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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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.

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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)

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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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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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Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar

 

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After a day at Disneyland, no matter how much fun you had, you could probably use a drink or two. I definitely could, so I walked down the nigh-endless mall that is Downtown Disney to the Disneyland Hotel, to imbibe a few at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. The place was surprisingly crowded, but luckily a couple of seats opened up at the bar shortly after I arrived–I mean, sure, if you want to drink your drinks poolside, that’s certainly a thing you could do, but if I was going to slurp down a few expensive drinks in novelty glasses, I damn well wanted to do so in an enchanted atmosphere, so the pool would absolutely not do for me.  And hot damn, is the atmosphere inside ever enchanted. The taps have glowing eyes and play different rhythms whenever a beer is poured. Little jokes are plastered all over the walls. And whenever someone orders a novelty drink, the whole bar gets in on the action. Ships sink. Sirens blaze. Volcanoes explode. You may or may not be sitting in a splash zone.

God knows I love me a novelty glass, so my first drink of the evening was the legendary “Uh-Oa!”, which is so large that it must be shared by two or more people. It comes in a large mug with tiki figurines on three sides, the heads of which are all filled with ground cinnamon. The lights go down, the bartender sets some booze soaked sugar cubes atop a lime on fire, and while every patron in the bar chants “uh oa! uh oa! uh oa!”, you grab pinches of cinnamon and fling them into the fire, sending sparks into the air. It was magical, and it’s probably good that I got the playing with fire accomplished before I got hecka drunk, which I was after drinking my half of this drink.  Not that a little thing like being two and three quarters sheets to the wind was going to stop me from ordering another drink, because I had a lot of trunk space with which to fill with novelty glassware. So Jason ordered a krakatoa, setting off the volcano, and I acquired a rum-filled shrunken head, which is kind of funny as I’d think all that rum would cause a head to change sizes in the opposite direction. Or at least feel that way. I also, more wisely, ordered the pu pu platter, which came with sweet and spicy asian wings, glazed portuguese sausage bites, panko crusted chinese long beans, tropical slaw, and a sriracha aioli, all of which made my mouth super happy and my tummy less booze-slosh-y.

After we finished those, we agreed that it was probably for the best if we didn’t imbibe any more Disneyland booze magic, so we wandered back down the Disney mall and made it rain on Star Wars merchandise, namely a Chewbacca print that set my heart aflame with adorableness. Where am I going to hang it? I don’t know, same place I’m going to store all of this novelty glassware, I guess. 

The Happiest Place on Earth

 

The first and only time I’ve ever been to Disneyland* was when I was six years old, and my strongest memory of that visit was demanding a mickey ears hat with my name embroidered on it even though I had already spent my souvenir money on a pretty pink princess hat, because I was a little shit**. I got that mickey hat, though both hats have since been lost. Jason’s strongest memory of Disney is of throwing an unholy fit until he acquired a set of stuffed Chip & Dale, rescue rangers, and he got them, though Chip and Dale have both since wandered off into the great beyond, possibly in need of a rescue of their own. So while obviously I’ve seen a lot of the mouse in popular culture since then, the only thing that I personally knew to be a fact about Disneyland was that it had the power to make tiny humans want things with a need so visceral that it might tear them apart. I decided that I wanted to go at least once as an adult to really get the breadth of the experience–ride the rides I wanted to ride, eat the food I wanted to eat, buy the stuff I wanted to buy. In other words, the sort of happy time my parents could have had if they hadn’t had me.

In the morning, at breakfast, some of Cinderella’s helpers decided to try and help themselves to my oatmeal, but I was not having it. Where were they when I was having a wardrobe malfunction the previous evening? Nowhere to be found, the jerks.

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On the walk to the park, I saw an interesting warning sign: “The Disneyland Resort contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”  This sign justifies all the disregard I’ve given these sorts of warnings, because if motherflipping Disneyland, the pinnacle of family friendly entertainment, wasn’t able to meet these safety guidelines, either these warnings are about elements so trace as to be negligible, or absolutely everything gives you cancer and harms reproductive health. It officially doesn’t matter anymore, have some more of that cancer kale with sperm damage dressing, because none of us are getting out of this alive, anyway. Or, if you’re like me and at Disneyland, you’ll have a cancer churro and an egg damage dole whip.

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When I visited, Disneyland was all decked out for Halloween, and it was pretty flipping adorable, with pumpkins everywhere and the few characters we saw roaming around decked out in festive costumes. Some of the rides had even been altered for Halloween–Space Mountain became Ghost Galaxy (which mostly involves ghosts screaming at you in spaaaaaaaaace) and the Haunted Mansion was redecorated in a Nightmare Before Christmas theme which I was obviously all about. But more on that later: my first stop in the park was Tomorrowland, aka Star Wars World***.

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Star Tours: The Adventures Continue is a motion simulator ride–one of those rides where you’re strapped into a moving chair in a room with a movie screen. This one was in 3D, so you get to wear some really fetching glasses to show off just how cool you really are. (Spoiler: not that cool.) I did like that during the ride, they showed us a photo of a “rebel agent” who was actually in our group, which is something I feel like I haven’t seen before and was a nice touch.

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We exited into the Star Wars gift shop and my immediate lust for a BB-8 style mouse ears hat was just as immediately quenched when I saw what it looked like on my big, round head. Far from cute. I have seen many, many trendy bloggers on instagram out and about in their spangled mouse ears, and occasionally I have envied their cuteness. Now I know for certain I can never be part of their elite blogger cabal. Somehow, they pull mouse ears off. Those hats turn my fivehead into a twelvehead. Don’t believe me? YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

ca-trip-2016-8-of-30That’s allllllllll forehead under there. Forehead for days. And where my forehead ends, my skull gives birth to Jack Skellington. Don’t ask how, learn your lady anatomy, people.

I do have to wonder if perhaps I’m just not the sort of person who can pull off Disney regalia in general. We tried on a lot of hats that day, friends, and none of them looked anything other than especially stupid. Or maybe I don’t have the Disney Attitude™.  Although, I did see a bunch of ladyblogger types walking around in sequin mouse ears, crop tops, and eight pounds of makeup, and when they weren’t posing for “omg look at how much fun we’re having (#blessed)” selfies, they looked pissed. So they probably don’t have the Disney Attitude™, either.

The Pirates of the Caribbean ride has definitely changed since I was a kid to incorporate things from the movies, and it’s still quite fun. However, the name should be changed to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of Soggy Bottom because the seat was sopping wet which made my seat sopping wet for the better part of the afternoon, the better to make it look like I had a fear-based accident in the Happiest Place on Earth.

At some point, lunch happened:

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And after lunch, we finally hit the Haunted Mansion. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we got close to the entrance, the ride broke down. Most of the people around us in line left, but I decided to wait. Thankfully, the extra wait wasn’t long, though I was prepared to wait as long as it took–days, if necessary. Nothing was keeping my spooky ass out of that mansion.

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ca-trip-2016-17-of-30And it was just as good as I hoped it would be.

We hit a few more rides, had a dole whip, did some more shopping, and at that point, I’d pretty much had enough. There weren’t any other rides I was interested enough to wait for, the park had gotten insanely crowded (it went from reasonable levels to shoulder-to-shoulder everywhere which makes me feel panicky), I didn’t particularly want to meet any characters or collect autographs, so we decided to call it for the day. I think it’s funny that while Jason and I both remember throwing mighty tantrums at Disney as children, the only bad behavior I witnessed there was from other adults.

The verdict? Disney is fun–the things that they do well, they do really well. There’s attention to detail everywhere, the grounds are much better taken care of than any other theme park I’ve visited, and their animatronics are outstanding. I just don’t know that I’d ever want to go again. I definitely don’t understand the people who go every year, the people with the real Disney Attitude™. I am, however, interested in decking out my home in full Haunted Mansion fashion.

ca-trip-2016-4-of-30Oh, and I finally got one of those caramel apples. Dreams DO come true at Disney, so long as those dreams are specifically Disney-related.

 

*I did go to Disney World when I was twelve, and I do remember that visit much better–for example, I remember the employee in Epcot’s France calling me fat, which I was, but goddamn, dude. That was savage.

**I mean, I still am a shit, I’m just a much bigger one now. This tantrum-y behavior is now known in my home as “moon door-ing” as in “there sure are a whole lot of moon doors at the mall today”. Not that someone is likely to overhear your conversation, anyway, when their kid is screeching at jet engine decibel levels, but I’m just trying to comment on the situation with my husband, not make someone feel bad on the scale of Epcot Frenchman.

***Not actually also known as Star Wars World, but it should be.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park

 

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At least, Lassen was the plan. We’d spent the night in Dunsmuir as it put us within easy morning striking distance of this national park–it would be a not insignificant detour on our day’s route, as that evening’s destination was Anaheim, which was a nine hour drive without a detour, but national parks are worth detouring for. We ended up sitting in construction traffic for a while, but the sun was shining, we  had podcasts playing, and there was jerky to gnaw on (the breakfast of champions). Often as you approach a national park, the land around you will grow wilder, a hint of what is to come. I can’t say that was really the case here. It grew more rural, certainly, and our car got chased down the road by a pack of dogs which was pretty wild, but there were no glimpses of the park through the trees, no clues to what lay ahead.

What lay ahead was that the park was closed due to snowy/icy roads. Dang it! The visitor’s center and a short walking trail were still open, but the driving loop through the park was closed. I was disappointed but this area isn’t so terribly far away that I couldn’t make another attempt in the summer. If I’m honest, I’m already half planning my next trip to that area. And it wasn’t all bad–we got to take a bathroom break, stretch our legs in the crisp air, listen to bird chatter, and see a tiny part of a place neither one of us had been before.

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ca-trip-2016-3-of-30The trees were coated with the most neon green moss I’ve ever seen. It flipped my cameras out, they utterly balked at its vibrancy.

ca-trip-2016-2-of-30Greeeeeeeeeeeeeen!

From the sort-of-fail at Lassen, we pushed hard toward Anaheim, making a stop for In N Out burgers (a given), taking a short detour for an address I’d plugged into RoadTrippers which turned out to be an empty orchard in the middle of nowhere (uhhhh, thanks, past me), and stopping for the occasional restroom break. Sometimes, adventure is seeing new sights and plunging off a rocky cliff with a parachute strapped to your back, and sometimes, it’s flossing a chunk of jerky the size of a toddler out from your teeth in a McDonald’s parking lot while being watched by something like twenty feral kittens, and this drive was definitely more the latter. Not just more the latter, exactly the latter, because that was precisely what happened. One moment, I felt I wanted to pull over and get out some dental floss, and the next, there were cats everywhere and my mouth was giving birth to something so large I should have probably given it a name.  I suppose it’s not too late. Rest in peace, Jay Erke.

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Even pushing, we arrived at our hotel late, with all of the usual complaints that come with a long day’s car travel, so I was thrilled to learn that the pool and hot tub were 24 hours. I wasted no time after check in to don my brand new suit decked out all over with sharks (only $10 on Amazon!) and head to the pool–it was late enough at night that Jason and I had the entire pool to ourselves, which was a blessing in more ways than one. Not just for the quiet and moving a body that had spent too many hours sitting and the warm water on aching muscles, but also because within a minute of hitting the pool, one of my boobs popped out, and also, the suit turned see through. Not “naked in the pool” sort of see through (minus, of course, the escapee situation which was corralled immediately), but definitely “it’s a good thing there isn’t a strong light source nearby” sort of see through. What I’m saying is, there’s a solid reason that swimsuit was only ten dollars and it wasn’t quite the bargain I thought it to be. So, you know, thanks again, cover of darkness and other hotel guests with reasonable bedtimes. You saved me a lot of embarrassment. At least until I splashed it out all over the internet.

 

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Mellzah’s stop is snoozy lane to rest her sweet caboose.

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We stopped for dinner in the town of Weed, California, because who would know food better than stoners, right? Right? Wrong. I hereby submit that the Pizza Factory slogan “We toss’em, they’re awesome!” henceforth be changed to “Technically food, but far from good!” or “We make the dough, you’ll find it so-so!” either of which would be more accurate. I’ve had better frozen pizza, and that’s just plain sad.

Across the street from Pizza Factory is a grocery store named “Ray’s Food Place” which is pretty much exactly what I would imagine a stoner naming a grocery store*.  “Man, you know what sounds good? Like, we should get some pizza and then go to the, uh, food…place for some cheetos to put on the pizza. Make like a chee-cheese pizza. Heh. Chi-chis. Suddenly I could really go for Mexican food. What?”

I didn’t stop at The Weed Store, which is a store that sells pretty much everything you would expect a store named The Weed Store to sell, because as much as I like tourist traps and snickering at novelty t-shirts, I had other places to be: namely, my lodging for the night down the road in Dunsmuir. When planning this trip, I figured that since I knew I was going to be spending several nights in hotels, that I ought to try and find lodging that was a little more exciting than whatever motel happened to be available on the side of the road when I’m too exhausted to drive any more. It just so happened that one of my ideal stopping points coincided with the Dunsmuir Railroad Park, a combination campground and motel, where you can stay in a restored antique railroad car. It was an obvious yes for me. I mean, look at how flipping cute they are!

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The interiors are…a little less cute, bordering on really dated**, but clean and comfortable, with a ceiling rail in case you wanted to do some pull ups or maybe hang your purse. We did both. Well, actually, each of us did one of those things, Jason with no purse to hang and me with no upper body strength. I did dangle ineffectually for funsies, though. What I loved about it, aside from the novelty, was that it was SO QUIET inside. One of the worst things about rooms on the road is the constant noise that makes it difficult to sleep–loud people going up and down the hallway, the ice machine, kid meltdowns, people stomping on the ceiling, the sound of people screwing on the other side of paper thin walls, which is incidentally also why I never want to live in an apartment again. While playing at being a Boxcar ChildAdult Baby, I had full quiet. I didn’t hear a single person who wasn’t Jason the whole time I was inside and the value of that cannot be overstated.

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railroad-campground-9-of-27Also: SO FLIPPING CUTE.

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railroad-campground-27-of-27The dining car is also a restaurant! I wasn’t there for dining hours, so I didn’t go. Also I remember the last time I ate out of a train.

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Way better than that Motel 6 I stayed at in Redding the last time I rolled through. And the time before that. Man, you’d think I really had something for that particular Motel 6. No more! Now you can call me Boxcar Mellzah.

 

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*I know it’s a chain, let me have this.

**Ok, it doesn’t so much border really dated as it is living smack dab in the middle of dated, but wood paneling for a railroad car in a campground works in a way it wouldn’t in, say, my home.

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