The Umbrella Academy

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LOVED IT – zero surprise there.  As a one-time disciple of the Church of My Chemical Romance, I’m required to love anything that comes from the mind of Gerard Way, MCR’s enigmatic front man and co-writer of The Umbrella Academy comics from which this charmingly weird Netflix series was derived.  (As a huge aside, yes, before twenty one pilots there was My Chemical Romance – and before both of them, and still, always, there is Green Day – and oh my, did I have it bad for their whole goth dork theatre geek screamo thing.  I joke about the Church of MCR, but I had the next best thing to a bona fide religious experience at one of their shows, one of those top 10 moments of my life sort of deals.)

So I was probably predisposed to love The Umbrella Academy, which is a beautifully filmed and acted distillation of MCR’s entire musical catalog, vibe and aesthetic.  You’ve really got it all here, from repeated references to the hardships of war, to the prep school uniforms worn by the kids of the Umbrella Academy, to the Victorian-by-way-of-the-1950s office wear sported by the employees of the Commission.  There’s also Wes Anderson-level awkward family dynamics, an opening montage scored to the Phantom of the Opera (dope), a lot of commentary on the ethics of medicating children, multiple dance scenes, and a caffeine-jonesing 58-year-old man in a 13-year-old’s body who’s in love with a mannequin torso named Dolores.  Oh! also a robot nanny and a monkey butler.  For real.

If I didn’t lose you with Dolores, Grace or Pogo up there, there’s really so, so much to recommend this gorgeous show; don’t let its on-paper weirdness freak you out, if only so you don’t sidestep the ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE soundtrack, which features lots of Gerard Way tunes, of course (covers of Happy Together and Hazy Shade of Winter), rock classics of the 60s, 70s and 80s (see above re: the Turtles and Simon and Garfunkel songs, as well as appearances from the Kinks, the Doors, Heart, Nina Simone, Queen and the freakin’ Bay City Rollers!) and two brutal fight scenes scored to They Might be Giant’s Istanbul (not Constantinople) and Lesley Gore’s Sunshine and Lollipops.  It’s also filmed in Toronto, and boy, does it look it – I can pick out specific intersections, one right down the street from a friend’s old apartment.

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Here’s the basic setup for the show: In 1986 46 women the world over, none of whom were pregnant when the day began, give birth.  An eccentric billionaire by the name of Reginald Hargreeves comes along and buys – let’s not mince words – seven of the children, all of whom bear superpowers ranging from incredible strength, to teleportation, to the ability to speak to the dead.  Assigning each child a number, but no actual names, Hargreeves begins to mold the kids into a crime-fighting unit by the name of The Umbrella Academy.  But Hargreeves is a distant, exacting and cruel father figure, and Nos. 1 to 7 – eventually christened Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Five, Ben and Vanya by their robot “mother” – all bear a not-so-healthy resentment towards the miserable old bastard, though the siblings all care deeply – if not awkwardly – for one another.

One day, many, many years after the children have fled the nest and scattered to any corner of the globe not occupied by their father (one went as far as the moon, for pity’s sake) the old man kicks it, and this weird, fractured family reunites to finally put their demons to rest.  Except time travelling assassins and one-eyed bandits and the apocalypse.  As you do.

It’s awesome, please watch it.  Really, get thee to Netflix post haste, friends.  And I hope you like this manicure as well, inspired by The Umbrella Academy’s graphics, and the umbrella tattoo each member of the Academy has inked on their inner wrists.

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Literary Inspiration: The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World

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“Wait,” you may be saying to yourself, “you never shut up about Disney World, and I suspect from your last seven, long, incredibly detailed posts that you already know all of the out-in-the-open magic of Walt Disney World.  So what gives with the book?”  (As an aside, it’s amazing how much you sound like me when you’re calling me out!  You’re also a little rude, but I’m willing to overlook that.)

What gives with the book, The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World by Susan Veness, is that in the lead-up to our last trip to Disney, I was looking for a fun trivia book that would point me in the direction of some heretofore undiscovered Disney delights.  Turns out I really do know, like, 90 percent of the magic of Disney World, and this spare little book didn’t illuminate too many things I was not already aware of (at the Magic Kingdom, a kid’s eye view of the Sleeping Beauty fountain in Fantasyland reveals a crown atop Aurora’s head; over in the Animal Kingdom, the red, yellow and white pipes that run along the ceiling in Dinosaur bear the chemical compositions for ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise in a nod to the ride’s original sponsor, McDonald’s; Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror bears an exterior Mediterranean aesthetic in order to blend in with Epcot’s Morocco pavilion next door, over which it – pun intended – towers.)

Things I should have noticed before I purchased the book?  That its information only went up to the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland expansion in 2012, which means it was missing details on both 2017’s Pandora – the World of Avatar expansion at the Animal Kingdom and the opening of 2018’s Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios.  So it was really telling me nothing I didn’t already know.  It did not take me very long to blip through this wee book.

The most complete, detailed information came in the section on the Animal Kingdom, the park I am probably the least familiar with.  And I suspect that its completeness is owing to Veness securing a direct interview with Joe Rohde, Disney Imagineering legend and lead designer of the Animal Kingdom.  Ultra engaged, ultra gregarious and ultra creative (you’ve seen him; he’s the very enthused, exceptionally earnest gentleman with giant, stretched out earlobes weighted down with intricate metal rings) Rohde strikes me as the kind of man who would grant a delightful interview to anyone, from a major news outlet, to an elementary school newspaper, to an author seeking information directly from the source.

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There is just a ton of detail here about the Animal Kingdom, in particular Dinoland USA, a day-one part of the park (an incongruous mix of the serious – paleontology – with the not-so-serious – a trashy side-of-the-highway amusement park) that has never quite felt like it fit with the rest of the park’s lush, natural aesthetic.  I love the crap out of the Dinosaur ride (it might be my third favourite ride behind the Haunted Mansion and the Tower of Terror) but I’ve just never understood the Dino-Rama midway part of Dinoland USA; why the too-bright, too-loud dino carnival in the midst of the Animal Kingdom’s otherwise peaceful oasis?

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Rohde, who oversaw the design and implementation of Dinoland USA, has always said there’s a method to his madness, and Dino-Rama isn’t just a weird jumble of carnival shys, body-punishing wild mouse coasters and hokey dinosaur puns (“This exstincts!” proclaims one sign bearing a dino staring up in dismay at a meteorite hurtling towards his head.)  But I’ve warmed to the place considerably since reading The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World, because it finally explained that madness, and turns out, it’s really not so weird after all.

The story behind Dinoland USA is that the Dino Institute, a scientific operation where you can take tours into the past (AKA ride the Dinosaur ride, in which you travel back to the Cretaceous period to nab a dino for a morally conflicted researcher, Dr. Grant Seeker, heh), has funded a paleontology expedition in the area and sent a number of students and professors there to carry out the painstaking work of digging up old dino bones (AKA The Boneyard, a massive, incredibly fun-looking playground area for kids.)  The grad students and their professors live in the various trailers and RVs dotted throughout the area, with a number of these 1960s-style trailers converted into makeshift dining halls bearing names like Trilo Bites, the Dino Diner, Dino-Bite Snacks and Restaurantosaurus (actual dining spots you can visit and grab a – sigh – dino bite.)

Animal Kingdom Dino Diner

So the story goes, married couple Chester and Hester, carny opportunists to the core, came to the area and immediately noted the financial possibilities inherent in a place with a totally captive audience of stressed out, entertainment-starved academics.  So they moved in right next door and, cribbing off the Dino Institute’s goodwill and legitimacy, opened up Dino-Rama, a ramshackle midway competitor for the students’ attention, time and money.  This is a dig at the many, many fly-by-night attractions that sprang up directly outside Disneyland’s gates when that park opened in 1955, a “how did we not see this coming?” move that irked Walt to no end and prompted him to essentially buy up nearly all of central Florida in a move to head off a repeat performance when he opened his World of Disney in 1971.

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The big draw in Dino-Rama, aside from numerous looming dinosaurs and Chip and Dale strutting about in their finest dino costumes, is Primeval Whirl, a densely knitted wild mouse coaster in which your cart wildly spins, sending you plummeting downhill somehow both sideways and backwards.  It’s an incredibly rough ride – really never fails to break our old arses – and you swing about so much, you never really get a chance to appreciate the silly cartoon dinosaur artwork and sad trombone jokes that pepper the attraction in a budget imitation of the legit Dinosaur ride next door at the Dino Institute.  Here, behold!  Now with additional Triceratops Spin action!

It’s all so very petty and passive aggressive, and I really kind of love it now that I know the backstory.  The whole of Dinoland USA is actually blanketed with little bits of trivia about the two disparate groups – letters and photos and other mementos dotted about as reminders of this odd, competitive pairing.  I think it’s all quite charming!  And information I’m glad to have learned – it really made my experience that much richer this last visit to have the scoop on the funny little inside jokes and local colour of Dinoland USA.  Which is why I chose its colourful sign – at least the Dino part! – as the subject matter of this manicure, inspired by Hidden Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, which I read in service of my friends’ reading challenge for the eighteenth prompt, “a guide.”

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Snack Money

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In the last couple of years you’ve watched – probably with some annoyance at this point; it’s okay, I understand – as my husband and I have jetted off to Disney World at every possible opportunity.  We got that Disney stoke BAD.  You’ve read about us navigating insane Christmas Day crowds, buddying up to Wookiees (check them double Es now!) and drinking our way around, well, any park that serves alcohol (and that would be all of them.)

But the one Disney thing you haven’t seen us indulge in very much is souvenir-hunting.  Thankfully, Mr. Finger Candy and I are not really the collector types, so Disney’s hypnotic capitalist mojo does not work its hoodoo on these two yoohoos.  And for that I am SO GLAD, because there’s an endless number of ways you can part with your money whilst on a Disney vacation, and plastic souvenir cups aren’t high up on my list of things to lug home.

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I save that money and luggage space for those really special items that grab my attention, like this Loungefly wallet I grabbed on our last trip to Disney World.  Isn’t she lovely?  I’m smitten with the purple leather, and this Disney snacks print, which is showing up on everything from dishware to apparel to doormats, is the trendiest thing in a place known for setting the trends.  I needed a new wallet anyways, so this one came along at just the right time. 🙂 What I didn’t need was the matching mini backpack, which, while utterly adorable, was ludicrously expensive and made me feel like Cher Horowitz after she got all old and moved to Canada to start a blog.

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I thought these nails turned out pretty well!  That Disneyfied “D” in particular *could* get me into trouble with Walt’s aggressive trademark people, that’s how good I think it is!  But I’m biased (and still really quite pleased with this snacktacular mani, and my cute new wallet.)

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Literary Inspiration: 11/22/63

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Kicking off the not-so-new year with another giant literary tome from Stephen King, master of the macabre, ninja of nostalgia and writer of the five-part non-ending.  I started reading 11/22/63 – “the one where he goes back in time and saves JFK” – at the end of 2018, but life events conspired to push its conclusion back into 2019, and so here we are, 800 some-odd (some very odd) pages later.  I gripe about King’s frequent inability to satisfactorily conclude his stories, but he’s my favourite author, and if he released an entire book of short stories written in binary code, I’d read that, too.  So a quiet little story about one man’s quest to alter the course of one very big event – with all the usual Kingsian complications in play – is riiiiiight in my literary wheelhouse.  Bring on the revisionist history!

But here’s the thing – for the daughter of a couple of hardcore Boomers, the kind of people who remember the day some combination of Lee Harvey Oswald, the CIA and a grassy knoll in Texas assassinated John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, I know precious little about the actual event itself.  Nor have I ever felt the need to rectify that particular gap in my knowledge of American politics; it’s a world so far removed from mine, I’ve never cared to seek out those details.

That’s clearly not the case with King, who devotes nearly 900 pages to the subject of JFK’s assassination.  Sort of.  11/22/63 is not really about JFK at all, and it’s only nominally about his violent, greatly disputed death.  What 11/22/63 is actually about is love.  And dancing.

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The mostly spoiler-free details, and how this very retro manicure fits into the grander scheme of things: 11/22/63 begins not in 1963, nor does it start in 1958, where the wormhole that makes this a time travel story exists.  It actually starts in 2011 – in Maine, naturally – with 35-year-old high school English teacher Jake Epping.  Fresh off a contentious divorce to a woman who loved alcohol – and other men – a lot more than him, and experiencing diminishing returns on his many years as an educator, Jake is well positioned for a major life change.  That that change would come in the form of multiple, increasingly complex jaunts into the past via a wormhole in a smelly diner pantry is most likely not the kind of change Jake was envisioning, but the Kingsian world works in odd ways.

After being shown this rip in the fabric of time by diner owner and amateur time traveler Al Templeton (made ever so less impressive because of its physical location, situated between a dirty mop bucket on one side and a stack of canned goods on the other) Jake is tasked with returning to 1958, where he will live as a regular man of the time until November 22nd, 1963, when he will travel to Texas, kill Lee Harvey Oswald, save President John F. Kennedy and spare millions from the brutal political fallout sparked by his assassination.  Al would do it himself were it not for the fact that he’s dying – time travel plays real hell on a person’s condition.

Al is adamant that, partisan concerns aside, JFK must be saved; Democrat, Republican, Sock Puppet, the global repercussions of his death are just too great.  But Jake, who has read enough science fiction in his day, has concerns regarding Al’s proposed scheme.  Assuming he completes his mission and doesn’t die right there in the 1960s, how is he to return to 2011?  And if he does find his way back to 2011, what will he be returning to?  The Butterfly Effect posits that the world will not be the same, cannot be the same, given such incredible intervention.  Al assures him that he’s been back and forth hundreds of times – often for just a few hours, but sometimes for much, much longer – and aside from a hell of case of lung cancer he picked up on his last, years long trip, the world itself seemed to suffer no ill effects.

To that effect, Jake asks how he could have seen Al the day prior, happily (and more importantly, healthily) manning the counter at his diner, pushing his suspiciously inexpensive Fat Burgers, only for him to now be (barely) standing before him, wracked with stage 4 lung cancer.  Al replies that time moves differently in the past, ticking off days upon months upon years in the then while mere moments pass in the now.  Shrugging off Jake’s continued enquiries as to how any of this can possibly be, does he not feel the least bit conflicted about the irrevocable damage he may be inflicting on both the past and the present, Al replies that it’s not as irrevocable as Jake would think – the wormhole employs a kind of reset function that wipes the slate clean in the past every time Al returns to the present.  So no harm, no foul to the people of the past, and Al can continue getting the meat for his Fat Burgers at 1958 prices.

Feeling like he doesn’t have much of a choice, and also wondering what the hell else he’s going to do with his life, Jake takes the bait and steps through into 1958.

With nothing but time on his hands between his arrival in 1958 and his date with Lee Harvey Oswald on the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository in 1963, Jake tries to acclimate to the time, finding it relatively easy.  Seems he wasn’t a man built for the modern era after all.  Upon discovering that he has reservations about the hows and whys of his task – does he really have to kill Oswald?  Can he not just divert him from his chosen path? – Jake conducts a couple of test cases, and discovers what could be 11/22/63’s overriding theme – the past is obdurate and will resist all attempts at change.  Jake frequently, and bitterly, addresses the Al who has taken up residence in his head, accusing him of radically underselling the ease, or lack thereof, of altering the very course of time.

With years to go until his main mission, Jake sets out to learn everything he can about Oswald, tracking his movements as he and his family move from Russia to the United States, even going so far as to bug his home.  Justifiably uneasy with the thought of killing an innocent man – but not necessarily a good man; Oswald is a certifiable piece of shit – Jake’s looking for proof irrefutable that Oswald done it, or will do it.

Then, once again looking for a way to pass the time, Jake moves to a small town outside of Texas, where he finds his real purpose in the past – friends that are like family, a meaningful career as a respected educator and mentor, and love.  And it’s that love, forged on a small town gymnasium dance floor by two giddy teachers showing off their best Lindy Hops, that alters the course of Jake’s trajectory in the past, and whether his present is even something worth returning to.

In the interest of not giving away too much of what amounts to a simple story about a man finding love in the most unexpected of places and times, I won’t say much more.  But these nails are a representation of 11/22/63’s other theme, which is that dancing is everything.  I couldn’t think of anything more fitting than a manicure inspired by Jake and Sadie’s gleeful turn at the Hop.

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All in all, a very enjoyable read that had so much less to do with JFK than I thought possible for a book (nominally) about the assassination of said man.  Oh! and wonder of wonders, 11/22/63 has an ending, an actual, identifiable conclusion – and a satisfying one at that.  It was just a very sweet love story set within the more complex framework of time travel, and nicely showed off the softer side of our man Steve.  Aw, who knew King could get so warm and fuzzy?

By the by, I read this book in service of my blogging friends’ Jay and Julie’s 2019 reading challenge for the twelfth theme of “Shallowness: pick a book based on its spine appearance alone” because all 11/22/63 has its spine. 🙂

Rockin’ the Birthday Dots

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Mickey Mouse turned 90 years old this year, and all across the Walt Disney World Resort, where I was lucky enough to enjoy a recent lovely vacation, there were tons of opportunities to meet Mickey and Minnie in their birthday wear (not to be confused with birthday suits, which would be an entirely different and altogether terrifying experience.)  Both Mickey and Minnie are sporting some fly new threads for the occasion, a white suit for Mickey and a white sundress for Minnie, both liberally sprinkled with multi-coloured dots.  There are also some black Minnie ears available in the shops, likewise adorned with rainbow-hued polka dots, because this is Disney, and of course there are.

We get asked all the time if we’ve met the park OGs, Mickey and Minnie, and the answer is no, never, not a once.  My husband and I go to Disney World and we meet Kylo Ren, Chewbacca and BB-8.  We stand in a two and a half hour long lineup to meet Jack and Sally of The Nightmare Before Christmas (worth every one of those 9,000 seconds!)  We hang out with Wreck-It-Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz, dine with the Beast and rawk out with Vampirina.  And I once nearly overturned a tavern table in my zest for sprinting outside and directly into the bulgy, waiting arms of Gaston.

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But Mick and Min have remained elusive.  Something to rectify on our next trip.  For now I’ll just have to satisfy myself with these nails that rock both Mickey and Minnie’s birthday dots.  To the next 90, young mouse(s)!

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The Walkways of Pandora

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Still on about Avatar – The World of Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, only this time I’m bringing you a couple of nail art looks inspired by the ground in what is colloquially known as Pandora.  Yup, the ground, the terrain, the surface on which you walk.  Whichever term you’d prefer, Pandora’s vibrantly spattered, glow-in-the-dark walkways are dope!

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For this manicure, I used the plastic wrap technique, which I believe my blogging friend Altercontroldelight calls a “smoosh mani.”  Basically, you – or at least I – paint a bit of polish onto a wadded up ball of plastic wrap and then dab it onto your nails, creating a marbleized sort of look that’s much more natural and random than using a cosmetic sponge.  Easy peasy and simply perfect for the wild walkways of Pandora.  For these nails, I used A England’s turquoise Whispering Waves and Enchanted Polish’s grass green Lost Boy over A England’s steel grey Wuthering Heights.

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They also glow in the dark!  Or they should glow in the dark.  The polish, a jelly-based multi-coater I received in my stocking this year, couldn’t quite hold its own against these darker base colours, but damn if it’s not doing just fine on its glowy own.

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And then because I can’t ever leave well enough alone, and why am I just going to let an excellent base like this sit unadorned, I free-handed an assortment of flora onto my nails in the lush, almost alien colours that remind me of Pandora – The World of Avatar in the very first place.

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These tidy little flowers are perhaps a bit too done in comparison with Pandora’s wild, colourful riot of Imagineered blossoms, but the rave-after-dark spirit is still there. 😉

You’re a Sorcerer, Mickey!

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Here’s a fun manicure memorializing the main magical mouse, Mickey, and an even funner video I made for our YouTube channel showcasing one of our favourite related games to play when we’re at Disney, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.

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I’ve spoken about Sorcerers before – it’s the free-to-play, card-collecting, interactive scavenger hunt you can only play at the Magic Kingdom, and Mr. Finger Candy is completely obsessed.  No trip is complete without finishing off at least a couple of games of Sorcerers, and more than a couple of visits to the Firehouse on Main Street USA.

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Sorcerers is a cute, not-so-little diversion (no joke, you will walk for MILES completing a single game) that always provides tons of fun while we’re bounding about the Magic Kingdom.  If you’d like to join in on the RFID-enabled scavengering and hunting, please watch this video I recently made for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, featuring fun tips on making the most of your magical Mickey.  Thank you so much for watching, and happy spellcasting!