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Whoever Said You Can’t Buy Happiness Never Bought an Annual Pass to Disneyland

18 Jun

Where does he fit all the cash he makes?!

About a month ago, my husband and I decided to be responsible adults and use a portion of our tax return and go through one of the biggest rites of passage for any Southern Californian (particularly a new one): we bought annual passes to Disneyland.

Disney knows how to hook you, even if you really can’t (or shouldn’t) afford it. You can purchase a day pass and then up your ticket to a yearly pass (that day) and pay in monthly increments. So while you’re signing your life away, you’re thinking it will only be $30 per month to have unlimited access to unlimited happiness, you are definitely not thinking that in a year’s time you will have paid over $400 to have such access. No, you are not thinking that at all!

Previous to buying my pass, I had had a somewhat limited experience with Disneyland. According to my parents, I allegedly went when I was 2 1/2, but I have no memories of it. I don’t count that. I went to Disneyworld when I was 5-years-old, and only have vague memories of it, mostly consisting of the Dumbo ride and meeting Goofy, for whom I apparently ran away from my grandparents for and almost gave them heart attacks. I also went in high school as a part of a choir tour, and then again in college on a spontaneous (and now infamous) road trip with one of my favorite accomplices, Krissy. We were determined to stay in the park from opening until closing, but at about 2 p.m. we felt like we had been run over. I believe we made it until 9 p.m. before calling it quits. Post-college, I went with my brother and his now-wife and my now-husband (that sounds weird, but you know what I mean). I’ve never seen anybody fall in love with anything so rapidly as my brother with Disneyland. Two years ago, my husband and I went for his birthday, since it was the “Year of Dreams” and you could go free on your birthday. It was a whirlwind of a day, and it was his first time there. Obviously, more time at the park was needed.

These are the faces of happiness.

The day we purchased our passes, I am not ashamed to tell you that at points I would randomly attempt to leap like a ballerina and shout, “We’re at Disneyland!” It was magical (the day, not my dance moves – I’m white. I can’t dance). I was wide-eyed and soaking it all in. That night at the “World of Color” show I couldn’t help but feel like I was part of a great big happy family. Granted, between my husband and I we will have paid an exorbitant amount over a year’s time to be a part of that family, but I didn’t dwell on that. Of course not.

Each time we go – and we’ve been almost every weekend since buying our passes, I feel like I’m stepping into a different, magical world. (I’m sure Walt would love to hear that.) I hope the magic never rubs off, but we’ll see. I’m a little afraid I’m about to become one of those Disney-ified people that have Disney stuff all over their house, car, office; have the Christmas ornaments, the pins… oh the pins.

(Side story: During our most recent adventure at Disneyland, my husband and I purchased Disneyland lanyards for our passes like Asian tourists. [We’re also seriously hunting for fanny packs to complete the nerdy ensemble]. He surprised me and got me the Wall-E and Eva pins for my lanyard. I’ve only recently discovered the Disney pin obsession and I’m terrified I’m going to be sucked in to pin mania.)

For now, we’re like crack addicts after… crack. Being able to go to Disneyland anytime we want is so tempting. Because why hang out in Burbank if you could be hanging out at the happiest place on Earth?!

(If this blog post doesn’t make it obvious, I’ve got Disney fever and I’ve got it bad!)

An Open Letter to Southern California

26 Mar

UGH!

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Dear Southern California,

You’re disappointing me. Just thought I would get straight to the point.

When I was 12-years-old, my parents announced we were moving from frigid Massachusetts to California. I had expectations. I thought the state was one big beach and palm trees would be everywhere. I expected to be ridiculously tan year-round, and have blond, sun-streaked hair that had that messy surfer look because, well, I was going to be a surfer.

I can distinctly recall driving up Howell Mountain, our car laden with things too important to put in the moving truck. As we climbed higher and higher, my eyes took in pine trees. Hundreds of them. No palm trees in sight. It was burning hot, but I was told the beach was an hour away, and likely overcast and cold. I was sad.

I soon learned about the distinction between Northern California and Southern California, and it’s no secret I soon adored the Napa Valley. I even found a few palm trees, but they were mostly limited to the yards of million dollar homes. I was content.

When my husband found out he got a job at a world famous animation studio in Southern California, in spite of myself, I began to set up many of my former expectations. I had been told for so long that SoCal was warm and sunny year-round. That I would be able to go to the beach at almost any time, pending I didn’t mind sitting in traffic. I was even advised against packing my winter coats when I was boxing my belongings. I was told I likely wouldn’t need them, at least not so many (I have four, and a raincoat). My collection of scarves? Sure, I could take them, but they would probably sit in my closet, gathering dust.

And what did I find? True, initially we did encounter record highs in Los Angeles, which led me to believe everything I had been told was accurate. Sadly, we didn’t have enough good sense to go to the beach during this time, telling ourselves there would plenty of chances later on. I thought excitedly of being able to call our parents during the winter; respectively miserable in Portland and Napa during the cold, rainy season; and bragging that we were walking at the pier in Santa Monica in tank tops and shorts. I was wrong.

After that initial spike in heat, it got cold, and it got cold fast. And it rained! Oh did it rain. It poured for days, and shattered rain records. There was one flood warning after another. In fact, there was one morning I was on my work to work that I questioned whether I would be able to make it. Traffic was awful, there was minor flooding everywhere, and the sky was still dumping rain. When I finally arrived, my husband began texting me about the evacuations that were being made in nearby La Cañada Flintridge, and I misunderstood his texts to mean our area was being evacuated. I freaked out and almost left work. When I realized our home wasn’t in danger, I was calm, but still disgusted at the weather.

Oh, and then there was snow in Los Angeles. I was in Burbank and it began to flurry. I couldn’t believe my eyes were seeing snow in Southern California. When I came home at the end of the night, there was an inch of snow in some parts of our front lawn, and most were completely frozen. Some of the snow even managed to stay around until mid-morning the next day. Excuse me, but what is that?!

I complained to my fellow Angelenos, who joked that I brought the bad weather with me from NorCal. I’ve started to believe them. However, they assured me that things would start looking up, and soon. I began to get hopeful yet again. But… “Heavy rain, high winds, cold air to hit Southern California this weekend.”

Please stop.

Sincerely,

Larissa Church

Hair

20 Mar

I look gooooooooooood!

One of the first things you need to know about me is I’m not a girly girl. Well, I suppose this is partially true. In some ways, I am very girly—I hate being dirty, I really like jewelry, and I have a pathetic love of chick flicks—but in other ways, not so much. For instance, I have no patience to spend time meticulously painting my nails, I am a disaster with eyeliner, and I can barely cook (See “The Beginning of the Culinary Adventures of Larissa Church”), though I’m really trying to fix that last fact. You’ll sooner find me in a pair of jeans than a dress, and I wear high heels about once a year—and then hang onto my husband’s arm for dear life as I totter about.

I’ve never really been good with hair. When I was in the fifth grade, I got a perm, and I trace that to the root of the problem (ha, ha). I don’t think my hair has been the same since. I have thick hair that manages to be flat, with enough wave to give it life but curly not enough to make it pretty. In the past, I’ve dyed it to make it more interesting (See “Little Known Facts About Me”). To make it presentable, I have two choices: Blow dry it, then straighten it with a flatiron, or scrunch some product in it to attempt to make it all wave-y. When my hair is straight, in my opinion, it is limp and lifeless. When it’s wave-y, it’s not wave-y enough so I think it looks stupid. Until today, I had pretty much resigned myself to either of those options.

Like most “alternative” girls, I have a celebrity crush on Zooey Deschanel. No Kim Kardashian envy for me! I think Zooey’s just about the raddest gal around. She can sing and act, and looks great doing both. I love her style, and I love her hair. I’ve attempted to get her bangs before, at Great Clips, but it’s never worked out. I have a love/hate relationship with bangs—I grow them out, and I want them back. I have them, and I want them gone. Le sigh. For the past few months, I’ve been growing my bangs out, since the last version I had were awful.

However, I was starting to get the itch to have my bangs back, which is always dangerous. And I needed a haircut desperately—I hadn’t cut my hair since before the wedding, back in August. Not that I’ve ever been one to take good care of my hair, but it’s recommended you get your hair cut every six to eight weeks, and the fact that I hadn’t in over six months was hideously apparent. I was complaining to my husband, but I wasn’t doing anything about it. I was driving him crazy, until yesterday he couldn’t take it anymore. He went on Yelp, and found Frenchy’s Beauty Parlor. With 235 reviews and 4 ½ stars, it sounded great. Haircuts for ladies were $60—the most I have ever spent is $20. I was hesitant, but my dear husband was insistent that I deserved it. I called, doubting they had openings for the next day, but they did. It was on! It was time to decide what in the world to do with my hair, though, and I had no idea what I should aim for but ultimately be disappointed by. A quick trip to the grocery store solidified my choice. As fate would have it, Zooey was on the cover of Lucky magazine, and I knew my decision had been made. I was going for it.

This is a look of love.

I arrived at Frenchy’s 15 minutes before my appointment. The parlor was awesome: The ceilings were pink with big sparkles. It had a retro vibe. The receptionist immediately offered me a soda or water, complimentary, of course. Sufjan Stevens was playing—how can you not love a hair salon that plays Sufjan Stevens?! Solidifying the salon’s awesomeness was the wall art: the salon was featuring Audrey Knight’s Mammalian Military. My favorite piece was of a walrus with an eye patch. I could have looked at that painting all day. The place was hip but I surprisingly didn’t feel out of place at all, which is something I can’t say for a lot of places I’ve seen/been to in Los Angeles.

Within three minutes of arriving, Rosie, who was to be my stylist, came over and introduced herself. Along with my haircut, I was to have a complimentary scalp massage, and I needed to pick the oil fragrance I would like used. I went with “Peppermint Dream.” It smelled incredible, and having my scalp massaged was the most relaxing things I had done in a long while. Also included in a haircut was a wash, which I was excited about since Great Clips typically sprays your hair with a spray bottle. Frenchy’s uses Bumble and bumble, and it’s a safe assumption to say my hair has never smelled as nice before today. I was already in heaven and my haircut had yet to really begin.

Rosie was great: she worked quickly and efficiently, managed to chitchat but not talk too much. It was clear she knew what she was doing. I was envious of her hair—it was pink-streaked and she had a fuchsia hair feather with tinsel. And she pulled it off.

In addition to the scalp massage and wash, you also have your hair styled after it is cut, which is again nicer than Great Clips since they boot you out the door with hair that is sopping wet. I let Rosie decide what to do, and she used a round brush after spraying some Bumble and bumble “lotion” in for texture. She used a flatiron on my bangs, and when it was over, I can honestly tell you my hair has never looked as good in its life. I was blown away (ha, ha).

I can't stop looking at myself!

Frenchy’s, you have converted me. I suppose as a newish resident of LA, it was only a matter of time before I started becoming narcissistic. Since having my haircut, I can’t stop looking at myself in the mirror, or stop talking about how good I look. I’ve only had a taste of pampering, and already I want more. Goodbye Great Clips, you are dead to me.

To quote the great Ron Burgundy, “Hey everyone! Come see how good I look!”

Fear and Raging in Los Angeles

5 Mar

Go go go!

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One of the things I do not appreciate about my new Los Angeles life is the traffic. To understand how jarring traffic is for me, I may need to give you a little background information.

I miss you.

Before moving here, I resided in the absolutely perfect Napa Valley. For almost 15 years, I lived in a little hilltop town that boasts of one stop sign on its “Main Street.” I lived half a mile from my work, so the commute… well, there wasn’t one. A jaunt into St. Helena, the closest place of interest took all of 15 minutes. While the nearest Target and retail shopping was about a half hour away in Napa itself, I didn’t mind the drive. How could I complain when such a trip was filled with field after field of grapevines and the occasional hot air balloon? I couldn’t. Tourists who were suckered into bicycling the valley also made the drive interesting, as their misery was greatly evident. I loved to make fun of them. (photo source)

It’s true that the summer months brought in hoards of tourists and jammed the 29, but none of them ever bothered to do any research about where to go or how to get there, so the Silverado Trail was usually fine. The moral of this tale is that until recently, my experience with traffic was practically zilch. While it is true I encountered some traffic whenever I trekked into San Francisco, it was excusable because I was going to San Francisco.

Now, since my husband and I share a vehicle (shout out to Pierre!), at least two hours of my day is devoted to getting us to and from work. I suppose I should be grateful there isn’t more, but it’s still something I’m having a hard time accepting, which I assume you can understand given my past history. On weekdays, my husband and I aim to leave our house before 8 a.m. We take two freeways to his work. I drop my husband off, and then take another freeway to my work. The worst part of my commute is the 1.7 mile stretch from the freeway to my work – it takes at least 20 minutes. Then I do the whole thing in reverse at the end of the day. What kills me is the trip is approximately 26.7 miles but takes at least 45 minutes to complete. Don’t even get me started about how I have two Targets 4.9 and six miles away from my house but I have to get on three or four different freeways to get to either of them.

If the whole thing sounds unpleasant, it’s because it is, but I don’t mind since my husband is able to commute with me at least for part of the time. The worst part about all the driving are the drivers. The drivers in LA are hands down the worst I have ever been around. I may be doing 10 over the speed limit in a residential neighborhood but I will be tailgated and honked at and occasionally flipped off. It is great (I’m being sarcastic). On the freeway, I have learned that if I am not tailgating the car in front of me, it’s like I have a large, Vegas-style sign atop my car that says in bright, flash lights “Yes! Please! Cut me off!”

As you can imagine, all of these things make me mad. Very mad. And I may have a confession to make…

I have road rage. Or at least an early onset version of it.

I feel your pain, man.

But don’t worry, you won’t see me jumping out of any cars and trying to hit anybody with a golf club. The only person my rage effects is myself. See, it’s kind of a passive-aggressive kind of rage, in that other drivers are more than likely not aware of my feelings. Mostly, I yell at the cars that are tailgating me/cutting me off/otherwise driving irrationally and call them names. That is because I am terrified of other drivers, which takes us to the second point of this blog post. (photo source)

More explaining may be due here. Remember that small, hilltop town I referenced earlier? That town has little to no crime, and the same goes with the majority of Napa County (though Napa itself I realize is getting a bit sketchy in parts). I literally know millionaires who don’t lock their million-dollar homes. With the exception of the Wal-Mart in Napa, I have never been worried when walking alone, even at night. (I realize this has a very “Pleasantville”-esque sound to it, but it’s the truth.) In my entire time living there, I believe there was only one murder in St. Helena and it was family-related (not that that makes it any better, but at least it wasn’t some random killing). It was the first homicide in the area in years.

Now, I live in a county that has had 96 homicides since the beginning of this year, according to The Homicide Report of The Los Angeles Times. So you can see why I would be hesitant to even honk at a motorist who deliberately cuts me off or tailgates me relentlessly. I’m worried they’re going to shoot me. When driving around in Napa, my biggest concerns were avoiding the numerous drunk tourists or hitting a deer.

Thanks for telling me to stay "Straight Outta Compton."

I understand that Los Angeles is much different than Napa, in so many ways. Population-wise, little Napa County boasts a mere 134,650 residents (source) while LA county has over 9.8 million (source). I also know that a majority of the crime in the county occurs in East Los Angeles, which I can tell you I will never visit. I’ve listened to Dr. Dre, I know what’s up. Still, it is unnerving to know I live in a place where there’s actually crime. And traffic. (photo source)

Thankfully, however, my husband and I are lucky to live in a really nice place, one that has only had 11 violent crimes (no homicides!) and 129 property crimes in the last six months. We have no plans to venture into Compton or Inglewood, and I guess I just need to get a grip about traffic. Mom, rest easy. 🙂

I Live in Los Angeles

3 Feb

That's my city!

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(Sometimes, when I’m driving on the 2 and see the sun setting behind the city, I can’t believe I live in Los Angeles. [along with 4 million other people!] It’s surreal.)

Lately, my LA life has been going a million miles an hour.

I’m very happy to announce that earlier in January my husband was offered a position at DreamWorks Animation Studios, where he had previously worked before getting laid off. This time, however, he’s an assistant artist, which means he’s doing ridiculously cool things, like spending his afternoon drawing with super legit people. Obviously, I’m jealous, but my stick figures look like mentally handicapped people, so I know a job in the creative realm is out of the question. Thankfully, my husband is contractually locked in until 2013, which is a huge relief to us after we were both unemployed for a time.

A lot of January was filled with celebrating, as you can imagine. We also awoke from hibernation, and finally crawled out of our little home and got around to exploring some of prettier parts of the Los Angeles area, which, according to Travel & Leisure Magazine, is the rudest city in the United States. (Personally, the people I have met are nothing but nice—however, the drivers here are TERRIFYING.) Thankfully, the annual Urban Mobility Report from the Texas Transportation Institute reports that traffic in the LA area isn’t the worst in the U.S. anymore, which is great.

Awesome.

The first place we visited was the Griffith Observatory. I was anxious to go for a few reasons. I had heard the views of Los Angeles were incredible, that you could see the Hollywood sign which I hadn’t really seen, and I was desperate to go to the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater there, because I am a gigantic nerd. The Observatory was wonderful. It was a beautiful sunny day, and it was actually relatively smog-free. The views were fabulous, and reminded me that I actually live really close to the ocean now (it’s easy to forget in the concrete jungle). I was disappointed to find that a huge cell phone tower is atop the hill the Hollywood sign resides against (and almost ruins it), but it was great nonetheless to see such an iconic LA landmark. While we didn’t star gaze, since it was daytime, the exhibits and city views definitely made the trip worth it, even if we had to park what felt like 10 miles away to get to the Observatory. I can’t wait to take my space-loving dad when he visits!

We then trekked over to Hollywood. We first visited the legitimacy that is Gallery 1988 to see the exhibit, “Is This Thing On?” featuring art inspired by popular comedians. I can’t express how much we loved the gallery! How can you not love a place that displays art like little stuffed Brets and Jemanines from “Flight of the Conchords” or a piece that highlights the greatest cinematic glory of our time—the fight scene in “Anchorman”?! Love love love. Then, we went to the Hollywood strip to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Without a map, I was excited that we stumbled upon the stars for Harrison Ford, William Shatner, and Godzilla (me=nerd, remember?). I had no idea that stars weren’t just for movies—did you know stars are also given in the categories of television, music, broadcast radio, and live theater? It felt a little bit like Vegas, but without people trying to shove porno business cards in my hand. I also saw the Kodak Theatre, which to be honest was a little disappointing. They do a good job during the Academy Awards broadcast of not highlighting the nearby area, so I was surprised to see the Theatre was next to a giant Gap, among other stores. So not what I expected. I’m halfway tempted this year to camp out by the Theatre and watch the stars arrive for the Oscars, but my husband pointed out that then I wouldn’t be able to actually watch the broadcast, so I doubt I will attempt such a feat.

On our next outing, we went to Venice Beach. It had been several years since I had visited, and two things jumped right out at me that had changed: the plethora of medical marijuana dispensaries and the abundance of really weird art that featured Marilyn Monroe as a gangster. (Note: Anyone who thinks that marijuana isn’t legal should definitely visit Venice Beach. I have news for you. It basically is.) We walked the entire Ocean Front Walk, enjoying our lemonade in the hot sun while refusing about 10,000 people asking us if we wanted to see a “doctor” to get a medical marijuana license. We skipped over to Intelligentsia’s Venice Coffeebar, where I proceeded to trip down a stair, spilling my expensive cappuccino in front of bored hipsters, solidifying my lameness and the fact that I have no business being at such a trendy place. After my embarrassment, we checked out the “Multiplayer” exhibit at the other Gallery 1988. I don’t play a lot of video games, so many of the references went over my head, but I was excited to see a few pieces that featured Mario, Sonic, and the original “Tron”, which I had recently seen and loved. (How can you not instantly love a movie that looks like one long Fry’s commercial?!)

Sunset.

Santa Monica was next. My favorite part of this leg of our tour was watching a street performing sing “Colors of the Wind” from Disney’s completely inaccurate “Pocahontas.” Mostly, we walked around, which was nice, and when the sun began to set, we went to the pier. Though everyone in the group was afraid of heights, we toyed with the idea of riding the Ferris wheel, but opted not to. Our day as tourists came to a close with a treat from Vanilla Bake Shop, which is how I feel every day should end.

More and more, as I begin to depend on my Garmin less, I realize I’m starting to put down some roots in Los Angeles, and surprisingly, it is alright with me.

(How about those Clippers?!)

Another One Rides the Bus

14 Dec
Where exactly is this guy driving?

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This past weekend, I deepened my newly formed LA roots and took another step in becoming a true Angeleno: I rode an LA Metro bus.

I had already ridden an LA Metro train a few weeks earlier when my husband and I went to see the Clippers game at the Staples Center (see “I Am Not Ashamed to Say I Like the Clippers”), but this was my first adventure on an LA Metro bus.

Actually, I haven’t had many bus or train exploits. I vaguely recall riding the T in Boston when I was very young, and I have ridden BART and Muni in SF a few times to go to concerts and such. I always found myself very disoriented at busy train stops, with what looks like thousands of people bustling about. Everyone always seems like they are on a mission, and a top secret one at that. There are no smiles. If you aren’t careful, someone will run you over with their briefcase or bicycle. It’s dangerous. Anytime I attempted to decipher bus stops and train routes to figure out how to get where I wanted while in the city, I was acutely conscious of what I was: a country bumpkin. I am aware that there was a bus system in Napa–the Vine–but I have never ridden it. Come to think of it, I don’t know anyone who has. I suppose I am very American in that I have (unintentionally) avoided public transportation in my life, preferring to take my own vehicle instead of squishing into a smelly bus with my fellow citizens when the opportunities (in my defense, they were few) presented themselves.

Update: My husband reminded me when he read this post moments ago that I have ridden the Max in Portland many times, and I will say that Portland’s public transportation system is excellent. However, whenever I have been on Max I have encountered many hobos, so they do get a few demerits for that.

Back to my LA Metro bus experience. My husband and I were going to spend the weekend out in Santa Barbara with a friend but were reluctant to take our car, a beautiful, but very ancient Honda. We decided we would take Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner by way of the Glendale Amtrak station to glorious Santa Barbara. However, we were also hesitant to leave the car at the Amtrak station for the weekend, which is why we decided to take the bus. We awoke bright and early at 5 a.m. (on a Saturday!) to walk up our excessively vertical hill to the bus stop for the 90 91 LA Metro bus. We were going to catch the 6:20 bus, and as we walked, we watched the sunrise. (Note: if you are ever up early enough to see sunrise, you are up too early. Go back to bed.)

To my pleasant surprise, the bus arrived exactly on time. Even more surprising was that there were people actually on the bus. I believe when we got on there were 9 other individuals making use of Los Angeles’ public transportation system, and more joined along the route. Sadly, the majority of them were elderly, and I assumed they were taking the bus to their job, since our country’s crap economy has prevented many people from retiring. I sincerely hope when I am of retirement age I am not stuck riding the bus to a weekend job, but we’ll see if things change. Thankfully I have a few years yet before I am genuinely “old” so the government has plenty of time to fix things.

I was also impressed with the cleanliness of the bus. Perhaps because the LA area seems permanently dirty because of the smog, I assume everything is filthy, but the bus shockingly wasn’t. The seats were nicely cushioned and none had their padding ripped out or torn. I also didn’t notice any graffiti, which means the LA Metro may deserve a medal.

According to my husband, whenever he’s ridden an LA Metro bus, the TV at the front has a trivia game, and you have an opportunity to text in your answers to win prizes. I was really disappointed that the TV was off during our trip and I didn’t have a chance to gain useless knowledge that would be embedded in my brain forever (unlike anything I learned in school).

The bus ride was very uneventful, unlike the times I’ve ridden BART or Muni. I one time literally watched a crack deal go down when on Muni, and nobody on the bus was fazed by it. I, on the other hand, was freaking out.

Anyway, before I knew it, the bus dropped my husband and I off at our stop, directly in front of Forest Lawn Cemetary at 7 a.m. on the dot. We briefly considered swinging through to see the grave of Michael Jackson, but decided that would be too tourist-y of us and continued on. We had a train to catch.

By the way, that’s another very Angeleno thing to do–escape LA. Seeing as I hope to do this often, perhaps I am more Angeleno than I thought.