Get in loser, we’re going shopping: A Halloween Costume Retrospective

I’m writing this in the past at a crossroads: either I went on vacation this week or I got mashed by a tree in STORMPOCALYPSE 2016. Or, I guess, I didn’t go and I didn’t get mashed but the power was out for a damn long while and updating my blog wasn’t my first priority. Regardless, I didn’t work on shit this week to reach my Halloween goals. So here’s a look at the costumes I built for last year. That’s right, last year. I’m nothing if not timely.

I’d had a bug up my butt for a while to make Jason a Thorin Oakenshield costume. I made his ring way the fuck back in November 2013, and then I hit a patch of severe depression and didn’t do anything for Halloween 2014. I’d had my traditional pumpkin carving party, but as far as a costume goes, I didn’t do shit. I stayed at home, handed out candy, and depressed myself further because it was my favorite holiday and I wasn’t doing anything. So I started working on his costume in earnest at some point during early 2015. First, I made a duct tape husband.


This allowed me to fit a costume to him without him needing to be present and with a slightly lower risk of sticking him with pins. I also turned these santa boots:


into these Thorin boots:


I cut off the faux fur top, covered them in brown fur, and made boot caps and straps from fun foam. I don’t know why I had never really used cosplay resources before to figure out how to make stuff, but it turns out there’s a whole community of people who know what they’re talking about when it comes to making costumes and props, and they’re willing to share this information with people like me. Hurrah! It turns out this fun foam stuff that I’d seen a million times at craft stores and wondered what anyone would use it for is actually a miracle substance that I may end up using for everything. It’s pliable, you can heat mold it and it will hold its shape, and if you seal it with glue and paint it with metallic paint, it can resemble metal armor. It’s pretty astounding! Cosplayers are also all about thermoplastics like Worbla, which would have also worked for this application but it’s significantly more expensive, so I haven’t dipped my toes into that pool yet. I also used fun foam to make Thorin’s bracers, shown below before they were sealed and finished:


I also learned to do resin casting, which has turned out to be another useful tool in my arsenal. I needed to learn for this costume because Thorin wears a suit of brigandine armor under his cloak, and it’s one of the most visually striking aspects of his costume, so it’s not something I could skip out on. First I made a master in apoxie sculpt. I then made a silicone mold of the master, and then dusted that mold with aluminum powder, poured in resin with more aluminum powder mixed in, waited for it to cure, rubbed the new resin part with steel wool to make the aluminum shine, and then weathered it with black paint to give it dimension. This had to be done one hundred plus times, most of which was spent simultaneously cursing myself for having such big stupid plans that involve so much work. And most of that work was hidden by the cloak. Blargh.

brigandinel-r: master, fresh cast, steel wooled, weathered


Thorin’s jeweled belt buckle is also a pretty big visual point in his costume, so I wanted to hit that recognition point as well. This involved resin casting some gems (the backs of which are painted with metallic nail polish, which gives them a reflective sparkling quality) and socketing those gems into a belt buckle made from more foam, this time from one of those thicker foam floor mats. Cosplayers work wonders with floor mats, but so far, I haven’t managed to do as well. It’s harder to cut, takes more heat to shape, and I think ultimately the belt buckle turned out just OK.



I also sewed the tunic, the cloak, made leather patches for the knees of his pants, and repainted a plastic toy sword, and Thorin was complete!



My costume was a little more fraught. I vacillated between a number of options: lady bearded dwarf, Tauriel, Bilbo, and Thranduil, ultimately deciding to go with armored up party king Thranduil. The armor builds started off ok, with foam handguards and bracers, which flexed really well with my arm and hand movements. The raised portions were made with puff paint, and while it’s useful to make designs, I have determined it is also the devil’s paint, and this is never more evident than when you’re trying to paint a long, smooth, curving line with it. Three quarters of the way through and PFHT!!!!!!!!! Surprise air bubble! which will cause paint to spurt everywhere and/or come out in a horrendous lumpy mess. And then it takes a lifetime to dry and if you touch it even one second before it’s fully, fully, fully dry, it will wetly smear all over everything. My hands were silver for at least three weeks.




While waiting for armor to dry in various stages of puff paint and elmer’s glue, I started constructing the cloth portion of my costume. No pattern, just eyeballing it. It turned out surprisingly ok except the neckline which I hated and didn’t know how to fix. I figured it wasn’t all that important because the whole thing would be covered with chest and shoulder armor anyway. I made his complicated shoulder pauldrons and though they weren’t exactly identical, I felt they looked pretty cool.


But then I started on the chest armor and the shit hit the fan. Because it’s such a large piece, I needed to make it out of the larger foam floor mats rather than the fun foam (which is generally about the size of a sheet of paper). That foam is thiiiiick, and a piece that size needed more heat to shape than my hair dryer could provide and some dumb part of me refused to buy a heat gun for this one thing. I’m already a fat person, and the additional thickness of armor that I couldn’t get to curve in anywhere made me look like a walking barrel. And THEN there was the complicated pattern on top that turned into a goddamn puff paint nightmare world. I needed to reassess.


Could I made the costume work without the chest armor? Eeeeeeeeehhhh. The shoulder pauldrons were supposed to attach to the chest armor to keep the weight of the cloak from straight dragging the whole business off my shoulders, so that wasn’t working super well. The wig that I bought was way too long and thick, and at this point in the game, I hated the whole thing together but it was too late to change to something completely different.

armored-upThrilled. So thrilled. Ignore the PJ bottoms. And all the Halloween bins in the background. 

Soooo it was at this point that I decided to ditch all the armor I’d made. The handguards, the bracers, the boot armor, the pauldrons, and especially that fucking chestpiece. I cut and thinned the hell out of the wig. But with the armor chopped, it really needed something  else to make it more Thranduil. I determined that something else was his branch crown. I made the crown out of twisted wire:


which I then coated in hot glue and painted brown. At this point, it looked like a crown of weird turds, but I kept at it:


Thranduil’s crown in the movie just has leafy bits in it, but I felt like he was the sort of dude who would probably accessorize to the season, so I added in sprigs that had tiny pumpkin looking things. And with that, I was done! And not too soon, I think I wrapped the whole thing up the day before my Halloween party.


king-thranduil    All hail your King under the Mountain and your Party King!


Freaky Friday: The Revenge

I was going to decorate the yard this week, but I’m glad I didn’t–there’s the remnants of a typhoon headed this way and I don’t think my little foam tombstones would do all too hot in 80mph+ winds. Plus, who the hell wants to chase tombstones down the street during a torrential downpour? Not this lady. Not that I could catch them, anyway, I’m crap at running.

So what did I do this week? My first priority was to batten down the hatches amidst all the other semi-panicked people doing the same thing. When the shelf gets down to the last bundle of firewood and you and some other guy are both eyeballing it from down the aisle, there are no laws of human decency anymore. There are only the laws of physics: the speed and trajectory of which you ram your cart into his to divert him into the garden supplies while your momentum carries you forward to sweet, wood-y victory.


That, and I’m also prepping for a trip, which makes for weird cognitive dissonance timing. “Ok, so I need water and non perishable goods for survival, and also sunblock for the pool.”

As far as Halloween stuff goes, work continued on my Halloween costume apace, and I’m almost done with all of the necessary components. Time and motivation and whether my house gets flattened by a tree will factor into how many of my stretch goals are reached.

I also reskinned my moving photo frame. It’s not that Harry Potter isn’t seasonally appropriate, but I wanted to take it somewhere different this year. I’ve got it playing a rotating selection of black and white spooky cartoons and it makes me super happy. And my love for ridiculous fake newspapers will never die.


A year ago on Pinterest, I saw a floral arrangement using a skull candy dish as a base, which I immediately recognized as I had the exact same one. There was nothing for me to do but shamelessly render a poor imitation of the original. Mine is nowhere near as full (fake flowers are so fucking expensive!) but it still makes me happy. I also think that it’s funny that the black branches in the back basically disappear into my curtains when I put it in its new home in the living room.



This week, I got caught up on Monstress comics (so good!). I also watched The Babadook, Knights of Badassdom, Zombeavers, a bit more Penny Dreadful, American Horror Story (this season is surprisingly cohesive so far), and Westworld which doesn’t necessarily fit the theme but I love it so much already.

Aaaaand now the power is flickering so I’m going to peace out and huddle with Napodog and hope I don’t end up with an entirely unintended Halloween costume.




Freaky Friday

It’s the mooooost wonderfulll tiiiime of the yeeeear

When the store shelves are loaded

with skulls and fake blood and so much pumpkin beeeeeer

It’s the mooooost wonderfulll tiiiime of the yeeeear

It’s convenient that my two favorite yearly celebrations are nearly exactly six months apart–my birthday and Halloween, which gives me time to get super pumped, make big plans, do something over the top to celebrate, and then recover before getting super pumped again. And, you know, maybe do some other stuff in between if there’s time. I will acknowledge that my birthday celebration is a wholly selfish endeavor (me, me, look at meeeeee), but Halloween? Halloween is about sharing my love of the spooky with everyone who will allow it, whether that’s organizing a trip to a corn maze, giving out king size candy bars to trick or treaters, or decorating my yard so much that my house is starting to get a reputation. Seriously, this summer when I was out gardening, a woman walked by with her children. As they passed me, one of the kids said something that I didn’t understand–the mom explained that he was asking where the spiders were, that every time she walks past our house he asks where the spiders are, and she tells him that I only put them out at Halloween.  I’m pretty stoked to be known as the spider house, not gonna lie. Plus, I’m playing the long game: these kids are going to grow up remembering that my house is the awesome Halloween house, and when they’re teenagers, they’ll probably pick a different house’s fence to pee on or lawn to start on fire with axe body spray.

I will admit I’ve been stalking retail establishments for Halloween goods since early August, because building a truly spooky home takes passion, commitment, and a willingness to elbow your fellow shopper in the face over the only skull cake stand on the shelves. It also helps build anticipation for the holiday in me, gets me plotting on larger projects to build, and maybe even gets my wheels spinning on a costume. I think my two favorite places for Halloween stuff are Home Goods and Target–both places have stuff that could potentially make it into the year round collection. Home Goods is especially great because they get new, different stuff every week, and it starts rolling out as early as mid-August. Target’s stuff can be good, but their stocking is also a little frustrationg: even though everything shows up on their website in August with a bunch of cool things that are store only (which gets me even more pumped), they’re easily the last place to get their Halloween stuff out in store (gotta squeeze every last nickel out of back to school), and so after a month of anticipation, I find that the things I was most interested in buying aren’t stocked anywhere within 100 miles of me. DAMN YOUUUU!

acquisitionsI didn’t elbow anyone over this skull cake stand, but it WAS the only one on the shelf, and almost immediately after it was in my basket, someone else came to ogle it and asked where I got it. MINE.

Anyway, after two solid months of getting pumped up, once October finally rolls around, my spirit and enthusiasm for projects I’ve been working on can start to wane a bit, which is both understandable (it’s hard to maintain a manic level of pumpedness for a full quarter of a year) and a little ridiculous (given that it’s finally close to the thing that I was so damn pumped about for two months straight already). So each Friday this month, I’m going post about the stuff that I’ve worked on, stuff I’ve done in the Halloween spirit, and any macabre media I’ve been taking in to remember the season and keep it spooky.

When doing my yard decorations, I always try to straddle the line between creepy and fun–I don’t want to make anyone pee their pants or give anyone nightmares with over the top gore. It’s totally fine by me if that’s what other people want to do, but it’s not my style. And now that I have the capability to build more sizeable decorations, I don’t want to necessarily leap from theme to theme and end up with an entire storage unit’s worth of Halloween decorations, only some of which are reused*. And I also didn’t want to have to theme my costume to my yard every year, which would be super limiting. AND I didn’t want to have to do an insane push to build a whole new yard display every year, so instead, I’m doing a vaguely Tim Burton yard, which I’ll add to each year as the mood strikes me to build something. It fits that spooky but not gruesome mold I’m going for, and there’s a large library of references to draw from. This year, I’m focusing on The Nightmare Before Christmas**. So far, I’ve built:

zeroZero’s tombstone

nbc-signsSally’s herb signs

candy-wheelOogie Boogie’s Wheel of Candy

The candy wheel was obviously a lot more involved than the other two. The wheel is hand painted, I sculpted, molded, cast, and painted every single tiny Jack Skellington face on the pegs, I carved and finished the foam dice and black and white newt monster thing, and I made Oogie out of burlap and wire, burning myself pretty well with a glue gun while I was at it. Trick or Treaters are going to spin this baby to determine their candy haul–I still need to attach labels for various candy, but that needs to wait until I’ve actually bought the bulk of the candy, which I’ll do at some point next week. I did take a trip to Vancouver to buy some spooky-themed Canadian candy for the question mark slot, because what’s more exciting and mysterious than a whole new kind of candy you’ve never seen before? I also want to make sure those Skellington faces are firmly attached so they don’t go flying off with vigorous spins.

I’m also working on some other yard stuff but none of it looks like anything yet, so it’ll be posted if and when I finish it on a future Friday.

I also made, assembled, and delivered invitations for my Halloween game night party this week (all but a couple, which I need to get in the mail ASAP because the doorsteps in question are controlled access so I can’t drop them off like I did the others). I bought the coffins premade, which I then disassembled, woodburned, stained, painted, and reassembled. I then made an oogie boogie die from apoxie sculpt and learned to make a two part silicone mold so I could cast it in resin, which was definitely a learning process for me. I ended up having to make two masters and two silicone molds because I hated the way the first one turned out–the first master was, in retrospect, just OK, and the mold wasn’t super well done which made an OK sculpt cast even more poorly. Once the dice were cast, they needed to be sanded and airbrushed. The invites themselves are on the face of the skull cards, and I threw in a gold coin because I felt like it needed something else. I was going to customize poker chips but honestly, these were enough work already and it was more important that I get them out in a timely fashion so as not to arrive after people have already accepted other Halloween night invitations.



I bought some fabric with skulls and pumpkins that screamed neither skull nor pumpkin(spooky, but somewhat subtlely so) which I used to make pillows for the living room. I had some scrap left over, so I made pillows for Napoleon’s bed, which he infrequently uses but I pretend he appreciates anyway.


I also decorated the house, and I’m proud of myself for waiting this long to do it. It’s been fun turning on all the spooky lights every evening to watch movies/TV. So far, not much spooky media has been happening in this room (I blame Luke Cage) but as I wrapped that up earlier this week, the full supernatural barrage of my regular programming can begin.

fireplaceYes, Gibralter is dressed up as a mummy. T-Rex costume forthcoming.



lord-farnswoggle    Lord Farnswoggle, Earl of Cumberbunch, and his faithful companion, Nipper. I’m thinking that he still needs a moustache and a monocle.

This coming week, I’m planning on continuing work on both yard stuff and my costume. My costume is almost completed, but I’m definitely at a place of fatigue with it at the moment. Why is it that every idea I’ve had for costuming lately involves making hundreds of something? I’m hoping to get the yard decorated this weekend. This week I’m also planning on making time to get caught up on the Monstress comics, maybe continue watching Penny Dreadful (I want to like it, but it really has yet to grab me which means it probably never will), and the rest is TBD. Just typing all this out has helped raise my spirits!


*I am fine with filling a shed in the yard with decorations though, and it’ll probably come to that so as not to make it impossible to get at non-Halloween stuff like bikes and the recycling bin and the water shut-off.

**Since it’s Nightmare Before CHRISTMAS and all, does that mean I can leave it out until January?



Salmagundi West






van-city-3-of-41Super awesome art by Michael deMeng

van-city-9-of-41In case you want to start your own House on the Rock-esque creepy clown collection.


van-city-11-of-41This hat looks awfully familiar.



I had a friend tell me that coming to my house is like coming to a museum, that every time she sees something new and unusual. As someone whose aesthetic is undeniably “creepy museum”, I was thrilled to hear that. While I respect those who live simple, minimalist lifestyles, I can’t do it myself. I tried minimalism for about three days and then awoke at 4am on day three to find myself feverishly sleep-browsing craigslist for gothic antiques. I’m not advocating living under a mouldering pile of newspapers, clutching onto every one-use kitchen gadget or instruction manual for shit you don’t even have anymore, or mindlessly consuming trendy stuff you’ll almost immediately discard. And sure, the best things in life aren’t things. However, things are forever. The objects we choose to surround ourselves with can tell a story, set a mood, remind us of happy times, tell us where we’ve been and where we want to go.  I always have an eye out for anything that belongs in my creepy museum, and that’s why no trip to Vancouver is complete without a stop at Salmagundi West, home to oddities, antiques, antique oddities, and odd antiques, plus a smattering of outsider art and occult ephemera. In other words, it’s like stepping into my alternate dimension living room. It’s fun digging through all the drawers of the card catalogs in their “magical basement” for treasures, and it’s even more fun to try to explain what exactly I bought to the border agent without sounding like someone whose trunk they should probably check for body parts or something. And sure, I can’t take it all with me when I go–but my ghost can preside over one hell of an exciting estate sale.




I’m just a sweet chimney cake…from traditional Transylvania

I’ve done precisely zero research on the matter, but it is my understanding that Transylvania has two main exports: vampires and chimney cakes. I never drink…wine. But I do eat cake. Maybe too much cake, but that’s really neither here nor there. So when I happened across a Vancouver bakery specializing in Romanian pastries, including the aforementioned chimney cake (or kürtőskalács), I knew I definitely wanted to incorporate it into my next visit to British Columbia, as a trip to Romania proper is a bit more involved than taking an afternoon jaunt across the border. A chimney cake is made of yeast dough which is wrapped in a spiral around a wooden dowel and baked, similarly to meat on a spit. As it rotates, it’s basted with butter until the sugary outside caramelizes into thin, golden, crackle-y perfection, which can be further augmented by rolling it in other toppings like chopped nuts. When it’s served hot, steam vents out the top like a little chimney and it’s charming as all get out.

There are two (one, two, ah ha ha ha) bakeries in Vancouver that make chimney cakes: Transylvanian Traditions, and The Kürtősh Cafe. Of course, I had to go to both. First up was Transylvanian Traditions. Transylvanian Traditions makes a variety of pastries including the chimney cake, and the chimney cake is offered in only one flavor.  When I arrived, I got one hot and fresh from the oven, steam merrily venting from the top. The cake is a revelation–soft and chewy toward the center, crisp on the outside, tangy with lemon, and light like a raised doughnut.


The Kürtősh Cafe is the newer of the two bakeries, and they specialize solely in chimney cakes, offering it in a wide variety of sizes, flavors, and combinations, including savory cakes and cakes smeared with nutella and stuffed with ice cream. Jason got a chimney cake with nutella and almonds, Tristan got a cinnamon sugar chimney cake, and I got a half size coconut matcha chimney cake. The cakes are beautiful and well presented…but just not that good. All three of the cakes were cold, a sign on the cafe’s table proclaims that they use no butter in the cake, and between those two things, you end up with a cake where the outside is chewy rather than crispy, more like the outside of a bagel. None of us were really taken by any of them, which was really a disappointment, because I never want to say anything negative about a cake. I’d be open to trying them again closer to when they open in the morning in the hopes of getting a hot cake for a fair comparison.



So basically what I’m saying is, like blood, you want it hot and fresh.



Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig


day-eight-1-of-3This is probably a good place to play post apocalyptic power struggle games. It’s also probably a good place to have a rusty shank slipped into one of your organs.


I’ve had some rough travel days (getting a wicked butt sunburn the day before a 7 hour flight, sleep deprivation, minor illness, etc) but this day was, by far, the worst travel day I’ve ever had. I was at peak illness, the kind of sick where just getting out of bed to sit in one place for hours on end seemed like an insurmountable task.  It started off bright and early with a trip to the Boise Whole Foods, where Emily made me drink something that tasted like a berry-flavored sheep’s stomach and also pushed some other kind of cold medicine in my general direction. Rachel offered me some sudafed, but like all nervous white people, I’d heard that episode of This American Life about acetaminophen and I had no idea how it would react with the aforementioned berried grassbile, so I declined.

I clung tight to that nervous no for at least a couple of hours, until we started going through some large changes in elevation fairly quickly. My ears were super plugged, and at one point, the pressure and pain in them was so severe that it seemed a likely possibility that my eardrums would rupture. I begged Emily to pull over at the next available exit to give my ears a break and then I sat out on a bench in front of a gas station, stuffed some pills in my facehole, and sobbed like a baby, which is a sure way to win the love and respect of the other people in the car who were probably already a little tired of your shit. Speaking of which, I promise to never give sideeye in the direction of a crying baby on a flight ever again, because those babies are tougher than me. I eventually collected myself and got back in the car, the sudafed making the rest of the day’s mountain passes more bearable. And dang, it was nice to see the rich green of the Cascades after a week in the desert, because after twelve years in this state, seeing them feels like coming home.

So, could a powerlifting animal rights activist, a driven psychology student, and a loudmouthed crybaby fart machine spend eight days and nights together in close quarters and remain friends? Or at least not intentionally drive off a cliff to end all of the farting and inappropriate jokes?



Yes. Yes we could. Stay tuned for Sarcasm and Stomach Bugs 2017: The Harpies Take Manhattan*!


*Not actually a thing. Yet.



Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Vast and Salty

After a night filled with dreams about car crashes (thanks, brain), I awoke to discover that my sore throat was not, in fact, the result of having yelled too much at deer about making poor life choices but was instead the onset of a brutal cold.  It may be worth considering that I’m spending too much time locked in my home away from the world’s germs if every time I spend more than a few days away, I end up succumbing to illness, and that maybe I’d be a little more robustly healthy if I spent just a little more time around other people. Or, I could stay home and play just as much World of Warcraft if I just asked the UPS guy to cough on me every time he delivers something I ordered via Amazon Prime. That’d work, too.

At that point, it was just a bad sore throat, so while Emily and Rachel finished breakfast and packed up their belongings, I struck out across the street in search of throat lozenges and found these totally adorable murals painted on the gas station and grocery store.




Before we left town, I wanted to swing by and see the “giant shopping cart” at Honey’s Marketplace that I saw listed on Roadside America. Because a lot of their content is user-submitted, sometimes I’m rewarded with something truly awesome, and sometimes, well…



My opinion on the shopping cart would have changed a lot if I was able to go sit up in the basket like an oversized toddler, but Honey’s Marketplace evidently doesn’t give a fig about my opinion. What they did have was yet another vehicle from the movie “Cars”, marking the third “Cars” vehicle we’ve seen in Utah. And this one talked.


He also talked about their fine selection of french bread…ooh-la-la, managing to be both funny and creepy at the same time. I’m just jealous that there is no talking anything outside of my local grocery store. 

Kanab is the filming location of over 100 movies and a number of tv series, and I’d tentatively put a stop at Little Hollywood Land on the itinerary, but given that our scheduled endpoint for the day was Boise, Idaho, I didn’t feel as inclined to spend a lot of time in Kanab before we left, knowing that would definitely make for another very late hotel arrival and gas station dinner, and I was still feeling a little bitter about the previous day’s late arrival and gas station dinner. All I wanted was a steak the size of a wagon wheel, Kanab! From a sit down restaurant where I could also get a gin and tonic to help me forget about the terrors of the night cows! Or barring that, some goddamned fries and a frosty! We did pull off shortly to take some photos of the scenery, and when I stopped being struck by the view, I realized that there was an entire group of people behind us firing guns into an embankment, protecting us all from some encroaching dirt or something. ‘Murrica!






I also found it deeply important that we stop at this place with ho-made pie, because I’m the sort of immature person who will always laugh at a sign like this. No one wanted to take a picture with me under a sign indicating that they were a woman both of the evening and of the kitchen for some reason that I can’t begin to fathom.


Then I tied a bandana over my face* and passed out in the backseat for a while.


When I awoke, we had stopped at a gas station in Beaver, Utah, and I’m glad that I woke up, because it’s possible that nothing will ever make me laugh harder than a sign for fresh beaver tacos. Because, again, I am immature.


An hour or more outside the Bonneville Salt Flats, the landscape already was looking seriously salty. As in, the ground looks like it’s covered with snow but it’s actually salt. There were piles of salt so enormous that it was hard to fathom their size, piles of salt so huge they absolutely dwarfed trains and construction equipment. And here I am, paying a couple of bucks for a cannister of salt like a sucker, when I could have brought a bucket with me and filled up a lifetime’s worth of salt for free. Plus the cost of the trip. But that doesn’t count, right?





And then there’s this thing, a erect pole with salty balls.


And finally, we were there–the Bonneville Salt Flats, home of some land speed record runs or something. I was much more interested in taking off my bandana for a little while, breathing in some salty air, and checking out the scenery.


But first, I checked out the flying penis monster on the Bonneville Salt Flats garbage can. Because flying penis monster, obviously that’s where my eyes would go first. It’s like you don’t even know me.


The Bonneville Salt flats are 30,000 acres of nothing but salt and water. Or sometimes just salt I would imagine, since it’s hard to set land speed records in calf deep water. No insects, no plants, one dead tree. They were, in Rachel’s words, “vast and salty”.  And once we’d heard it described that way, it was difficult to find any other words to describe it. Large and salt-filled? Grand and, uh, high salinity? So vast and salty it was and is. Rachel was the only one of us who ventured into the water, and once again using her lyrical magic, described it as “warm and gross”.  So, vast and salty and warm and gross. That’s about the long and short of it. I was surprised at how many families were out playing in the water in swimsuits, and how many dogs they brought up to the edge even with numerous signs prohibiting it. I also briefly considered scooping some up and gargling with it to see if it would benefit my sore throat, but then almost immediately reconsidered it, because every once in a while, I can make a good decision. Not often, not consistently, but every once in a while.










After we’d gandered enough at the vast saltiness, I was feeling well enough to take a shift behind the wheel, and I drove us from the salt flats the rest of the way to Boise, taking us through a corner of the last new state we’d visit on the trip, Nevada. This route took us on a number of two lane roads, which meant I got to recreate some of my favorite scenes from Fury Road and shout “WITNESS ME, I AM AWAITED IN VALHALLA” while passing Sunday drivers on their way to and from spending their pension at the casinos.

We drove into Boise just as the sun was setting, and since we were going west, that meant driving straight into the blinding sun. Straight into the blinding sun as wind shears were grabbing the car. Emily was looking up options for places to go for dinner and telling us about them, and it was right at that moment that my sickness fully set in. In case you’ve never experienced a special moment like this, I’ll do my best to explain. It’s the point where I go from “I think I’m getting sick” to “Oh fuck, I’m sick. I am so sick”. My ears close up, my eyesight goes to tunnel vision, there’s an overwhelming stuffy sensation of being a balloon headed monster in a world that hates balloons. So, to reiterate, I was driving directly into the blinding sun, wind was grabbing and shaking the car, my hearing went from fine to being able to hear very little but the underwater whooshing sound of my blood gravy rushing to my face in a hot sweat and my world has collapsed to that blinding tunnel in front of me. Oh, and for some reason, I also had simultaneous searing gas pain, the kind of fart that rips through your intestines with razor blades, only we’d just had a conversation in the car where I learned that Emily’s husband isn’t even allowed to fart in a room that’s not the bathroom so there was no way I was letting that motherfucker go. My anus was Alcatraz. And my poker face is so goddamn good that I’m pretty certain no one in the car had any idea that any of this was going on, inside of me and outside of me, all at once.  At least until the point where we reached our exit and I snapped that the directions were going to have to be given a lot more loudly because I couldn’t hear anything (and also because I was still holding in The Devil’s Fart and he was angry about his imprisonment). I remember very little from the rest of that night. There wasn’t much to remember for me: as soon as we checked in, I went straight to bed.



*Why the bandana? They say hunting humans is the most dangerous game. I would like to posit that the most dangerous game is trying not to get sick when trapped in a car with a sick person and recirculated air conditioning for fourteen hour days. Considering there were two other people in the car who needed to get back to work and school and not take still more time off for illness, I wanted to do everything I could to keep from infecting anyone else. The bandana was my best option for making sure the worst of my germ goblins stayed with or on my person, even if (when) I fell alseep and wouldn’t be in control of coughs and sneezes. Basically the car version of how I treat Jason when he’s sick. AND IT WORKED.





Sunburn and Bugs 2016: At Night, The Bison Come

I’m not going to name names, but a very stupid and naive person once said “There’s no drive as long or as tense as the one to a gas station of indeterminate distance when your gas light has just ticked on.” That is patently untrue, and I know this because I have made two drives since that were much longer and much more tense: the drives to and from the Grand Canyon. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

No trip to the southwest is complete without a gander at the biggest goddamn hole in the world. The Grand Canyon is actually so large that the north and south rims of it are drastically different. Most photos and videos you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon are from the south rim: rocky and dotted with desert scrub, the elevation is lower than the north rim, which makes it easier to see the other side and appreciate its, uh, grandness. The south rim is also the side that offers mule rides and helicopter tours, and has that skywalk that will test one’s comfort levels with heights. Owing to our route, visiting the south rim would have involved more backtracking and made for an overall longer day, so we went to the more hipster north rim, which is heavily forested and cooler, both because of the aforementioned forest and elevation, and because you then get to say that you visited a part of a national park that’s like, totally more obscure.

Heavily forested is where the problems came in. We were actually making excellent time from Antelope Canyon, and were poised to arrive at the Grand Canyon just before sunset which would give us a view of this natural wonder in the most gorgeous light possible. We turned off onto the road that leads to the north rim, and I was just congratulating myself for timing the day juuuust right when I saw the deer warning sign. With a deer under it. Every other time I’ve driven past a deer warning sign, I have not seen a single deer. Not a single one. Between that first deer and the parking lot for the north rim, a distance of about thirty miles,  I saw literally hundreds of deer. On summer trips to Eagle River, Wisconsin, my family would go on car rides in the evening to go look for deer. I could add all of the deer sightings of all of those summer trips together and still come up short of the sheer number of deer I saw on that thirty mile stretch. Deer ambling across the road, deer cropping alongside, deer churning in heaving waves across a stretch of meadow, a frothing sea of fucking deer. I drove, white knuckled, the entire stretch to the north rim. Less so drove than crept, foot hovering over the brakes, looking in despair as the sun began to slip down over the horizon, the sky bursting in gorgeous color that I could not appreciate because I was desperate to not destroy Emily’s new car via gutwrenching deer incident. And then came the warning signs for cows. And bison. And now that I knew that they were totally not kidding about the deer, I took these warnings very seriously and wailed in despair at the thought of more thousand pound plus animals that could come charging blindly at the car. What warning signs would be next? Warning: Elephants? Warning: A Damn Landwhale?

When we finally made it to the parking lot, Emily got behind the steering wheel and said she’d find parking while Rachel and I dashed out to try and get a peek before darkness totally overtook the canyon in a way that would make dashing irresponsible, lest one of the less-coordinated members of our organization (me, I’m talking about me) trips over a rock and hurtles over an unseen edge.

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The admittedly small taste I got of the Grand Canyon was tantalizing. I absolutely want to go back and spend some more time looking at this giant hole in the ground, do some hiking around, enjoy it while I don’t have a stress knot in my back from running through brain scenarios where I trash an expensive vehicle, kill an animal and possibly one of my friends, and leave us stranded on the side of the road thousands of miles from home. You know, those kinds of calming mantras that tend to always pop up whenever they can make a bad situation more stressful because my brain is helpful like that. I’m fairly certain that if I ever got into a really bad situation, like one of those “trapped under a boulder and I’d have to cut off my own arm to survive” type things, my brain would chime in and convince the rest of my organs to just go ahead and die on the spot because it’d be easier. Sort of a biological “nope, everything is too fucked up” force shut down.

We somehow managed to find Emily in the now pitch darkness and set off for our day’s final destination of Kanab, Utah. I got behind the wheel again as it was still my turn, and I figured the drive out had to be less harrowing than the drive in–the deer would be less active now, right?


Having borne witness to the sheer masses of deer within the park on the way in, we were on high deer alert on the way out, and for some reason, decided to count them. You know, for funsies. We spotted deer number one almost immediately. My hands clenched into fear fists around the steering wheel. In the dark, the most reliable way to spot a deer is to look for the glint of reflected headlights in their stupid, stupid eyes.  And spot them we did. Deer two, deer three, deer four, deer five…deer six charged directly at the car. Road trip radio seemed to be making light of the situation with a selection of music that seemed almost diabolical.

Slow ride, take it easy
Slow ride, take it easy

Deer twenty, deer twenty one, deer twenty two–HOLY SHIT WAS THAT AN OWL THAT JUST SWOOPED DOWN AT OUR WINDSHIELD? Why does nature hate us?!

Deer forty three, deer forty four, deer forty five…we began to do that hysterical kind of screechy laughter that happens when you’re in a situation that is entirely out of your control and is simultaneously scary and ridiculous. Cars blazed up behind us, swerved around us, and disappeared into the night. Have they never seen a deer explode over the hood of a car before? Were we the only ones being threatened by this hoofed menace?

It’s the final coundown, whoaaaa
It’s the final coundown

And just as we pulled off of the park road and I began to breathe a sigh of relief that the worst was over, I slammed on the brakes and screamed as a cow appeared from out of the darkness inches from the bumper, placidly chewing its cud. The worst was not, in fact, over. Ahead of us we faced another deadline: get to Kanab before their only restaurant open this late, the paragon of fine cuisine otherwise known as a Wendy’s, closed for the night. The Race for Fries had begun. Rabbits dashed out in front of the car, another owl swooped at our headlights, and I did my best to keep from smooshing anything in my quest to get to Kanab on time for a hot meal.

We got to Kanab just before 10pm. Wendy, that bitch, had decided to close early, so we made a meal out of whatever we could scavenge that sounded appealing from the lonely Kanab 7-11. And I mean, bless them for being open, but if I never have to eat one of their sad dry refrigerated sandwiches again, I would be just fine with that. I didn’t end up eating much, anyway–my throat hurt from all of the gasping and laugh-shrieking and just plain screaming, and I was more than ready to call it a night and await the coming of the light, when suicidal animals would be a lot more visible.

Final count:

  • 65 murder deer
  • 2 owls
  • 2 night cows
  • 14 rabbits
  • 1 cat
  • and the ominous ever present threat of the night bison
















Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Escape From Santa Fe

 I slept poorly my last night in Santa Fe, tossing and turning fitfully, sweating and waking up in what seemed like twenty minute intervals. I’m going to go ahead and blame the room’s air conditioner, which ran constantly but never kicked out anything that could be remotely called cold. I believe it had two settings: “Devil’s Buttcrack” (aka off) and “Mouthbreathing Stranger”, in which air is moving but resembles nothing so much as a stranger standing close enough to breathe hot breath down your neck. I mean, sure, all of the alcoholic drinks and the rich food and the multitude of chiles I ate probably played a role in my discomfort, but the air conditioner won’t mind if I point a finger in its general direction, and I do enjoy divesting myself of any culpability.

Emily wanted a cinnamon roll for the road from the French Pastry Shop, and since Rachel and I were all packed and ready to go, we walked over there to get her one. Not having learned my lesson about rich food one bit, I bought myself a pastry with fully half a peach inside and a cookie stuffed with raspberry jam. What?! We were going to be covering a lot of terrain with not many food options, so at the very least I’d have two food items just packed full of fruit-y, healthy vitamins.

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sunburn and bugs day 6 (2 of 64)Healthful. And so tasty, too!

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Our original plan called for driving to Albuquerque and heading west from there into Arizona, and I had a really solid list of things I wanted to do in Albuquerque, but if we were going to get back in three days, there just wasn’t time to spend an afternoon in Albuquerque. Not if we were going to hit two big targets that day: Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon.


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sunburn and bugs day 6 (11 of 64)Even if that rock already has a name, I’m renaming it to zombie face rock. You see it, right?

Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon (well, two of them) in northeastern Arizona, on Navajo land just outside of Page. The canyons are known as Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope, and they each come with their own advantages and drawbacks–Upper Antelope is much more expensive but requires no climbing. It’s also wider at the base, gets those pretty and photogenic light shafts more frequently, and draws larger crowds of people. Lower Antelope is narrower and twice as long as Upper Antelope, significantly less expensive, requires a lot of stair climbing, and tends to draw fewer people. I suppose if we really wanted to get our fill of slot canyons, we could have done both, but with another, grander canyon on the horizon and hotel reservations in Utah, we had to choose one or the other, so I chose Lower Antelope.

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When we arrived, I had to pee. They had a huge row of port-a-potties, and as I walked across the parking lot toward them, I saw a woman walk down the row, open each door, shake her head, and close it. Every single door, all down the line. I immediately judged this woman as unbearably prissy. Oh, sorry these portable crappers don’t live up to Your Majesty’s standards–there isn’t even an attendant to pat Your Majesty’s royal hands dry after being sprinkled with perfumed water from a diamond faucet. Unbelievable.

Then, of course, I reached the first door, opened it, saw what she saw, and regretted my harsh inner monologue. Peeping out the top of that toilet was a veritable mountain of shit, a filthy human Everest that continues to rise as one brave soul after another says “fuck it,” climbs up on the seat, hovers above it, and unleashes an avalanche*. And it wasn’t just one toilet like this, but one after another, after another. Add to that the oppressive heat, blazing sun, and the stench of raw sewage, and I decided I could hold it for a while longer. I went back to the group and told them I no longer fear hell, because there’s no way it could be worse than those portable toilets. Rachel, who was judging me for my prissiness, went to go use them herself and came back with a similar conclusion.

We didn’t have to wait long for our tour to start. All visitors to Antelope Canyon (upper or lower), must be accompanied by a tour guide for safety reasons. During monsoon season, flash floods can whip through the canyon, and it’s important to have someone who can guide you to the nearest exit in case of trouble. A tour guide can also monitor the people in the group for signs of heat sickness, which isn’t terribly uncommon. Our tour guide also told us a bit about the geology of the canyon and posed each person (or group of people) in front of the most photogenic spots.

sunburn and bugs day 6 (13 of 64)The walk to the first staircase descending into the canyon. No photography is allowed on the stairs for safety reasons, and frankly, I’m glad. The stairs are scary enough without someone whapping you with a selfie stick.

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Once I got down the stairs and took a look around, I was astounded. It was astonishingly beautiful. Every single step in the canyon is gorgeous. Every angle was something that I wanted to capture with my camera, to hold on to forever.

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I happily snapped photos all the way through the canyon, and reluctantly climbed the stairs when it was time to leave. I hung out on a rock near the exit for the tour guide to finish taking some final photos so I could give him a tip and also let him know that Emily had gone to get some water in case he needed to make sure he’d left with the same number of heads he went in with. I offhandedly mentioned to Rachel that I wasn’t even that hot, more comfortable, really, and she told me that was a sign of heat exhaustion. Whoops. But hey, if I was going to keel over and die, at least I felt fine right up until the end, right? Still, I chugged an extra bottle of water on the way out. I’d rather have to pee in a gross bathroom than die just yet. Also, I couldn’t trust those other Harpies not to strap my corpse to the roof of the car and keep driving until they found a canyon grand enough into which to dump my windblown, dessicated ass.

*This analogy** got completely out of hand, sorry about that.

**Heh, anal.









Sunburn and Bugs 2016: The Harpies Take Santa Fe

After the House of Eternal Return, we set what time we were aiming to leave the following morning and then split up to do what each of us needed to do to recharge our batteries for the trip back home, whether that was art galleries or shopping or eating or making sex eyes at bartenders. I had only a few hours before everything would start to close for the day, which meant I had to make some hard decisions, like crossing the O’Keeffe museum off my list. Not forever, though, I would go back to Santa Fe in a heartbeat.

I took a meandering path around the plaza, keeping an eye open for an ATM as I’d used the last of my cash that morning buying a croissant, and I don’t like being on a road trip without cash on hand. My stroll first took me through the historic burro alley where firewood used to be sold after being carted in on the backs of burros. Now it’s mostly empty, save for a couple of statues, a mural, and the patio for a Mexican restaurant.

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I spotted this mural on the back of a building on Sheridan Street.

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At the intersection of Sheridan and Marcy, there’s a piece of public art called “Santa Fe Current” that was installed in 2009, with 27 Rio Grande cutthroat trout rendered in granite and arranged in an arc to symbolize how Santa Fe’s community is moving forward together.

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And then there’s a statue of St Francis with a prairie dog, because why not?

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After I located an ATM, I made my way to The French Pastry Shop & Creperie to buy an iced coffee and a biscochito, the official New Mexico state cookie. It’s a variation on the traditional Mexican wedding cookie, made with lard and flavored with anise and cinnamon. I’d tried making these cookies at home a couple of years ago and wasn’t thrilled with the result, so I wanted to try a proper one, one made in a state that prides itself on biscochitos. It sat in my purse all day and was still super freaking delicious when I remembered to eat it just before I went to bed that night. I’m not normally one to forget about a cookie, it’s just that I was on the move, going in and out of shops, and while I had no problem being seen on the street drinking coffee, somehow I have a problem with the idea of someone watching me eat a cookie as I walk down the street.

I popped into Mama’s Minerals with my coffee and browsed a bit–it was a really nice rock shop, and the girls who were working there were truly personable. We chatted a bit and they gave me some excellent recommendations for places to eat, one of which I ended up going to for dinner. I ended up appreciating the employees here even more later, because most of the shops I went into were very aggressive about selling you things in a fashion I’m simply unused to. Like, I’m sorry, dude, but no matter how much you flatter me and try to get me to try this opal and diamond necklace on and treat myself, I’m not going to spend $2,600 on it. There’s an amount of flattery and guilt for timewasting that could get me to the hundred dollar range, but I don’t think there’s any amount of flattery and guilt that could get me to splash out more money on a necklace than I spent on my last three trips combined. Possibly four.

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Afterward, I made my way further up the street toward the Loretto Chapel and its “miraculous stairway”, supposedly built with a type of wood that doesn’t exist and in a way that should be impossible for it to remain standing or support weight. This was tentatively on my list but it was too damn hot outside to give up my death grip on my iced coffee for any staircase, Jesus-built or otherwise.

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meow wolf (120 of 129)The mighty Santa Fe river.

Around the corner, I bumped into Emily, who was on the phone. We hung out for a few minutes, and then I told her I was on my way to find one of the Art*o*mat vending machines now that I had cash. I’d spotted one outside the gift shop at The House of Eternal Return but I didn’t have any cash at the time, and I knew there were at least two more within walking distance. Art*o*mats are retired cigarette machines that have been given new life as art dispensers, working with some 400 artists from over 17 different countries. For $5, you get to pull a knob and walk away with a cigarette box sized piece of original art, the contents of which are dependent on the artist you choose: it could be a painting, a drawing, a sculpture, photography, jewelry, glass, mixed media, or whatever they decide. It’s such a creative reuse of machines that would otherwise be discarded, and I had no idea that these machines actually exist all over the US. Before I go somewhere, I’m going to try and remember to check the map to see if there’s a machine nearby–what a cool way to collect little pieces of original art and support artists! For my $5, I got a neat acrylic painting of a sugar skull by street artist Lark, who according to their short bio, has never been caught and hates pickles.

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After I collected my piece of art, I bumped into Emily again and helped her shop for earrings. She says I’m good luck for finding pairs she likes, but I think I’m probably just really good at talking people into buying things after years in retail. Shopped out (for a little while, at least), we had dinner at The Shed,  winner of a James Beard award in 2003 and which also came highly recommended by the employees at Mama’s Minerals. We basically fell upon them like starving dogs and ordered one of every food and drink item on the menu and were not disappointed by any of them. Overheated as I was, I was immediately attracted to the cold red raspberry soup, which is made with pureed raspberries, rose wine, lime, and a hint of sour cream. It was so delicious, as was the green chile stew, the green chile chicken quesadilla, the steak smothered in red chile sauce, the blood orange margaritas, and the frozen mocha cake. I don’t know why entrees came with a side of garlic bread, but that was delicious, too.

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Stuffed to the damn gills, we did some more shopping and tried to find the most ostentatious piece of silver and turquoise jewelry we could find–I think I won when I found a turquoise bolo tie longer (and almost as wide as) my hand. We stopped in at Chocolate and Cashmere where I touched a lot of cashmere but didn’t buy any of it (hey, at least I know I can’t be trusted with the care of nice things), Emily bought a ring, and I bought a number of truffles that I didn’t end up eating until days after I got home. The poblano goat cheese truffle is why I laid down my money, but my ultimate favorite was the lavender caramel, and I was sad when it was gone.

Our next stop was Maverick’s, where the dude working there really laid on the sauce to try to get me to buy the aforementioned $2600 necklace, but the female employee was (again) super awesome. When she expressed shock that we’d driven all the way from Seattle for the sole purpose of The House of Eternal Return, I responded with “well, then you must not know how incredible it is,” and she replied that as an art major, not only had she been, but she’d purchased a year pass and been back three times already. She just didn’t know if it was worth days of driving to see, and I suppose if we weren’t having such a rich trip on all fronts, I could understand her point. If you drove straight, sleeping in the car, driving through the night in shifts for 36 hours, and only saw The House of Eternal Return, to leave the next morning and do the same thing on the way back, it would be a much more difficult trip with a significantly smaller return. When I expressed sorrow that we had so little time in Santa Fe and that I hadn’t even made it to the Jean Cocteau cinema to pick up a signed Song of Ice and Fire book, she snorted, whipped out a map, and showed me that it wasn’t all that far away if I was willing to do some walking. She then marked out a “must visit” gelato place, Ecco Gelato, on the other side of the map, funnily enough on the back side of the block where we’d just had dinner, but told us that if we wanted to go there, we’d have to make sure we got there before they closed at 9pm. I’m pretty sure Emily bought a pair of earrings just to thank her for her time.

We booked it the nine or so blocks to the Jean Cocteau where I bought my book, spotting an adorable little bunny on the way, and then hustled the eleven or so blocks back to Ecco Gelato, getting in just before they closed. It was totally worth it, even though I only had room in my stomach for their teeniest tiniest cup, which I split with roasted pineapple gelato and basil gelato–so refreshing in the heat and after a not-insignificant walk.

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Afterward, we met up with Rachel at the Secreto bar in our hotel and had a couple of drinks to toast a successful (so far) trip, talk about our days, and have one last hurrah before we called it a night to get ready to hit the road again. We all knew it was going to be a harder push–we’d gotten there in four days, but were going to attempt to get home in three. Rachel and I noted that the Power of Positive Mechanics logo on the business card she swiped (“Don’t look at me that way, they had thousands of them!“) would make an ideal friendship tattoo to commemorate the trip, but Emily, not being a tattoo person, could not be convinced. Frankly, I don’t understand why she wouldn’t want an art cult logo on her body forever. What a weirdo.

And then I ate the cookie. SEE? You forgot about it, too.