicles sparkled.

Finally, we had seen everything at least twice and we were tired, so we headed off on the long journey back to the car.  When we got there, it was locked, of course.

Part One: In Which We Park The Car and Walk For Miles

Part Three:  In Which I Go On A Bit Longer

Saturday, October 9, 2010

WWoHP Part One: In Which We Park the Car and Walk for Miles

It's no secret that I LOVE the Harry Potter books (and the movies, too, but mostly the books).  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter officially opened mid-July, and I have been dying to go, and have been waiting impatiently since then.  Living in Orlando, it's relatively easy for me, since Universal Studios/IOA is only about a half-hour from my house.  A 1-day 1-park pass is $82 per adult, but as a benefit my company provides two free two tickets a year, and though my husband and I often go in the spring to see their Mardi Gras parades, obviously this year I have been waiting.
Here's how the Universal Resort area in Orlando is set up:  There are two theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located).  There are also several hotels onsite, and an entertainment complex called Citywalk, full of restaurants, shops, clubs and a giant movie theatre (that's where I go to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show).

I have a few Facebook friends who work at Universal, so I knew from their status updates that the crowds at WWoHP were just terrible.  For a good long while after opening, the staff at Islands of Adventure were having to control the number of people who could enter the WWoHP, there were lines of people waiting to even go in the area.  Given how bad they will let it get before restricting access, things must have been extremely crowded.  Plus, this year we had one of the hottest summers ever.  98 degrees + humidity + crushing crowds of sweaty tourists = WAIT.  
Greg and I always try to take at least a couple of vacation days to celebrate our anniversary on October 1, so that seemed like a good time.  Fall weather + tourist offseason + going on a weekday when kids are in school = WIN.  A month beforehand I put in my request at work to go on Wednesday, September 30, got it back approved, and then all I had to do was try to contain my excitement.  Which I didn't do successfully, and ended up gushing about it to Greg pretty much every single day.
After spending the morning agonizing over whether or not to believe the weather people who all promised a day full of flooding rain and wind due to Tropical Storm Nicole, we decided to go for it and arrived at the main parking gate at around 10:30am.  We drove through the gate and paid the parking lot attendant, then we spent the next few minutes bitterly cursing a $15 parking charge.  (It really does seem like a lot, doesn't it?  Geez. I feel bad for the people who have to pay a buttload to get in the park, and then pay the huge parking fee on top of it.)  I made the difficult decisions about what was absolutely vital to carry around with me (small camera, extra batteries, debit card, cell phone), left my big purse in the car, and we headed off excitedly.
After parking in the huge multi-level garage, visitors then walk to an escalator and up (or down) to the main level, then walk to the walkway (which is a moving sidewalk, like in a lot of airports) that's around 47 miles long, give or take a hundred miles.  Then, those people who can't read any of the several languages that the many signs are posted in or figure out what the word "walkway" means stand stubbornly in the way of those of us who do not wish to use the walkway as a standway.  Then the walkway/standway ends in a big covered circular area housing the first (or last, depending on your direction) opportunity to buy stuffed Spiderman dolls, Simpsons water bottles and Rock-n-rollercoaster t-shirts.  There are also wheelchair/stroller rentals, restrooms, and an M&M vending machine.  WTF?  This is the only place I have ever seen an M&M vending machine, and it always strikes me as odd.
Then the next walkway/standway, for another few hundred miles, then we are finally in Citywalk.  We walk past the movie theatre and the stage area for live bands and the restaurants and the shops, and then we are at the bridge that will lead to Islands of Adventure.
It is at this point that my husband stops walking suddenly, looks at me, and says, "I don't think I locked the car.  Do you remember hearing the car beep?"
I love my husband so much!  A lot of the time, anyway.  Did I mention that I left my big purse in the car?
After a brief but urgent conversation, we decided he was being weird and neurotic, and that he probably did lock the car.  Solemnly shouldering the burden of worrying about the car all day, we walk across the bridge.

Part Two:  In Which We Actually Get There

Part Three:  In Which I Go On A Bit Longer

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Marigold Project: End of Phase One

I will not burden you with yet another visual of my dirt-filled planter, but the latest update is that the teensy little green thing that may or may not have been a weed has disappeared.  I have definitely given Mr. Marigold plenty of time to show up, but he has apparently missed the bus; new arrangements must be made.

One day soon I'll go to the store and buy a few baby marigold plants, and I'll post some actual pretty photos of flowers.

I wonder if now is a bad time to plant marigolds in Florida?  The weather here is gorgeous, 80 degrees during the day and 65 at night.  I guess I'll give it a shot and see how Mr. Marigold Jr does.

Also, Greg and I took a few vacation days last week in celebration of our 7th wedding anniversary on October 1.  One day we spent at Islands of Adventure in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so stay tuned for an upcoming blog entry with lots of gushing and lots of photos!