Spotted on the Roadside: Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice!

giant snake face

giant snake

Ok, so this isn’t exactly a sandworm, but isn’t it reminiscent? This giant snake hangs out in Kit Carson park,  and although it looks like you used to be able to swing from his midsection, that’s no longer the case. I also wouldn’t recommend sitting on his tail as it looks like it’s starting to crack a bit. But at least this is one snake in the area that you can feel safe about approaching–there are rattlesnakes elsewhere in the park so look sharp!

Spotted off Casteneda Drive in Escondido, CA

See you in space, Mr. Machete: The Lucha Libre Taco Shop

lucha libre blue wall

lucha libre wall

lucha libre shadow box

reserved for champions

champions booth

I wanted to love Lucha Libre. I wanted to love it a lot. First things first: look at that zaniness! LOOK AT IT. I appreciate a fine meal in a themed restaurant, and I appreciate it even more when a primary component of that meal is wrapped in a tortilla. My dad had even heard that Lucha Libre’s food was better than El Indio, and in San Diego, those are fighting words, so I was definitely excited to try it.

For the primo experience, I decided to reserve the Champion’s Booth for our group: a gilded booth where should you find yourself in need of anything, you ring a bell. The rules are that you have to make a reservation for it 24 hours in advance, which is relatively easy compared to the brackets of fighting it normally takes to be called a champion. When I called to make a reservation, they said I had to make the reservation online. Ok, no big deal, this is the age of smartphones and I have access to the internet just about everywhere, so I went to their website and filled out the reservation form. Unlike opentable, they don’t tell you on the site which slots are available (if any) on your selected date, you just fill out a form with your name, phone number, email address, date, and time you want to attend. I selected 8pm for the next day and expected to be contacted in some way to let me know if the date and time I’d selected was confirmed or unavailable or something. My phone never rang. I didn’t get any email, and eventually I decided to buy tickets for Rise of the Jack o Lanterns instead for that night since I hadn’t heard anything and had to assume that we didn’t have a reservation. I was on vacation with a limited amount of time in the area, I didn’t have time to dink around and wait for a call that might never (and in fact, didn’t) come.

We decided to go to Lucha Libre a couple of days later and skip the Champion’s Booth, but at least try the food and check out the restaurant. When we ordered, I decided to ask why I’d never heard about my reservation, and they apologized and said that sometimes the confirmation email goes to the spam folder. I felt like an idiot–why didn’t I check my spam folder*?

Between all of us, we ordered a couple of california burritos, one nutty burrito, some rolled tacos, and a quesadilla. I bought a fountain drink because Orange Bang is delicious, and we all hit up their salsa bar. The overall consensus was…not good. The nutty burrito had a peanut sauce which was expected (and desired), but it also came with a really weird curry flavor. I’m generally down with curry but as it turns out, not in burrito form. The beans were kind of flavorless, as were the roasted vegetables. The california burritos were ok, but didn’t compare favorably with El Indio. And the Orange Bang dispensed from the machine at room temperature, which was so not good for a number of reasons, the least of which is that there’s egg, milk, and fruit juice in there and precisely zero of those things are good at room temperature.

The whole experience was overall disappointing. Kitsch might get me through the door, but there needs to be something of substance there to get me to come back, and that just isn’t there at Lucha Libre. Q triste.

*When I got home, I checked my spam folder and there was nothing there from the restaurant, so something clearly went wrong somewhere, but at least I didn’t leave them hanging by making a reservation and not showing up.

I tromped through the pumpkin patch: Rise of the Jack o Lanterns at Descanso Gardens

rise of the jack o lanterns

It’s no surprise that I’m an ardent lover of Halloween and all its trappings, so it should also come as no surprise that I follow a bunch of people equally as nutty about the holiday on Instagram. On my most recent trip to San Diego, I woke up one morning, checked Instagram, and saw that someone had posted a picture of amazing pumpkins and had tagged it with “descanso gardens“. I decided to find out where that was, and as luck would have it, not only was it just outside of Los Angeles, but they also had a few tickets left for that evening! SCORE.

As we made the drive to Los Angeles, I wondered how it was that they had carved pumpkins on display for the entire month of October, because mine have always rotted after a few days. Were they fake? Did they carve a new batch every week? When we arrived, thankfully someone had already asked that question of a carver at work near the entrance. He told us that bacteria does begin to attack pumpkins as soon as the skin is penetrated, but as long as as he squirts his carved area (inside and out) with a bleach solution and covers it every night with a damp cloth soaked in the same solution, he can keep pumpkins looking fresh and display-ready for up to four months.  I don’t know that I’ll want to keep mine on my porch for four months, but it will be nice to have some techniques to make sure they last from the pumpkin carving party until Halloween proper without looking scarier than I intended.

 

master carver

I already knew from the photo I saw on Instagram that there were some amazing pumpkins on view, but photos can’t even begin to compare to reality. The technical detailing is un-fricking-believable. I began to annoy myself with all of the times I breathlessly whispered “Oh my god, this is incredible. This is so incredible. These are so amazing.” I’m going to share a billion photos with you because I can’t bear to cull them, but in no way do my photos do them justice, especially because I was hand-shooting and I tend to be a little shaky and nowhere is that more evident than in low-light photos.

pumpkins and fountain

giant pumpkin flowers

invaders from outer space

solar system pumpkins

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Nom or Vom: Cotton Candy Balls

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Sometimes I think I should rename this column “Herr’s presents: Nom or Vom” just due to the sheer amount of times they’ve introduced something the thought of which makes my tastebuds give up the will to live. This time it’s Sweet ‘n Crunchy Cotton Candy Balls, a bright blue concoction that looks like they’ve spent some time putting the screws to a number of residents of Smurf Village.

Pros:  Crunchy is a pleasing texture, the ball is a tried and true snack delivery method, a way to get the cotton candy experience without needing to go to a fair

Cons: Blue is one of the least-appealing food colors, they’re sure to stain your tongue the color of shame, they’re corn snacks so they may taste like cotton candy with an undercurrent of corn which is somehow worse

Would you eat cotton candy balls?

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The Seattle Museum of History and Industry

seattle museum of history and industry

Ducks welcome you to MOHAI

clock outside MOHAI

The Seattle Museum of History and Industry (or MOHAI) manages to perfectly blend education and fun, which I personally believe is the sweet spot for most museums. Not all–you don’t want to risk making light of some serious topics–but there are plenty of museums that can benefit from some interactivity or lightheartedness to keep the tone from being too dry. MOHAI nails it, pumping visitors full of information in an entertaining fashion with a bit of quirkiness as well. It’s like they made the museum specifically to appeal to me–I best retain information when it’s conveyed with a sense of humor.

MOHAI interior

Each part of this display has an interactive component–some parts light up. The orcas jump in the waves. The sushi rolls down the conveyer belt. The clam pedals its bicycle. Black Bart draws his gun. It is so flipping cool.

toe truck

They also have one of the two Toe Trucks on display–the left. Where the right one is, I’m not sure, but I remember reading about the Toe Trucks way back when I bought my first Roadside America book something like twenty years ago, so it was very cool to finally see one in person.

the typewriter of my hipster dreamsThe typewriter of my hipster dreams.

They also had the best educational video I’ve ever seen. When my friend and I decided to swing back by the room about the Seattle fire when the video was scheduled to start, neither one of us expected the hilarity that was about to unfold in front of us.

strike it rich

They also had a slot machine that had a game about pioneer life in early Seattle that reminded me a lot of the one at the Astoria museum. Maybe because they both killed me off right away.

prohibition

build a railroad

if i had a hammer
When I saw this rubber mallet and the railroad spikes set up in front of a monitor, I thought it probably wouldn’t hurt if I whacked a spike just a little with one, one time. As it turns out, it’s an interactive display that requires you to pound the spikes with the mallets, over and over again, for something like fifteen minutes. In order to get through the entire educational segment about the transcontinental railroad, we both ended up hammering with a mallet in each hand to speed the process. By the time it wrapped up, I had broken into a light sweat. That is how serious they are about getting you to work on the railroad all the livelong day.

dogs in the sky for candy

Unfortunately, after the railroad, development on public transit basically stalled out permanently, which is why most of the suggestions about how to redesign the city involve transit. Though “dogs in sky for candy” would be good, too.

lusty ladyThe Lusty Lady may be gone, but the sign lives on at MOHAI!

innovate

innovation room

The innovation section of the museum is an excellent way to remind visitors of the astounding number of things that have revolutionized modern life that have their roots in Seattle. Not just $5 coffee, but computing, engineering, even the way we purchase goods! There’s something about the culture of Seattle that encourages invention, and MOHAI is right there, asking visitors what they will create to change the world. It’s refreshing and inspiring, and I resolve to introduce at least one new fart joke into the general lexicon, because that is what I can do.

MOHAI is a top-notch museum, and absolutely one of my favorites. I’d definitely recommend it alongside the Underground Tour for anyone interested in learning about the history of Seattle.

What do you do? You get the best looking ouija board I’ve ever seen and put it in the middle of our living room–explain that to me!

Sometimes, when you want something done right (or at least, large), you have to do it yourself. I had an Ouija board out at my last Halloween party, but it was plastic-y, cheap, and not the eye-catching spooky centerpiece that I was looking for. If I was going to turn my house into a proper Goth Downton Abbey in October, I’d need something grander.

Something grander started with a big hunk of plywood at Home Depot. I took the measurements of my coffee table and had them cut the board to those dimensions. (I ended up having to wander through the store for a while looking for an employee, and as the piece of plywood was so large, it looked like I was using a clever disguise to hunt wascally wabbits.)

giant plywood

home depot camouflage

Once that sucker was cut to the proper size, I brought it home and used a woodburning tool on all of the edges so they wouldn’t be so bright–I wanted them dark enough to almost visually blend with the coffee table in dim lighting. I could have accomplished this aim in any number of ways other than woodburning: stain, paint, marker, blood of the innocent…I just chose the method that tickled my pickle at the time.

workbench

After the edges were to my liking, I put a couple of thin coats of Restor-A-Finish on top to bring out the grain and darken the wood a bit. I chose Restor-A-Finish for a couple of reasons: one, I had it on hand already so it was effectively free, and two, Restor-A-Finish has only a small amount of stain in it so I didn’t have to worry about accidentally making the wood so dark that it would compete with the lettering on top.

stained

As usual, it’s at this point in the process where I got so involved that I stopped taking pictures, because I always forget about maybe blogging the project later in the heat of the moment. But it’s not like there’s that much to it, either. I wanted the board to have a creepy woodsy theme, so I used very thinned-out black acrylic paint to wash on a couple of trees on either side of the board. Thinned out acrylic soaks into the wood much like watercolor and by layering it, I was able to get the overall effect I was looking for. I found a free font I liked on dafont and printed it out huge. Using that as a guide, I eyeballed it and penciled a larger approximation of each letter onto the board. When I was satisfied with placement, I then used a sharpie to fill them in. I went with sharpie over paint for the ease of crisp lines, a generally matte texture, not having to worry about chipping, and keeping the lettering area smooth. I have zero intention of ever using it as a functional board (I don’t believe in it and even if I did, it’s too dang big), but I wanted it to look as though it could be used as one, and letters with any amount of raising would keep the planchette from moving smoothly.

planchette

Speaking of the planchette, I decided that instead of the standard heart-shaped piece of wood, I wanted something that looked sort of like a crow skull. To make it, I used a cheap monocle I’d bought as a photo booth prop for the wedding and sculpted the skull shape using apoxie sculpt around it. I love apoxie sculpt–you mix equal parts of the putty thoroughly and you have 1-3 hours working time to get it shaped it exactly as you’d like, after which it cures hard and waterproof, able to be painted, sanded, drilled, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. I find it superior to sculpey and the like because it doesn’t need to be baked to cure and I’ve found it to be less fragile as well. The only downsides are the shorter working time and higher cost per ounce, but I’m still using the one pound pack I bought in 2010, and I’ve found that if I don’t finish a small sculpting project within a couple of hours, I won’t ever finish it, so the shorter working time actually works for me in that it keeps my butt glued to the seat and focused on what I’m doing. Once the apoxie sculpt finished curing, I painted it with some acrylic paint.

Spooky, no? If I was going to do it over, I’d use a larger magnifying glass lens instead of a monocle, and I may yet do so, if only because the magnified area is so relatively small compared to the size of the letters. But for under $12 (basically, the cost of the wood, since I had all of the other materials on hand), I definitely have something that’s much more dramatic and eye-catching than the cardboard board game!

A Fall Adventure in Snohomish

Now that it’s officially fall, the time is right for a fall adventure. Namely, corn mazing, pumpkin patching, and petting farm animals. We visited The Farm at Swan’s Trail in Snohomish on opening day and were excited to see that in addition to a corn maze and a pumpkin patch, they also offer apple picking and duck races. That’s right: duck races. I don’t know how long it took to train the little quackers to speed down their trough and then fly back to their pen once the race was over, but I appreciate the trainer’s diligence, as the races were delightful. They zip through the water very quickly and adorably, and they’ve solidified for me that should I decide to raise any backyard fowl for eggs, it’s going to be ducks and not chickens.

From front to back: Big Jim, Steve, Butch, Sundance, Chocolate Thunder, Aflac, Chuck, and Moose the Goose

I rooted for Chocolate Thunder both times, and both times he came in dead last.

The Farm at Swan’s Trail has put their own spin on their corn maze: instead of doing a Halloween theme, they have recreated the state of Washington and the major roads and thoroughfares therein on twelve acres, with bits of trivia and information about each city marked on the map. You can start at one of four starting cities in eastern Washington, and the goal is to exit at Gray’s Harbor. Along the way, there are a few “road closures” so you can’t just blaze across the entire state on I-90.

Not really all that different from the real Spokane.

They even recreated Sam Hill’s Stonehenge with a corn twist!

The Peace Arch looks a little different than I remember, though.

They include three wooden bridges in the corn to simulate the real world bridges: one at Vantage, one at Grand Coulee Dam, and the one we all remember watching shake apart in physics class, the Tacoma Narrows or Gallopin’ Gertie. On these bridges, you can just barely see some landmarks peep out of the top of the corn. On some years, you see a little bit more, but it’s all dependent on the height of the corn, which grew to extraordinary heights this year. We only saw the tippy top of the Space Needle and the Peace Arch–everything else was hidden by corn.

Space needle!

When we got into the area of the corn that would roughly be categorized as our neighborhood, I sent Jason off to simulate skulking in the shadows like a teenage delinquent, because I’ve got to find some way to laugh about what’s been going on in our backyard.

I really enjoyed the Washington map maze–granted, you’re never really “lost” insofar as you know your roads, but it was also fun to visit all of the cities in miniature and learn interesting bits about their history. For instance, I never knew about the British/U.S. territory dispute in the San Juan Islands that was sparked by a pig (later dubbed “The Pig War”). I bet this place is a hit with schools for field trips!

After we finished the corn maze, we checked out the hay maze, which, as it turns out, is really only a maze for those persons under two feet tall, and ends in a slide that I feel I could have easily cracked in half with my ass…so not really for adults. But I’m sure it’s a blast for kids!

They’ve also got a petting zoo area at the farm, with a pony, a donkey, some goats, and some wee fuzzy pigs, whom I discovered don’t much appreciate being petted on their fat little piggy cheeks. Thus rejected, I went off to eat my feelings with some kettle corn, which we dubbed our “hot kettle corn baby”.

Rock-a-bye kettle corn

on the treetop

When the wind blows

you’ll fall in my mouth

when the bough breaks

you’ll fall in my mouth

and down will come kettle corn

into my mouth

Pretty catchy, no?

When we’d pumpkined and mazed and patted and kettle corned to our heart’s content, we set off to another farm stand that had advertised large boxes of honeycrisp apples for sale as well as fresh-pressed cider and u-pick flowers. I like all of those things. I especially liked that they also had sheep. Cute, fuzzy, baaing sheep.

I picked approximately a truckload of dahlias for under ten bucks, and I brought home enough honeycrisp apples to make a 10 pound pie and STILL have apples leftover, so I’m calling this a successful fall adventure!

He DOES exist!

serial lickerWhen Jason and I went on the whale watching tour, we decided that among the sights we hoped we’d see was the mysterious merwoof, terror of the ocean and merman’s best friend. After all, if there are half human half fish hybrids out there, why not half dog half shark hybrids as well?