An Unsanctioned Field Trip

Honestly, I blame myself for the rain this winter. I spent all summer and most of fall complaining about the L.A. River, or lack thereof. Although more than once I was tempted to throw on my Pink Ladies jacket and race my Prius through the dry and dusty channels. I looked longingly at the new chicken wellies I had bought at the Tractor Supply Store on our way out of state last May. October approached and they still had the tags on them. 70 and sunny every day. I didn’t even bother to check the Weather Channel app before getting dressed. I didn’t check to see if we could play outside or needed to seek shelter indoors. Groundhog Day, Jim Cantore-style. I was completely bored.

And then the first storm came. Unfortunate timing, though, because wildfires had just ripped through Malibu and Thousand Oaks. Parts of the Pacific Coast Highway were buried under mud and debris. Traumatized wildfire survivors were put on alert: your house withstood the blaze, but it might slide down the hill. It rained for a week. Everyone thought winter had passed.

When Mom and Anna arrived on a Delta flight on the second day of 2019, the sun was shining. But then it rained for pretty much their entire visit. We scrounged for things to do because everything in Southern California is outside (or closed on Mondays). Soon after, the murmuring started…There might be a super bloom this year. I didn’t know what a super bloom was, but it sounded like a reason to stock up on lemon, lavender and peppermint oils. And Kleenex.

We had already been let in on the secret of Antelope Valley when we first arrived.

“That’s the place to see the poppies in the spring,” they said.

“It’s a drive and you have to go north of L.A., but it’s worth it,” they said.

And then Lake Elsinore, which is significantly closer to us and south of L.A. (that’s an important distinction when accounting for traffic), reported a super bloom in one of the canyons.

And people lost their damn minds.

There were Instagram followers to delight and photos to be re-tweeted. Everyone was ready for their close-up, Mr. DeMille. Until Lake Elsinore was forced to shut it down and re-group. And still someone landed their private helicopter in the middle of the wildflowers, jumped out for a selfie, and took off as authorities were racing toward them.

And although I was appalled, I wasn’t shocked. Because when you have 40 million people living side-by-side, someone is bound to drop their aircraft on private property just to say they did. The other 39 million will spend a week on Facebook threads trying to sleuth out who it was. Just settle in with a bucket of popcorn and read the comments.

So, we passed on the $30 shuttle to the Lake Elsinore super bloom and by the time it seemed like things were calming down, I overheard a gentleman at the Grunion Run say there wasn’t much left. Nature had taken its course, hastened by human nature. Next up was Antelope Valley, where the Poppy Reserve staff had gone to great lengths just a couple months before to say they were not expecting a super bloom this year. I didn’t blame them. Who would want to reveal their hand after the shit show at Lake Elsinore? But thanks for taking one for the team, Riverside County.

Pictures were starting to trickle in, though. The woman who runs the Mommy Poppins, Los Angeles website posted some photos she took of her kids at the fields over the weekend. It didn’t look mobbed. And what if we went on a school day? What if we left at 7:00 in the morning and tackled the 110 with the Fast Trak pass and a cooler of snacks? I talked myself into it. Then the night before, I saw a story in the L.A. Times about a 15-passenger van, loaded with poppy field visitors, that slammed into the back of a Mini-Cooper, presumably because the driver was too busy looking at poppies to drive.

I talked myself out of going. It just isn’t safe. Too many people. It’s not worth it.

And then I talked myself back into it. We may never see this again. What if next winter is dry? We can leave early. Super early. We will have zero expectations. That last one is crucial for being happy in L.A.

We were packed and ready to go by 7:15, but then a peacock walked across the street in front of our house and it was such a delightful surprise that we spent the next 15 minutes following it around the neighborhood.

By 9 AM, we were enmeshed in the 110 traffic, which leads right through the heart of downtown L.A. And I was deeply regretting that cup of coffee on the way out the door. I just have to make it to the 5. Then I can pull off somewhere and pee. It took a long time to get to the 5 and I seriously considered my ability to simultaneously drive and pee into a Starbucks coffee mug. And on that note, thank goodness that guy sued Starbucks for barring him from using their bathroom. At least I always know that when the need arises, there’s a public restroom in Starbucks. And they usually get an order of egg bites out of me in the process.

Blue and I started seeing the hills turn orange about 12 miles south of the preserve. Blue had been full of questions on the way north…like why there’s no Easter chicken (because bunnies are mammals and don’t lay eggs) and what he would use to wash Jesus’s feet (Children’s Motrin because it smells like oranges) when all of a sudden, the landscape blazed with color. Orange, of course, but also yellow and purple, all of which was edged in green. We had grown so accustomed to seeing brown all year, that we couldn’t stop looking. I checked for 15-passenger vans.

The road to the reserve is lined with places to pull-off, not just to step out and take a picture, but to leave your car and hike the trails. I made a mental note of that as we inched closer to the entrance of the reserve.

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Turning in and taking our place in a line that snaked all the way out to the main road, I realized that the parking lot was probably already full and they were only letting people park as other people were leaving. I calculated how long that would take. I decided the appropriate answer was forever. We didn’t wait to reach the turnaround point. If the mini-van behind me could turn around completely after 5 tries, I could do it in 3. It’s kind of like driving a lawnmower sometimes.

We parked at the head of a trail (where a sign was posted that we would not be able to access the reserve from this point – which we decided we were cool with) and started up the hill. We met the jolliest woman coming down the trail and she offered to take a picture of us, which is decidedly better than any selfie.

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Then we took out our cameras and began to explore. Blue tried to figure out what the life cycle of a poppy is (there are buds and small discs at the base of each bud, so which comes first?) and I tried to figure out how to accurately photograph the majestic beauty of a million wildflowers setting the hills on fire.

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And I don’t know that I nailed it. It’s like trying to capture the vastness and the detail of the Grand Canyon. Plus it was almost noon and the sun was hot, high, and unforgiving. Blue was hungry and all I had was water on the trail. We were starting to sweat through the sunscreen.

“Take 40 more pictures and then let’s go,” Blue bargained. I thought that was fair. But I’m the mom so I took 42, although the last 2 sort of looked like the first 40. We made a game of counting the snake holes. We lost count at 29 when a woman in an RV stopped to tell us we should hike to the top of the hill for a better view. She had just driven there in her air-conditioned Winnebago. We said thanks and kept walking.

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The road had gotten busy and people were now parked in front of and behind us. The trails closest to the cars were clogged with visitors, squatting for the perfect poppy shot. Look, Marge. If you take it in this direction you can get it without any people. I used to be Marge. But Mom taught me that it’s the people in a photograph that make it interesting. Neal still asks me why I’ve taken a picture of strangers – on the beach, at the farmer’s market, in an art museum.

20190408_110652Because people are part of the landscape. And besides, maybe someday my photo will help to solve a crime or reunite a family. Well, maybe not this photo…

We devoured our pb&j sandwiches, drank the sun-cooked water, and said goodbye to the poppies. It was someone else’s turn. Plus, when they number in the millions, they don’t smell very good. It’s almost rancid and made me wish for just a second that it was a super bloom of jasmine or mint.

And then I saw the sign…

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Oops. But that’s typical. A rule with no one enforcing it. Sometimes California is cool like that.

We decided it would be in our best interest to stop at the barn of antiques on our way back to the freeway.

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And we weren’t wrong. Blue found a microscope, some Army patches, a wood folding rule (which smelled like every trip I have ever taken with my dad to Lowe’s), an old hotel key tag, and some Cub Scout books from 1968. He also made a friend.

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I almost bought a glass juicer, but saw a chip in the top and thought maybe I shouldn’t juice a lemon over broken glass. With our arms full and our tummies empty again, we cruised down the Civic Musical Road (which plays about 10 seconds of the William Tell Overture as you drive over it) and headed for Baskin-Robbins. And then to Starbucks for their bathroom.

By the time we got on the road at 4:00, Waze was routing us through the Angeles National Forest, which is a spectacular landscape, but not for anyone who gets car sick or is hesitant about heights. Some of it had burned recently and the charred trees were fascinating to Blue. He begged me to pull over and get a piece of rock so he could study it under his microscope on the way home. I had already indulged him a raggedy Security Officer patch and some peanut butter and chocolate ice cream. What was a rock going to hurt? He exclaimed his findings from his mobile laboratory. “It’s a rock from an asteroid! It has space dust!” I started to correct him and then remembered he’s 6. There is plenty of time for that later. Today, he just found a piece of the universe under a burned out stump on the side of the road in the Angeles National Forest. And he is examining it under the lens of a $15 microscope we found at a barn of antiques next to a field of poppies (where he is convinced a coyote went savage because…poppies). There is nothing to be corrected. It’s perfect, exactly as it is.

 

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Putting the Wonder in Wonderful: A Screening of Wonder Park with the Bob Hope USO

Ask any service member or military family member what they know about the USO (United Services Organization) and you will probably get some sort of vague response about it being a place to rest and recharge in the airport, but outside of the security checkpoint…which is sort of the problem. Unless your layover spans multiple hours, the likelihood of someone willingly leaving the terminal (with kids and carry-on luggage) to find the USO is slim. I think Neal and I have been in one USO the entire time we’ve been together. There were some snacks, a few games, a small library of books, and the volunteers were incredibly nice. But we’ve never even flown with Blue, much less stepped foot inside another USO. Interestingly enough, since moving here, the Bob Hope USO is challenging everything I thought I knew about what the USO does.

About 2 months after reporting to his new assignment at Los Alamitos, CA, Neal mentioned that the unit’s family day was approaching. It would be held on a Sunday afternoon at a municipal park about 45 minutes south of where we live. Having been to a fair number of family days and even been in charge of a few, I set my expectations pretty low (which is also how I’ve started to live my life now that we have a kid who likes to tell people that his sister is a cat). I was so wrong.

The Chargers showed up, the Anaheim Ducks were there, but more importantly, the Bob Hope USO was serving lunch. And the 2 gentlemen in the front of this picture at the bottom left-hand corner are Tuskegee Airmen. They are native Los Angelenos and I could have talked with them for hours. So many stories about how the city used to be and what they miss about those days! I thought that was the last we would see of the Bob Hope USO.

But then I got a phone call from my neighbor.

“Did you get the email about the Wonder Park screening?”

“No. Who is hosting it?”

“The USO.”

“The Bob Hope USO?”

“Is there another?”

Not in this neck of the woods.

She forwarded me the email, which invited local military families to a Saturday afternoon screening of Wonder Park, complete with free snacks (ideal movie food like Swedish Fish, M&M’s, popcorn, and Twix bars), water, and photo ops throughout the lobby of…and this is the best part, y’all…the Paramount Studios theater. Is there anything better than watching a movie in the theater that is owned by the company that made the movie?

Nope, I think not. Except maybe the free parking that was included. No chance of me getting a $63 parking ticket for busting a meter by 9 minutes? Where do I RSVP?

Shortly after we arrived, our neighbors realized that if you stood in this one spot in front of the fountain, you could get the perfect picture with the Paramount sign and the Hollywood sign in the background. We are probably not the first people to ever take this picture, but that really didn’t slow us down any.

There were coloring sheets and yard games to keep the kids busy until the lobby doors opened promptly at 2 PM. This was a great set-up because after living in L.A. county for the past year, my typical plan when traveling into the city for the day involves checking Waze obsessively until time to leave and still arriving somewhere 30-45 minutes early. They had accounted for that.

Once the doors open, attendees were greeted by enthusiastic and friendly USO volunteers, multiple tables of snacks and drinks, and several spots to snap that perfect photo for your milfam Instagram.

I gave up posting beautifully posed photos to Instagram when Blue discovered he had free will. Now we are just adding to the collection of photos that I’m going to show in a looping slideshow at his wedding.

The lesson here? Mama don’t play. Either look excited or I’m going to do it for you.

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#WhenYourNeighborhoodDoesEverythingTogetherAllTheTime

As if the fine folks of the Bob Hope USO already knew, the doors to the theater opened about 30 minutes later, just as the kids were starting to get antsy and the parents were running out of ways to entertain them. The theater is huge and we had no problem finding a row plus 3 seats for our party. Yes, we are that on-post neighborhood that does practically everything together. We took up an entire van for the wine tasting in Temecula a few weeks ago, we took over an outdoor patio at the local brewery last year, and we needed one whole row plus some for the screening. Also, this is only 5 families. Heaven help you if we all show up.

On one end of the row, we are all kind of doing our best to ignore Mike’s mustache. Only 10 days left in March, Candace. Hang in there, sister. On the other end, Matt and Rebekah are watching a movie in a theater for the first time together. And they’ve only been married for like 13 years.

Before the film started, someone from the Bob Hope USO came on stage to welcome us and introduce one of the stars of the movie, Ken Hudson Campbell, who plays Boomer in the movie.

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Mr. Campbell explained a bit about the movie, taught us how to say (and then scream) SPLENDIFEROUS!, and teased us with Boomer’s soon-to-be-famous snore. Then the curtains opened and the show began (without any previews, which, I’m just going to be honest, was amazing).

The film itself was a roller coaster ride and without spilling the beans on any of it, bring some Kleenex and your kids. It has a great message, which is delivered with an immense helping of humor.

After the credits rolled, volunteers from the Bob Hope USO called out the winning numbers for the raffle (free tickets were distributed at check-in). The culminating prize was 4 tickets to the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards this Saturday, which Rebekah’s son won. (This isn’t surprising as Rebekah is the luckiest person I know and she seems to have passed that on in utero.)

It was a great afternoon that brought joy to our children and delight to us as we watched them. Truly, I can’t say it enough: THANK YOU to the Bob Hope USO and to Paramount Studios/Nickelodeon for hosting us. What a fabulous morale booster for those who were able to attend. Being stationed near L.A. and being able to participate in something so unique to the area makes it worth it. We all felt appreciated and we appreciate you!

Know Better, Do Better: The Christmas Edition

The question came up last week, as was inevitable: “What does Blue want for Christmas?” My mind went absolutely and completely blank. Because what I heard was not, “What does he want for Christmas,” I heard, “What does he need for Christmas?” And honestly…nothing. Our child wants for nothing. Sure he will tell you that he needs another Star Wars Lego set or some more Jungle in My Pocket toys. He will beg for a laser tag set and a whole semi-truck full of stuffies. But all he truly needs is an attitude of gratitude. Santa baby, can you slip that under the tree?

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I understand that this problem is almost 100% of our own doing. From the time we found out I was pregnant, we have been buying for him. First it was all the toys that, according to numerous mommy bloggers and the Today Show, he had to have. I rolled my eyes at the wipe warmer, but he had a giraffe teething toy (but no teeth), the cutest little shoes (before he could even crawl), and a crib full of stuffed animals (many were bigger than him). Over the years, we’ve tried to supplement the growing footprint of toys with “educational” gifts. An entire library full of all of the “recommended” books, “brainy” toys – some requiring batteries and some made of wood, marble runs, and bins upon bins of Lego. There were plastic animals of every size and species, Army men and all of their accessories, Hot Wheels cars with the accompanying track and even a suitcase to carry them all. Ironically, nothing has made all of that seem excessive like living in and exploring around Los Angeles.

It is impossible to go anywhere, besides within the gates of our own neighborhood, and not see a member of the homeless population. Whether you drive or walk, you will see at least one person who is homeless every single day. Across the street, across town, in the parking lot of the vet’s office, outside of Starbucks, in the park next to the aquarium, sleeping on the beach. They live all along the L.A. river, under wind-shredded tarps that are strewn across sun-faded tents. They usually aren’t asking for money or help, they are simply moving about their day, just as we are. Some are passing the time by watching traffic, some are sleeping, and some -judging by their awkward propped positions – look like they may have passed on. I don’t know any of their stories, but I hear the locals talk about their “favorites”. Most are known, many are liked, some are helped. It has taken me months to be even a little bit OK with this. I want Oprah and Ellen to give every single homeless person a house, but the reality is that isn’t the root of the problem or even a viable solution. And the most difficult part for me to accept? There are so many homeless children.

When the school year started, I had to log into an L.A. school district website and confirm that we have a home. The default was not that everyone lived in a house, it was that everyone lives in something other than a house or apartment. The school district wanted to know if we were living with friends or family, in an RV, in a tent or in a shelter. I almost felt guilty by the end. No, no, no, no…no to all of that. We have a house. I’m so sorry, I wish they all did. And the truth is, there are children in Blue’s school, children he sees and plays with everyday, that are homeless. And I don’t think he had ever noticed. I wasn’t about to bring it to his attention, but a few weeks ago he began saying variations of, “This is the worst Christmas ever.” I let it go (for probably longer than I should have), but by the second week, I had had enough. We had a chat.

“Do you remember the people we see living in tents on the side of the road? Did you know that some of those people are kids? Did you know that those kids don’t have toys or stuffies or even a bed to sleep in? Did you know that those kids sometimes only eat when they are at school?” Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. Tears welled up in my eyes and a look of remorse washed over Blue. Homeless had become part of his lexicon, just as Amish had in Pennsylvania. The difference, he was beginning to understand, was that one chose the life and one did not. Sometimes I have serious doubts about moving every two years. Like when I remember fondly the Christmas traditions we shared with my grandparents and cousins when I was growing up. I become nostalgic for a time when my grandmother would stick the Bing Crosby 8-track tape in the player (which was installed in the wall) before decorating the tree. And I think, “Blue will never have this to reflect on each Christmas season. We are ruining his childhood.” But then we have a Come-to-Jesus about how he is not having the worst Christmas ever, although there are kids in his class who certainly are. Like Billy from The Polar Express….Christmas just doesn’t work out for them. And because he can look out of the car window every single day and see someone having the worst Christmas ever, he has stopped saying that. Next week it will be something else, but at least he has come around on this topic.

All of this was spurred by a Facebook post shared by a friend this morning. It urged people to stop giving Santa credit for the expensive gifts their children received. The iPads and gaming systems, the 52424-piece Lego kits and the new iPhones. Because when kids talk (as they inevitably do), it will appear that Santa is more generous to the families with more money. How old were you when you realized this? I was today years old. Why? Because our child has never wanted for anything, just as I never wanted for anything when I was a child. I never wanted a pony, but I wanted a My Little Pony. When I was Blue’s age, I got an entire stable full. One Christmas, the hot item was a Cabbage Patch doll. I received three. And now I’m doing the same thing. We wait for Blue to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas and then we order it from Amazon, with Prime shipping of course. The greatest irony is that for Blue’s third Christmas, we began the rule of 4: something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. Then Santa gave him everything else. We seriously restricted what he got from us and let Santa have a field day. Up until this morning, I thought we were doing what was best for him.

We are all doing the best we can as parents, which is sometimes a train wreck, often a fly-by-night operation, and occasionally flashes of brilliance. I’m certain we are going to look back in 20 years and regret many of the decisions we’ve made along the way. But if we’re lucky (and willing to accept that we are learning as he learns), hopefully the result will be an empathetic, kind, generous, well-rounded, and productive member of society. Blue may remember the countless renditions of A Christmas Carol that we dragged him to, the hours we spent sipping hot chocolate while strolling through the most decorated neighborhoods, Jingles the Elf fishing for marshmallows in the toilet, eating candy thrown from floats in Christmas parades, meeting reindeer at the zoo, sitting on Santa’s lap at the Macy’s in New York City, and any number of other unique experiences that we treat him to every Christmas season, but hopefully he will also remember dropping a $5 in the Salvation Army bucket, collecting food for a family in the church, buying toys to donate, making a meal for a friend, and sending care packages to our troops overseas. He will remember that at the center of Christmas is Christ and the light that He brought to a dark world (we can certainly argue until the cows come home about when Christ’s actual birth was – but that’s for another post). And when Blue has a family, he will share the traditions that we got right, change the ones that we got wrong, and do something for those who are having the worst Christmas ever. (And if there is karma in parenting, he will get to have a similar conversation with his own child.)

I love this post by Karen, whose blog, And Then We Laughed, is full of insights about life’s little moments. She and her husband have made the commitment to make more purposeful decisions and this post reflects that change. The Christmas season is full of things we do on auto-pilot, much we do because that’s how our parents did it. But there is no shame in stopping to take stock of our family’s needs and changing our traditions so that they represent what Christmas…Christ’s birth…means to us.

Friday Favorites

I’m taking a tiny break from Disney posts to share my favorites from this week….

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We had a girls’ night out on Friday to say “See ya later” to one of our Momfia. She and her family are headed to the other side of the world, where they will have grand adventures and eat phenomenal food (and *ahem* have a driver…color me jealous). Until then, we got to have one last meal with her under the stars and on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean. I had been wanting to eat here so this evening checked another box for me. The food wasn’t as divine as I had hoped, but the company more than made up for it.

 

On Saturday night, the Moravian/Episcopalian church that we attend hosted their annual lobster dinner. It was my intention to just help serve, but with 3 lobsters left, waiting to be claimed and enjoyed, I decided to pay my money and dig in. I needed some lobster extraction lessons, but by the second claw I had a pretty good idea of where to find the meat. Then they convinced me to eat the tomalley (the lobster’s liver and pancreas). Someone said, “It’s like eating the ocean.” And I can’t think of a better description. I ate some ocean and then got a bit of melted butter for the rest. Also, even though I was wearing my UK blue, we still lost to Texas A&M in overtime and now I owe my neighbor a Facebook live video of me singing the A&M fight song. That was a bitter pill to swallow…on many levels.

Towards the end of the evening, we were treated to a 20-minute concert in the sanctuary given by Katherine Cash on the violin and Norm Freeman on the vibraphone. Together they make up the duo “N2K”. A soulful excerpt from Dearest to Me can be watched here. It is a lovely way to spend 3 minutes on a Friday afternoon.

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After church on Sunday, we called into our book club discussion and then headed down to Corona del Mar for their 57th Annual Sandcastle Contest. After we checked out the larger-than-life sculptures, we were inspired to try our hand at some castle building. Or hole-digging. Whatever. Turns out, creating something that resembles…well…anything…is significantly harder than it looks. I’m not sure the winner earned $100,000, but they definitely should have gotten a bucket of tacos.

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On Monday morning, Neal and I took to The Strand, a cycling/pedestrian path that runs parallel to the Pacific from Torrance to Santa Monica. We turned around at Manhattan Beach because about 20 minutes into the ride, we realized that 44 miles roundtrip is far. Too far to be back in time for school pick-up, actually. But next time we’ll start at Manhattan Beach and see how far we can make it before we have to be back…kind of like hiking the Appalachian Trail, but with less humidity and blood-sucking insects.

 

We spent a lot of time at the beach this week and that always sets my soul at peace. Every time Blue gives me grief about hitting up the beach after school or church, I gently remind him that going to the beach in 18 months is going to take major planning and at least a week’s worth of vacation days. He doesn’t get it so I just drag him along anyway. Someday he will thank me. Right?

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend, full of tiny moments that bring you immense joy. Until Monday…xoxo

Day One in Disneyland: Part One

The 2nd and 3rd Disney posts are taking me forever to write. That has nothing to do with finding the right words to describe the experience and everything to do with whittling down the 1,973 pictures to what I want to use for my posts. That isn’t an exaggeration. My photo software conveniently counts them for me, in (I feel) a somewhat judgmental and deriding way. Sooner or later it’s going to completely lock up, give me the black screen of death, and I will feel some guilt about my photo hording habit.

This post will recount our experience in Disneyland, from the rides to the food. We spent the third day in California Adventure and that will be a separate post.

All of my research, up until the day we left, told me that Disneyland was going to consume 2 solid days. And even then, because some rides don’t have the FastPass option, we weren’t going to get to it all. And we didn’t. We completely skipped Mickey’s Toontown (an executive decision I made based on the face that Blue is right on the cusp of aging out of their target audience) and Pirates of the Caribbean (something I deeply regret and will remedy when we return at Christmas). There were also several rides that were in and out of commission, based on the Disneyland app, and Matterhorn Bobsleds is being renovated so it was down the entire time we were in the park (not that we were going to ride it anyway…speed + scary = 3 in the bed and the littlest one said Roll over, roll over).

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Birthday buttons on, ready for Day 1! It was overcast but this is southern CA and we knew we would stay as dry as the Sahara. No ponchos needed!

The Monorail

Is there anything more iconic in Disney than the Monorail? Coupled with the teacups and It’s a Small World, there is just no Disney without that holy trinity. By the time we arrived Friday morning (after the “magic hour” – the hour before the park opens officially to the public and only available to guests staying in one of the resort hotels), Downtown Disney was already hopping. We decided to hop on the Monorail to see where it went.

It dropped us at Tomorrowland, which is themed around space and the future. It also happens to be one of the five original “lands” of Disneyland, but the Imagineers of Disney have striven to keep the land relevant with a ride centered around Buzz Lightyear, as well as the new Star Tours. But more on that in a bit.

Autopia

Our first stop was Autopia, a slow, driving ride through the “countryside”. Autotpia is the only existing attraction in Tomorrowland that dates back to Opening Day in 1955. But you would never know that this ride is 63 years old! Sponsored (I assume) by Honda, it features Honda’s Humanoid Robot and Bird, guiding you along the “path”. The old-timey cars at Hersheypark was Blue’s favorite ride last year so we knew this would win him over right from the start. The only rules were: no bumping the car in front of you and keep your seat belt on. Both translate nicely to real life and this was the least stressful drive I’ve taken since we arrived in SoCal.

 

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

The next ride was the one attraction that every Disney blogger on Pinterest said was a waste of time. But Blue wanted to go and this was 93% about him, so I acquiesced. Most bloggers said something along the lines of, “It’s a cramped, smelly space where everyone gets a tiny portal to peer into a fabricated underwater world.” Well, it’s Disney…everything is fabricated, but usually to a satisfying degree of detail. I was willing to try it once. The submarine has 4 or 5 narrow steps you must descend/ascend and once inside, it is a bit cramped. If you are severely claustrophobic, this may not the ride for you. Mom is claustrophobic, but in that “don’t-close-me-in-this-cell-at-Alcatraz” kind of way and she was just fine. As we embarked on a “research expedition” to an “active” volcano site, we encountered several characters from Finding Nemo, who were on their own underwater adventure. The entire cruise lasted about 5 minutes and is a welcome break from the thrill rides and lines, which explains why, even though this ride is criticized by Disney bloggers, the wait time can still creep up to 30 minutes or more.

 

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

One of the handful of rides we went on more than once, this slow-moving attraction with its shooting gallery element was a huge hit. Once we figured out what our intended target was (the Zurg insignia: a square with a “Z” inside), it was game on! After we battled the Evil Emperor Zurg and emerged victorious (of course), the next words out of Blue’s mouth was, “Can we do that again?” Fortunately, it has a FastPass option.

 

After our intergalactic battle, it was time to refuel. Eating at Pizza Planet has been on my bucket list since before I knew there was a Pizza Planet to eat at. Throughout the first Toy Story, I was fixated on how much I wanted to eat at Pizza Planet. As it turned out, it was right next door to Buzz’s ride. Unfortunately, they were experiencing (what I would consider) a major flood.

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That lady in the black wasn’t super pumped about me taking this picture. She looked up right as I took it and said, “Do you need some help?” Well, no…but I document everything, so #sorrynotsorry. Here’s the thing, though…this was a significant water event. They had jackhammered part of the sidewalk up and there were sandbags everywhere. However, when we returned the next day, it was as if nothing had ever happened. There has to be a place in federal government for that kind of expedited problem solving.

Because Pizza Planet was temporarily incapacitated, our only real food option was Galactic Grill, just a few steps away. I had categorized Galactic Grill under “foods that we should only eat in an emergency because there is really nothing special about them.” It was 12:15 PM and our last meal was at 6:15 AM. This was a true hangry emergency. I took that list of Disneyland foods we must eat and chucked it in the trash with the burger and fries wrappers. It felt like I was disposing all of the impending disappointment from preconceived notions. I should do that more often.

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We were also just in time to watch the 12:40 performance of the Jedi Training Academy. With 6 training opportunities per day, it’s pretty easy to catch one as you’re passing by and/or get your tiny Jedi registered for one (as long as you do it earlier in the day). This worked out perfectly because Blue likes to know what to expect before diving into something. I have no idea where he gets that…

After lunch, having done just about everything we wanted to do in Tomorrowland on our first day, we began making our way down the street to Fantasyland, another one of the five original “lands”. The official entrance to Fantasyland is through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, unless you come in the back way like we did. It is home to many of the classic Disney stories that we grew up with, from floating over London in Peter Pan to trying to evade the evil witch in Snow White’s Scary Adventures. And these rides almost always have escalating wait times as the day goes on. We were able to step right on (or wait for 15 minutes or less) for several rides on Friday and then used the FastPass on Saturday for the rest.

It’s a Small World

This attraction was both bigger and more annoying than I remember from my youth. First of all, it would be awesome if the song had at least 6 more verses. Secondly, I understand what they were doing by incorporating some of the Pixar characters into the scenes, but I wanted this ride to be 100% vintage Disney. When Jesse and Woody showed up in the “heartland of America” display, it sucked just a tiny bit of the joy out of it…for me. Blue, on the other hand, was delighted. I see what you’re doing there, Disney. Always pander to the one who is the youngest. But I loved seeing so many nations, cultures, and skin colors represented, all side-by-side and joined in cherubic chorus. It’s a ride full of hope, even if that is also fabricated. Also, could the outside of this experience be any more beautiful? I am looking forward to seeing it decorated for Christmas next month!

And the inside…

Also, the site of the most awkward family selfie we took during the entire trip…

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Storybook Land Canal Boats

Another slow ride through the bedtime stories of our childhoods, the Storybook Land Canal Boats sail right into the mouth of Monstro, the whale, and past the miniature recreations of such classic tales as The Three Little Pigs, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, and The Little Mermaid. The designers have also included the village of Arendelle from Frozen. To add to the festive Halloween feel, several tiny pumpkins were hidden throughout the ride, ready to be discovered by observant visitors. To get us started, our captain/guide pointed out the first one. If you are the first kid on the boat (I’m assuming around 4′ or taller), you can ride on the bow. I’m a little surprised this isn’t some sort of safety violation, but Blue was thrilled and wasted no time climbing up.

 

Mad Tea Party

I did mention in my last post that none of us were interested in spinning for 90 seconds, but I had to make an exception. How do you come to Disneyland and not do the tea cups? I just couldn’t justify skipping it. Even when Blue was fiercely opposed. I vowed not to use the center wheel to make the cup spin any faster than it was already and by the time he had launched his argument, we were at the front of the line. Mom has a video of this and it’s irrefutable proof that once on, Blue had a blast. I’m keeping it forever and replaying it every time he fights me about trying something new.

 

Random Odds and Ends

As I wrap up this post at around 2000 words (because no one is going to sit and read a post that takes 15 minutes to get through…not even the most ardent Disney guest), here are a few photos from the things and people we stumbled across as we made our way from ride to ride. This is the stuff that you can’t plan for and part of what makes this place so stinkin’ magical. You just never know what (or who) will be around the corner.

 

Please check back for part 2 of Disneyland. And possibly part 3. Hopefully not. But…maybe. It might be a small world, but Disneyland is a huge park.

Movin’ and Groovin’ at the Grammy Museum

Last Monday was the official end of summer, although here in Southern California, it feels like it has only just begun. (Seriously, we were freezing from the time we arrived in May until about 3 weeks ago. I had to locate and then bust into the winter box of clothes. Who saw that comin’? So I’m figuring my white shoes have a solid 3 months of wear left.) Labor Day also marks the end of the Blue Star Museums program for this year. Unlike years past when we’ve managed to hit every museum on the list by the 4th of July, we were really hustling this year to squeeze in as many as possible. We didn’t even get through half of the ones just in Los Angeles alone, much less all of Southern California. I give you props, SoCal, for wholeheartedly embracing this initiative. We salute you right back! It seems we have some catching up to do next summer, but we did visit the Grammy Museum (in downtown L.A.) and the Skirball Cultural Center (right off Mulholland Drive near Bel Air).

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The Grammy Museum was fairly low on the list until our neighbors, who also have a son about Blue’s age, mentioned how interactive the exhibits are. Blue has always loved music (with the soundtrack from The Greatest Showman getting top billing in our house currently), so this seemed like something that he wouldn’t hate…which is kind of where our standards are at the ripe age of 6.

We headed up the 110 after breakfast and found parking at a meter on Figueroa Street (although there is a $5/day parking lot near the corner of Olympic and Figueroa – that’s where we’ll be going next time). The Grammy Museum is located in a complex called L.A. Live, which is adjacent to the Staples Center. There are restaurants, bars, a movie theater, condos, and a hotel. The area kind of resembles Fourth Street Live in Louisville, KY or the Power and Light District in Kansas City, MO. I’m sure a concert at The Staples Center, followed by a yard of beer at The Yard House, has my name all over it sometime before we move.

I always have the Blue Star Museums website pulled up on my phone before approaching the ticket booth because occasionally the staff doesn’t realize they are participating in the program. But there were no questions or issues getting into the Grammy Museum. They showed us where the restrooms were and sent us up to the 4th floor to begin our tour.

So, I’ve written the next portion of this blog post about 5 times. What I want to do is give a beautifully detailed description of everything we learned from each exhibit. What actually happened is more like how it would go if you took a dog to the park and then let loose about 300 squirrels…and maybe a handful of rabbits, just for good measure. Someday, visiting a museum (that is not specifically created for kids) is going to get easier. But since Blue was born, reading the informational plaques that accompany artifacts has become practically impossible. I try to read some, but anything less than about 300-point font tends to get skipped over. (True story: I took a picture of every.single.display at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS so I could read it later. I looked incredibly suspicious. They probably have my picture up in the break room.) Sometimes Neal and I tag out if it’s something we’re both interested in, but mostly we spend a lot of time reading anything in bold and trying to keep Blue from touching or racing around a corner where we can’t see him. So, what did we learn at the Grammy Museum?

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The “Grammy” is named for the gramophone (yes, that should be something that we already knew, but somehow it just never occurred to me). Also, the award has grown substantially over the years. I sort of went a little starry-eyed over being so close to something that I had only ever seen on TV (although that happens almost daily…last month it was that streets actually are palm tree-lined).

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We loved this room! OK, if you get a little itchy just thinking about germs on museum-provided headphones, maybe bring a baby wipe. Personally, I saw our son pet a lizard and then pick his nose with that same finger soooo…. (I don’t condone this, by the way. Kids are fast and also gross.) There is every genre of music that you can imagine, ready for enjoying at the listening station. It was at this moment that Blue learned about African American spirituals, cowboy country, the blues, and hip hop. He just tapped on the genre and then chose a song and listened for a few seconds. We hung out here for at least 10 minutes.

See that entire wall on the right? That’s an exhibit about Pete Seeger. Blue skipped all of that. But I did see this:

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I never realized that the popularity of We Shall Overcome as an anthem for civil rights is largely attributed to Pete Seeger (who I sometimes confuse with Bob but that’s #childrenofthe80’sproblems for ya).

I also made Blue stop and appreciate this.

When asked, Blue will openly admit to not knowing who Michael Jackson is. But he can break some moves to Thriller and Bad. He always asks me if Jimmy Buffett sings those songs. So it was a real learning opportunity for him. Also, that glove. I just stood for a long time trying to soak in the historical significance of these pieces. What a deeply missed icon of my generation.

There are also several sound-proof recording booths where you can learn how to produce a soundtrack. He skipped right past that, too. But this is why we return to museums over and over…next time he’ll find something new and interesting that seemed boring to him this year.

There is the obligatory dress from Whitney Houston, the lyrics in scribbled loops by Taylor Swift, and an entire exhibit dedicated to John Coltrane (which I will go back and read someday).

But Blue’s favorite part (and perhaps ours, too) was the interactive instrument stations. You can play the piano, drums, or guitar and hear every note or beat by wearing the attached headphones (again, baby wipes). We are not a very musical family so Blue has had limited access to musical instruments. He played the drums for at least 5 minutes, learned a couple of chords on the piano and then we practiced at the mixing booth.

Yep, we could have stayed here for most of the day. But others were waiting so we moved on. But this part right here? Perfect for a hands-on kid who loves music!

The Grammy Museum also has rotating exhibits (which is just one more reason why we tend to stock up on museum memberships). Currently, there is one about Cheech and Chong (which we kind of skimmed because what I know about them involves me explaining things to a 6 year old that I’m not ready to explain). However, what’s not to love about these?

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A decorative light set for your next patio party. And a lunch box that’s just begging for a phone call from the school (even if it did include the metal drink container…I keep my weeeeeeeeed in there).

Also, the World’s Largest Grammy…

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illuminated by a changing spectrum of colors – for anyone who came to the Cheech & Chong exhibit prepared and altered.

But the best surprise was the current exhibit, The Get Animated Invasion, which starts with an ode to Looney Toons (and a giant screen playing some Tom & Jerry favorites)…

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followed by Bugs Bunny on the big screen in the Clive Davis Theater…

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followed by an entire room with popular cartoon activities.

This is also when I realized that we have completely failed as parents. We have forgotten to introduce our child to Space Jam and the Jetsons. And he only knows Fred Flintstone as John Goodman. We will try to do better. I don’t know why Blue insisted I pose with hands together and one foot behind the other while he flung open his arms to the skies above…the whole thing made sense in his mind, I’m sure. I think we would have spent a little more time here, but he was hungry and tired. We did the best we could and then he slept all the way home.

There is so much more to the Grammy Museum than what I’ve included here. Visitors can view the Songwriters Hall of Fame (with samples of handwritten lyrics), Revolutions of Recorded Sound (where you can experience the difference in sound quality from the beginning of recorded music to today and learn how technology has changed how and where we hear music), read the history of the Grammy awards, and view artifacts and footage from the Latin Grammys. Plus, many exhibits that explore the complexities of music (and how it intersects with or influences culture, for example).

If you can’t make it to the Grammy Museum in L.A., there are sister sites in Cleveland (MS), Nashville (TN), and Newark (NJ). If they are half as engaging as this one, they are worth every penny.

THANK YOU to Blue Star Families for including the Grammy Museum in your 2018 Blue Star Museums program and THANK YOU to the Grammy Museum for agreeing to participate!

Kitsch and Class

Thank goodness for the Blue Star Families organization and their collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Defense. Blue Star Museums, the product of this partnership, offer Servicemembers and their families free admission from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Before I even buy the steaks for the grill that last week in May, I’m searching the website for museums that have, once again, agreed to participate in this incredible opportunity.

As I was telling Neal last night, these programs make it possible for military families all over the country to visit world-class museums. Not every duty station is teeming with free museums, like the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. Not every duty station’s COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) adequately bridges the gap between what the Servicemember is paid and what it costs to live and thrive in that city, as is the case with Los Angeles. We have become increasingly dependent on Blue Star Museums, the Commissary and the Base Exchange for providing entertainment and necessities at a cost that is consistent with Neal’s pay.

Plus, we find museums that we may have never discovered otherwise.

20180721_151415Like the Velveteria; The Museum of Velvet Paintings in the Chinatown district of L.A.

I would be straight up lying if I said my reasons for wanting to visit this museum were completely honorable. I wasn’t there to discuss the evolution of kitsch art or to debate where velvet painting fits into American art history.  I wanted to see as many Velvet Elvises as possible, even better if one is naked. I wanted to snicker in the back room like a 12-year boy with a stolen copy of Playboy. I wanted to be shocked and wildly amused by the creations of those who live on the artistic fringe. And don’t get me wrong…there was plenty of that to be had.

Not to mention the entire hallway devoted to Elvis, which is ironically (maybe) right next to the restroom…

20180721_145138What’s not to love? What’s not to laugh at? Until you meet the co-owner of the museum, Carl Baldwin, and you inhale a bit of his passion. It’s intoxicating and contagious. He and co-owner, Caren Anderson, relocated the Velveteria from Portland, Oregon to Chinatown in 2013. They have an extensive collection of velvet paintings; over 3000 pieces to date. They proudly display about 400 of them at any given time. And Carl is always on hand to tell you the stories (good, bad and ugly) about each painting.

We met Carl at the entryway of the museum, which is just an unassuming storefront in a Chinatown strip of nail salons, Asian grocers and empty shops. It isn’t in the cleanest area of town. And walking through the door of the museum (which is more like someone arranged 400 pieces of art in a nail salon next door to Office Depot) is overwhelming. Paintings stacked on the floor, overlapping each other on the walls. Don’t touch, I whispered to Blue. But I have to go to the bathroom, whimpered Blue. Carl noticed Blue squirming with his hand on his pants and said Oh you gotta go when nature calls. Right through that curtain, straight back, hang a right and then a left. I took Blue and my phone (just in case). The bathroom did not disappoint.

And it was perfectly clean and well-stocked. This was off to a decent start.

We re-joined Neal at the entrance where Carl was recalling story after story to 2 women who were visiting from out of town. Their genuine interest in each piece kept Carl busy, but Blue was getting antsy so we mentioned we were military and that the museum is listed on this year’s Blue Star Museums registry. That’s when we learned that Carl, a seemingly free-wheeling, possibly VW bus-driving velvet art connoisseur, is the son of a war veteran. He has strong feelings about supporting the military and thanked Neal repeatedly for his service. I thanked him for extending his gratitude to the families. After all, Blue had just finished 6 weeks in a new school and I was still unpacking the garage. Showing appreciation for our sacrifice will win me over every single time.

Then he encouraged us to take pictures and ask as many questions as we wanted. In the meantime, we heard him recounting stories of the many studios who have called to borrow a certain piece for a TV show or movie they were shooting.  He mentioned how he came to own some pieces, their provenance. And he talked about the artists themselves. Carl and Caren’s museum features velvet paintings from every genre and from every period of time.

The velvet painting rendition of The Blue Boy, the non-velvet version hung in my grandparents’ house until they died.

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Michael Jackson, from botox to detox.

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Willie Nelson against a backdrop of incredibly detailed Spaniards and Egyptians.

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And these beautiful pieces by another Veteran. If I wasn’t standing there looking at it, I would never imagine you could get paint such a realistic scene on velvet. What freaking talent.

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But the art isn’t the only thing that draws the eye in this museum. Knick-knacks, tchotchkes and hand-scrawled notes describing pieces adorn the walls and furniture. This is Carl and Caren’s way of curating a museum and it’s absolute charming, if a little mind-numbing. When your eye leaps from this…

20180721_151324to this…

2018-07-21 15.08.42to this…

2018-07-21 15.06.43to this…

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to this…

2018-07-21 15.04.09it’s a little hard to know where to stop.

And then there’s the black-light room.

I would have been disappointed if a velvet painting museum didn’t have a black-light room. This really rounded out the experience. There was also a nude women’s room. And this clever reminder on the restroom door.

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And just so, so, so, so much more. I’m not even sure I can review this museum with the justice and credit it deserves. There are few things in life that must be seen to be believed. This is one of them. After 45 minutes, Blue was over it. He was hungry and, most likely, completely over-stimulated. But if anyone wants to go back, I’m happy to drive. We barely scratched the surface of what Carl knows, what he and Caren own. It is worth checking out during the Blue Star Museums program, but I would also happily hand over my $10 for another walk through.

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If you see Carl, tell him that Army Wife from Kentucky sent ya!

If you go, there is metered street parking on Alpine Street, 2 hour limit. This also 0.3 miles from Olvera Street, in case you hear a churro or taquito calling your name. And check out this little blurb about Velveteria by Atlas Obscura.

Gettin’ Yeti for the Big Day

After we snacked our way through the Farmer’s Market at The Grove last Saturday, it seemed only natural to stroll across the street to the shopping side of things. It was there that we saw the first of many signs advertising Smallfoot, a new kids’ movie starring Zendaya and Channing Tatum. Smallfoot hits theaters on September 28 but the genius marketing department at Warner Bros. decided to construct a Yeti Village, which is free to visit with a timed ticket, on the corner of Hollywood and Vine.

Not that much is free in Hollywood. How could we not go?

Also, there was air conditioning. There is a reason half of California is burning. It’s hot here. And central AC is not a thing in most houses. So, yes, we absolutely took the kids to a free event inside a temporary structure, which was pumped full of ice cold air.

But it was far more fun than I was expecting.

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Show off your smallfoot!

According to the IMDb synopsis, Smallfoot is about a Yeti named Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) and his quest to prove to his tribe that a tiny creature (known only as “smallfoot”) actually exists. He gets a little help from the Smallfoot Evidentiary Society and Meechee (voiced by Zendaya). Apparently there are 2 worlds: above the clouds and below the clouds. The Yeti Village experience begins above the clouds…

with lots of photo ops. These were all free, by the way. After the photo is taken (or GIF is created, as is the case with the last station), just click on your photo and email it to yourself!

Fun for adults, too! Isn’t this why we had kids? It certainly wasn’t because we love having the same argument every night about homework and bathing.

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Let me just say that Yeti Village is staffed by some of the friendliest folks I’ve encountered in SoCal. They offered to take pictures of our whole group and seemed genuinely happy to be there. As a mom, that makes the entire experience decidedly more pleasant. (Sidenote: Through the magic of Hollywood, I don’t seem to have any varicose veins in these pictures. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hot to leave after all.)

When the photos are done, the kids (no adults allowed, we tried…it’s the stairs for us) get to slide down to the activities below the clouds. There are video cameras and TV screens at the top and bottom of the slide so parents waiting at the bottom can waive and reassure anxious kids at the top. I mean really…they thought of everything. Once you slide down, though, you can’t come back up so make sure you have all the photos above the clouds that you want.

Above the clouds is really for the parents. We get to create GIFs with our kids, take photos in footprints, and Instagram our children sitting on a cloud swing. The real fun is downstairs. There’s a snowball pit. Need I say more?

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Yeah…this was a hit. And the staff was fabulous at ensuring kids waited their turn in line while the kids in the pit got several minutes of safe play. We actually stopped back by on our way out and did this one more time.

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Other activities included Yeti-themed coloring sheets, Skee ball, a throwing game and Yeti in My Spaghetti (I’ve never played this game so we just straight made up the rules. I told Blue it was like Pick-Up Sticks but he couldn’t move the Yeti on top. That is probably not even close to being correct.)

It was around this time that my friend and I started noticing people carrying around Snowballs. Y’know…the diabetes-inducing Hostess snack that combines chocolate cake, marshmallow fluff and colored coconut? When was the last time I had a Snowball? It had to be at lunch during my entire sophomore year of high school. In other words, too long. Blue begged for both snowballs, but realized about 1/4 of the way into the first one that he hates coconut. That’s OK, kid. I’ll take care of that for you. Good thing that keto diet starts next week.

You would never think by the looks of this giant temporary tent from the corner of Hollywood and Vine that an entire life-size village exists on the inside.

But it does and now we are all Yeti for the movie premier! We hear there’s been a big MYTH-understanding.

If you go, you can get free timed tickets here. The company will email you a waiver to sign for everyone participating. It’s just easier to go ahead and sign it online as opposed to signing it when you get there. Also, we have always managed to find free 2 hour parking on Yucca Street. And there is a Starbucks located (conveniently) across the street from Yeti Village if you need sugar, caffeine, a bathroom…or all 3.