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A Tale of Two Theme Parks

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Here in Southern California, we’re lucky to have a few theme parks to visit. If you love speedy roller coasters that get the adrenaline pumping, you can go to Six Flags Magic Mountain. (There are lots of kid-friendly rides there, too.)

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Picture from sixflags.com Batman ride. (side note: everyone’s wearing Chucks)

Then there’s Knott’s Berry Farm, which also has a lot of thrill rides, along with an Old West area, a Snoopy kids’ area, and a water park.

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This kind of ride scares the daylight out of me!

There’s Sea World down in San Diego, and Legoland in Carlsbad. The two parks I’m going to talk about today are Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland.

Disneyland is probably my favorite of all-time. I don’t know what it is, but it reminds me of my childhood, and makes me happy. We recently took a trip there on a day when we thought it wouldn’t be too crowded…

It took forEVER to just get into the parking structure. We got there at Opening, and I honestly think they just weren’t quite ready.

 

So many people at the gates.

Something you do not see everyday… cast members just hanging out on the ride.

Ready to take a trip through the jungle on a cruise

Waiting for “Small World”

Our artist, looking into an animator’s studio

The kids like this ride a lot better than the grown-ups

The ride that gives all kids a driver’s license – Autopia

 

Girls with Walt and Mickey

Obligatory Mickey picture with bonus climbing kid in background

 

Hanging out at the Cantina from Star Wars

There’s so much to do at Disneyland & California Adventure. It’s hard to get it all done in just one day. However, we managed to fit in 21 activities. On a good day, where there’s a smaller crowd, we’ve done probably 25. (maybe a few more) Let’s just say that for a day that was pretty crowded, we managed to squeeze a LOT into the day.

Now, once upon a time we did have annual passes to the Magic Kingdom, but living in the L.A. area, we don’t make it down to the O.C. as much as we’d like (and now that the AP is so much more expensive, we don’t make it down there enough to make it worth it). However, a theme park closer to us has much cheaper Annual Passes, so we got them for Universal Studios Hollywood.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I worked at Universal. First, as someone in the merch department, and then as a Studio Guide.

“Hello, my name is Genevieve and Ill be your Studio Guide today!”

After spending 5 days a week there for 3 summers and then working there full-time for a year in the VIP office, I stayed away for quite awhile. We took the kids when my son turned 10, but stayed away until they brought something magical – and one of our favorite series – to the park.

mmmmm… Butterbeer

We’d been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida, and couldn’t wait to go to our local version.

Going down the Starway brings back a LOT of memories!

Transformers the Ride is in the very location I used to work…

I used to work at Backdraft and Cinemagic right in the same spot.

 

There are Minions now, and Simpsons, and Transformers.

There’s a mummy, and Walking Dead, and dinosaurs. All of them are fun or exciting rides, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Studio Backlot Tour. Even though it’s changed quite a bit – with it’s headset microphones and video screens and Jimmy Fallon – there’s still something special about going on a tram ride through real sets used in real movies and a few unexpected surprises along the ride.

After trying several times to connect, we finally got ahold of my old friend Paul and rode his tram!!

Those who knew me in my guide days know that this is my favorite part of the tour. 😉

Universal Studios doesn’t have as many rides and attractions as Disneyland – this is true. However, it does have a lot you can do in a visit. We’ve been there a handful of times since February and we’re not bored yet. One of the best new additions to the experience?

VooDoo Doughnuts!

Believe me when I tell you that they’re amazing, and worth waiting in line for.

Obligatory photo with the marquee

Overall, both are great, though different, theme parks. Both have their pluses and minuses. If you have the time, money, and patience, I say try going to both. Especially if you are an out-of-towner visiting Southern California for the first time!

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The Family That Geeks Together, Stays Together

If you told me 10 years ago that I’d become a person who not only attends Comic Conventions, but LOOKS FORWARD to them, I’d have laughed in your face. Funny how life changes.

I suppose you could say our adventures in the world of cons started back when my oldest child was in kindergarten and had just discovered Star Wars. We started slowly. There was a Star Wars exhibit at the California Science Center. There were costumes and props from the movies, along with science experiments, like building robots, maglev speeders, and riding on a hovercraft. My son loved it so much we went a few times, with different friends each time.

That same year we found out there was a Star Wars convention called “Celebration IV” in Los Angeles. My husband was able to get us tickets and we went for two days, meeting friends on the second day.

One of the coolest things we saw at Celebration was the Vader Project.

One of the coolest things we saw at Celebration was the Vader Project.

and the R2D2 mailbox

and the R2D2 mailbox

The kids were SO LITTLE then!

Well, that was the only con we attended for a few years, until Comic Con 2010. We had talked about maybe going for awhile, but when my book was coming out, and the publishers were going to be there, it sealed the deal.

We went for one day as a family, chronicled HERE.

The second day, I went solo and did some promotion, and an interview.

 

Me at Comic Con, July 2010

That year was fun. We explored together on Friday and then Saturday I got to pass out buttons and postcards and meet folks. Plus, I got to attend a few panels – like vampire authors and LOST podcasters- on my own.

The following year I went again, but this time to sign books. My husband sweet-talked his way into a free pass, as only he can do, and we had a lot of fun.

Me, pretending to be a real author and sign books.

Please notice that behind me in BOTH photos are Stan Lee’s posters. This is kind of a cool coincidence, because the next Con we’d attend would be Stan Lee’s Comikaze, which we did yesterday.

We were a little bummed it’s so hard to get Comic Con tickets these days, so when my other half found out about this one, we jumped on it.

And since we’ve become Trekkies since then, 3 out of 5 of us dressed up. (Yes, we did!)

The convention took place at the same location as both the Star Wars Celebration and a craft show I was a part of a few years ago. It was pretty full, and got fuller by the day. LOTS of costumes.

Wolverine

Wolverine

One of the first things we saw on the convention floor was… The Enterprise bridge!!

Wrong Enterprise, right crew.

Wrong Enterprise, right crew.

My son was disappointed that he couldn’t sit in Data’s chair.

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

We got there just before lunch, so we headed to the food. We ran into Shaun of the Dead.

Hey, Starfleet officers get hungry, too.

Hey, Starfleet officers get hungry, too.

The tables were big, so we shared.

Ironman sat with us, or rather, stood.

Not Schwarma

Here are some highlights of the Comikaze experience.

70s/80s style living room, complete with Atari.

70s/80s style living room, complete with Atari.

Los Angeles Dumbledore's Army. They're having a HP skate night in May!

Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army. They’re having a HP skate night in May!

Lots of fun t-shirts.

Lots of fun t-shirts.

Fabulous homemade dress out of Star Wars material.

Fabulous homemade dress out of Star Wars material.

Someone brought their homemade R2 units.

Someone brought their homemade R2 units.

We ran into a work acquaintance of my husband.

We ran into a work acquaintance of my husband.

We saw celebrities.

Took a photo of Weird Al from afar.

Took a photo of Weird Al from afar.

Jambi and Miss Yvonne from PeeWee's Playhouse.

Jambi and Miss Yvonne from PeeWee’s Playhouse.

Kung Fu Panda's dad.

Kung Fu Panda’s dad.

The original model for Tinkerbell, Margaret Kerry. (Not Marilyn Monroe as Trivial Pursuit would have you believe.)

The original model for Tinkerbell, Margaret Kerry. (Not Marilyn Monroe as Trivial Pursuit would have you believe.)

(Sorry for the fuzziness of this photo. I was on the move, apparently.)

Clever Ghostbusters, explaining the technology of their proton packs to the Captain.

Clever Ghostbusters, explaining the technology of their proton packs to the Captain.

Speaking of Ghostbusters...

Speaking of Ghostbusters…

 

If I were into Snuggies, this is the type I'd get.

If I were into Snuggies, this is the type I’d get.

Finally we remembered to ask someone to take our photo.

End of the day for us - ready to go home.

End of the day for us – ready to go home.

On our way out we saw a darling Mother/Son pair.

He's too cute for her to shout "Off with his head!"

He’s too cute for her to shout “Off with his head!”

On our way home, my husband thought ice cream would be perfect. He dared me to go into the drugstore/soda fountain in costume. So we did.

Starfleet likes ice cream too, especially when it doesn't come from a replicator.

Starfleet likes ice cream too, especially when it doesn’t come from a replicator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucket Lists

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Until a few years ago, I’d never heard of a “bucket list.” Then the movie came out and suddenly it became a commonly used phrase. In fact, my kids have started using the phrase (and no, they haven’t seen it, nor have I). Example – we went to the Petrified Forest and my son said, “Well, we can check that off the Bucket List.” Did you know you can add your own bucket list to a website?

Do you have a bucket list?

I don’t. Not really. I did make a list of things I’d like to do awhile ago HERE. I suppose you could say some of it could be considered a bucket list, but they’re not something that I think about a lot, or plan for because “I have to do this before I die.”

Here’s the last part of the post, where I made my own list of what I’d like to do…

Now, are there 50 I want to do before 50? How about I just add some things I’d like to do before I die?

1 visit England

2 visit Ireland

3 visit a real castle

4 visit my “homeland” of Croatia

5 visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

6 write another book

7 publish a children’s story

8 get down to my ideal weight

9 donate my hair again (spose I should have put that on the first list)

10 visit New York and meet my publishers

11 get myself organized to ALWAYS have a clean, sparkling house (hahaha)

12 celebrate my 50th anniversary with my husband

13 meet my grandchildren

14 feel completely at peace

Now that I look at this, I can say that I can cross two things off this list and bring it down to 12.

#5 – Visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Us with the Hogwarts Express at Universal Florida.

Us with the Hogwarts Express at Universal Florida.

And #6 – Write another book

If you’ve been following my progress, you know it’s on it’s way to being published. It’s been put together and edited once through. One more time and it’ll go to press!

Here’s the working cover – the font might change, but the photo won’t.

The cover has the Red Riding Hood I designed.

The cover has the Red Riding Hood I designed.

I’m working on #7 and #8 right now (and somewhat #11). I’ll post if I can keep any of these up.

 

So, do you have a bucket list? Post a comment with ONE thing from your bucket list! 🙂

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Sparkly Vampires

Two days ago, I said good-bye to some friends who’ve inspired me the last few years. It’s a little bit like the feeling I had when I said good-bye to Harry Potter, but not quite the same. See, with Harry Potter, my whole family is involved. My husband and kids have read (or are reading) the books and have seen (or are making their way through as they read) the movies. We all have scarves. We all had a wonderful time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

I can even talk Harry Potter with my brothers.

But “Twilight” is not the same. I was first introduced to “Twilight” by my friend, Miho. I couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t the best literature I’ve ever read, but what is? I read a lot of books of varying degrees of literature. This book – and the whole series – had me turning the page and staying up all night to read “just one more chapter.”

Waiting to be read again

My husband doesn’t read the books, although he willingly gets the blu-rays for me when they come out and obliges me by watching them with me for at least one viewing. My kids are too young to read them. My brothers make fun of the series, as well as my sisters-in-law. I can’t even bring it up around them for being mocked. (In fact, I think that’s why they didn’t really take my book too seriously because of the subject matter.)

So, I share this love with friends like Miho – who not only loaned me the first two books, but is the friend I watch all the movies with. I share it with Heather and Annie and even some friends from college. I share it with Shannon, Christina, Darcy, and friends I’ve met on Ravelry, and the designers I worked with on “Vampire Knits.” And I share it with tons of other women around the globe.

Darcy and I promoting “Vampire Knits” at a Twilight convention

I wrote about the series here, one year ago, just when “Breaking Dawn, part 1” was premiering. It’s a brief telling of my feelings on the series.

One thing the series did for me, beyond entertain me, was introduced me to new people. And in that introduction came my idea for the book. So, I have Stephenie Meyer and Edward Cullen to thank for putting me on the journey to “Vampire Knits.” And honestly, I’m not afraid to wear my “Team Edward” shirt. I buy bath products that have the word twilight in the name. I know I’m way too old to like a teenage vampire so much, but I don’t care. I still feel like a teenager most of the time, anyway.

So I saw the last film, and I admit I got a little teary. I was sure that I was reacting more than my friends were, so  I tried to reign it in. There were surprises in this film that – while they were happening – made me SO upset. And the end credits show every major character that has appeared in the whole series. That made me teary. It was like a big “good-bye,” if you will. I won’t spoil anything. Suffice it to say, I really like what they did with the movie. I was not disappointed.

The “Twilight” movies may never go down in history as the best movies ever made, especially considering that every single one besides the last two were directed by different people, but they will have their place in history as a crazy phenomenon, and they will always remind me of my own beginnings as a designer and writer. While I may not get as weepy about Edward, Bella, and Jacob as I do with Harry, Hermione, and Ron, there will always be a place in my heart for the series.

So long, vampires, wolves, and humans. So long Edward, Bella, and Jacob. So long Cullens and Quileutes. I’ll visit you from time to time, for sure. Thanks for the entertainment and the inspiration. I don’t care if my family mocks me – you’ve taken me down a path I never imagined, and for that, I am thankful.

Halloween Already?

Okay, so it’s only August, but in my family, we think about Halloween all year.

I love Halloween. I’m not sure what it is – the dressing up, I suppose. When I taught kindergarten, I loved dressing up – especially as something the kids would recognize. Then, when my husband and I got married, we tried to do couple costumes. This one is from when I was pregnant with Sean, my oldest.  Can you guess what we are? 🙂

Sean’s first Halloween costume came courtesy of his Uncle Terry.

Sean was only 10 months old, so we chose his costume. The next year, when he was nearly 2, he chose. At the time, his favorite thing ever was The Wiggles, and Captain Feathersword was his favorite character.

(I bought the sword on ebay. He played the life out of that thing!)

Over the years, there were many pirate outfits, and a few princesses as well.

This next photo is one of my favorites. It’s so perfect for each of them – a naughty little sprite, a dark, brooding jedi, and a curious little girl.

(Indiana Jones & Princess Leia)

(Padme Amidala – aka Leia’s mom)

Once the kids discovered Star Wars, we saw a lot of those kinds of costumes.

And a few Harry Potter costumes, as well.

Last year, everyone wore a homemade costume. I made the bat wings, with help from a friend (a lot of help). Maddie’s cupcake costume was made by me, with some help from my mom. Wayne and Sean’s Jedi robes were made by Wayne.

I’m not sure I’m up to the task this year. We’ll see.

Here are things we’ve brainstormed so far…

 

Sean’s not too into costumes, so he might not even dress up. We’ll see. I’d love for him to dress up as a Partridge, but I don’t think he’s having it. Especially if it involves wearing this:

So, we shall see. Everyone usually changes their minds at least twice before October.

What about YOU guys? Do you plan in advance? Do you get as into Halloween as we do? Do you have any unique ideas? I’d love to hear them!

So Long, Farewell…

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~This is a post about Harry Potter. If you haven’t read the books and don’t want any spoilers, you may want to come back tomorrow.~

Twelve years ago, I was teaching fourth grade. Some of my students started reading a book called, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I’d heard about this book that had gotten thousands of children reading suddenly, and was very curious. I decided to pick up a copy and read it myself.

I instantly fell in love with the Boy Who Lived and his entire world.

It was out in paperback by then, and the second book, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” was out soon after that, and I devoured that as well. It was soon after that when I had my first child.  I had a hard time doing any sleeping for a few years, much less reading.

Once I got my bearings back, I finished the books and started seeing all the movies. I feel like I’ve known these characters for more than a decade. I’ve seen their triumphs and their falls. I’ve seen some of them die, some fall in love, and all of them age.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

I’ve let myself get emotionally involved. I cry every time I read about Neville gettng his house points in the first book. I cry every time Hagrid comes back from Azkaban in the second movie. I cry at the end of Goblet of Fire. I cry when Sirius dies in Order of the Phoenix – and when Dumbledore keeps evading poor Harry, who feels completely abandoned by his mentor for most of the book. And of course when Dumbledore dies in Half Blood Prince just kills me.

The last book, however, does me in many times over. Percy comes back to fight. Neville is a badass. We think Harry dies. Dobby! It’s all so scary and so sad at times.

And as much as I loved watching (and bawling through) this last movie, it was bittersweet. There won’t be anymore Harry Potter books. There won’t be any more Harry Potter movies. This chapter has come to a close, and it’s all a bit sad.

The good news is that my children are reading the books now, and seeing the movies as they finish the books. We sometimes read them together, which is great, because I get to rediscover them as my children do, and see it through fresh eyes, which is a unique experience.

My little Gryffindors

I am keeping all my books and movies, and hope that not only my children, but also someday my grandchildren will discover them as well. There’s something so magical and so hopeful about Harry’s journey that just speaks to me (and so many others). The boy who lived, who had such a sad life until he realizes he’s magical. Who defies all odds. Who finds true friendship and true love, and a true family when his own has gone.

Farewell, Harry. Thanks for touching my heart and being a part of my life.