Thursday, July 29, 2010

Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site

I have only read one of Eugene O'Neill's plays- "A Long Days Journey into Night"- but I was still interested in viewing the home where he wrote this seminal work. It is free to view, but you generally have to have reservations except on Saturdays during the summer. I was glad that I had extensively checked the directions on the website because it is very different from most National Parks. You cannot just drive up to the house because the house is located along a small, private road with other houses in Danville, CA so you have to meet at the San Ramon Valley Museum where a shuttle will take you the site. On Saturdays during the Summer, the shuttle leaves at 10, 12, and 2. I went to the 2 pm group and I was one of only 3 people which was nice because we were able to ask the rangers stationed throughout the home about some specifics rather than just having the self-guided brochure tour. The park ranger driving the bus was this sweet old man who would provide narration about the history of the town as we drown to the site. He said that Danville is known for 3 things: Eugene O'Neill, the restaurant where the choking scene was filmed in Mrs. Doubtfire, and Captain Sully who landed the plane onto the Hudson River.

The O'Neill home sits on a hillside with a great view of the valley and Mount Tam.

This winding path to the house was purposefully constructed to emulate the Chinese proverb "Evil moves only in a straight line." It is only fitting that they called the house the "Tao House"

O'Neill LOVED the water and so he chose this particular location so that he could swim year round in this pool. Everyday he would go out for a swim at 1 pm after he had spent the morning writing.

There are still several barns- one in which they perform some of his plays every year. They have kept a more rustic feel to the grounds.

The O'Neill's had a dalmatian dog named "Silverdene Emblem" but they primarily called him "Blemie." As I know from experience, pets can literally become another member of the family. They buried their beloved Blemie out in the yard, under the shade of a large tree.

I love the epitaph of "Sleep in Peace, Faithful Friend"

Near the grave site, they had a panel touting the "Last Will and Testament of Silverdene Emblem O'Neill" (obviously written by O'Neill in the voice of Blemie). I was actually so touched by what was written here as I can relate with our beloved Spankie growing older as well.

I did not know very much about the life of O'Neill and so I was struck by just how much of his life was like the tragedies his works attempted to capture. His father was an actor and his mother was addicted to morphine so he had a very rough childhood. He tried to commit suicide while in his 20s and had several failed marriages (his 3rd time was the charm). He also had 3 kids- two boys and girl- and both boys ultimately committed suicide in their adulthood (his daughter married Charlie Chaplin and had like seven kids so she was ok). Long Day's Journey into Night is VERY autobiographical- he reportedly would just cry at his desk while he wrote it. He had said that it was not to be published until 25 years after his death but his wife released it after 3 (his 3rd wife Carlotta with whom he lived in the Tao House had her own way of running things as she had the bedroom with the best view even though she had bad eyesight, probably due to her having to interpret Eugene's handwriting. As he got older, his handwriting became smaller and shakier- they had a sample of it and I could not decipher most words, even with the help of a magnifying glass). Eugene was only able to write with a pen and paper according to his own literary process and so as his disease worsened, he ultimately was unable to write. O'Neill had his own library where he had 2 desks where he would work on two plays simultaneously, with one manuscript on each desk. I loved that he could just wheel back and forth between them. He owned an amazing 8,000 books which he kept in his home- a man after my own heart, though I am no where near that amount (but I have no idea just how many I do have between my apartment and even more at my parents house). Eugene won several Pulitzer Prizes and a Nobel Prize for Literature. At the house, they have a copy of his Nobel which was specially designed to capture his works. After going to the site, I definitely want to read some more of his works since I have an even better understanding about the man who created them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Genghis Khan: The Exhibition

William and I went to Genghis Khan: The Exhibit at the Tech Museum of San Jose on Saturday. We were hoping that it would be as good as the Leonardo exhibit they had awhile ago and it was amazing and definitely worth the steep admission price ($25 which does get you also into the Tech's permanent exhibits but not IMAX). William and I learned SO much and are shocked that Genghis Khan was not more of a prominent figure of study at school. While Ghengis Khan was alive, he expanded his kingdom to be TWICE the size of the Roman Empire, even taking over Beijing. And under the reign of his grandson, Kublaihi Khan, the empire expanded to FOUR times the size of the Roman Empire. We both had NO idea that his empire had grown that large. And that he literally left his genetic mark upon the world as 1.5% of Westerners have his DNA. The exhibit was slightly on the more favorable portrayal of Genghis Khan but they did at least mention about many of his harsh tactics and punishments.

Chinngis, as he is referred to in Mongolia, was the son of a local tribe leader, although his mother was not the primary wife. His father was murdered when he was 9 years old and the tribe forced out his mother and her children. This affected Chinngis so that we he did begin his conquests, he initially based his appointments upon merit and achievement, not kinship (although he broke this later on in his life when he split his kingdom up between his sons). They mentioned that he killed his step-brother but never indicated why. He spent most of his life living in a yurt- or a ger as they termed it- continually moving around, fighting battles. He had no main capital during his lifetime. As he traveled, he carried these two banners of yak hair- one with white representing peace and the black other representing war.

The exhibit had quotes placed throughout the exhibition, some that were surprising to think that they came from Ghengis Khan and others, like the one below, captured my overall conception of him.

"I am the wrath of God . . . if you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you."
YIKES is all that I have to say! And I would have been terrified to go into battle with these guys. They mastered warfare on horseback- being able to shoot behind them with their bow and arrows. Even while they and their horses were wearing armor.

They specially crafted their bows so that they would shoot 100 yards farther than the Europeans could at the time. We were able to see a bow- and try pulling it pull it back (we didn't try) and they didn't release it either :-)

The gentleman that you see in the photo actually created this beautiful red mask featured below

He also made 107 other masks, and he demonstrated his old man mask with a traditional dance. He is one of the organizers of the exhibit and he and his two children now live in Washington D.C. His son and daughter attend a Mongolian school on Saturdays where they learn traditional dances, language, and other aspects of their culture. They are here in the area for the summer where he and his children perform every hour from 1-6 pm at the exhibit to help bring the culture to life. And they definitely did that- the little girl was adorable in her fancy costumes and the elder brother that has some great dancing abilities.

Some of the other notable aspects of Chinngis was that he allowed for complete religious freedom throughout the empire and created golden passports. We are glad that we were able to learn more about this pivotal figure in history and glad that people are trying to bring knowledge and understanding about his empire.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sarah's Masters Graduation

We attended Sarah's graduation ceremonies at the Viejas arena on campus. The ceremony itself was nearly 3 hours long so William and Cynthia were happy they had brought books. The graduates proceeded into the area and then were each individually called up to the stage where they received their hoods. Below you see the vast number of graduates

Our photo session was pretty short because it was incredibly windy and chilly for mid May in San Diego, but we did manage to get a few great shots of the graduate.

The graduate with her proud parents

and proud sister and brother-in-law

We loved the cookies they gave us in these festive bags

Congratulations Sarah! We are so proud of you and are THRILLED that you will soon be living in the bay area teaching dance at a San Jose middle school!!

Mormon Battalion Visitors Center and Old Town San Diego

So, this happened nearly two months ago . . . I'm definitely way behind on my blogging (and we haven't really even begun to tackle the Japan photos).

My youngest sister Sarah graduated with her masters degree in Education from San Diego State University on May 23rd. Our whole family (minus Spankie) was able to fly out for her graduation and we were able to take in some of the sites of San Diego that I had not been to- Old Town. We first went to the newly renovated Mormon Battalion Visitors Center which was extremely well done. They have incorporated a large amount of multi-media such as talking photographs, videos, and we were even allowed to be honorary members of the battalion!

Cynthia was able to "get her gun"

And William was completely outfitted for the trek

I think that he looks just like the soldier

We were all also able to pan for gold- William mastered the shake technique

While Cynthia and my mom had incredible eyes for finding the gold

Sarah managed to strike it rich-

just look at that huge piece she found!
They did an incredible job of bringing the experience of these faithful Saints to life.

We then walked around Old Town San Diego which has an "old time" charm to it :-) We decided that it wasn't worth the $10 per person to go inside this "haunted" house so I just took a photo of the outside (doesn't look that haunted to me)

The first location of Wells Fargo Bank

The courthouse where they have a metal cell out in the back that I would not want to be stuck in

I absolutely LOVED this church- definitely my favorite building in the area.

We ate dinner at Guadalajara's restaurant that evening and it was some of the BEST Mexican food I have had in a long time. The wait was painful (not to mention they forgot to buzz us when our table was ready) but the it was totally worth it for the food. Not too spicy, just tasty. I loved my chicken chimichanga enchilada style- it reminded me of the ones I would get at the Blue Iguana. William was kind enough to take a photo of the "original" Stults family while we were waiting outside

My Brush with the Creators of an Internet Phenomenon

So, I knew that our trip to Florida was going to be FABULOUS after our red-eye flight there. William and I were seated in the same row but were both in window seats and there were only couples seated next to us but I totally hit the jackpot with the couple I sat next to. I immediately bonded with Jen who was sitting next to me as we talked for 45 minutes straight about the wonders of Disney. They had just finished up several days at Disneyland and California Adventure and were returning back home to Orlando where they have season passes to the parks. We talked about the Disney Cruise line (I've been once), I told them about Tokyo Disney and Tokyo Disney Sea, as well as Disneyland Paris, and they informed me about all of the things that I still didn't know despite my countless trips to Disneyland. They have dozens of the souvenir penny machines all throughout the park- I had only seen one or two previously- but Jen produced a huge list of all of the locations of them throughout the park and which characters were featured. You learn something new every day :-) Her and her husband John also raved about their favorite restaurant at Disney World- Boma- which is at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. They told me to email them if we were going- which we did at the last minute- and I still feel TERRIBLE for not alerting them (this just means that there will be a next time to make up for it :-)

After expounding upon all of the wonders of Disney, they had told me that they had come to California for a book tour. A book tour- that is pretty sweet! I asked what their book was about and Jen replied that she and her husband write this blog and the book is based off of their blog. I asked what the blog was and to my utter delight she said "Oh, just a little blog, I'm not sure if you have heard of it, it's called CAKE WRECKS." Of COURSE I have heard of cake wrecks! I was big into cake decorating in high school and college and so it was natural that I become a loyal devotee. I have been following their for over a year and I was thrilled to see that John was ok after having to cancel part of their tour due to his getting pneumonia. I was so starstruck meeting them. I was so happy to be able to tell them in person just how HILARIOUS their blog is and just how much I look forward to their posts. She told me that they have been shocked at the success of their blog (I'm not shocked because it truly is a brilliant concept that is well executed and funny) and how the blog and book have now become their full time jobs. They are truly some of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I have ever met and I still feel honored to have been lucky enough to have been able to talk with them for several hours. If you have not been to their blog yet, GO IMMEDIATELY and I know that it will instantly become one of your favorites. Jen also let me know about her other blog called "Epbot" which features many of her in-depth posts about Disney and their other miscellaneous adventures.

Wreck On Jen and John! And thanks for being so great to a star-struck fan!!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fourth of July Weekend with Friends

William and I were so lucky to be able to spend several days at the home of my dear friends Lianne and Adam. They have a HUGE and BEAUTIFUL home and were such gracious hosts. Lianne made the most incredible pulled pork for Sunday dinner (you should put the recipe up on your blog) and Adam put on a little fireworks show for us. Sunday the 4th was pretty low key as we recuperated from our overnight red eye flight followed by all day at Universal. Hooray for Sunday naps to rejuvenate. We played Candy Land with Clara and Ian (Ian won twice!) but Clara had much more fun making up her own game of guessing which card was the special characters. We also were introduced to the adorable world of Veggie Tales- "That hurt like the Dickens" as well as both Clara and Ian dancing for us to the music on their electronic piano. We watched fireworks from the screened in porch of their house- I miraculously only got 1 bug bite the whole time we were there (a miracle for me) as many of their neighbors presented incredible displays over the lake behind their house. We also watched the firework show on tv from Boston, bringing back all of the wonderful memories that I had over the several years I was there, making me nostalgic at going back. (Though I still do want to experience the 4th in DC someday).

Tuesday was another low key day spent by sleeping in and going to Chik-fil-a (our nearest one is in Fairfield an hour and a half away). Later that evening, while waiting at the Orlando airport, we saw that they had another Chik-fil-a and so of course we had to go there again for dinner as it is just that good. On our layover in Atlanta, they had another Chik-fil-a (welcome to the South!) and I told William that Chik-fil-a twice in one day was good, but 3 times is a gross out and that I just couldn't do it, but he could if he wanted to (he didn't :-)

It was so great to be able to have so much time to just talk and catch up with these dear friends of mine, as well as to be able to watch So You Think You Can Dance with Lianne and analyze it with her (p.s. we are DEVASTATED about Alex getting hurt and being out of the competition- he truly is the best dancer I have ever seen on the show :-( Thanks for the memories and for being such amazing hosts- including Lianne picking us up at 5:15 am!! Now that is a true friend :-)

Disney's Animal Kingdom

On Monday July 5th, we went to Disney's Animal Kingdom since William had never been and it had been awhile since I had gone. We absolutely LOVED it as well. We truly lucked out with the weather during our visit because although it rained both days at the park, I didn't mind at all since it made the temperature only in the mid 80s instead of the normal sweltering wet heat that I remember from when I was last at Disney World with my family in August. I just remember that we were almost about to pass out from the stifling heat while waiting for the Little Mermaid show- my dad always brings up this story when we talk about our trip. The weather was totally bearable which made us enjoy our trip even more.

Another hilarious moment was even before we arrived inside the park. Adam and Lianne are season pass holders at Disney and so they had told us that they have the worst luck with parking in that they are ALWAYS at the end of every row. Well, it looked like we were going to break that streak but at the last minute, they sent us to the end of the a new row and Adam yells out a "Noooooooo" and shook his fist into the air. We had hilarious workers while at Disney. Our first tram driver kept telling everyone to "Sit back down" and "Wait for it, wait for it WAIT FOR IT" before leaving the tram. I brought a bunch of starbursts with me so that we could get a needed sugar rush if we were waiting in long lines. The guard who checked my bag upon entering said "Got enough Starbursts there" and I laughed and said he could have one if he wanted to which he politely declined. Then, on the tram back to the parking lot, we had another HILARIOUS commentator. As we went around this corner at a whopping 5 miles an hour, the guy calls out "Feel those G's people, Feel the G's." I have to say that Disney really does have the BEST staff who always give you the best treatment.

We were lucky enough to go on Expedition to Everest, the only real high speed roller coaster, at the park 3 times as we only waited in line a maximum of 20 minutes (usually less). This ride was so fun as you end up going backwards through the tunnels as you try and escape the Yeti. Their Dinosaur ride is ok- its more like Indiana Jones but not quite as good, but what I really LOVED was their stage shows. They had this stage show called "Finding Nemo- The Musical" which was super adorable. I was impressed that the actors were singing LIVE while doing the puppetry. The cast even runs throughout the theater- it was just very well done. I also loved the "Festival of the Lion King" show where they had incredible dancers and singers, as well as an aerialist and a guy spinning fire. The "Flights of Wonder" show was also fun as they used live birds, one of whom had a rebellion and refused to go back through the correct door, stalling the show for a good few minutes. I just love how Disney makes everything they do top quality.

The parade was ok- we basically just tried to "walk by it" on our way to another attraction, which is difficult with all of the strollers blocking the walkways. Our favorite part was this girl who was lucky enough to have been chosen to ride on a float and was sound asleep!! Her dad was even trying to wake her up. Here's an example of what the floats looked like

The safari was amazing as we were able to see a large number of animals close up- elephants, a baby giraffe, rinos, and many more. But what I really enjoyed was these animal trails they had throughout the park where it was more like a zoo. We saw the most ADORABLE baby gorilla cuddled up to its mama (I wish I would have taken a photo but there were way too many people around) and then we saw this gorilla who came near to us and even climbed up a waterfall, like a scene out of a movie.

William and I were also fascinated by these giant bats, as shown in the photo below. They have a ginormous wingspan and we have no idea how he didn't over stretch and break through his wings as they do seem to be almost translucent.

Don't wait in a long line for the raft ride- it is SUPER short and we were so glad that we had a fast pass for it and did not wait in the 75 minute long line. The ride was temporarily stopped just as we had gotten on and so one of the workers was asking one of the other people in the raft what their favorite park at Disney World. The man replied "Harry Potter" which is not part of Disney. William and I lucked out in that we did not get super wet on this ride.

We also had amazing food while at Animal Kingdom. We introduced Adam and Lianne to the wonders of the Rainforest Cafe (they had never been there before). I unfortunately was not able to take a good photo of William drinking water from the elephant

Later that night, we headed over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge where we at their buffet called "Boma" which was incredible as well. It came with extremely high recommendations from friends I had made on the flight to Florida and it definitely lived up to their raves. We were able to try some African dishes as well as traditional favorites. I liked the peanut soup, the mustard pasta salad, and their different types of hummus. We had yet another super fun day and many thanks to Lianne's parents for watching the little ones on both days so that we could maximize our time at the parks.

Universal Island of Adventure and Studios Florida

It was very crowded at both Universal Island of Adventure (IOA) and Universal Studios so I was very happy that we spent the extra money and got the Express passes. Basically, the Express pass is true capitalism at its finest. You pay extra money to be able to have 1 fast pass on the vast majority of the rides. And since we went on Saturday, July 3rd, it definitely made sense because we otherwise would have been waiting in lines for an hour to an hour and a half for some of the rides. We also got the Park Hopper, although we spent most of our time at IOA, I was happy we got it for the Simpsons ride.

IOA was my favorite, although I don't think that it is as kid friendly with the rides as Disneyland. Most of the rides are high speed roller-coasters so you would have to do Child Swap for most of the rides. Dr. Suess Land was really clever and was the most child friendly with a little train ride, carousel, and walking through the world of the Lorax. I had to take this photo for my sister Sarah as she called the dorms she used to live in "Chappy"

I loved the scenery around the Lost Continent area of the park (although we really didn't view any of the attractions there since they were not major rides)

The overall goal of these theme parks is to get you WET. We were SOAKED on the Jurassic Park ride and it seemed that nearly every ride involved squirting you with water. I loved this photo of "Welcome to Jurassic Park" and Hogwarts now being invaded by dinosaurs :-)

One of the funniest moments of the trip occurred when we were on the Simpsons ride. This ride was one of the most fun and entertaining, and even better when riding it with William. At one point, the ride had us crash down into water and we didn't get wet and so William comments "Finally, one ride where we don't get wet". Literally, immediately after he said that, we were all sprayed with water. The comedic timing was so perfect- just like out of a movie. Poor Adam missed the comment being on the end but Lianne and I could not stop laughing throughout the rest of the movie.

Some of my other favorite rides were the "5 . . 4. . . 321" of Dr. Doom's Fearfall, Spiderman, Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls (it had one of the most surprising and fun drops I've ever been on for a log ride), and The Mummy. We were sad that we were not able to go on Rip Ride Rocket as it BROKE DOWN just before we were going to go on it and only shortly before closing the park. It was fun to be able to go on some more intense roller coasters, although Disney is still my overall favorite. We ate at this Irish pub that had the most amazing appetizer of shoestring potatoes AND onions combined- it was a real winner- and I liked my leek and potato soup.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Now, I am a HUGE Disney fan but I have to admit that "the Wizarding World of Harry Potter" was incredible. I loved reading the books and it was amazing to be able to actually feel like I was participating in that world. It truly was so amazing and I am thrilled that William and I were able to enjoy it with Lianne and Adam who are also huge Harry Potter fans. The 3 of us had gone with some of our other friends to see the 1st movie when it came out back while we were in college so it was incredible to go there several years later.

Hogsmeade was amazing- I truly felt like I was in one of the Harry Potter books. The entrance to the village had this sign we had to walk under- "Please Respect the Spell Limits".

I was completely in love with the rooftops, complete with bent chimneys.

I loved the steam that came from the Hogwarts Express (it would have been much neater if we could have ridden the train into the village)

The place was extremely crowded but we were still able to do nearly everything, except going to Ollivanders (the line was over an hour and a half long and they only let a few people in at a time so we made the choice to not wait).

Hogwarts castle was truly breathtaking- and the "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" ride was THE BEST.

We were lucky enough to be able to go on it twice. We went when we first got to the park and we we didn't wait in line very long- probably about 20 minutes- since we were able to do single rider. They had told us that it would be less crowded in the afternoon and so we went back and it wasn't. We only waited 45 minutes for the 2nd ride and it was worth it to stand in the line because they made the portraits talk, it snowed inside the line, and we got to hear from Dumbledore and hear from the sorting hat. We timed it just right because right after we got into the line, it started pouring and we were fortunately under the cover of the greenhouse. The ride itself was AMAZING. It is a combination of visual screen shots and live animatronics that you fly through- playing a match of Quiddich, and all around the castle. It was SO WORTH IT. I highly recommend that you attend.

We then went on the little- and short- ride Flight of the Hippogriff (which was ok, but we were happy we didn't wait longer than 5 minutes in line). We LOVED the Dueling Dragons ride- they have 2 major roller coasters that twist in and out of each other. The Red Chinese dragon one was better- but the blue one was fun because you thought that you were going to crash into this wall.

We ate at the Three Broomsticks- they had DELICIOUS fish and chips- and William had chicken, ribs, and corn (I loved how they left part of the husk on). One of my favorite memories is Adam looking at all of us and saying "Did you ever think that we would be able to eat at the Three Broomsticks"- it really was so fun to be there.

But the real winner was the BUTTERBEER. They had two different kinds- the drink with lots of foam (here I am with a butter beer mustache)

But the frozen butter beer was INCREDIBLE- so good. William and I were a little obsessed with it- we consumed 3 of them throughout the day. And after getting home, William searched the Internet and found a "recipe" stating that it was made of cream soda and butterscotch syrup and we have already made a frozen version in our Cuisinart ice cream maker- just a slush- and it was a good substitute, although we omitted the whipped cream foam.

They also had Honeydukes where you could buy some fudge flies

Bertie Botts Every-flavor Beans, chocolate wands, and even chocolate frogs

I should have tried the treacle fudge but I was just too full from all of the butter beer. They also had Zonks where you could buy a multitude of silly joke toys that Fred and George would be proud of, and another shop where you could buy a stuffed version of Fluffy and a sample Maruders Map that had characters move. I also liked that they called their ATM Gringotts.

They did an amazing job of re-creating Harry Potter's world and it really was so worth it- I highly recommend going if you are a Harry Potter fan.