Thursday, July 29, 2010

a-dreaming again!

Adam and I went to the movies this past Sunday afternoon and we saw Inception. In a previous post, I talked about how I love dreams--figuring out what they mean, relating them the people, and generally appreciating my sub/unconscious. Inception is all about dreams, and I absolutely loved it. It was both thought-provoking and packed with action, a combination that I haven't seen done well since The Dark Knight (and, even then, all the thought-provokedness came from Heath Ledger rather than from the movie itself).

I'm not going to spoil the movie for you because that would just be sad. But I do suggest that you see it--preferably with someone that challenges you. I'm lucky to have Adam (and I think he's lucky to have me) because we both like discussing the movies that we've seen. We don't always agree, but I love that we pick up on different details, different themes, and even different meanings. And, wow, Inception gives you a LOT of things to discuss! (On a sad note, I haven't been able to remember my dreams for a couple of days now...but Adam has been taking up the dream-remembering/telling slack).

Very cool things about Inception:

Go see the movie! Then talk to me about it! (I figure spoilers can go in the comments section, so feel free to comment about the movie and your thoughts there.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Review of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

I'm just going to go a bit bold. I'm a Harry Potter authority (or, at least, a self-imposed superfreak). In addition, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I know quite a bit about theme parks. So, it stands to reason that you should be interested in my review of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, recently opened at Universal Studios. And, if you aren't interested, then you must be He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Ok, now that that's over, here's a picture of my hubby and me in front of Hogwarts!! YAY!!!

This review will be in seven installments: appearance, secrets, crowds (and how to deal with them), merchandise, food, lines, and rides. I wonder why I chose seven! ;)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Appearance (also known as the HP and the Philosopher's Appearance): Magically fantastic! (Or fantastique, as Fleur would say.) The view of Hogwarts is simply amazing, and the inside is packed with small, unique, wonderfully wizardy details.

I enjoyed the cobblestone streets and shop exteriors in Hogsmeade, but nothing beats Hogwarts. It was huge, you can see it from outside the park, and the creators did a wonderful job of setting up a variety of locations that scream "perfect picture!!" I'm a fan. I've included a picture of Hogwarts, a picture of the entrance to Hogsmeade, and a picture of a lovely gargoyle standing in a very dangerous place over my husband's head. :)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Cathy's Secrets: I wasn't at HP for very long, but I did manage to ferret out some neat little secrets of the place. So, hopefully, these can help you enjoy your time at HP if you go, and I'd love to hear your special secrets!

-One, go early and go left! Once you get inside Islands of Adventure (the section of Universal Studios that has Harry Potter) go to the LEFT. It looks longer, but they actually start passing out tickets and having an HP queue about halfway through Jurassic Park (the attraction area directly to the left of HP). So this is the most efficient way of getting into HP. And get there when it opens because otherwise you're basically asking Professor Moody to turn you into a white ferret.

-Two, don't always follow directions! (Yes, Hermione, this means you too!) The line for the Harry Potter ride keeps you in Prof. Sprout's greenhouse for quite a bit of time, then you actually get to go inside the Castle. Although they have the ability to have long lines within the Castle, they weren't using the extra rows and just had people stationed through the Castle telling you to keep moving and go faster. Sadly, the Castle was TOTALLY AWESOME but we followed directions and hurried through to the ride. Channel the Weasley twins, and stand firm. Take your time through the Castle because it took you a heck of a time to get there. Hopefully, somebody from Universal Studios will read this, open the Castle-waiting rows, and eliminate the problem. Until then, enjoy the gorgeous mural below.

-Three, seek out the hidden gems! Ugh, humanity. The crowds pressed into me, the sun beat down on me, and I was pretty tired, so I left my husband, dad, and mom in the butterbeer line and went to find a respite. After you enter Hogsmeade, you go around a corner to the right to see the main row of shops. Immediately after you turn, a bank of restrooms will be on your right. After that, is the exit from Three Broomsticks. In between the restrooms and the Three Broomsticks, is a rather shadowed alley. Go through it and you'll be on the back patio of Three Broomsticks. It is considerably cooler, has far fewer people, and provides a LOT of shaded seating! After the butterbeer was purchased, I showed this gem to my hubby and parents and we had a lovely space to enjoy our butterbeer. Huzzah! I'm sure that there are more gems, so share away!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Crowds: Packed! I was surrounded by muggy Muggles mugging for cameras. As a *true* HP aficianado, I did want to challenge everyone to a Harry Potter trivia contest, and have those who knew nothing escorted from the premises. Oddly, Universal Studios seemed to think that HP should be more of a socialist experience. Oh well, a girl can dream!

On a serious note, the crowds are a little overwhelming. Granted, I went on a Saturday in July, about a month after the place had opened. I knew it would be crowded, so getting there early allowed me to do all the rides in the morning. We did the shops and Hogsmeade in the afternoon, but I don't think it would have mattered when we shopped. Hogsmeade is designed oddly. It honestly feels more like a soundstage than an actual town. The main street is narrow, the shops are extremely small, and there really aren't places for the crowd to disperse to. Once you'r in Hogsmeade, you're almost trapped by how many people there are. (As Adam said, we needed our wands to start moving people asap!) Once HP mania calms (will it??), perhaps the narrow street and nook-and-cranny shops will be more comfortable, but I don't think that Universal Studios did the best job designing to account for major crowds. I do realize that Hogsmeade had to fit between an existing ride (which became Dueling Dragons) and a pre-existing moat, but I would have liked the space to be utilized more effectively.

I do have some suggestions for dealing with the crowds. Most Muggles were just staring at the facades and trying to figure out where to go. So analyze the crowd quickly. You can dip, duck, and dodge your way through the crowd--just assume that people will usually be slow or immovable. I like to just wind my way like a basilisk (but with less threatening eyes). Do some prep work beforehand (like reading this, planning which rides to hit when, etc) so that you aren't just a slack-jawed Muggle when you arrive. If you're in a group, use them! You know how Crabbe and Goyle could clear the way for Malfoy? Yeah, use that strategy. Or, when scrambling to get into line for a ride, see which group member arrived first and use that line position. Finally, when waiting in lines for shopping (which are all outside in the heat), I would suggest waiting in shifts since there are shaded spots nearby. For your amusement, below is a picture of some slack-jawed Muggles, otherwise known as Mom, my husband Adam, and my brother David!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Merchandise: Thanks to the crowds, I didn't get to most of the shops. However, we did visit Dervish and Banges and bought a wand, so that's pretty extraordinary! The shops were filled with all sorts of merchandise, but it doesn't always correlate to the books. For instance, Dervish and Banges did have quaffles, brooms, bludgers, bats, and quidditch outfits, but they also had t-shirts, keychains, hats, models of Hogwarts, and posters. Most intriguingly, Dervish and Banges was next door to Ollivander's and had wands. Now, Ollivander's was crowded--a 2-hour wait! Yes, it would have taken DOUBLE the total amount of time I waited in line for both HP rides to get in the door of Ollivander's! Why? Well, because the wand experience, which sounds out-of-this-world awesome is also immensely time-consuming.
However, the shopkeepers at Dervish and Banges could tell you what your wand would be--without the extra Ollivander wait! Basically, the design crew converted our typical 12-month calender into a Celtic calender. The Celtic calender is divided into 13 types (similar to the Chinese what-animal-are-you calendar, I think). So, you can just tell the Dervish and Banges person what your birthday is, they will look at a chart and tell you which of the 13 types of wands is *your* wand. (Please note, they have additional character wands--Harry's, Ginny's, Voldemort's, etc--if you'd rather have one of those.) Anyway, Adam's wand was pretty long and had a lovely knobbed end on it. Mine is a little shorter (about 9 inches) and curvier...I like it! (Pics below; mine is on bottom and came in the green box.) We also told the shoplady our anniversary (March 20th), and that wand was MASSIVE. Maybe 14 or 15 inches long with a huge snake's head eating a skull. It was wicked cool, but not exactly lovey-dovey (more death-eatery), so we didn't end up purchasing it. I wish I would have gotten a picture of it though! All wands are $30, so be prepared for that cost.

We also did not go into Honeyduke's because of the line, but I saw several people with boxes of candy, chocolate, etc. From what I could pick up eavesdropping and such, you shouldn't bring little kids in there because you'll go bankrupt. The packaging, placement on shelves, and shopkeepers all seem to be designed for kids--in that kids will grab and open the product before parents can stop them and that shopkeepers will be there quickly to enforce buying the opened package. (Yeah, one father was rather mad...but his kid looked spoiled, so I didn't care! It made me cackle with glee a bit, actually!) But, if you're frugal and want to try one or two speciality candies, the prices are fairly reasonable.

Harry Potter and the Food of the Phoenix: Butterbeer! That was the only product I tried at Hogsmeade. I did see some other dishes being sold at The Three Broomsticks, and they looked decent. They had the basic chicken fingers (called dragon talons, I think), fried fish, hamburgers, and some sort of pasta bowl. The couple seated next to me on the The Three Broomsticks patio had rather massive beers (which the girl never drank from even though she finished her meal...I wonder what happened to all that alcohol...), which they said was the best price in the park. So that's all I know about food--but, just a guess, it's sure to be overpriced and overgreased. Hey, it IS a theme park.

As for the Butterbeer (nonalcoholic, of course), I give it a hearty two thumbs up. My mom said she remembered reading the recipe for it, but I searched online this morning and couldn't find a definitive this-is-THE-recipe-used. So, I'm not going to include a recipe, though if I do find one, I'll let you know. The Butterbeer comes in two varieties: frozen ($4.25) and draft ($3.25). There wasn't a difference in taste, but I liked the frozen Butterbeer best because I enjoy slushies. The taste was like cream soda, butterscotch candies, and a tinge of honey. It was definitely sweet, but had a substantial foam head on it (ginger ale may have been involved??). I definitely recommend it, though I enjoyed it so much that I forgot to get a picture! So, enjoy the picture of an awesome statue (Salazar Slytherin? some ghost? who knows???)

Harry Potter and the Half-Formed Wait Lines: Ok, this title was the most difficult to work into my little review. The wait lines themselves weren't half-formed (they were very definite and crowded), but the idea behind the wait lines was definitely half-baked. As I mentioned previously in HPatCoCS, you shouldn't always follow the wait line rules. If you're intrigued by the Castle (and you will be unless you're a Death Eater), take your time and enjoy it.

In the Dragon Challenge, the wait line were immensely boring. The design team definitely dropped the ball when trying to make an interesting wait experience for that ride. However, what I found to be potentially dangerous was the wait line to LEAVE the ride. You've had this dizzying rollercoaster experience in the bright sunlight and your brains are a little scrambled. Then, the coasterpeople hustle you off the ride and into a pitch-black hallway. It's rather crowded and everyone is swaying like they knocked back 18 FireWhiskeys each. The lady in front of me literally ran into the side of the hallway (made of rock). I have to admit that I was still kind of giddy and this lady had been talking in line about how much she like Narcissa Malfoy, so I kinda found it funny. However, if it would have been ME walking into the wall, I doubt I would have been so cheerful. (She was okay and laughed it off, in case you were concerned.) So, a caveat to the rider, the danger of wait lines doesn't end with the beginning of the ride. OMG, I'm starting to sound like Professor Trelawney! Quick, here's a picture of what was hanging in the Castle that should have also been livening up the Dragon Challenge ride!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Rides: And now for the rides! Although my experience with the rides was continuous, I'll split this into 2 parts just to mock the movie-split a little.

Part One: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
This line for this ride begins at the entrance to Hogwarts, wraps all around the outside of the castle, and places you within Prof. Sprout's greenhouse for a majority of the wait time. Once you enter the castle, there are many, many amazing things to see (paintings where the people move, magical tapestries, the current House count, statues, the entrance to Dumbledore's office) and Dumbledore explains why you, as a Muggle, are able to be at Hogwarts. Now, I had read several articles about this ride, so I knew what was going on, but, as I explained earlier, you kind of get rushed through thia area. I would suggest slowing down so that you can hear Dumbledore's rationale for why Muggles should be at Hogwarts and so that you can experience Harry, Ron, and Hermione concocting a scheme to help you skip class. Dumbledore originally wanted Muggles to have a class in Hogwarts, but our triumphant trio suggests a more hands-on approach. If you don't hear or know the storyline, you'll be a bit confused when you get on the ride. Oh, and below is a picture of me outside the ride!

I'm not going to spoil the ride for you (though I don't think I really could). Suffice it to say, they've combined clever filmography and screens with animatronics and a bucking, jolting car. You sit four people across (I went with Adam, my dad, and my Aunt Carol), and we just had a ball! The screen and car movements and track make you feel like you're flying, and they have spiders, dementors, and a Whomping Willow all up close so that you don't feel like you're just staring at a screen. It's really quite splendid. I won't say anymore in my blogpost, but just ask questions if you want to know more. However, if you're going in the near future, just take my word, know the background, and then experience it for yourself.

Part Two: Dragon Challenge
I had never visited Universal Studios before this trip. (We were always a Disney-or-bust kind of family.) I knew, though, that they had converted one of the dueling rollercoasters (you know, where there are two tracks and you "race" the other coaster) into this Dragon Challenge. To tell the truth, I didn't think this coaster would be as much fun at the Forbidden Journey one. I was pleasantly surprised.
While you're walking through or waiting in line, you do have some special Harry Potter touches to amuse you. This is supposed to be a recreation of the dragon challenge from GoF, so you'll see signs and pennets for Cedric Diggory, Victor Krum, Fleur Delacoure, and Harry Potter. Inside, I was impressed by the candles floating from the ceiling in one room. However, most of the rest of the wait is pretty boring. Maybe they'll add more excitement to the walls (some wizard graffiti could be cool), but it was basically just poured concrete. So, if you want a lot of Harry Potter stuff surrounding you while you wait for the ride, don't go here. I think that, maybe, they were so concerned with whether they could use the pre-existing ride that they didn't think about how to integrate Harry Potter into the wait. However, the ride itself is worth a boring wait; just bring some cards or a good conversationalist with you.

The ride is jolting, dizzying, and generally fun. You make several inverted loops (which are my favorites). I was in the last car, so I couldn't see the "other" dragon most of the time, but the coasters aren't following the same track (one goes over the top of the other, and they seem to collide a few times) so that made it a bit different. The dragon designs on the cars are a little bit gaudy, and watch out for the talons sticking out--they are sharp! But, generally, it's a fun time. You'll go from bright sunlight to pitch-black at the end of the ride, so heed the warning listed in HPatH-FWL.

All right! That's my official review! Please write comments, ask questions, etc. I freaking ADORE Harry Potter, and I really enjoyed my time at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (except there weren't enough werewolves), so I'd love to hear from other people who visited, who plan to visit, or who just want to comment!!

(PS--I briefly considered writing this in The Queen's English, but didn't want to seem pretentious. Enjoy the Americana.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Not Wycherley's China Shop

Teaching Restoration drama is always a bit challenging, but I found great success by introducing students to the explicit puns of William Wycherley's The Country Wife. Read it. Enjoy it. But know that the china I'm about to discuss does not have the same connotation as in the play. This is *real* china.

This post is actually about my Grandma and Grandpa Rademaker, my maternal grandparents. I was lucky that I had all four of my grandparents healthy and active until I was in my mid-twenties. When I was 25, my paternal grandmother died and my paternal grandfather passed away a few years later. I missed them, but I still had my maternal grandparents with me, so I never felt quite as lost as I do now. Growing up, I spent more time with and felt much more comfortable with and much closer Grandma and Grandpa Rademaker...and, although I loved my paternal grandparents, I just have more memories with my maternal grandparents. Grandma and Grandpa Rademaker spent oodles of time with me, my siblings, and my 6 cousins; we had camp-outs, cook-outs, canoeing trips, cruise trips, Easter egg hunts, countless holidays, card and game playing, many enlightening discussions, and just secure and encouraging love.

Whenever I would dream about getting married, Grandma and Grandpa were always there, walking down the aisle for the grandparents' procession, and oh-so-happy for me and my fictional husband. I also hoped that I would get a chance to show them some great grandchildren (produced by me)...especially after I saw how happy they were with Ethan (my sister's child) and Jacob (my cousin James's child).

But if there's one lesson that Grandma and Grandpa taught me, it's that you never know what will happen in life. My Grandma died from breast cancer in early October 2009. She had a lump, apparently, for a couple of years, but didn't want any cancer treatment. It slowly spread, but she didn't feel weak or hampered in any way until August of 2009. So I'm glad that she didn't suffer and that she passed away, as she wanted, in her house, on her time. I got engaged on October 31, 2009, but I had told Grandma that Adam and I were planning to get married. Plus, she and Grandpa had met Adam several times, so I'm so happy about that.

My Grandpa just wasn't the same without Grandma by his side. He was still the list-making, organized, thoughtful man he always was, but he wasn't afraid to show everybody that he just lost a piece of his heart forever when my Grandma died. The love he showed for her continually inspires me to be a better wife to Adam, better mom to Oliver, better daughter/sister/in law/etc. Grandpa's legs had been failing since 2008, so he wasn't able to be at my wedding on March 20, 2010 in Virginia. However, he got to see pictures, and he told me how pretty I looked in my wedding dress. I'll always cherish the loving words he said to me when I telephoned him on the morning of my wedding. Grandpa died in early June 2010; the doctors list his death as due to pneumonia, but my family and I know he was just ready to be with Grandma again.

My mom and her siblings are busy executing Grandpa and Grandma's will, but they took the time to be sure that my cousins, siblings, and I all had several things by which to remember our grandparents. At Grandpa's funeral, the pallbearers (my brother David and cousins James, Lee, Kevin, Martin, and Matt) all wore one of Grandpa's plaid shirts. It was a really moving tribute.

I received the bookshelves that my Grandpa built back in the 1960s (they're amazing!) and several other items. I really love the tea cup and saucer set with four-leaf clovers that I received. Grandma had red hair in her youth and Irish ancestry to back it up, so the delicate tea-and-saucer set just reminds me of her.

I was also lucky enough to receive Grandma and Grandpa's china set. Adam and I were engaged in October and married in March, but didn't even start planning the wedding until late January. We were married in a rush because I was (unexpectedly) done with school and we just wanted to start living our life together. That said, we registered for and receieved a host of wonderful wedding presents, but we didn't register for any china. When I told our respective moms that we just hadn't found any china we liked, they both understood (and left the topic alone), but I knew my Grandma would have heartily suggested that we keep looking. Adam and I found everyday china that we loved, but no china pattern jumped out at us. It wasn't that we disagreed on a pattern; we just agreed that we didn't like any china patterns. So we filed china away as something that we'd just get someday, if we ever wanted/needed some.

My mom suggested that I look at Grandma's china to see if I wanted it when we were in Fort Wayne for Grandpa's funeral. I looked at it and loved it! I remembered using it as a child at holidays and special occasions, but I hadn't remembered what it looked like because we had stopped using Grandma and Grandpa's house as the holiday gathering place when Grandpa got sick. It was always easier to just have get-togethers at my parents or my aunt and uncle's house. I had Adam look at it (while I held my breath, hoping he'd like it), and he loved it too! It's simple and sweet. Just white plates with a thin rim of silver, and what I think are cattails in gray and silver. It's very us: quaint and polished, with a little bit of whimsy. And I like to think that my grandparents would have described themselves, and their relationship, in just the same way.

It's true that life doesn't work out the way we plan. I miss Grandma and Grandpa and wish they could have been there on my wedding day and that they could see the little ankle-biters that Adam and I will ( the future!) produce. But I never planned on having Grandma's china set either, and I think that makes the china even more special to me. It's the unexpected treasures that make you appreciate and enjoy life even more. When Adam and I were setting up the china, I had to go upstairs and just cry a little bit for how much I miss my grandparents. But I get to see a piece of them everyday now, and I get to share this lovely treasure with my treasure of a husband. Life doesn't work out as we plan, but it does work out to be a treasure. Thanks, Grandma and Grandpa. You're the best.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cakes in Cups!

I love baking cupcakes. Ok, wait, I better rephrase. I like baking cupcakes, but I LOVE icing cupcakes. I couldn't think of a good theme for these cupcakes because I was really making them just to make them. As a result, I experimented with making different summer flowers. Thoughts on my cupcakes?

And here are some close-ups. I did make one special one: a take on the Brasilian flag, for my sweetheart Adam.

So, my question to you, dear readers: What types of cupcake themes would you recommend? If you suggest something, maybe I'll send you some to try! :)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

If this be magic, let it be an art!

The Magic Eraser is A-MAZ-ING!

I picked it up spur-of-the-moment, hoping it could help us clean off some tough spots on the walls of the old apartment. I had tried to scrub said spots on previous cleaning days, so I walked up to the wall, Magic Eraser in hand, and I expected little to nothing. I received MAGIC! It erased everything! And it barely took any effort on my part!

Okay, I cannot believe that this post is about a cleaning product. I feel like such an old married lady. I hate cleaning, yet I post about cleaning products! I'm such a condundrum! (Or, maybe I'll just post about products that will make cleaning much that case, I should post about Adam more. He's such a good cleaning product! Bazinga!)

In more Cathy-ish news, I was hired today as an adjunct at Blue Ridge Community College. As of now, I'll teach one session of Composition in the Fall of 2010, but I'm hopeful that I may be able to pick up more sessions soon! Everyone at BRCC seemed really lovely and quite devoted to teaching, so that's brillant news!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Perchance to Dream

I have very, very odd dreams. Saying that, though, might be a bit silly. Aren't all dreams odd?

I'm lucky, though, because I do tend to remember my dreams. My husband rarely remembers his dreams, so I'm always giving him details of my dreams. However, maybe it's better not to remember your dreams. Years ago, I had a dream where my sister and I verbally dueled and she said some horrible things about me. That morning, I woke up angry at Annette and went through the whole day just being a bear to her. When she confronted me about it in the evening, I said that I was being mean because of what she had said to me previously. And then I proceeded to give all the details of the dream. Annette said that we hadn't had any such argument and then I remembered that it had been a dream. So, yes, dreams can make you be quite foolish! I'm lucky that she forgave me.

Anyway, last night I dreamt that I was a Supreme Court judge. I was the youngest one of course, and only a couple of the other judges liked me (the rest thought I was too young). We met in some sort of Gothic, old-school Catholic cathedral, and I remember resting on a pew after a long day of judging things. The oddest part was that we seemed to be judging people becuse they *wanted* to be executed, and we were seeing if they were worthy of being executed. Yeah...I told you I dream odd dreams!

So, I tried to apply a dream diagnosis this morning. Why was I dreaming about this situation, and how can it help me in my real life? Here are my thoughts: Right before I went up to bed last night, I saw a few snippets of the new Supreme Court judge that the Senate is checking. So maybe that's why Supreme Court stuff was in my head. The annoyance that I was too young probably stems from my frustation in looking for a job; I have experience and I'd be good at any number of positions, but I just haven't hd a bunch of opportunities to prove myself as yet. I like Catholic cathedrals, so that part is easy to understand, but my bed is much more comfortable than a I'm not sure about that yet! Finally, judging people who want to be executed. Umm, I have *no* idea about that! Anyone want to apply some diagnosis for that thought pattern? It could be fun! :)

Sorry for this random post, but I think dreaming can be quite splendid. And, as Albus Dumbledore said in HP7, "Just because it's happening inside your head , Harry, why on earth should that mean it's not real?" That's my mantra for today!