Date Archives December 2016

See you in January!

Hey friends and fiends: I’m on break until January, recharging the noodle, working on new art projects, and eating every cookie that has the misfortune of crossing my path. Wherever you may go this holiday season, I hope you find happiness and make memories to last a lifetime. See you in a couple of weeks!

They say love goes on, long after the grilled cheese sandwich is gone

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You can smell Tillamook country long before you arrive at the cheese factory, owing to all of the cows (or Tillamoos) necessary to keep the pacific northwest rich in loaves of cheese, mounds of butter, lakes of yogurt, and tub after tub of sweet, sweet ice cream. The cow-based earthiness of the air around the factory just lets you know you’re almost there. Which was a helpful sign, because I was “kill a man” levels of hungry, and when Jason looked at his GPS and said we were still over an hour out, I briefly considered pulling over and doing a rogue milking for a warm, gross snack. Thankfully, he quickly realized he’d had it set on walking, not driving, and thus no trespassing laws were broken.

The lines inside were honestly insane. Yes, it was a Saturday which should have tipped me off, but it’s also not all that near anything (it’s an hour and a half drive from Portland) and it’s the off season for the coast so the sheer volume of people inside took me by surprise. There were no fewer than a hundred people in line waiting for ice cream, in a winding queue that resembled a line for a Disneyland ride  more than anything. Combine the crowds with the limited time we had before everything closed for the day, and I could choose to take the tour or eat but not both. In a move that will surprise absolutely no one, I chose food.

We each got a grilled cheese sandwich with tots and split an order of cheese curds with chipotle ranch in an array of fried beige that would horrify any nutritionist. But I would just like to note the presence of a fruit on our table, the humble tomato. Sure, it’s been sugared up and stripped of all its fiber, but it’s still a fruit. Sort of. Looking at this photo definitely makes me want to eat a vegetable or six. But at the time, this was fried cheesy heaven for very hungry people.

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After laying waste to this cheesy bounty, we took cheesy photos in the cheesewagon, I pressed my obligatory penny, we breezed through the various gift shops (they know where their bread is Tillamook buttered), and then committed to standing in line for ice cream. Because when life hands you an opportunity to try ice cream flavors not stocked in the grocery stores near you, you grab that opportunity with both hands and a spoon. The line is stupid long but Tillmook has handled it smartly, in that there are menus of their flavor selection dotting the line, so you have time to peruse and make your decision before being confronted by the case in all its splendor so that people aren’t spending forever hemming and hawing while holding the rest of the line up. Thus, the line moves at a decent clip. Jason went for a two scoop cup, and I thought I’d be clever and go for their three flavor ‘flight’ so I could try three things but keep the overall volume of ice cream low. Because that’s what a flight is, right? A tasting?  Nope. It turns out that at the Tillamook factory, a flight of three ice creams is three full size scoops, so I definitely felt like a hog while collecting my cup. Not that said feeling kept me from eating it, shamefully, in the car on the way home.

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tillamook-7-of-8Someone waited in line twenty minutes for this. Whomp whomp.

I will be back, Tillamook, for your tour and your ice cream adventure. I’m definitely going to eat a vegetable first, though.

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An Oregon Coast Afternoon

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It took some real effort on my part to not try to cram this wooden scarecrow from Something Awesome in Bandon into the car, which I think is precisely the reason I bought a compact hatchback rather than a truck, to curb these sorts of impulses, lest my yard turn into an unintentional roadside attraction. However, the very real possibility of all of my weird hobbies and collections turning into an unintentional roadside attraction is precisely why I bought a home in a neighborhood without a homeowner’s association, because intentional or not, I’ll be damned if I’m going to let my neighbors dictate to me what size my yard alien can be.

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oregon-coast-afternoon-10-of-28Tahkenitch lake

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I had to pull over for the Sea Lion Caves. America’s largest sea cave? Yes, please! I parked in their large lot on the east side of 101 and dashed across the road only to be told inside that their elevator was broken and they weren’t allowing anyone into the sea cave, not on the walkways, not to their viewpoint, nowhere, because someone might look over/fall into the elevator shaft. “It’s a liability issue,” they said. “The lawyers won’t let us.” Evidently the lawyers have no problem with them encouraging people to run across a highway, though. So I took the liberty of fixing their sign.

liabilitycavesI also considered adding “The lawyers encourage visiting our gift shop instead” at the bottom but I don’t actually know the lawyers’ stance on that.

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My next stop was Devil’s Churn, a narrow inlet where the waves crash into a milky froth to make Beelzebub Butter. Or so I assume. When the tide is in, the waves can crash up to hundreds of feet into the air, and there are signs everywhere warning visitors never to turn their back on the ocean. The rocks down near the water were very slick with satanic ooze, and my boots skidded right off which is how I ended up in ankle deep demon muck with my boot covered in rock snot*.

oregon-coast-afternoon-17-of-28Baal’s Half & Half

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oregon-coast-afternoon-22-of-28Father of Lies foam

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Then it was off to learn about a very different kind of churn: the ice cream churns at Tillamook. Monday, a cheesy exposé!

 

*technical terms, every one

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Prehistoric Gardens in Oregon’s Rainforest

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If there is a dinosaur-based attraction anywhere near where I’m traveling, I will find it, like a divining rod for giant lizards. Though, to be fair, I don’t know how anyone driving on 101 could miss these particular dinosaurs, given the way they loom over the road. They WANT to be found. And what better place for life size dinosaurs than a section of Oregon temperate rainforest, dripping with moss and ferns? That’s what Ernie Nelson thought in 1953, when he began sculpting size-accurate dinosaurs. Two years later, Prehistoric Gardens opened to the public.

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Prehistoric Gardens acts as part dinosaur attraction, part nature preserve, with the sculptures carefully nestled among the trees, and the vegetation allowed to encroach as it pleases–the handrails are really there more for the moss and fungi than human hands.  When I got in close to look at the teeny-tiny mushrooms that had sprouted on the rails, I saw even teeny-tinier spiderwebs attached to them. And looming behind that, of course, a steel and concrete dinosaur.

prehistoric-gardens-7-of-52What’s up with the ellipsis at the end of the sign? “State law prohibits smoking in forested areas…but we won’t tell if you won’t”? “…so don’t test us!” “…and we have plenty of places to hide the bodies of those who do”?

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Ernie strove with all of his creations to make them as scientifically accurate as possible (to the standards of the time, of course–you’ll see no feathered dinosaurs here). It took him nearly thirty years to complete the twenty-three sculptures on the property, and they’ve held up remarkably well for their sixty years, with some weathering but otherwise intact. It also features some dinosaurs beyond the well-known favorites, and each exhibit comes complete with a sign containing the name, the meaning of the name, and some factoids about them.

prehistoric-gardens-10-of-52Triceratops’ goofy smile? SCIENTIFICALLY CORRECT.

prehistoric-gardens-11-of-52Dimetrodon’s halloween coloring? SCIENTIFICALLY CORRECT.

prehistoric-gardens-26-of-52The melancholy of the ankylosaur? SCIENTIFICALLY CORRECT.

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prehistoric-gardens-16-of-52Birds were angry long before 2009.

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prehistoric-gardens-21-of-52Lystrosaurus, the swamp lizard.

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prehistoric-gardens-22-of-52When I looked up to the canopy, I saw that the tree branches were not only covered in moss, but had ferns growing out of them as well.

prehistoric-gardens-25-of-52Psittacosaurus, the parrot lizard.

prehistoric-gardens-28-of-52Struthiomimus, the ostrich mimic. Known for the way it struts around like it owns the place*.

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prehistoric-gardens-39-of-52Trachodon, the rough-tooth.

prehistoric-gardens-41-of-52This ichthyosaur doesn’t appear to be doing so well.

prehistoric-gardens-49-of-52Seymouria, purportedly named for the town where it was discovered, but was actually** named after Jane Seymour, who glared in just such a fashion on the set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, when her coffee was served with an incorrect ratio of beans to additives.

And now the thing you all came here to see, an impending T-Rex attack on a car:

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*Well, NOW it’s known for that.

**Not actually. It’s the town thing.

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A Northern California/Southern Oregon Coast Morning

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The Ship Ashore Resort–their website says the museum and gift shop are “temporarily closed” but it’s been closed since 2013 so don’t hold your breath.

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After a solid continental breakfast, I continued to follow 101 up Oregon’s coastline. It was a gorgeous morning, overcast, the cloudiness and slight fog perfectly complementing the waves smashing into the rocky shore. As it was yet early, I was able to pull over and watch a whole family of elk grazing on the side of the road–thankfully, these ones were not as well versed in the art of setting traps as their other Oregon brethren. I don’t know if it was the time of day or the time of year, but the winding roads were almost deserted, which made for perfect driving conditions, one of those drives where I can just set the cruise control, pump up the jams, and make time, pulling over every once in a while to take in the view. It was just what I needed after the total shitshow that was the previous afternoon/evening.  It was only a scant two hour drive to the day’s first destination: Prehistoric Gardens. That’s right, strap in, because on Wednesday, we’re going to see even more dinosaurs.

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I left my hopes in San Francisco

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The primary reason I wanted to take highway 101 home rather than I-5 was that I wanted to see the giant redwoods of northern California. Those ancient conifers, those towering monoliths that you can sometimes drive your car through for an additional fee. It’s the reason we busted ass out of the hotel that morning, the reason lunch was a sandwich crammed down our faces in the car. All my planning and ass-busting, however, couldn’t compensate for the soul crushing traffic leading into and through and out of San Francisco. I watched the sun slip by overhead as we sat and sat and sat and knew that with it, our chances of seeing the redwoods were similarly slipping away. Sure enough, the last of the sunlight disappeared before we got into redwood country. Crap in a basket. We spent the rest of the drive pointing at shadows saying “Is that a redwood? I think that might be a redwood. Or an elk.” as a thick fog swirled around the car, making it difficult to see the road even three feet ahead. Between road construction, traffic, and fog, we didn’t check into our hotel until around 11pm. The next morning, the sunrise revealed a giant billboard pointing back the way we came, enticing us to check out the “trees of mystery”. Damn it. Damn it all.

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Makin Stuff: A Stranger Things Gingerbread House

Like everyone else on the planet, I enjoyed the heck out of Netflix’s Stranger Things. I spent some time thinking about how I could rig up a Christmas card with lights that blink out “MERRY CHRISTMAS” or “RUN” or “YOU’RE NEXT” but I couldn’t figure out a non-digital way that wouldn’t be cost-prohibitive both to make and ship out 100+, not to mention I’d probably  be working on them from now until Christmas 2037 at which point Stranger Things’ faux retro will look real retro and the post office will be replaced with directly thought-beaming cat pictures into each other’s brains . But still–those blinking Christmas lights made the holiday season an ideal time for an homage if I could just figure out a good angle.

Finally, inspiration struck. I could make a Stranger Things gingerbread house! With lights and a demogorgon coming through the wall and gingerbread furniture with little marshmallow pillows and a frosting shag carpet and a whole “upside down” spooky tree area outside and and…WHOA THERE, MELLY. Considering I’d never made a gingerbread house before (except for one half-assed attempt at these cute little bastards that turned into a big honking mess in my kitchen with no tangible results, certainly no tiny cup-perching houses) or even royal icing, I was probably in over my head on just the house, nevermind all the gingerbread dollhouse furniture that would make it next level. I already needed to make frosting look like wallpaper, I had plenty on my plate without making some a plan so grandiose that I’d never actually follow through on it.

To make my Stranger Things house, I used this recipe (doubled) and this template (altered a bit to make the house a little more like Joyce’s). I also fashioned some of the gingerbread dough into a lumpy protrusion and tried to thin the edges so I could glue it on with frosting and make it look like something is coming through the wall without there being a corresponding divot on the outside of the house.

The part that I was dreading turned out to be the easiest–I slathered on some pale yellow icing for the wallpaper and dotted it with a toothpick dipped in food coloring for the pattern, the idea being not to mimic it exactly (which would be maddening) but to get close  enough to convey the idea of wallpaper. I then mixed up some brown and added the wood paneling. The letters and light wiring were painted on with black food coloring and a small brush. If I were doing it again, I’d try to pipe on the wires with frosting for a more three dimensional look, maybe pipe on the molding for more evenness.

As far as challenges go, I don’t know what sucked more: mixing all of those freaking colors of frosting (8! Mostly for those tiny dots of frosting for the strung lights) or assembling it. My parts weren’t quite perfect, the icing took longer than I’d like to dry, and the roof was so heavy that it wanted to slide straight off. All in all, I think it was a success! The outside could look more like Joyce’s house, and in fact, I cut some support beams for her front porch, but ultimately that would have made it too difficult to see inside, so I left it off. 

I’ve got the gingerbread house, I’ve got the witch costume, all I need to do is lure in a plump child and Christmas dinner is settled. I mean, a ham. We’re having ham.

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