Category Attractions

Climbing Cinnamon Mountain

Why do people climb Mount Everest? Conventional wisdom declares that they do it because it’s there. For Jason’s 34th birthday, I wanted to do something similarly life-affirming and reckless: eat the biggest cinnamon roll in the world. Because it’s there, and so are we. Not by coincidence, the world’s largest commercially available cinnamon roll (in other words, not a Guinness attempt, but something that could be acquired without trying to make it myself) is found a couple hours’ drive away in the town of Longview, Washington, at Stuffy’s II, a restaurant which prides itself on  serving all manner of “stuff”, biggie-sized. They’ve got pancakes the size of wagon wheels, massive 5lb cinnamon rolls, and other giant platters of food available, but only one item is so large, so full of potential energy, so Hulk gut-bustingly huge that it requires 24 hour advance notice of one’s intention to order: their 10.5lb cinnamon roll, aka the “Bear Roll”. Like its namesake, the bear roll is both massive and dangerous, containing a whopping 8,000 calories. If you can finish a bear roll by yourself in less than an hour and fifteen minutes, you’re inducted into the Stuffy’s II hall of fame. It’s one of those bucket list items, in that, if you go it alone, there’s a good chance you’ll kick the bucket.

As dedicated as I am to eating, and as much as Jason likes cinnamon rolls, I knew there was no way we’d be able to defeat it by ourselves, so we assembled a team of adventurous souls to make the trek with us for a full afternoon of face-forking. Even so, with seven of us in on the quest, we’d each need to eat 1.5 POUNDS of cinnamon roll in order to declare victory. It wouldn’t be easy, but I was convinced it could be done. For us. For posterity. Because it was there. To pump us up on the trip to the restaurant, I assembled what is possibly the most banging cinnamon roll based playlist in the world.

I’d seen photos of the bear roll. I’d watched a video of someone eating one. I thought I was prepared. When we arrived, I saw some cinnamon rolls rotating in a case and thought “That’s large, but doable.” I was wrong. Those rotating rolls were their regular cinnamon rolls, which bore only a passing resemblance to the behemoth our waitress delivered to the table. Prior to its delivery, we’d been contemplating ordering entrees to balance out the roll. The waitress wisely suggested that we spend some time with our bear roll prior to ordering more so we could better gauge what accoutrements the situation called for.

 

We tore into the roll gamely, each slicing off a slab for their plate. As we sliced, still more frosting oozed out of the beast as though it were a bottomless fount. It seemed like everyone enjoyed their first few bites. Unfortunately, after that point, we all hit a wall. The sheer sweetness was overwhelming. When all that sugar hit my system, my body heated up like a furnace, and it felt like every cell in my body was on alert. My mood was high. I was almost delirious with sugar-based happiness. Shortly thereafter, however, I felt as though I couldn’t possibly eat another bite. It wasn’t the sort of taut-stomach fullness I anticipated I might feel after a large meal, but rather a hollow sort of nausea that roiled around and told me that I shouldn’t so much as even think about taking another bite. A look around the table confirmed that everyone else felt similarly and it became clear that although we’d made a valiant effort, the bear was simply too massive a beast for us to conquer.

Luckily, I was prepared for both outcomes.

  

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Let that be a lesson to the rest of you…nuts.

I’ve been to Leavenworth several times but had never made it to the Nutcracker Museum, as it was either closed at the time or there were group protests about it being “too creepy” even though the quaint shoppes there are already packed to the gills with creepy. Too creepy, you say? Too creepy?!? What on Earth could possibly be creepy about thousands of dead eyes staring at you from every directio–I retract the question. Come with me on a creepy journey, friends!

My first stop was at the museum website to ascertain that it would actually be open during my visit, which was a more important step than one would assume: they’re only open four hours per day, seven months of the year. If you’re reading this now and want to drop everything and head over immediately, hold your horses, because they won’t be open again until May. Sorry about energizing you with Nutcracker Fever™. But rest assured, you’re not the only one with Nutcracker Fever™, as the museum website also boldly claims that “all children love nutcrackers“. Not many. Not most. ALL. I certainly vividly remember the days of my youth colored by Nutcracker Fever™. Like all children everywhere, I loved nutcrackers. I had nutcracker sheets, nutcracker pajamas, and I begged Santa for the limited edition Bob Mackie nutcracker I saw in the Sears catalog. At school, my fellow children and I learned woodworking in the hopes of training our nimble fingers in nutcracker craftsmanship so we’d be accepted at Nutcracker College. On the bus, we swapped nutcracker trading cards (my most treasured possession remains a foil Rat King). In the evening, I used my nutcracker collection to shell nuts to dot my lightbulb-warmed treats in my nutcracker emblazoned EZ Bake Oven*.

Admittance to the museum is a paltry five bucks, which is a pittance given the number of nights since I’ve bolted awake, sweating, clutching the sheets while in the grip of Nutcracker Fever™. Upon arrival, I was directed to several rows of folding chairs set up in front of a tiny TV playing a grainy video about the history of nutcrackers. This is directly next to the person taking admissions, so unfortunately any smartass joke I would have wanted to make had to be stifled for the greater good of not being kicked out of the museum.

This is Karl, named after his maker, Karl.

I knew before going in that the Nutcracker Museum contained one of the largest collections of nutcrackers in the world, but I don’t think I really knew just how many nutcrackers that entailed. After the video finished playing, I walked around a corner of nutcrackers for sale and found myself in a room filled with glass display cases with narrow walkways between them, all packed with nutcrackers. Outside this room is a small section filled with antique nutcrackers that no one is allowed to photograph for whatever reason, followed by a long hallway lined with more cases which leads to yet another room lined with still more cases. Don’t let my description fool you into believing it’s a labyrinth of nutcrackers: it’s not possible to get lost in this museum, but it is possible to become intensely claustrophobic.

“Nuts all float down here, Georgie.”

“Check out this Emperor Palpatine nutcracker,” I joked…

…before finding a grouping of Star Wars nutcrackers.

There was also a section on betel nut cutters, which is a nut that I have some familiarity with from my year in Taiwan. Often the sidewalks were splattered with red stains, which could have been blood, but was most likely betel nut juice. Chewing betel nut is supposed to have a similar effect to nicotine. A few slices of the nut are wrapped in a betel leaf, and chewing it releases a blood red juice which is expectorated wherever is most convenient (i.e. the street). At the time, these packets were sold by “betel nut beauties”: scantily clad women in small transparent booths along the street, which I believe is a practice exclusive to Taiwan although betel nut consumption is popular throughout southeast Asia. It’s not dissimilar to the bikini baristas found all over the PNW, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a similar amount of angry local Facebook group posts looking for a “family friendly” alternative. Regardless, the Rotary warned us away from betel nuts, blah blah blah addictive, blah blah blah cancer…but you only live once, right? Might as well learn what it’s like to spit out a mouthful of “blood”, especially if you’re not like to be punched in the face or participate in community horror theatre.

This’ll be the photo my detractors will use when I run for office. “SHE DRINKS THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT, DO YOU TRUST HER WITH YOUR CHILDREN’S FUTURE?”

I don’t know why I find the name “nutting stone” to be so filthily funny, I just do.

Hey, wait, this ISN’T a nutcracker!

Why not both? All kids love nutcrackers!

Buttcrackers and smutcrackers.

To the left of the nut guillotines are some shoes called “nutcracking shoes”. I’m pretty sure you could use them to crack whatever the hell you’d please, Gene Simmons.

I also solved a personal mystery among the shelves. See that moon? I bought one exactly like it two years ago at an antique shop. When I bought it, I just thought the moon looked cool, and the man at the register exclaimed that it was a nutcracker. Over the ensuing two years, I still haven’t found a nut that it can crack–it just half-assedly spits them out of its moon mouth like some kind of low powered useless nut gun. It seemed probable that the antique store clerk had just lied to me to test the limits of my gullibility. Not so–it is indeed a nutcracker, just a terrible one. I suppose this is the Nutcracker Museum, not the Museum of Effective Nutcrackers.

Despite my Nutcracker Fever™, my eyes glazed over surprisingly quickly. “Well hey, that’s a nutcracker” turned to “Yup, still a nutcracker” turned to a vaguely amorphous nutcrackery blob. Perhaps if I’d played the nutcracker finding game, my attention would have been held for longer. What is the nutcracker finding game, you ask? The museum has different lists of nutcrackers to find, depending on one’s age and enthusiasm. For instance, one may be tasked with finding a Mickey Mouse nutcracker, an astronaut nutcracker, and a three legged man nutcracker. No word on whether they ask people to search for the Hitler nutcracker**, but he’s there if you have the fortitude to look for him.

 

*I’m sorry, all of this is a hideous lie. However, a nutcracker was present when I learned the horrifying nickname my grandparents had for brazil nuts.

**Hitler IS there, along with some really racist caricature nutcrackers and a whole shelf of Confederate crackers. Because, you know, it’s not like they have enough other nutcrackers to fill the gaps if they were to take out the ones that implied some of their guests were sub-human. That would just be too much work, too tough of a nut to crack.

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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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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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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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The Cambria Scarecrow Festival

 

 

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For the past eight years, the town of Cambria, California has been filling their streets with scarecrows for the month of October. They claim to have hundreds, a number to which I cannot personally attest as I didn’t get to check out every nook and cranny of Cambria and the neighboring San Simeon, which also participates. After gassing up, I stretched my legs walking Cambria’s downtown checking out their scarecrow offerings. I also checked out the French Corner Bakery to buy more coffee. Considering the pastry revelation that was Bob’s earlier that morning, I wasn’t ready to try any other pastries, but on a whim, I ordered a torta, figuring that good bread was fully half the battle when it comes to getting a good sandwich. And daaaaaaaaamn, was that sandwich ever good! Fresh bread stuffed with juicy pork, thick slices of avocado, and pickled onions and jalapenos. YASSS. At least, that’s how I felt about the two bites I got while Jason wolfed the rest down. I’ve never seen a sandwich disappear that fast. We were still talking about how good the sandwich was as we passed by a place named “Hidden Valley Ranch”–was this, in fact, the birthplace of ranch dressing, AKA “America Sauce”? I don’t know, I was too busy talking about that sandwich to investigate.  Even now, fully a month later, we fondly reference that sandwich in conversation. Even now, when I should be talking about scarecrows, I’m talking about the sandwich.

Mmmm, sandwich.

Morro Bay

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Somehow I managed to tear myself away from the suite at the Victorian Mansion, casting it longing glances all the way down the street to Bob’s Well Bread Bakery for some morning fuel. It pains me to say it, but Bob’s pastries blow my favorite local bakery out of the water. His ham and cheese croissant was warm, flaky perfection. His kougin amann were crisp and caramelized with just the right amount of chewy, yeasty bread inside. And, as a total hog, I also got a house-made english muffin spread with butter and plum strawberry jam with rosemary and lavender. Hngggg. I’ve never had a fresh english muffin before, and it may have completely ruined me for the bagged bread aisle kind forever. I’m not mad, Bob. I just wish you were closer.

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We took our bags of treats and coffee and headed up the coast a bit toward Morro Bay, home of Morro rock, the volcanic plug from which the town gets its name. It was still early enough in the morning that we had the beach to ourselves, so we hung out, ate our pastries, and watched the birds. The most exciting part for me by far was seeing monarch butterflies flitting around everywhere. I didn’t think we’d see any as it was a bit too early in the season for them to reach their overwintering spots, so to see a good number of them doing their thing was definitely an unexpected treat.

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How could it get any better than this, right? The day was just beginning.

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A Night at the Victorian Mansion

I’ve never stayed at a bed and breakfast before. I’ve always been a little leery of them, as I’ve been under the impression that it’s generally all the awkwardness of sex at Grandma’s house plus forced socialization with a bunch of strangers who are also trying to have awkward sex at Grandma’s house. That they are doilied wallpapered oversized dollhouse behemoths with a bunch of weird rules, weird smells (which turns out to be potpourri stuffed in every drawer), and a weird breakfast when all you want to do is just leave. So it would be safe to conclude that it would take an extraordinary bed and breakfast to get me to break my no B&Bs rule.

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And I found one.

The Victorian Mansion was built in 1864 and moved thirty miles down the coast to its current location in Los Alamos in 1980. From there, it took nearly 200 artists/craftsmen almost ten years to create the six themed suites inside. The current owner had fond memories of staying there and dreams of operating his own B&B based on this one, so when he discovered that the original owner had died and the person who had purchased it had let it fall into a state of disrepair, he bought it in 2007 to restore it to its former glory. It took another full year to make it as grand as he remembered it to be, and he has plans to turn a yawl he has out back into another suite and perhaps even to add a treehouse suite.

This isn’t to say that they don’t have at least one weird rule–their latest check in time is 6pm, and past 6:30pm, your reservation is canceled. When I made my reservation, I indicated that we would be there before 6 but not much before as we were on a road trip and had stops to make and traffic considerations. Even with that note on file, they called when we were having lunch at 4 to make sure we were still coming, which is why I didn’t feel comfortable lingering long in Solvang, lest I linger my ass out of accommodations for the night.

When we arrived, all of my (slight) bitterness about not being able to wander around little Denmark for a while longer disappeared. The staff member greeted us at the gate, told us about the history of the place, and was happy to give us food and entertainment suggestions in the area. victorian-mansion-2-of-27

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She also gave us a tiny tour of some of the unoccupied rooms which made me even more hyped for my room. Here’s the 50s room, where you sleep in a converted Cadillac at a drive-in, dine at a snack bar, and do your makeup at a starlet’s dream vanity.

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When I booked my room, I agonized between the pirate suite and the Egyptian suite, finally settling on the Egyptian. I’m sure I would have been well-pleased with any of the rooms in the house, but after the staff member showed me all of the various room amenities, I was even more thrilled I’d gone with this room. First off, the door is made of solid stone (1500 pounds worth!) to let you know they mean business.

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When you enter the room, there’s a cool seating area with poufs, an elaborate couch, and beautiful windows to look out over your kingdom and/or make sure you didn’t leave your car’s lights on. I can tell you from experience that anything eaten while sprawled on that couch makes one feel pretty damn royal. I first tried a date, which was both delicious and theme appropriate, but to really put this theory to the test, I also ate a pop tart. That shitty, dry pastry was somehow transformed in this setting to the food of the gods. All I needed was someone to fan me and the experience would be complete.

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There were a number of hidden panels on the wall, one for breakfast delivery (which we were not partaking in, owing to another early start), one that contained the TV, a large one for a closet with robes and storage for your things,  and another with the AV equipment–theme appropriate DVDs (plus Sideways, which is in all the rooms because it was filmed in the area), a themed game (backgammon) and a mood music cd which is playing when you enter the room. Also on this wall is a gas fireplace and a pillowed reading nook, in case you get tired of this room of luxury and need some escapism into whatever trendy dystopian world the young adults are reading about these days.

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The bed is an elaborate four post uplit affair on a raised platform with stairs, which is super cool and fun right up until the point where you forget about the stairs and try to get off the bed at the foot or stumble down them in the middle of the night, which is why my bed at home remains stairless. Also, my ceilings aren’t high enough. At least until I move into a haunted victorian mansion of my very own.

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The room also has a hot tub in the corner, which is perfect in this setting (unlike, say, The Love Bunker) because you could choose whether or not to avail yourself of it as there was a proper enclosed shower in the bathroom. They also included a glass decanter of Dr Teal’s foaming bath milk, which thrilled me not only because of its theme appropriateness but also because it’s one of my favorite at home bath additives.  Speaking of the bathroom, it’s hidden behind a golden sarcophagus–to gain entrance to the room, pull on the beard to pull it away from the wall.

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Inside, the room is muraled to within an inch of its life, with every little detail done to perfection from the golden taps to the raised hieroglyphs in the shower to the asp lights. This was it, right? It couldn’t get any better from here, right?

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WRONG. There’s another hidden panel wall that opens to reveal the room’s private balcony. AAAAAH. I was in love. To recap: cool furniture, hot tub, fireplace, fun lighting, and TWO SECRET ROOMS. It’s enough to make a girl want to carve out another hidden panel to hide herself and move in permanently.

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Feed These Bad Boys!

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On the trip back from southern California, I decided to take the slightly less direct but vastly more scenic pacific coast highway. It was an opportunity to see different sights, try different things, and even though it would make the trip longer, it would feel shorter and that’s the important thing. Because as much as I love road trips, those long repeated stretches of sameness can really weigh on me, make me feel more anxious, less patient…all those qualities I don’t want to draw out on a long drive. So the pacific coast highway it was, and what an excellent choice it turned out to be.

My first stop was in the adorable town of Solvang, which has been built to evoke the feeling of a tiny trip to Denmark, with its half-timbered architecture, windmills, and even a replica of the Copenhagen Little Mermaid statue. The four sided brass clock standing on the corner of Atterdag road is an antique Ansonia, and the only one of its kind in the world. Sadly, I didn’t get much more than a quick peep at the town and a late lunch at the Fresco Valley Cafe–I sat outside to better soak up the sun, and it seemed like every fly in the greater Solvang area paid me and my sandwich a visit. I have since read that the flies in the area are a huge problem August through October, so if I were to go back, it’d be in the off season while the flies are vacationing elsewhere, because if I’m going to have to twirl my arms around my head every few seconds, I’d better be on ecstasy and at a rave, not trying to eat a fecal matter free sandwich.

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The most important stop of the day beckoned from the roadside between Solvang and our destination, a bright green sign reading “Ostrichland USA FEED THIS BAD BOY!” What? A new opportunity a mere 733 miles from my last ostrich-based disappointment spotted in the same week? This wasn’t merely opportunity or even ostrich-tunity: this was destiny.

OSTRICH. DESTINY.

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They do charge an admission fee, but the first bowl of food is free with two adult admissions. When the employee asked how many additional bowls of food we wanted, I told him that the free one would probably suffice.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Up close, ostriches resemble nothing so much as giant deranged muppets, with their long bendy necks, their exaggeratedly large eyelashes, and their beaks hanging agape in anticipation of food. It makes them look half cute and half vacantly stupid. There was simply no way for me to anticipate the utter violence with which they eat. Even the signs that say that ostriches enjoy biting, the feeding instructions that indicate to hang on to the dustpan handle with both hands, and the slogan “feed these bad boys” only gave me an inkling of the pellet-based devastation that was about to occur. They absolutely slam their heads over the fence and into the bowl, the feed inside disappearing in seconds, some attempting to even rip the bowl away from the feeder.

Obviously, we needed to buy more pans of food, at least two. They were hungry, they were bad, and they required no fewer than two more pans. They told me this with their pleading gazes and also with their threats of violence if their demands were not met. I was quick to comply.

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They also had emus at ostrichland, which are smaller but almost equally imposing as they are able to get their heads out from between the fence slats, the better to glare with their dinosaur eyes and vocalize their eerie, rumbling groans.

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Owing to fence placement, it’s hard to get a photo of an entire ostrich–either you get the disembodied head or the beheaded body but not both. There were large rectangular gaps in the fence, presumably for the feeding of the animals, and I found one with no ostriches nearby so I could peep my head inside and maybe get a full body shot or two. Which, owing to the violence I just witnessed, was indeed incredibly stupid, a point which was hammered home when not ten seconds later Jason warned me about an ostrich that was silently creeping up on me, not doubt to bite at will with all the pleasure it could muster, with maybe a kick or two for good measure. And I absolutely would have deserved it.

solvang-17-of-29This sneaky motherfucker.

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And once I thought I had grasped just how terrifying an ostrich could be (they’ll now be known as “the silent killer” in my house), they started showing off their creepy second eyelids in my photos, like they’re telepathically communicating with a hellish underworld that has issued a literal pecking order for my murder. Specifically my murder.

Their babies sure are cute, though.

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And the fat ass dappled squirrels who enjoy a bounty of scattered food aren’t bad, either.

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We had time for one more quick stop before we had to get to the hotel for the night, so we swung into Pea Soup Andersen’s, which is famous for its (you guessed it!) pea soup. You know, as famous as a place can be for something like pea soup, which is not even cronut levels of fame. But I guess as far as pea soup goes, Pea Soup Andersen’s is the Beyoncé of soup. Just ask for a bowl of Peayoncé.

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solvang-28-of-29Their pressed penny machine? Broken. Their soup of the day? MINESTRONE.

solvang-29-of-29For shame.

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Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters

“Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap.” was about the extent of my thoughts when I first heard there was going to be an exhibit of items from Guillermo del Toro’s home, Bleak House, at LACMA. Even though I had just come back from a trip to southern California when the news broke, I knew I’d have to get back down there before the exhibit left. I had to. Truth time: I actually pinned a photo of the interior of del Toro’s home to my “dream house” board on Pinterest before I even knew to whom it belonged. How many times in life are you going to get an opportunity to walk through your dream house? Especially if you’re like me and your tastes are a little, uh, unconventional? So now you see why I found it imperative to get my butt to Los Angeles.

“Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap.” was about the extent of my thoughts as I was walking through the exhibit. While there are quite a few things from Guillermo del Toro’s movies on exhibit (after all, it’s really easy to collect one’s own work), this is not a retrospective exhibit in that it mainly focuses on del Toro’s inspirations, making the overall effect one of being able to geek out with one of my favorite directors about his favorite things. And, as it turns out, a lot of my favorite things as well.

Guillermo del Toro loves labyrinthine Victorian mansions and Victoriana? Me too!

Guillermo del Toro loves monster makeup and the artists who bring it to life? Me too!

Guillermo del Toro loves the spooky-ass artwork of Stephen Gammell? Me too! In fact, his creepy illustrations for the Scary Stories line of books may well be at the root of my love for all things dark and spooky.

Guillermo del Toro loves fairy tales and folklore? Me too!

Guillermo del Toro loves weird taxidermy? Me too!

Guillermo del Toro loves rainstorms to the point of engineering a room in which it appears to be raining 24 hours a day? We definitely diverge there, I would do nothing in that rain room but sleep.

And this exhibit? I loved it, too. The show itself is labyrinthine, like the old Victorian home styling del Toro admires.

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I was so stoked to be able to get up close and personal with the costumes from Crimson Peak. Most exhibits put costume work behind glass, the reflections of which make it very difficult to see detail, especially if it’s dimly lit. Here I was able to get up on it, get my face close in and see the stitching and the buttons and everything else that’s moving too fast on screen to truly appreciate.  I was especially enthralled with the “mother ghost” costume, with all of the moths and botanicals worked into the the tulle. My blog photos do it absolutely no justice, it was a stunning piece of work.

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A tableau to Charles Dickens, del Toro’s “Bleak House” is in reference to Dickens. 

del-toro-9-of-68  I want shelves like these for my house. SO BADLY.

del-toro-12-of-68T-B, Portrait of Cousin Eerie, Portrait of Uncle Creepy, Richard Corben

del-toro-13-of-68cw from left: Amelia, Queen of the Sea Monkeys, circa 1879, The Coachman and His Brother, The Strangler, Travis Louie

del-toro-14-of-68Kaiju parasite from Pacific Rim 

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One of del Toro’s sketchbooks , used when planning Pan’s Labyrinth

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del-toro-24-of-68Cronos device from Cronos

del-toro-25-of-68Hey, Night on Bald Mountain was my favorite part of Fantasia, too!

del-toro-26-of-68The Great Ancestors, Mœbius (Jean Giraud)

del-toro-27-of-68Landscapes, Eyvind Earle

The exhibit also had a number of pieces by Eyvind Earle, most noted for his work as a Disney background artist in the 50s. He did all the styling, background art, and color for Sleeping Beauty, which is actually one of my favorite Disney movies on styling alone. His artwork is gorgeous, but more than anything, I couldn’t believe how much the black velvet matting complemented the work, making it stand out in truly extraordinary fashion. I’ve generally been opposed to matting any artwork I buy, for a bunch of reasons–it’ll require a bigger frame which is more expensive, takes more space on the wall, mat board is stupid expensive for what it is, generally I don’t think it puts much on the table given its downsides, but primarily, I just plain hate cutting mat board. My high school art projects always had the shabbiest mat job, cutting straight crisp lines is evidently beyond me. But this black velvet is making me reconsider my mat stance, it’s that striking.

del-toro-28-of-68Clinkity-Clink, Stephen Gammell

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del-toro-33-of-68Dick Smith, father of modern makeup effects. Bust by Kazuhiro Tsuji

del-toro-34-of-68Ray Harryhausen, sculpture by Mike Hill

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del-toro-36-of-68God, I love this cookie-stealing skeleton.   

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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del-toro-48-of-68Dystopia! “Feed my beast with your blood”, Christopher Ulrich

del-toro-49-of-68l-r: The Tourist VIII, H R Giger, Duke Agares Seated atop a Shuffler, Wayne Barlowe

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del-toro-52-of-68The Evil Eye, Chet Zar

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del-toro-61-of-68Divine Messenger, Craig LaRotonda

del-toro-62-of-68The “rain room”. Droplets of silicone are adhered to the outside of the windows to give them a rain streaked appearance, and a projector and sound system handle the rest of the rain effect.

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del-toro-64-of-68Another of del Toro’s sketchbooks

One of the most impactful statements in the exhibit for me was a quote from del Toro: “As a kid,” the filmmaker recalls, “I dreamed of having a house with secret passages and a room where it rained twenty-four hours a day. The point of being over forty is to fulfill the desires you’ve been harboring since you were seven.”

If that’s what the post-forty life looks like, sign me up. I can’t wait until I get my unicorn.

 

The del Toro exhibit is at LACMA through November 27th, after which it will move to the following cities (dates TBA): Minneapolis, Toronto, Mexico City, Barcelona, Paris, New York City

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