Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmas in Disneyland

  This "holidays at Disneyland" thing is pretty sweet! First Halloween, now Christmas. They really know how to celebrate and decorate over there. I mean, I didn't have a doubt they would, but I wasn't prepared for so many sights and sounds!
  When the wife and I arrived Wednesday morning, we first went to the Disney California Adventure side of the park. She had a whole thing planned out of exactly what we would hit and in what order for the whole day. As an annual passholder, she makes a lot of Disney visits, so I defer to her experience.
  Cars Land was really great. As much fun as it usually is over there, it was made even more so by the Christmas decorations. Everywhere you looked, there were trees made out of tires, traffic cones, and hubcaps. Hilarious. We rode the Radiator Springs Racers, my favorite ride in all of California Adventure, before moving on to other areas of the park. Ultimately, after a few other rides and explorations, we hit Soarin' Around the World. I hadn't been on since it was Soarin' Over California. The new update and new footage/visuals were amazing! You really feel like you're flying high above some of the world's most beautiful places. Fantastic.
  We spent the rest of the day in Disneyland proper, which was, of course, decked completely out in Christmas spirit.

A couple crazy "Cars" trees, and a couple normal ones

  Instead of the usual "big" rides (Space Mountain, Pirates, Haunted Mansion), we went on some off-the-beaten-path jaunts. A couple of them I had never even seen! It never ceases to amaze just how much is there in the park. 
  We hit the Jungle Cruise, which was changed to the Jingle Cruise for the holidays, and also Storybook Land. We dove headfirst into the absolute MANIA of It's a Small World, which had been stuffed to every inch of space with Christmas. It was by far the most Christmas thing we saw all day. I took some photos with my phone, but they really don't do it justice. A virtual explosion of color and light.

  We rode quite a few other rides that afternoon, and then it was time to go sit and wait for the holiday parade. When it finally began, we were treated to a seemingly endless run of floats, dancers, and famous Disney characters.

  Then, of course, everything got REALLY beautiful as the sun went down and all the lights came on in the park. It sparkled with Christmas magic everywhere you looked.

It's a Small World nighttime exterior

Main Street

  We went back over to the California Adventure side and stopped into the Grand Californian Hotel for a quick drink and a gander at the gigantic Christmas tree in the lobby. Santa was there, on his giant chair, meeting a long line of kids. After he left, a trio of Sweeney Sisters came in and started singing old-timey Christmas songs. It was wonderful. Then, it was time to go out to Paradise Pier to watch World of Color. It went off half an hour later than was listed, so we waited a LONG time.

Paradise Pier

  Any phone pics I would have snapped of the show wouldn't have made sense or shown it in any reasonable way. Best I can describe it, imagine the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas cranked up to about 100. There are colored lights reflecting off the huge streams of water, which are timed to the holiday music. On the mist/spray that is created by the fountains, images and designs are projected. The water forms a shimmering, billowing movie screen on which characters and scenes from Disney Christmas movies played. It was really, really impressive.

  All in all, we're sad it's already over and can't wait to go again next year. Christmas season has officially begun!


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Halloween '16

  My favorite holiday! As I'm writing this, it's November 1, so I'm kinda bummed. This means there's a whole YEAR before the next Halloween. But it was a great month of Halloween goodness!

  As you may have seen on a previous entry, there was the amazing visit to Disneyland for Mickey's Halloween Party a couple weeks ago. We're already thinking ahead to next year, and possibly what costumes we can come up with. Having ironed out all the logistics, next year will be even more amazing, and that's setting a pretty high bar.

  Last week, I decided to bake some Halloween treats, spurred on no doubt by a plethora (yes, a plethora) of Halloween baking contest shows. Damn you, Food Network! You can't combine Halloween and cake, my two favorite things, and not expect me to binge watch.

  Not wanting to eat forty tons of sugar, I took the goodies in to work and shared with all. I made the mistake of telling people they were gluten, dairy, and soy free. This always puts people off, because they are expecting a taste akin to cardboard. But no, I feel I've honed the recipies pretty well. You honestly cannot tell the difference. There are a LOT of really good substitutes out there for people like us with food allergies.

Chocolate cupcakes with various toppings

Rice Krispie zombie pops with green icing and candy eyes and teeth

Dipped Rice Krispie treats

  Last night, for actual Halloween, the wife was home for a rare evening together! First, we exchanged Halloween gifts- much candy was traded, and there were balloons, decorations, and all manner of ghastly goodness. As usual, she spoiled me rotten. Her holiday is Christmas, mine is Halloween.

There's a spider? Where?
  After a quick dinner, we sat down in front of the tv, watched some vampires do vampire stuff, and carved pumpkins. I went classic with mine: triangle eyes and nose, smiling, happy face. She chose a much more difficult "themed" pumpkin: Yoda from Star Wars. Long after I was finished carving mine, she was still punching the design into the face of the pumpkin, and hadn't started carving yet. Tired from the late hour, and a cramping hand, she handed the tools over, and I cut the pieces out. Our effort turned out great!

  Hope you all had a great Halloween! Now, on to the winter holiday season.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Mickey's Halloween Party

The Headless Horseman arrives AHEAD of the parade
   Last week, the wife and I had the pleasure of attending Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland- an "after hours/special event" type of deal. When six o'clock rolls around, everybody gets kicked out of the park except those holding (limited) tickets for the night's festivities.

   We were actually allowed in at three o'clock, and all the rides were pretty busy with last-minute fastpass folks. We took the opportunity to eat some tasty Mexican food in Downtown Disney and then cash in a Build-a-Bear giftcard my spouse gave me earlier this year.

   I chose Spock Bear. It was fun picking out the body, the outfit, watching them fill it with stuffing, putting a "heart" inside it. I even opted to put a little player in it that plays the Star Trek theme when you squeeze the hand. It's mostly for kids, but since I'm a big kid, I loved it.

  Finally, six o'clock rolled around, so we headed into TomorrowLand and went through the Star Wars stuff. They had costumes, props, models- all kinds of stuff from the films. And I got to meet and have my picture taken with a certain someone...

Wookiees give good hugs
  After that, we did the requisite Disney thing, starting with Space Mountain. At Halloween-time, the ride is changed slightly to become "Ghost Galaxy." It seemed a little rougher/faster than we remembered, and our equilibrium was a little whacked out when we got off. I also had cottonmouth from yelling and laughing so much.

  The queues for the rides were VERY short, even though the park seemed to have a lot of people in it. The event had sold out, so whatever the ticket capacity was, it was met. 

  They also gave everybody trick-or-treat bags, and had dozens upon dozens of treat stands around the park. Even though we couldn't eat most of it (dairy allergies), we hit as many stands as possible. I thought it would be cheap-o candy, since it was free, but it was legit! Snickers, M&M, Sour Patch, all that stuff. I gave all our candy to my very happy coworkers later in the week.

  Another VERY cool thing was the parade. All the classic Disney villains came through the park, starting with the Headless Horseman! He was pretty creepy. Here's some phone video the wife took:

Following him was and endless array of floats, vehicles, ghouls, goblins, dancers, grave diggers, and the like. A visual feast!

  And last, but certainly not least, the only ride we really had to wait for all night: The Haunted Mansion. What Halloween would be complete without it?

   It was a great night. Nearly everybody in the park was dressed in costume. Some of them were RIDICULOUSLY good. People really put a lot of effort in. All except us. Next year, for sure!

Til then...


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Natural Painkillers

   "Yeah," you're saying to yourself right now, "sure, booze is a painkiller." It's not about the booze! Well, it IS, and it isn't.

   As a sufferer of chronic pain due to an injury from about eight years ago, I have seen every kind of specialist and doctor there is. I've tried typical western medicine, acupuncture, chiropracty, therapeutic massages. I've taken a million salt baths, worn pain patches, used a TENS device. Nothing has stopped the constant flow of pain, which becomes unbearable on some days.

   The wonderful osteopath I'm seeing currently told me about a "recipe" that might help. She told me it would sound crazy, but was an OLD remedy, and has helped a lot of people. Gin and golden raisins. Not just any gin, mind you, but specifically Gordon's Gin. The key ingredient here is the juniper berries. Not juniper flavoring, but actual berries used in the distilling process. Something in the juniper reacts with something in the golden raisins, and nobody really knows how it all works. 

   She told me it was based on some eastern medicine- an old Chinese herbal remedy for pain. People who have had great success with it are folks who suffer from arthritis and joint pain.

   Basically, all you do is put the raisins out in a thin layer in a pan, and pour just enough gin to cover them. 

I can really smell the juniper in this!

Pouring. Keep pouring until they are all *just* covered.

   You let them sit for a week or so, until all the gin has been soaked up by the raisins. Don't cover them with plastic wrap or anything. They need to breathe and evaporate. You can drape a towel over the dish if you like, to keep out dust. Then, you eat NINE per day. No more, no less. You won't notice the effects for probably about six weeks, according to what I've read. Keep them in an airtight container in the fridge. And no, they won't make you drunk, so don't worry about that.

   I've started mine soaking today. I'll let you know down the road how it works out.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Cheese dip made from potatoes and carrots?

   You betcha! Well, it's close, anyway. For those of us with the dreaded "no more dairy" orders from our doctors, it's a pretty good compromise.

   I found this recipe on Instagram of all places, and tracked it back to the original blog it came from, Neurotic Mommy. I was pretty doubtful when I read the ingredients. Cheese? From vegetables? The real star here is the nutritional yeast. This was a new thing to me, as I had only ever heard of yeast being used as a leavening agent in baking, or in the creation of alcoholic beverages.

   This is a non-active yeast, so it doesn't work the same way. It comes in powdered form, or flakes. I was able to find the flake version at Whole Food. Trader Joe's and the regular supermarket didn't have it. It was only a few bucks for a pretty decent sized bottle.

   Apparently, there are quite a few uses for this in allergen free baking. It has a savory, cheesy/nutty flavor that really kicks up a lot of dishes that might otherwise be bland. Even though it looked like fish food, I was ready to give it a go.

   The recipe is super simple. It's basically just boil the veggies, then throw them, the yeast, and a few spices in a food processor and liquify them. Voila. Vegetarian cheese dip. If you're lactose intolerant, or allergic to dairy altogether, or just feeling adventurous, give it a go. I think you'll enjoy it. Recipe follows pics:

·         4 c red jacket potatoes, chopped
·         1 1/2 c fresh carrots, diced large
·         1/2 c water
·         1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
·         1/2 c nutritional yeast
·         1 tbsp lemon juice
·         1 tsp onion powder
·         1 tsp garlic powder
·         1 tsp parsley
·         1/2 tsp all spice seasoning
·         Salt/Pepper to taste

1.      Steam or boil the potatoes and carrots until tender.
2.      When that’s done place everything into a blender and run until smooth and creamy. Scrap down the sides if necessary.
3.      Pour over fries, vegetables or eat it straight up because it’s that good.
4.      Enjoy!

Keep stored in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. When it’s cooled it will firm up. Reheat it for a few minutes to get smooth and creamy.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl

   Two blogs in the same week? What is this madness?

   It was me getting to fulfill a childhood dream and see the best damn film composer of our lifetime conduct some of his very famous works at the Hollywood Bowl, that's what.
   I had been holding these tickets for MONTHS, ever since they went on sale. Williams has been coming to the Bowl for concerts every fall for a while, and I've never been able to make it until this year. The sad fact of the matter is, at 84, the cinema maestro is no spring chicken. I knew that if I missed seeing him, and then he was gone, I would regret it forever.
   The man is responsible for basically the soundtrack of my entire youth. He was absolutely ubiquitous in the 1970's and 1980's, composing the scores for Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Those are some of the best known themes ever put to film.
   Needless to say, I was VERY excited when the time finally came last night, and I was interested to see the Bowl, too. I've been living in sunny LA for five years, and never been.
   We got there plenty early, and I'm glad we did. The Bowl seats 17,500, and by the start of the concert, I think there were just a handful of seats left. People brought in all kinds of food and drink, and just about every other person you saw was carrying a lightsaber. I thought to myself "He HAS done other things besides Star Wars."
   It was when we finally got a program, and I looked at the night's selections, that I understood. The first half of the night was to be a tribute to Paramount Pictures, and would be selections conducted by David Newman, son of famed film composer Alfred Newman. After intermission, John Williams would come on and conduct a piece from Hook, a suite from The BFG, and a few selections from the Star Wars films. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. No Indiana Jones, No E.T., no Superman. Not even a Jurassic Park or Harry Potter. I didn't let it get me down too much, though. I was still getting to put eyes on John Williams and see him conduct one of his most famous themes.

   The first half of the concert with Newman was really excellent. They had film clips and montages running on the big screens for some of the selections, and they even live-scored the first ten minutes of Star Trek Into Darkness. It sounded so perfect, you were convinced you were just hearing the film, until you looked at the stage and saw the orchestra playing furiously. Amazing.
   After intermission, the lights dimmed again, and there he was. In walked John Williams. The gigantic crowd roared. He waved, went directly to his rostrum, and began conducting the first piece, "Flight to Neverland" from Hook. I wasn't as familiar with this film, but the music absolutely soared.
   With no interruption, he carried on with a suite of music from the recent film The BFG. This music I didn't really care for too much. I saw the film, and it was just okay. The music was well written, but not memorable for me.

   Finally, he took the mic and said a few words. He was really charming and funny, just as you'd expect. He talked about his career composing the music for the Star Wars films, including his recent collaboration with J.J. Abrams on The Force Awakens. He revealed that he was quite smitten with the character of Rey, and then conducted the orchestra to play her theme.

   Again, there were montages- scenes from ALL the Star Wars movies. People cheered and whooped loudly at some famous moments and beloved characters. It was amazing.
   Next, he spoke at length about composing Princess Leia's theme for the original Star Wars, and then the orchestra played that. It was stunningly beautiful. Really, really amazing. It starts off so quiet and tentative, and then builds to this amazing climax.

   Then came one of my favorite moments of the whole night. With no warning or word, the orchestra moved right into the infamous "Imperial March," otherwise known as Darth Vader's theme.  17,500 people went out of their minds. Every single lightsaber in the crowd lit up and started swinging in time to the music. It was a sight to behold. My lovely wife captured it on her cell phone:

  There were a couple more fantastic selections from Star Wars, and one final film montage, and then John Williams stepped down, waved to the crowd, and walked off the stage to thunderous cheers. A couple moments later, he walked back on for an encore:

   I love the Harry Potter movies. There's something absolutely magical about them. John Williams was the perfect guy to set that world up with his score. Hearing it live, you absolutely FELT the magic. He had actually been here a few months ago with the orchestra when Universal Studios opened "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter," and he had conducted this at that event as well. I bet people were just as affected then, if not more so.
   When that song ended, the orchestra rolled right into one of my very favorite movie themes of all time:

   We screamed and jumped up, and again the place went crazy. I have so much affection for the 1978 Superman and this huge, bombastic, heroic theme. It's something that the current, ridiculously morose and dark version of the character is sorely lacking. Stunningly good live.
   Once more, the maestro waved to the crowd and walked off. Again, the crowd roared for more. Again, he obliged. I thought for sure Raiders was coming. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised with the theme from E.T.

   This was absolutely beautiful. The music again soared, and made you feel like that young boy sailing across the face of the moon on his bike. Heartbreakingly beautiful.
   We wanted another encore, but the man was tired. As he made his final exit from the stage, he leaned his head over against his hands to mime "sleep" to the crowd, and we all laughed and cheered him off. National treasure John Williams. Truly one of a kind.
   I plan to see him every fall as long as he comes back. If you ever get the chance to see him in concert, DO IT. You will be absolutely transported.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

New Mexico weekend

   This past weekend, I went back to New Mexico for a very short weekend visit. It had been three years since I'd been back, and we really packed a LOT into a couple days!

   I flew in Thursday night, and then Friday, Mom and I did an all day road trip. We went north to Tent Rocks National Monument, then on to Bandalier National Monument, through Los Alamos (where we got tasty green chile burgers), through the Valle Grande, down through Jemez, and finally back to Albuquerque. It was an exhausting day of hiking, siteseeing, and picture taking, but it was amazing! I took about a billion pictures, which you can find on my Flickr account by clicking HERE.

   On Saturday, Dad and Lynn drove up from Elephant Butte, and my Aunt Gail joined us for a cookout.

Tasty burgers, corn on the cob, and potatoes

Relaxing backyard fountain


Lynn and Gail


   After the cookout, I rode back to Elephant Butte and stayed the night at Dad and Lynn's house. I had never been there before, so there was a lot to see.

   Sunday morning, we went to service at their church, and then it was time to play with the toys.

   First, we hooked up the boat and took it down to the lake for a quick run around the waters. There was a storm moving in, and it looked like all Hell was about to break loose, so we didn't stay out long. As luck would have it, the storm blew by without a drop.

Boat face

Cap'n Dad

   Next, it was time to meet Bigger Red. No, not BIG Red. Big Red is the name of Dad's big red Dodge Truck. THIS is Bigger Red:

   It was actually quite difficult to drive, despite the power steering. It was loud, rumbly, and stunk of exhuast, but it was FUN. Pretty cool machine. I drove it down the beach, and then in traffic a little bit on the way back to the house. I could really use one of these for rush hour on the LA 405.

   And just like that, it was time to come home. Hopefully, the visit will be longer next time. Until then, from the San Fernando Valley in California...