Friday, December 20, 2013

Holidays At Disneyland: Our Night Of 5 Firsts

How many times have you been to Disneyland? I don't have an exact count, but if I had to guess I'd say we've been there close to a hundred million times. It never, ever gets old – especially for my girls – but we do tend to do a lot of the same things whenever we visit, whether it's visiting the same attractions or eating the same foods. For example, I always clap loudly and embarrassingly whenever I get on my favorite ride.

Last weekend we were there for Holidays At Disneyland – where the entire resort gets transformed for the holidays – and we did some things we hadn't done before. Here they are – see if you can make it through the entire post without singing Foreigner's 'Feels Like The First Time' in your head.

1) We rode the first-ever holiday version of the Jungle Cruise – the Jingle Cruise!
For the first time, the Jungle Cruise gets transformed for the holidays! I'm not going to lie, this is one of my favorite rides and my girls', too, and I was ridiculously excited to ride this new version. The dock has been decked out in lights, and the skippers have added some holiday humor to their comedy routines – don't judge, but we actually love all of their slightly corny jokes. Which leads me to another first – for the first time ever I followed a Disneyland ride on Twitter. And you should, too because then you can read things like this:

2) For the first time, someone else besides me took the photos
We just bought Kiyomi a new camera, so she was happy to document our visit. She did an amazing job and took all the photos you see here (except for the pics accompanying item numbers 3 and 4. Those slightly blurry, over-filtered Instagram pics are all mine.)

She did a photo essay of Kira and her Santa hat throughout the park. Here are a few:

I highly suggest this idea of putting your kids to work documenting stuff so you don't have to. It helps you to see things through their eyes, and also frees you up to enjoy things, like bacon-wrapped asparagus. (See next item.)

3) I ate bacon-wrapped asparagus skewers at Bengal Barbecue
That's a big lie. This is the eightieth time I've eaten these, not the first. But I have to keep mentioning them because some of you out there haven't tried them yet, and I won't stop until every man, woman and child has tasted one of these amazing pairings of meat and vegetable. (However, in keeping with the spirit of the 'firsts' theme of this post, I will say it's the first time I left without wishing I had another one – this is the first time I ordered TWO skewers.)

4) I rode the Red Car Trolley in California Adventure
I'm used to having people yell at me to get out of the way as this thing comes at me while I'm texting in the middle of the street. So this was a much more pleasant experience. The trolley takes you for a short tour through the park – starting in Carthay Circle, up Buena Vista Street, through Hollywood Land and ending at the Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror. Along the way the nice conductors (that's one of them there) tell you stories about the the park and Hollywood, including the history of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, the basis for the Tower Of Terror ride. Want to hear the story? You'll have to ride the Trolley yourself. (See how I did that?)

5) For the first time, we did NOT ride 'It's A Small World'
One of our Disneyland mottos is, "No visit is complete without a ride on 'It's A Small World,' especially during the holidays when it's transformed into 'It's A Small World Holiday.' (Our other motto is, 'Don't eat the corn dog until after you ride the Teacups.') Usually our tactic is to wait until later in the evening when the line is shorter, but this time the wait was estimated at 90 minutes. After we were done cursing everyone who had stolen our tactic, we decided to move on. But not until we had stood in awe for a few minutes and snapped some pics of the gorgeous facade, of course.

Holidays At The Disneyland Resort runs through January 6, 2014.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A plea for help made of gifs from 'Fight Club' and one from 'Grease'

A few days ago I appealed for help for my daughters' school but apparently no one heard me. So now, you leave me no choice but to re-tell my story and plea for funds using jerky moving pictures and movie captions.

Apparently the first rule of fundraising is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FUNDRAISING.

Let me break it down for you.

A few months ago the kids had to watch their beloved performing arts department get wiped out. 

It hasn't been an easy year. Everyone is carrying on but we know how they feel inside.

Now, because of a lack of funding, it's looking like the Senior Class of 2014 will be the first class in the high school's history NOT to graduate at the Hollywood Bowl.


It doesn't feel good. It fact it hurts like a mutha.

Now everyone is stressing out trying to figure out how to come up with the down payment.

All of our appeals are falling on deaf ears. It's like we're the Amway salesman of high schools.

If we don't come up with the balance of the down payment, the kids won't get to graduate at the Hollywood Bowl, something they've been looking forward to for FOUR YEARS.


But these kids have been through a lot this year, and man, you don't know how happy they would be with a great sendoff on their last day of school. 

If you or someone you know would like to help sponsor the Hollywood High Class of 2013, please leave your contact info here or email me at

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Help us get to the Hollywood Bowl

I'm about to ask for money for my kids' school. If this type of thing upsets you, you might want to look away, turn off your computer, block me or erase me from your contacts list. (But don't un-invite me to your holiday party – I promise not to ask for money there, only for your rum ball recipe.)

As you know, my girls go to Hollywood High School. Like most public schools in the inner city, they are constantly strapped for funds. Adding to their woes this year was the decimation of the Performing Arts Department, when another school (with much deeper pockets) swooped in and hired away the musical director, the technical director and took many of the top-performing kids with them. It was brutal, like that scene from Kill Bill, only worse. (Okay, not worse. but it felt like it.)

One of the things Kira's looked forward to from the day she started at Hollywood High was to graduate at the Hollywood Bowl. It's a time-honored tradition with the school, and they are one of only two schools in the city who have the honor. The Bowl only charges one-dollar for the event, but a staggering $22,000 is needed to cover additional costs like staff and security.

In years past they've had corporate sponsors who helped cover the Bowl cost, but no sponsor has materialized this year. The kids have been doing fundraising, but a majority of the families at the school have limited means. Many of them are struggling to meet the basic graduation costs of their cap and gown, senior dues, etc. 

Right now there's the possibility that they may be the first Hollywood High senior class ever not to graduate at the Bowl. As of now they have only raised $8,500 towards this goal, and a deposit of $15,000 is needed by next week, December 20 in order to secure the location for their graduation in June 2014.

I know, it doesn't rank with some of the other more dire needs of the school district as a whole. But these kids saw their senior year – one of the most significant periods in their educational journey – get yanked out from under them. They go without what a lot of other affluent schools have throughout the year, and it would be great to be able to give them this one last sendoff, and to let them have the opportunity to perform from the Hollywood Bowl stage. They would be so grateful.

So, we're appealing to friends, family, and associates and asking: Are you, or do you know, work for, associate with, drink cocktails with, are married to, have BFF status with, or are owed a favor from, any corporate sponsors or big-hearted supporters of public education who could come through for us and help us meet this deadline? Right now we're only looking to raise the additional $6,500 needed to meet our deposit amount – that will give the kids a few more months to raise the final balance.

What will they get in return? A private performance by Kira and some of these talented kids. A big shout-out at the graduation. A prominent mention in the program. And most of all a deep, heartfelt THANK YOU from a bunch of grateful teens.

Thank you for listening.

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If you would like to share this to get the the word out, please use the hashtag #HollywoodBowlGrads
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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Live, On Stage: Your Awesome Memories

My girls still remember going to a production of Sleeping Beauty when they were probably only around four and six-years-old. The play was at a tiny theater around the corner from where we lived at the time, didn't star any big names or feature any elaborate sets and I think tickets were only around ten dollars each. They loved seeing one of their favorite stories brought to life on the stage, and we waited after the show so the girls could meet the actors. This is probably why Kira has to linger after every show she goes to in order to meet the performers – thus a groupie was born.

Fast forward over ten years to last weekend, when we took them to see Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty at the Ahmanson Theater. They had been asking to see this for weeks (Kiyomi had already seen it on a school field trip and wanted to see it again) so we bought some last-minute tickets and headed downtown. The show was spectacular, and once again we were reminded how powerful and moving a live performance can be – and how happy we were that we could share it with our girls. (I should add that these tickets were a bit more than ten dollars, though.)

We've been taking them to live shows for years – concerts, plays, ballets, musicals, circuses – and good or bad, the experience is always memorable.  Movies are fun, but chances are they're going to remember the live pre-show way more than what happens next on a flat screen. (But I will admit movies have better snacks. Get with the popcorn and nachos, live show planners!)

People often cite the high cost of tickets for live shows, but with a little big of digging you can often find tickets for less than the price of a movie ticket, and sometimes free (hello, Goldstar!) My girls belong to the CTG Student Scene, a network sponsored by L.A.'s Center Theater Group that offers them deeply discounted tickets (students only) to events at the Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, and the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Last year they got floor seats to Anything Goes, and I had a nice dinner and a cocktail at Pinot while I waited for them. See, live theater has many benefits.

And speaking of live theater and FREE tickets, I have tickets to give away to a holiday family show: Aladdin And His Winter Wish at the Pasadena Playhouse. Great casting: Ben Vereen as the Genie, and Bruce Vilance as Widow Twanky. And your tweens/teens will love this, too – it stars Teen Beach Movie's Jordan Fisher as Aladdin.

So get out and see some live theater –  Frozen will still be there next month. 

What: 'Family PacK' of 4 tickets to Aladdin And His Winter Wish for either December 14 or 15 at 11:00am.

How: Leave a comment here no later than 11:30pm Sunday night (December 8) telling me your favorite live performance you've seen. I'll use to draw a winner from the entries. One comment per person, but you can share on Facebook or Twitter for additional entries. Please don't forget to leave a valid email address.

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