Wednesday, August 24, 2016

storymaking at the spectrum

a pop-up hello kitty cafe opened down in the OC recently, at the irvine spectrum.  it's scheduled to be there for a whole year, and i'd seen reports during the first few days of business that told me that it would definitely be a while before i attempted going.  they would sell out of things within a couple of hours, the lines were insane, pretty much what you'd expect from anything hello kitty-related.  i don't really get how they don't anticipate that and realize that they need to prep appropriately, but hey...i'm not in charge.

anyway, one day we found ourselves with nothing to do and decided to head down to check things out.  there's always other fun stuff to do at the spectrum anyway, so even if we didn't make it to the cafe i knew we'd find other distractions to keep us busy.

just as i suspected, there were some crazy long lines for good ol' hello kitty.  but the cafe was super cute, and the offerings were pretty simple and reasonably priced.  it's mostly a bakery, with cakes and donuts and macarons with a handful of beverages to wash them down with.  you order on one side, pick up on the other and if you're lucky, you find a table to sit down and enjoy.


then i remembered that i'd seen something on one of the OC real housewives' instagram (shut up) a few months ago.  i slipped away to check it out, leaving the girls and MIL to see how quickly that line moved, and made my way around the corner a short distance away.  i found the storymakery shop pretty easily, and was happy to see that they weren't very busy.  i texted the others to tell them where to meet me, and then i went inside to see what it was all about.


this is basically a fun kids' creative writing activity - they start in the character studio to create their main character:


then they can come to the idea trees for some storyline ideas.  there are lots of suggestions here to get those minds working:



in the writing studio section, they sit down with their "author," who helps them flesh out their story.  they come up with their plot, conflict, resolution - well, you remember all that stuff from english class, right?  anyway, this is where most of their time is spent.


then while the author is putting the finishing touches on the written portion, they get to sit down and work on illustrations.


all that thinking and creating and writing is exhausting, and the other staffers in the shop are always willing to play a game with the mini authors to get them up and moving a little before they sit back down to finish their stories.


after they're completely satisfied with the story and the illustrations and the whole bit, it's off to the printing room to assemble the book.


the entire process takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, and when you're done you get to take home a poster of the character you created, plus a copy of your very own story.  look at my little published author!


with big crowds waiting for tables at pretty much all of the restaurants, we put our names in at one with an hour-long wait.  to kill time, the old lady and i sent the bean and MIL over to take a spin on the ferris wheel.


while they did that, we thought we'd give the hello kitty cafe line another try, since it was a bit shorter than it had been before.


alas, this is the closest i got before we were called back to the restaurant to be seated for dinner.


oh well.  i figured it was a long shot anyway.  after all, i've got till next july to make it happen!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

no more port-o-potties

there was a time when our annual family camping trip was the highlight of everyone's summer.  and then i got old and crotchety and started taking a hard pass on the idea of spending two nights in a tent on the ground in a sleeping bag.

but enough time had passed since the last time i braved the great outdoors, and so when my cousins sent around the email announcing the date and location for this year's annual shindig i consulted with the old lady and the hub and we decided we were in.  the bean was still away at grandma camp, we had that weekend totally free and clear, and nothing was stopping us from joining in the fun.  so after digging out the camping gear, hitting up costco and packing up the car, we were on our way.


previous years had taken us up as far north as ventura and santa barbara.  this time around, we were near the santa monica mountains, just past malibu at point mugu state park.  we'd gotten a later start than we'd originally planned, so the sun was already setting when we arrived.


the group campsite was located across the highway from the beach, which suited us just fine.  we'd driven past the beach campgrounds and people had their tents set up really close to the water's edge.  i could just imagine waking up and finding us adrift on the ocean somewhere, and that would just not do.  it was nice and cool, the site was nice and flat, and the view was pretty sweet.


except that the moment i stepped out of the car to say hello to everyone, the hub took one look at me and smacked me clear across the face.  before you freak out, it's because the mosquitoes were in full effect and one had already decided to take a nice big bite on my chin.  ugh.  damn bugs, man.  they were the worst part of the entire weekend.

there were still a bunch of others who hadn't yet arrived, and so we had our pick of where to set up camp.  the only tent we had was a giant 10-person deal that was a prize the hub had won at some open house or something, and it was a little trickier to assemble than we remembered.


luckily, we managed to get it done as the sun finally slipped away completely.  i unrolled my sleeping bag and stretched out to see how bad the ground was.  we'd packed air mattresses, but didn't think of the fact that the pumps were built in and required an electrical outlet.  d-oh.


the other big bummer was the fact that we had no running water and the bathroom was locked up tight.  all we had was an enormous jug of water for washing hands and such, and these:


ewwww.  this also meant no showering, unless we wanted to brave the chilly water from the giant jug.  and so everyone decided to just drink away their troubles...including the old lady, who the group was more than excited to welcome to adulthood with shots of whatever bottle was currently open.


cousin 420 brought leftover sparklers.  i hadn't held one of these things since i was about 8 at a 4th of july block party.


and then i let myself get into the bag of marshmallows.  this is so dangerous, you guys.  it's worse than potato chips - you can't have just one.


about a dozen toasted marshmallows later and several hours of sitting around the campfire shooting the shit with my cousins, we finally went to bed.  there were some big ass boulders under that tent, which made for a less than restful night's sleep.  and not having a regular toilet was just miserable.  there isn't much i hate more than using a port-o-potty, and i ended up copping a squat behind a bush instead.  blech.

at least there was some delicious breakfast food to console myself with.


to avoid being eaten alive by the mosquitoes, the three of us decided to hop in the car and drive the 15 minutes to get to the nearest store.


but first...


we also drove past the sand dunes, where there were a bunch of folks running up and down the giant hill.  i tried to get my crew to pull over and get a workout in, but then they reminded me that we didn't have a shower to get cleaned up.  sadness.  this looked like it would have been killer.


it took stopping in two or three different stores before we found what we were looking for - none of that sissy organic bug spray for this trip, people.  nope.  we needed the serious stuff - real DEET.  plus these little clip-on fan thingys that promised to help keep the bugs away.


then it was time to head back and join the group as we hung out, relaxed, snacked, read books, what have you.



the fog started rolling in, which also brought us some pretty cool temperatures.


i took this mostly to remind us of how to put the damn thing together again.  you know, some day when we decide to do another camping trip.  which may very well be never, but still.


dinner time!  the hub busted out the carne asada and enjoyed a cigar while he worked at the grill.


group photo!


the second night was a lot like the first - food, fire, alcohol.  rinse and repeat.



420 busted out a pack of glow necklaces, which when added to the alcohol consumption led to this insanely funny dance-off.


the next morning, everyone got up early and started the business of packing up and picking up trash and such.


these are the faces of people who haven't showered in two days and lived to tell about it.


and then finally, we were ready to head home.


one last look at the beach:


and a glance at my favorite house in santa monica:


seriously though...i don't know if i can do the camping thing anymore.  it's dirty and dusty and buggy and uncomfortable and i think i'm just getting too old to deal with all of that crap anymore.  although i know this weekend was a little extraordinary with the lack of running water/toilets/showers.

actually, as long as we can inflate the air mattress i'd probably be okay with it.

damn.  did i really just talk myself out of and then right back into camping?  what is wrong with me?

Monday, August 22, 2016

a whole other level of disney freakishness

still somewhat fresh from our visit to the walt disney family museum, i decided to take the old lady out for a dinner date, just the two of us.  dine l.a.'s restaurant week was going on, and there was a restaurant out in the atwater village area that i thought she might be interested in.

the tam o'shanter is one of the oldest restaurants in l.a., built in the 20s by a couple of guys who went on to start van de kamp bakeries and the lawry's chain of restaurants.  it also happens to be located down the street from walt disney's first studio, and where he dined on a pretty regular basis.



so because we are disnerds, i put in a request to be seated at table 31...which, of course, was old walt's regular spot.  and because we got there at a somewhat early-ish hour, the table was available for us when we arrived.


as you can imagine, the restaurant looks like an authentic scottish pub.  there's a collection of family tartans and other scottish and english decorations everywhere.


the menu gives you a little history lesson about the restaurant, which i always find interesting to read.



and here's the special dine l.a. menu:


just like at any other lawny's-owned restaurant, their special seasoning is on the table.


i ordered an adult beverage and sat in the very spot where walt used to hang out and peoplewatch as he chatted with his imagineers and planned his eventual world domination.


we decided to share a charcuterie plate, because meat and cheese.  duh.


and my starter was the summer salad, because burrata.


as we ate, we realized that the table was decorated with etchings that looked like cartoons and things. i asked our server about them and he said that because this was walt's favorite table, disney imagineers took it to the studio a few years back (who knows if this is 5, 10, or 50) and disney'ed it up.  other folks online have mused that these etchings were done by walt himself, but it seems that was not the case.  they don't photograph very well, especially with just an iPhone, but you get the gist.  otherwise, you should totally go to the tam o'shanter and request table 31 so you can see for yourself.



the prime rib was served with mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and yorkshire pudding just like i'm used to seeing at the lawry's restaurant in beverly hills.  it's always delicious and filling.  i gotta say though, since they post a lot of their recipes online, it's pretty easy to recreate this at home.


dessert was a c.c. brown's hot fudge sundae.  c.c. brown's was another old l.a. eatery that was known for its celebrity clientele, sweet location on hollywood boulevard, and apparently where the hot fudge sundae was invented.  this one was good, although nothing particularly special other than where we were eating it, i guess.


we saw this framed cartoon on the way out, given to the restaurant by disney studios when they celebrated their 75th anniversary.


when walt came to l.a. back in the early 20s, he lived in a little garage in the los feliz area that belonged to his aunt and uncle.  he eventually started working on cartoons there, making short films and pretty much building his first "studio" in there.  the garage itself has since been relocated to a museum in garden grove, after the new owner of the house initially decided to demolish it.  and the property has changed hands a few times over the years, mostly used as a rental to young couples and college kids and such.  i'm betting that most of those renters had no idea as to the history of the place.  anyway, the home was recently purchased by a couple who put in an application for a permit to level the place so that they can build a new house on top of it.  it was actually declared eligible for the national register of historic places, but maybe it slipped through the cracks since it hasn't officially been deemed as such yet.  once the disney fans and conservation-type people got wind of it though, a 75-day hold on that demolition permit went into effect right away and now they're all trying to figure out what to do.

it was getting late when we found the house, so this is all we were able to see:


and then we decided to go see the location of disney's hyperion studio, where he opened his first actual studio outside of that garage.  it wasn't very far away and has since been turned into a grocery store.  i'd read that there was some sort of signage that would tell people what used to be there, but we walked around the entire interior and exterior of the place and found nothing.



there are lots of other disney-related spots around town to see, like the side-by-side homes where he and roy moved with their wives and the barn where he tinkered with his toy trains.  his carolwood estate, where he and his wife lillian built their forever home, was demolished a year after lillian died, although we would totally still go just to see where it used to be.

wow, we really ARE nerds.  sheesh.
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