Backyard Adventureland: Part III – Enter Rongo

Rongo started to take on a little color tonight #Adventureland #enchantedtikiroom #disney

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Now that Pele is doing her duty spewing magma around my yard, I thought it was time to get another character from the Enchanted Tiki Room started. For the second round I chose Rongo, the “god of agriculture.” Why, pray tell? Well, because our vegetable garden isn’t fruiting enough. And when it does the squirrels steal it anyway. So I was thinking “god of agriculture…maybe make some more growth and act as scarecrow.”

So after two nights of painting, and a day of getting a spine installed (lawn stake, wood glue), I cleaned up his lines and painted his backside brown so as to add a first layer of seal. Three or four coats of polyurethane and he’s going to look GREAT with the vegetables in the garden!



Backyard Adventureland: Part II – Installing Madame Pele (It’s lit, fam!)

It's lit, fam. #diy #pele #disney #artsandcrafts #enchantedtikiroom

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After painting Pele’s front side, I applied a coat of exterior brown spray paint to her back half, and 3 coats of polyurethane on each side. She’s braced on the back with garden stakes, and has one stake under each foot. About 6″ directly behind her is a tiki torch to take advantage of forced perspective to make her volcano hat come to life (and hopefully ward off some mosquitos.) She’s nestled in a local-climate friendly flowering bush (plumbago) and I think she looks right at home.

Next up is Rongo, the “god of agriculture” who will grace the area where our vegetable container garden resides. The wood is purchased and an image is gridded out, just need to transfer, cut, paint, seal, and he’ll be ready to go (that’s going to take a couple weeks!)

Backyard Adventureland: Part I – bringing Disney home with some DIY

Handmade #christmas yard decor…✅

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Last Christmas I made this yard decoration set out of plywood because my kid loves Mickey Mouse and I love  Christmas. I learned a few things doing this project.

  1. I’m not as artistically impaired as I thought. At the very least I can scale and blow up a drawing.
  2. I can actually start and finish a large piece of DIY project (the pic above is just when we tested it, it looked better in the end)
  3. I am basically a f*cking surgeon with a jigsaw.

So when we visited Walt Disney World in March of this year, and my kid went nuts about everything I went nuts too. See? I told you so. So when you take a 2 1/2 year old to Disney World, what do you think they would talk about the most? I figured we would mostly talk about Minnie and Mickey (because meeting them was a FREAKING JOY. Like, probably one of the biggest swells of pure joy I’ve seen in my child, ever) after the trip. But really what we talk about most is the stuff from Adventureland. Pirates of the Caribbean is of course worth talking about, but it comes in second to what I think is the most underrated attraction in the park…the animatronic paradise that is THE ENCHANTED TIKI ROOM.

My 2 1/2 year old did not find it scary. She thought the singing birds, statues, flowers, and walls were amazing. She knows the first stanza of the opening number by heart. She makes me sing it to her all. the. time. The Enchanted Tiki Room is probably the no. 1 thing we talk about in general, and will probably be our first stop when we visit Disneyland in September. So of course, when I spied some leftover plywood in the garage and my wife and daughter headed to NYC for a week to visit family, I got busy.

My first character to work on is Pele. I found a decent drawing online, printed it, scaled it out to be 4′ tall (so I can deep-root a tiki torch behind her volcano hat in the yard!) Drew her out and got a-cuttin with the jigsaw. It took about 2 hours to cut everything out I’d say. I used ply for the base, then double-thickened the plywood for the brim of her volcano hat. I cut the facial features out of 0.25″ thick poplar and glued them on.

A couple weeks later, the wife went out on a Girls’ Night Out and I got to painting. I tried to do a bit of shading to make her seem a little more 3D, but I like the stylized flat with raised feature look so not too much. Then I dry brushed her with black and white to make her look a bit ashy, because you know a volcano-goddess would look ashy. I let the paint dry for a week (because seriously weekdays this stuff doesn’t happen) and did the detail work and a little cleanup. She’s currently facedown in the garage with stakes gluing to her butt so she can stand in the back yard. I’m going to spray her backside with brown paint, then put on about 4 coats of polyurethane to make sure she is waterproof AF. After that I’ll pick a spot, stick a torch in the ground, then put her in front of it so that with forced perspective she’ll really look like a fire goddess.

Pele and Ngendi

photo credit to Sam Howzit on Flickr (creative commons)

For reference, above is what the “real” one looks like, I think at DisneyLand. I think my backyard version is pretty ok. The new question is where do I start next? I’m thinking Maui and Hina Kulua are going to be combined into a water feature, so probably Rongo. We have a little vegetable container garden he would look good behind.

Anyway, there will be follow ups to this post as the cast of my backyard Adventureland fills out.

I have officially gone DIS-nuts.

As I lay my sweet, precious, incredibly inquisitive and intelligent two and a half year old down to bed last night for the tenth time, she proved 100% why I am currently a total Disney nut. She looked up at me, the pale green glow of her nightlight reflecting in her cute little eyes, and said (for the eighth time): “Daddy, sing me the Tiki Tiki Tiki Room song one more time before I go to sleep.” So I did. (See the clip below if you don’t know what I’m talking about)

It’s kind of funny how the once “tourist attractions are no good for me” haughty traveler has turned into the “DREAM BIG, PRINCESS” daddy of today. It probably started at about the same time we started letting babyPrimate watch TV. Just a show here, a clip there, etc. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is one of the most kid-accessible TV shows I’ve ever seen. And I don’t even mind watching it, because she LOVES it, she learns from it, and seriously, who doesn’t love Mickey? mommyPrimate put together the absolute best two-year-old’s birthday party on the planet with a Minnie’s Bow-Tique theme. So when our Christmas plans to meet family in New Orleans fell through, and the suggested replacement was a week in Orlando in March we jumped on that faster than a fat kid on a cupcake.

The morning we left, mommyPrimate and I packed up the car very quietly, and when we were ready to go we opened babyPrimate’s bedroom door and she jumped up SUPER fast and said “WE’RE GOING AT DISNEYWORLD.” That was the first super magic moment Disney brought me since I was a 5 year old, AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO DO ANY OF IT. So we drove to Orlando. No drama from the little mama in the car.

The trip to Disney World itself was magical. When you go as an adult with just another adult, it’s a WHOLE lot of fun. You kinda feel like a kid again. When you go with your own kid, and everything is real to them, well, it’s kinda real to you, too. For example, when she met Minnie Mouse, she met Minnie Mouse. It was real to her. As real as anything. And because of the joy that just overflowed from her in the biggest way, I’ve turned into a Disney nut. I’m just not going to miss something that might make my babyPrimate that happy again.

…when you hide a Mickey in your kid's cinnamon roll…

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So things like this keep happening. Hidden Mickeys keep appearing around the house. We talk about princesses all the time (especially the badass feminist ones like Moana.) We’ve planted tons of flowers out of inspiration from Epcot, and I’m keeping the fridge stocked with Schöfferhofer. I. Love. It.


Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Dominic’s Church (Igreja de São Domingos), Macau, China

I really don’t know what I expected out of our visit to Macau, other than to eat a pork chop bun, see (but perhaps not gamble in) casinos, and be visiting a place I had always wanted to go that was also featured as a finals destination for America’s Next Top Model. I do know that I didn’t expect to find myself walking with my beautiful bride-to-be from Church to Church and sitting and pondering the meaning of life in each one, being thankful to be in a place that felt somewhat Western after spending two years in East Asia.


So we arrive in Macau by ferry from Hong Kong, get out of the bus that takes you downtown, walk across the plaza and into this church. St. Dominic’s. Hard to miss as it’s canary yellow. It seemed kinda old, but I just googled it to get its name and basic facts (I have photos from 5 years ago and basically no notes…) and would you believe it was founded in 1587? It’s going on 500 years old.


So you walk into St. Dominic’s and it’s BRIGHT white. I imagine it’s kinda the shade of white that the Portuguese could find to make paint with when they arrived that most reminded them of churches at home. It reminded me a bit of the old Spanish missions here in South Texas that came with the Conquistadores around the same time period, however the imagery is just a little different. It’s like the images of Mary and Christ that you see as more realistic in the Spanish churches were a bit more stylized so as not to be “graven” images by the Portuguese. I don’t think that’s the real explanation, but there is a difference in style.


For example, this wood carving.


The whole church is wooden, I guess due to the lack of marble available on the island. I found the construction to be very straight, too. There’s lots of ornamentation on the surface, but it seems to be mostly appliqué.


I’m not sure, but I’m guessing this is St. Dominic himself. I think the art style I’m referring to has to do with the high contrast of his facial features and low contrast of his robes. I just asked a Catholic friend if this was him. She thinks maybe. The one finger is a little weird, he’s missing his full iconography, but he’s in a dominican habit.


Once again, I think the art style is kinda high contrast around the face, low contrast everywhere else. Putting the unimportant parts in a manmade bokeh.


This chancel is baroque AF. Can you not imagine that in this church you are in Baroque Europe, not in China? I could. The whole day in Macau I felt connected to my Western roots. The food, the language on the signs (where I live it would be Spanish, but dude, Spain and Portugal share a few similarities, amirite?)


The man himself.


Once again guessing St. Dominic.


Immaculate Heart of Mary imagery, “looking Portuguese” according to my Catholic friend who is helping me with this post.


Maybe Mary, Queen of Heaven. Heaven knows.




Then back to the real world. Macau was amazing because it was almost like being at home. I grew up around Spanish language, Spanish colonial churches, and the sort. These Portuguese churches, the Portuguese language…it hit close to home. But then unmistakably you realize that you’re in a unique pocket of China, thousands of miles from the Western culture you grew up in. And you’re happy because not many people (even though millions upon millions) will ever go to such a unique place.

Learning to bake with daddyPrimate: Brioche, because this is the bread to bake if you have to wake up super early on a day off.

Brioche, buttery delicious brioche. The bread that seems to have a perfect use for everything. Good toasted, good plain, divine straight out of the oven. Easy to make, rich, always a crowd pleaser. Except that the first rise goes overnight, and the second rise takes 2-3 friggin hours so unless you’re planning on breakfast at like 10am the point of this joyous bouquet of flours is lost. The last time I made one of these I intended it to be for breakie, but we ended up snacking on it before lunch. But something has changed.

I joined U.S. Masters Swimming and I go to swim practice at 4:45 in the morning Monday through Friday. I took today off. I get home around 6:15 from swim practice and my baby girl wakes up at 9. BRIOCHE FOR BREAKFAST. So last night I made the dough in the mixer. If you have a nice stand mixer, this is a super great dough to make because it really latches onto the dough hook and spanks the inside of the bowl with gratifying thuds. For a LONG time. I think I let it knead for at least 10 minutes. It’s also super fun because once you add the butter the dough dissolves and comes back together as a much looser mass.

So after swimming, I walked straight into the kitchen, still in a freezing cold wet bathing suit, and hand kneaded the dough into little balls, set them in a pan, and went about my morning. About 30 minutes  before “go time” for the day I put it in a 375F oven and let it bake. It. Is. Delicious. Love me a brioche.

Also, there is something really cathartic about kneading bread, more so early in the morning. I felt like if this was my occupation I’d be okay with that. Making bread is noble. Bakers fulfill a necessary role in society. I wish I fulfilled such a necessary role. But dollars talk in America and if you want your kid to grow up with tons of opportunities you do what you’ve got to do. Maybe in retirement.


Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Part IV: The Art

So there’s probably close to a billion historically significant works of art in St. Peter’s Basilica, mostly by Italian renaissance artists who later lent their names to a ragtag group of martial arts knowing turtles. The former (unqualified) art history professor in me wants to show you some of the highlights, but I don’t really know in most cases who made what, nor do I feel like looking it all up on wikipedia and pretending I knew all along.

Unlike my previous posts, my comments about the art will appear above the photo. As if we’re on a tour and I’m speaking before you get a chance to look.

Here’s perhaps the most famous piece, Pieta by one Michaelangelo Buonarroti.

Rome, Italy

The Baldachino by Bernini…

Rome, Italy

One of the Apostles, who appears to have just hurled something at you.

Rome, Italy

Followed by another Apostle, who perhaps caught what the first had hurled.

Rome, Italy

Another Apostle (I’m crossing my fingers now hoping I photographed all four…)

Rome, Italy

Myriad statues popping their heads out and looking around. It’s like a whole city of the biblically famous frozen in marble…

Rome, Italy

Throne of St. Peter:

Rome, Italy

I guess I didn’t get a photo of the fourth apostle at the dome, so we will have to travel back to Rome one day. However, upon exiting St. Peter’s you run headlong into Swiss Guard with their Halberds. Their uniforms are artful AF, aren’t they?

Rome, Italy

So this will conclude my 4 part series on St. Peter’s Basilica. I think that anyone regardless of faith would enjoy a walk around in this church. There’s literally so much to see. If you attend a mainline Christian church, you will appreciate it from a heritage viewpoint. If not, there are all sorts of curiosities to indulge your brain. Plus the scale is just overwhelming altogether. I’d say St. Peter’s Basilica is not to be missed.