Sunday, August 29, 2010

Universal Studios - The Agony and the Ecstasy

Full disclosure:  I spent about 4 years living in Southern California in the late ‘70’s.  We had many visitors while we were there, and my stay included a number of trips to several of the nearby attractions including Disneyland, Sea World, and Knott’s Berry Farm as well as Universal Studios.  I loved them all.  I have many, MANY pleasant memories of those times, and they form the basis of what I consider good form in a tourist attraction.  It should be noted that any preconceived ideas I have about that business, are based on the California attractions and NOT the humongous, bloated Florida versions of the same attractions.

Of course, prices have risen considerably on everything over the years,  but JEEPERS CREEPERS, I wish my income had grown in proportion with admission prices! I had checked it out online beforehand, so there were no surprises there, but let me just say this ... the “Meal Deal” they offer once you get inside that sounds like such a good idea … isn’t.

The trip to Florida came about because Mommo and I are both huge Harry Potter Fans.  The very first words out of my mouth when I finished that first book were “I want to go to Hogwarts!”  When we first heard they were building the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal, we decided then and there that we were going when it opened.  We planned our trip for the week after school started here, and then chose a weekday rather than the weekend for our adventure, thinking that the crowds would have thinned out somewhat.  Apparently they didn’t get the memo.

The Harry Potter section was as far away from the Universal entrance as you could get.  After walking about halfway back we had to stand in a line winding its ways through other sections of the Adventure Islands.  There were so many people in the area we wanted to see that some of them had to leave before they could admit any more.  It was hot, and it was painfully slow.  It took a couple of hours just to get in the fairly small area that had just 3 rides and a couple of shops.

I wish I had more pictures to share with you.  I really didn’t get many because it was just too crowded in the shops.  There were some neat displays that would have made for good pictures but it was literally wall to wall people and you couldn’t move.  I really can’t say I would have purchased the souvenirs (if I could get at them) because those that I did get a good look at were all just plastic, disappointing in the extreme.

Two of the three rides were metal roller coasters, one bigger, one smaller.  Hagrid’s Hut was near the smaller one.

The major attraction was the castle, of course.

This is the ride that gets all the press.  It was another 90 minute wait, and they wouldn’t let me bring in my camera!  They said I had to put it in a locker, that it might clunk me in the head if they let me take it in.  ALL the cool things that I wanted to take pictures of were in the castle.  I was heartbroken.  They said that if I really wanted to, after the ride I could collect my camera and do a walk through, but after all that I was NOT going to wait in that line again!  Besides, for the most part it was pretty dark in there and much of it was moving, so I don’t think many pictures would have come out anyways.  Besides, we were STARVING by the time we got out of there, and the places we could eat at with our meal tickets were outside in another section.

Despite all my whining, I will say this about that attraction … it was all that and a bag of chips!  Barbecue … with change!  There were strange plants in the Herbarium (which the line passed through on the way into the castle).  There were the talking portraits and a visit from Professor Dumbledore, both very well done and realistic.  And the ride itself was just fabulous.  There were CGI screens all around you and it DID actually feel as if you were riding a broomstick with Harry.  I was indeed impressed!

Outside of the Harry Potter area, we waited an hour and a half for a hamburger (I don’t even want to go there). On one of the other Islands of Adventure (I think is was Superheroes), the Spiderman ride was equally impressive.  Other than that we went on a couple of water rides (which are fun, but basically the same everywhere) and got soaked.  Mommo had dry clothes out in the truck, but by the time we had walked all the way out there it was 7 or 8 and of course we’re hungry again by this time but neither of us could face walking all the way back to where we were designated to eat so we just left and stopped somewhere on the way home.

I’m glad we went but I think it’s the last time I’ll do anything like it again.  It was just too much.

Too hot
Too much walking
Too much standing
Too many people
And WAY too expensive.

I felt like the grouchy old man standing on the porch wanting to yell
“You kids get off of my lawn!”

It’s hell to get old.

How I spent my Florida vacation

Silver Springs is located in Ocala, FL, at the headwaters of the Silver River.  The river is registered as a Natural Landmark.  There are 7 major spring formations pumping 550 million gallons of water a day. Their crystal clear waters have beckoned tourists since the late 1870’s when the first glass bottom boat was invented and they started selling boat rides over the springs.

The glass bottom boat rides are very cool, as are the wildlife river cruises.
I didn’t get to see all they had to offer as it was very, very hot and the walking really got to all of us.  They have a reasonably priced admission, as tourist attractions go (about $30 as opposed to $80 at Universal Studios, and they had a buy one get one free coupon we could download from their website).

My only real gripe is probably true of almost all tourist attractions (and movie theaters).  They won’t let you bring food or drinks in, and then skewer you for the cost of them inside.  3 DOLLARS for a bottled soda or water!  I was so shocked I had to document it.

I tried to get photos through the glass bottom of the boats but they didn’t turn out well at all.  I did get some pictures of some of the wildlife and not so wild life, an a couple of exhibits though.

 And for the Grand Finale I just found these guys comical

And finally this guy was just too cool ...   Wheeee!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Home again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

I’m baaack … and I have to say, there’s no place like home LOL.  Okay,  okay, cliché movie quotes aside, it really is good to be back home.  While sitting on the side of the highway yesterday, in the heat, with a busted water pump I wished I could click my heels three times and be home let me tell you.  Whew, it was hot! And though there was no knight in shining armor that came to the rescue of the damsels in distress (sigh … mores the pity) we were able to hire help and got fixed and back on the road (with empty pockets) in about 3 hours.  Not too shabby for a crises of those proportions.  The boys at Ray Marr’s didn't take advantage of us, we just didn’t have a lot left after vacation and they got all of it but 20 bucks that we needed for gas.

Although the road trip down was uneventful, this vacation started out with a bang  just a couple hours after our arrival.  Mom and Dad had dinner waiting on us, so we ate and caught up on the news then went out to the yard to continue visiting.  My cellphone started ringing.  I dug it out of my pocket but I didn’t recognize the number so I ignored it.  Less than 5 minutes later it rang again and since the caller was persistent I figured I’d better answer.


“Hello, this is the Lake County Sheriff’s Department.  You called 911?”

“um … Excuse me!?  No ma’am, I did not.”
“ We received a call from this cell phone at 19:30 hours.  No one spoke to us but we could here voices talking.  Is everything okay?”

“Yes ma’am, everything’s fine but this is MY cell phone and no one has had access to it, it’s been right here in my pocke … oh nooo!  I had my phone in my pocket, it must have gotten scrunched during dinner and dialed itself.  I’m so sorry, I had no idea, that’s never happened to me before”

She didn’t give me a hard time but did want to know my location.  It probably didn’t make her happy when I explained I had just arrived from out of town and I was at my parents and wasn’t sure of the exact address but would let my father tell her.  I know for a fact it didn’t make HIM happy LOL.   Especially when a few minutes later an officer showed up to check it out and I had to explain to him that my butt dialed 911.

Actually it didn’t.  I checked the recent calls and what my butt dialed was 08 and it seems that, in Lake county at least, 8 is the default speed dial for 911.  ARRGH … did I mention that I hate cell phones, and dealing with cops.  The officer was pleasant enough about it though, and the only hard time I got was from my father who kept harping on me all week about how they could fine me for that ya know and blah, blah, blah.  Dad has a Virgo sun and is as anal a Virgo as ever was.  He doesn’t even understand the meaning of laid back … or lay off for Pete’s sake! LOL

Used to be that when I would go to my parent's house, my Mom and my brothers would make bets on how many minutes it would be until me and my Dad got into it.  These days we have a few states buffer in between us and because we don't see each other often we can usually make it about 3 days before the gloves come off.  This trip was no exception ... twice.  Although I AM getting better.  The first time I got madder than hell, but didn't explode back at him.  Just kept to my self until I composed myself, then went to my brother's house the next day.  Came back and made it three more days before I lost it when he started telling me what I think.  Some day I may figure out how to not let him get to me, but not yet I'm afraid.

More to come; part two gets better … I promise

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Charleston Summer and Other Ramblings

I like to think of myself as a photographer, and as such I probably shouldn’t tell you that this is currently one of my favorite shots that I’ve ever taken.  I’m aware of the many things that are technically wrong with this photo, but the artist in me loves the colors and ambiance … the very real feeling of Summertime here in Charleston that this gives me.  Bright light and shadows, Live Oak and Spanish Moss, and maybe it’s the muted grays and greens of the background but I can actually feel the cloying humidity in the air.

Thursday night me, Mommo, Sis, and Sis’s daughter Chicken Little (home from college on her last week of summer break) took some blankets outside and spread them in the yard to lie down and watch the meteor shower.  We talked, wished on falling stars, listened to cicadas and owls, and just generally soaked in nature.  It was a nice slow down from an otherwise busy week.

In other news I finally heard from the Crazy Cat Faerie the other night.  He and my Find It had come on some hard times … actually hard times had turned into excruciatingly hard times … and I had no way to contact them while they had no jobs, home, car, phone or internet access, all of which are corrected now, however scarcely, and things are looking up.  They are dear friends and I’d been worried silly.

They have upwards of 5-6 cats, a couple of ferrets and a bird or two.  Yeah, yeah, I can hear the tsk, tsks.  If they can’t afford to take care of themselves ... blah, blah.  I know, but before you judge please take into consideration how fast you can slide into the abyss in this economy and know that it wasn’t always this way.  This is what happens when rescuers need rescuing.

Tuesday morning Mommo and I are headed to Florida for a week or so to visit my folks and check out the new Harry Potter world at Universal Studios.  I don’t know if I’ll get back here to post before I leave or not because I haven’t begun to pack yet *hangs head and shuffles feet*.  What can I say, I am a Taurus.  I HAVE to procrastinate … it’s in the rules!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Despicable Me

I love a good movie.  I can appreciate well done cinematography, special effects, good acting and what not, but what I really love is a good story.  I can get lost in a well told story, with or without the trappings.  The thing is I don’t think they make very many GOOD movies.  They makes lots of mediocre movies, and even more bad ones, but few that I feel compelled to watch every minute of or I might miss something important, and fewer still that I’d care to watch more than once. Call me old fashioned, but most of the time I’d just rather read the book.  Sure, it takes a little longer but I like to get inside the characters heads.  That’s what makes it real to me … the “whys” and the wherefores.

There are some good movies in all genres.  Action/adventure, drama, mysteries, sci-fi, horror, romance, comedy … although I may be hard to please, there is at least a couple from each category that I think are great movies.  Now I may be going senile in my old age, but the kind of movies I enjoy most are usually those that are made for small children, especially the animated ones.  Pixar and Dreamworks both do incredible work in CGI but even more importantly, they tell excellent stories.  So it should come as no great surprise that when Mommo and I decided to go catch a matinee the other day, the movie of choice was Despicable Me.

I hadn’t heard anything at all about this movie and didn’t catch that it was a Disney/Pixar picture in the opening credits.  I probably just wasn’t paying attention yet (I think I was trying to turn my cell phone to vibrate and I’m technologically challenged).  When it started it seemed much too loud and I wasn’t in the best of moods to begin with.  In the first few minutes it seemed like a superhero/villain kind of thing and that’s really not my kind of thing, but hey, at least we were getting out of the house for a while.

It didn’t take too long however, until it sucked me right in.  I don’t want to spoil it for anybody so I won’t tell you about the story, but I will tell you that it made me both laugh my butt off and cry like a baby (happy tears).  I loved the characters; Gru (the super villain), the 3 adorable little orphan girls, and the minions were just too funny.  The minions were like a cross between the little Pac man guys and Homer Simpson with a little R2 D2 throw in LOL.

I LOVED this movie.  It was such a pleasant surprise.  If you get a chance, go see it.  Take your kids or your grandkids if you need an excuse, but if you have a heart you won’t be disappointed

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Every which way but loose

Once upon a time my Magic Man (my late husband) dubbed me “Driveby” and for some strange reason, perhaps because it's so apt, it stuck.  The reason for that nickname was not random acts of violence directed at non-driving MF’ers (because, after all, I have such a sweet disposition ;), but because of my penchant for “driving by” turns or destinations and then having to turn around and go back to them.

This pilot gets along just fine without a co-pilot but by golly I really do NEED a navigator!  Technically, I rarely get lost (except in my thoughts, or in the music, or in the conversation if I’m not alone). It’s not that I can always tell you exactly where I am, but I generally know how to get back to where I was.  I can get from point A to point B,  I’ve driven ¾  of the way across the USA all by my lonesome, but very rarely without having to make at least 1 U-turn or taking an alternate route.

It’s not that I’m not paying attention to the road.  I’m very vigilant about knowing what other vehicles  are around me, and what they’re doing at all times.  I know when somebody changes lanes three cars back.  I don’t often push a yellow light when it can be avoided, I use my turn signals, and I don’t trust that anyone else is necessarily going to use theirs.  I don’t, in fact, trust that the other guy is going to anything the way he’s supposed to. Hey, that’s just self preservation. I used to live in southeastern Kentucky. Yeah, I went there ;)

Somehow though, none of that translates into not having to backtrack.  I’m too into the business of driving to pay attention where I’m going.  Today, though, I think it may have finally paid off.

Ever since she had a head injury when she was young, my best friend sometimes has seizures.  She has cancer now, late stage, and her illness and the medications she’s on just make that worse.  Worse still, she didn’t sleep last night and had a very tense morning.  We were out running errands this afternoon and she felt one coming on and said “Take me home, I’m going to have a seizure”.

It was a route we take 3 or 4 times a week and yet, whoosh, I blew right by the on ramp and had to swing around and come back to it.  I was beating myself up for it because I was trying to hurry.  We did make it back her house before it hit.  I stopped the car, went around to help her out and got about halfway to the porch before she fell out in the grass, taking me with her.  The soft, cushioned grass.  If we had gotten there just a minute or two earlier, if I had not had to turn around to go back to the on ramp we would have probably been on cement porch steps when it came.

Today, I can remember to be thankful for small favors. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tuesday we had to have some pine trees removed that had grown too big and were threatening the house.  Sadly, the pretty little Chokecherry above was a casualty.  She was just growing too close to those bad boys to escape unscathed.  I’m going to miss her.  I think the squirrels that played and feasted on the cherries will too.

I have a thing for trees, there are some I even call friend, but had resigned myself to the loss of the pines. It’s hurricane season and I could understand Sis’s need to protect her new investment.  Another thing that made it bearable is that they draw those giant flying cockroaches the natives call Palmetto Bugs.  And too, the squirrels here have a bad attitude and would eat the new pine cones then sit up in the branches and throw the cores at you!

The tree service guys were impressive.  That’s a hot and dangerous job and they were working in a very tight area.  They got 4 big pines and the clean up all done in one day, stumps and all, and nary a branch hit the house.  So all in all I’d have to call it a good day.

The last couple of days my computer’s been on strike with a mysterious ailment that thankfully seems to have righted itself today.  So maybe I can get back on track here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Food … mmmmmm

When people ask me what kind of food I like, it’s never enough to just tell them all kinds.  They make me go through the entire list.  I like Mexican food, Chinese food, Italian food, Greek food, Polish food, American food, fast food … hell I just like to eat, okay?  But while I like all kinds of food, I love really good, fresh food, and can be a bit of a snob about it.  It’s always hard for me to choose a place to eat out because most restaurants have decent food, but it’s pretty generic.

I have no blood relatives here in South Carolina, my family is in Florida now, but I have been ‘adopted’ by an ex’s family. Jiminy Cricket and I never made it to the altar, but we were together for almost 3 years.  When we split up I had no where to go. His sisters and his mother told me that they didn’t care what he said, I was family and Sis said I could come live at her house. Mommo is like my surrogate mother here and lives with us now. She is as in love with food as I am.

Mommo took me out to lunch today to O’Charley’s.  OMG … Best. Food. EVER!  I can’t wait to go back and try the potato soup, and the prime rib pasta, and the spinach dip, oh, and everything else there was a picture of on the menu.  We had the Prime Rib Philly and it was just incredible.  My mouth thought I’d died and went to heaven.  And the look on Mommo’s face when she took that first bite reminded of that scene in When Harry met Sally. If I didn’t already have my sandwich, I’d have found the waitress and said “I want some of whatever she’s having”.  Oh yes, it was that good.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Of dandelion wishes and broken dreams

I’ve been wallowing in old memories tonight.  Wishing some things had turned out differently, knowing that if they had I wouldn't be me.  But you know what they say,

"Be careful what you wish for you just might get it."

Who the hell are "they" anyways ... and why are they always flapping their jaws?

Sometimes dreams do come true.
I know this is so, it happened to me once upon a time.
It was even better than I imagined ... until we got to what was supposed to be the 'happily ever after' part, and the dream morphed into a nightmare.

Weed or wishes? What say you?

If you were given just one wish, what would it be?