Monday, July 31, 2006

R's Superparty.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

What a decade!

We interrupt reliving our vacation to bring you this important message:


I can't believe my baby boy is 10 years old! How did that happen? It seems like just a few weeks (OK, maybe months) ago he looked like this:

We loved him so much the day he was born. How could we have known how much more we'd love him now? He's our hero, too. He goes through so much because of his hemophilia, but he never stops fighting, never stops trying, never gives up. He's tougher than people realize because he also has the sweetest heart. I still get a little teary when I think of R in the exam room a few years ago, in horrendous pain from a bleed, asking ME if I was OK.

R, you are a child of God and one of the two biggest blessings He's given us. No matter where you go or what you do, Mommy will always love you!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Vacation recap, Day 4.

Monday, July 17

On Sunday we saw the theme park version of a movie studio. On Day 4 of our vacation, we got a more realistic look at what goes on at a studio when we took the Warner Bros. VIP tour. This tour didn't come with roller coasters or special effects shows, but it was really interesting--and full of surprises.

While we waited for our tour to depart, we got to see some costumes on display, such as Harry Potter's:

and Neo's from the Matrix movies:Once 9 o'clock rolled around, we started out by watching a short film about the history of Warner Bros. Then we boarded large golf carts (each held 12 guests) and entered the backlot. For this part of the tour, we were allowed to take pictures, so we snapped away while our guide showed us several city street sets.

In one section of the backlot, designed to look like Anytown USA, work was underway to turn the city into Stars Hollow for Gilmore Girls. Filming was set to resume the following week, so plenty of workers were dressing the sets to tailor them for that show. Notice all the bicycles. Everybody seemed to use bikes to get around the huge backlot!

Our guide tried to tell us several places we may have seen each building or facade. This one, for example, has not only been used as Stars Hollow High School, but it was also the Hazzard County Courthouse in The Dukes of Hazzard.

This alley is famous for its fire escape. The upside-down kiss scene from Spider-Man was filmed here.

It was neat to see different houses from movies and TV shows we've watched, but I may have been most impressed just to see the studio in action. There were people everywhere: painters, construction workers, electricians, etc.

Our guide explained that most of these buildings don't have signage or light fixtures attached because those elements really date the places. By adding streetlamps, trees and signs, set decorators can make a generic building look like it belongs in a specific time and place. He pointed out holes in the sidewalks where parking meters, lights and other items can be bolted into place.

He also demonstrated how portable these set pieces are when he asked a lovely volunteer to lift a "heavy" fire hydrant:
We also got to see this set, used as the outside of County General for ER. (You can see just a little of the elevated track, too.)

In one building, we got to see several show cars that are on display. We saw the General Lee (from the new movie), the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, as well as a couple of Batmobiles, like this one from Batman Begins:

and Ron's car from Harry Potter:

For the front lot part of our tour, we had to lock up our cameras. We passed soundstages used for a variety of TV shows and movies (including the Friends stage), and we walked through the props, art and metal shop departments. In one huge building we saw artists painting a giant mural (what we would've called a matte painting way back when; now they call it a backing). The ship scene will eventually be used in the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie (at least that's what they told us).

A special treat was to visit the soundstage where they film ER. We walked through a door, and there we were--right in the middle of County General! We walked through the different exam rooms used, saw the (partial) staircase, stepped inside the fake elevator. In the middle of one room, our guide pulled down the glass chart where they list which doctors are assigned to which patients. It was too cool! I only wished R&K were more familiar with the show so they could appreciate what they were seeing.

Before the tour began, I had mentioned to B that while Friends was still filming, visitors to this studio could see the Central Perk set. I knew that the set had been struck after the last episode, but I thought it would've been cool to see the old coffeehouse. Imagine my surprise when our tour guide opened a door to a little room and presented this:

Now I know that many set pieces and props went home with cast and crew, but this re-creation was just too cool! We were allowed to get our cameras out for this part of the tour (obviously! I didn't sneak these photos!), so I happily soaked it all in, taking picture after picture.

Our guide showed us the order pad used by the actor who played Gunther. He would write himself notes to help him remember his cues.

The only disappointing part of the tour was the ridiculously short period of time we had to tour the WB museum. The two-story museum was filled with costumes and props from WB productions, and the entire second floor was all Harry Potter-related items. I think we had a total of EIGHT minutes to spend in there, so we flew through the two floors, the kids spending most of their time upstairs with Harry Potter. Considering all the other things we did get to see, though, it's hard to complain too much about the tour!

After that, we drove around Burbank FOREVER, just looking for somewhere to eat! We ended up at a Subway. We knew we wanted to return to K&D's before it got too late, but we also wanted to sneak in one more visit to the beach. We missed our turn for Venice Beach (I still don't know how that happened!), so we ended up returning to Santa Monica. It was still every bit as beautiful as it was on Friday, but the waves were MUCH higher!

Can you find K's blonde head as she's getting pummeled by a wave?

This shot is SO Baywatch!It was great to get one more chance to see the Pacific Ocean. It was also nice to head back to K&D's house mid-afternoon to do a little laundry and get some rest before leaving for Disneyland. This was our last night at K&D's, and we enjoyed a taco dinner together in the gazebo and a little bocce ball before heading to bed. It was hard to get to sleep because we were excited about Disney but also a little sad about having to leave our gracious hosts.

Vacation recap, Day 3.

Sunday, July 16

This was our day at Universal Studios. We had a great time, but after all the driving we did on Saturday, the best part for me may have been staying in one place all day!

We enjoy theme parks anyway, so this one, with its movie twist, was perfect for us. We could easily ride and see everything we wanted in a day, and the electronic signs scattered throughout the park let us know which attractions had the shortest wait times.

We started our day at the Van Helsing attraction, which is basically a haunted house. I'm not a fan of haunted houses, but I have to admit that this one, with a mix of movie scenes and live actors, was pretty good. From there, we went down the Starway (an extra-long series of escalators) to the Lower Lot, which was just opening for the day. We were among the first in line for Mummy: The Ride. Now THIS was my idea of a roller coaster!

It begins slowly, showing you recreated scenes from the Brendan Fraser movie, but once you're "cursed," the ride takes off--in the dark! It was wild, and we ended up riding it five times before the day was done.

We also enjoyed Jurassic Park, a water ride. The combination of narration, animatronic dinosaurs and the JP theme music gave us the sensation of being in the movie. The big splashdown at the end didn't leave us soaked, but we enjoyed getting at least a little wet!

While in the lower lot, we also saw an I Love Lucy exhibit with a few of Lucy's dresses and items from her home. We watched the Backdraft pyrotechnic display, and then we caught the Special Effects show.

In this show, our hosts demonstrated various effects like green screen, and special guest stars from the audience (like K!) helped show how foley artists add sound effects to scenes.

Back in the upper lot area, we rode the Back to the Future Ride, saw Shrek 4D, experienced Terminator 2: 3D (BIG thumbs up from B) and gave the kids a chance to cool off in the Nickelodeon Splash Zone.

Next to the water rocket and the obligatory giant bucket that dumps gallons on people, a Wild Thornberries play area gives kids and adults a dry area to let off some steam. In that area, kids could play with thousands of foam balls, throwing or shooting them in a million directions. Or, as was the case here, dump them on unsuspecting parents.

Of course, we also had a few character sightings.

We also caught the Waterworld show, which from what I can tell, was more entertaining than the Kevin Costner film!

For lunch we left the park and visited Universal Citywalk, the adjacent shopping and dining district. We ate at the Daily Grill, which was a perfectly good restaurant. Its main draw, however, was its air conditioning! Citywalk had some interesting sights of its own, too.

Back in the park, R was excited to see all the Jaws-related stuff. He is the world's biggest Jaws fan, you know.Besides the fake shark and the souvenir penny machine, Universal also includes Jaws as part of its backlot tour. Seeing the mechanical shark lunge at us in the tram was certainly a highlight for R! (I was glad to see it, too, since the Jaws lake was drained on my previous visit to Universal Hollywood way back in 1978!)

For the tour, we boarded at tram and headed toward the backlot. (Back in '78, this was pretty much all there was to do at Universal Studios!)

Other sights from the tour:

Plane crash scene from War of the Worlds:

The Psycho house:

Wisteria Lane and the homes of the Desperate Housewives:

(This DH home was also used as the Munsters' back in the day.)

Several show cars, including these from Back to the Future:

We also got to see the old New York and European street sets (used in old monster movies), a flash flood (as seen in Big Fat Liar), part of the Grinch set, and a few staged "events" like an earthquake and a King Kong attack.

Before heading back to our car, we walked through Citywalk again, having Ben & Jerry's ice cream for dinner (only on vacation!) and checking out Things from Another World, a comic book store.

Universal Studios has changed quite a bit in the 28 years since I first visited! It really was a fun day. As a Six Flags junkie, I was impressed with the ways the rides were packaged to tie them into their movies. The cleanliness of the park was refreshing, too. So thumbs up all around! And we weren't through touring studios! There was one more tour scheduled for Monday, but that report will have to wait for Day 4.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Vacation recap, Day 2.

Saturday, July 15

After breakfast with K&D at a restaurant along Beverly Boulevard (the same one we frequented the day of the Rose Bowl), we headed to Hollywood. Our first stop was the Walk of Fame and Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

We parked at the new-ish shopping center (Hollywood & Highland, home of the Kodak Theatre from Oscars and American Idol fame) and emerged into quite a scene! People were packed into the theatre's forecourt, famous for all the handprints and footprints embedded in concrete there.

We also spent a little time strolling along with Walk of Fame. There are so many stars in that sidewalk! We felt like we saw just a tiny fraction of them all.

We did a little T-shirt shopping along Hollywood Boulevard, but then we had to cut our visit short. We had places to go, people to see!

Forrest J. Ackerman, or Forry, is the legendary editor of Famous Monsters magazine. For years he has collected memorabilia related to science fiction and monster movies. His former home, the Ackermansion, was practically a museum, and he would open it every week for fans to visit. He now lives in a smaller bungalow (which he's dubbed the Son of Ackermansion) and his collection is a tad smaller, but he still opens his home on Saturdays when he's in town. Lucky for us, he was in town that Saturday!

First of all, it's just bizarre to walk in off the street into a stranger's home. But once inside, you realize that's nothing compared to the weird sights inside. In a corner by the front window is Dracula's cape.

And over there, by the dining table? That would be Lon Chaney Sr.'s prosthetic teeth from London After Midnight.

In every room, you find movie posters, lobby cards, autographed photos, random props and figures. You have to move a loaf of bread to see a model of his old house on top of the refrigerator. On the dining room table, to get to some books on display, you have to push past the electric bill. And in the middle of it all, there's Forry, signing autographs, accepting a cameo role in a film (this one will be his 208th appearance), answering questions (he's seen his favorite movie, Metropolis, 105 times), and posing for photos.

I stumbled upon Forry's website during all my obsessive trip researching, and I'm so glad I did! B had called before we left Texas to make sure he'd be home, and we were all glad it worked out. All of us were impressed, but for B, this was a pilgrimage worth the whole trip west!

With that pilgrimage complete, we began another: searching for a good view of the Hollywood sign. Our hostess, D, had told us Griffith Park offered a pretty good view, so we drove up the hills toward the (closed) observatory to take a look.

We could see the sign, and we also had a nice view of LA, too. Who knew smog could be pretty?

Oh. And that cool weather that welcomed us on Friday? By Saturday, it was long gone! Our mini hike left us sweaty! Good thing our hosts had insisted on supplying us with a big thermos of ice water and some "emergency chips" in case we needed rations along our journey. At Griffith Park we took a much-needed water and snack break to revive us.

After that, it was time for my own pilgrimage. Anyone who has known me for long knows about my obsession with The Brady Bunch. I have always loved that corny show, and I've collected Brady paraphernalia for years. So while in Southern California, I just had to see the house that was used for the exterior shots in the show. (The interiors and yards were shot on a soundstage not too far away.) I found directions to the actual house and knew to expect it to look quite a bit different from the way it appeared in the '69-'74 sitcom. I knew the owners had put a fence to keep onlookers off their property; I knew it didn't really have a big window in front (a fake was hung there to make the house appear to have two stories); I knew the tree in front had grown considerably in 30 years. What I didn't know was how very close to the place we could get just driving by and then walking on the sidewalk! The front yard is not that large, so as we drove up next to the house, we were SO VERY CLOSE!

Of course, I responded in typical fashion: I panicked! I was so terrified we'd get in trouble just being there that I didn't want to get out of the car to take a picture. I managed to convince myself that we could nonchalantly get a couple of snapshots from our moving SUV. Yeah, right. Fortunately, B didn't let me get away with that! We parked up the street a little and made a run for it. The kids and I posed in front of the house while B snapped a few pictures. I just knew some security guard would come after us, but B kept pointing out that we were on a public sidewalk and weren't doing anything to bug the owners or their neighbors. I'm so glad he talked some sense into me! Just look at our groovy pictures!

So with three pilgrimages complete, we were hungry! We made our way to In-N-Out Burger on Sunset. The place was packed! We were lucky to have a place to sit while we devoured our burgers.

After lunch we headed west, retracing Friday's path down Wilshire. Our destination: Westwood Memorial Park.

Yep. We went sightseeing at a CEMETERY! This place is tucked behind a couple of tall office buildings, and without really good directions, we never would've found it. Lots of tourists do manage to find it, however, because this cemetery is the final resting place for gobs of celebrities. I had a map (printed from the internet), so we wandered around, paying our respects to some famous singers and actors.

I especially love Jack Lemmon's sense of humor:

(In case you can't read through the shadows, it says, "Jack Lemmon in" on the tombstone.)

The big draw at Westwood, as evidenced by the flow of traffic, the darkened marble and the lipstick, is this marker:

It's strange to see how the brass marker is so much more worn than the others there. It seems like everyone who visits there has to touch her first name: Marilyn.

After that somber interlude, we headed back towards Beverly Hills and drove down North Roxbury and a few other residential streets. Many stars from days gone by have lived on Roxbury, including Lucille Ball and Jimmy Stewart. We tried to identify a couple of houses, but trying to drive without getting lost was more than I could handle. We settled for ogling the fancy houses, regardless of what famous people might've lived in 'em!

We also made a detour to drive past George Reeves' residence. We found ourselves up some pretty steep roads. On a very busy, hilly street, it took B some nerves of steel to get this shot of the last home of TV's Man of Steel.

Because we had left Hollywood Boulevard before we'd seen much, we drove back there before the day was done. We went back to Grauman's to see a few more handprints and footprints, and we walked along the Walk of Fame a little more, too.

By the time we returned "home" to K&D's, we were exhausted. For supper, our host K grilled steaks for us on their outdoor fireplace, and D made some amazing spaghetti. After another delicious meal, we were zonked.

And that was Day 2!