Posted in Nerdy and Nifty

The Ugly Cake Tradition

Ever since I moved in with RJ back in my college days, he would always do this cute thing on my birthday where he would make me a cake with what ever he could find.

Usually around the time of my birthday, it would be a tough week when it comes to pay. The rent is due in a few days after all. But somehow, someway he would make it work out so I wouldn’t have to celebrate my birthday alone. Even when I was with Bill, RJ would do a little something for me since Bill never had the means to celebrate. It was RJ’s way of saying thank you for being a friend.

It all started back in 2009 when we decided to have a small birthday party at the Providence roller derby game I am convinced to this day that the party was cursed, given not many people showed up and that I dropped the cake on the way home. After coming home and assessing the damage of the cake, RJ decided to get a little creative with some food we bought at the local Bodega. Thus, the River Rat cake was born, banana chip eyes, cookie ears, and a mini marshmallow tail.

The following year brought a home baked version we dubbed the “PMS River Cake” which was Funfetti cake with a strawberry jam river meant to mimic a river seen in the Strawberry Shortcake cartoons, complete with a bath toy or two to complete the ensemble.

This kick-started a tradition that has lasted many years.

Sometimes, we would make do with Swedish Fish and a Tastykake Chocolate Junior, while other years would bring Ben & Jerry’s smashed into a plate of waffles, but no matter how he did it, and no matter how bad it looked, it always put a smile on my face. Just to know I’m loved and that I can have something to laugh about makes these ugly cakes worthwhile.

Since today is my birthday, I woke up to see half of my Shopkins collection piled on top of an orange Halloween Funfetti cake. Glad to see the tradition lives on. I hope this lasts forever.

Thank you RJ for everything.

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Posted in Nerdy and Nifty, Out and About in Orlando

Spooky Retro, Horrifying Fun 

This past weekend, I have participated in what has become a bi-annual tradition for me. Volunteering for Spooky Empire.

Spooky Empire shirt paying tribute to the Pulse victims, along with the paper hearts that share the same purpose, given to me by a guest

Spooky Empire is a twice-a-year convention held in Orlando Florida that showcases anything in the horror and sci-fi genres, with a little rock and roll mixed in. From vendors who carry one of a kind props and collectibles, celebrities from horror movies and shows, crazy cosplays, and everything in between, you’re bound to find something fun.

Volunteer Orientation Night, or should we say Cemetery Print Appreciation Night? Cemetery Prints is a very popular vender found at the convention each year.

Among the many things that happened at this year’s Retro convention was the opportunity to meet various celebrities, from Dee Snider, Joan Cusack, Ernie Hudson, and Malcolm McDowell, along with some of the cast of Stranger Things and Halloween, there was somebody for everyone to meet and get autographs with, along with some panels and Q and A’s.

Of course, it’s never a Spooky Empire without Lloyd Kaufman, who not only did a Q&A at the event, but was available at the Troma booth most of the weekend for his adoring fans.

Lloyd Kaufman and Toxie

Wandering around the vendor room is like falling into a wormhole of awesomeness. Whether you’re looking for retro toys and collectibles or something as crazy as a skull lamp or a hand stitched Freddy Krueger doll, Spooky has anything your little dark heart desires. A majority of what is offered at Spooky is handcrafted by a variety of artisans. You can seriously get lost in there for hours. There’s also a tattoo festival on site, but many artists didn’t allow photos.

One the things I love most about Spooky is that independent filmmakers are invited to showcase some of their work, usually during film festivals at the October event. But sometimes they like to set up booths as a way to get the word out of their film, such as the case for movies like Bubba the Redneck Werewolf (who often shares a booth with Coffee Shop of Horrors) and what has to be a new favorite of mine, Pool Party Massacre. It’s awesome getting to learn about the creative process firsthand from those who have been through it. Plus, it’s not everyday you find a severed head in a pool floatie. 

Prop from Pool Party Massacre

And of course, what convention wouldn’t be complete without some cosplayers?

Each year, Spooky Empire takes it one step further and adds a new element to the show. Last year, the October show was so big, that they moved it to the Orange County Convention Center (which was then pushed back to December due to Hurricane Matthew.) This year, Spooky Empire has decided to take over the Magic Kingdom with it’s first ever “Spooky Day in the Park” this September IN ADDITION to the annual October event. “Spooky Day” will be the first time in the con’s history that they take over a local amusement park. So rest assured, there’s plenty of Spooky to go around. 

“Spooky Day” runs September 22-23, while Spooky Empire’s fall show runs from October 27 to 29, just in time for Halloween. You can follow Spooky Empire and purchase tickets for any of the events at www.SpookyEmpire.com

Be there or be scared.

Posted in Nerdy and Nifty, Out and About in Orlando

EpicMcD, I’m Lovin’ It

Wandering around I-Drive has always been an adventure, stumbling across various oddities and attractions many would never imagine finding.

But would you ever stop to think that something as basic as a McDonald’s would be one of them?

Yes, a McDonald’s. We all have been to one at some point of our lives. Many of us have grabbed the burger or a cup of coffee from there. It’s an American staple and almost every town has one. 

But what makes this McDonald’s different is that it’s epic. Even the sign on their window says so.

Why is it epic?

Well for starters, how many McDonald’s in the world have a fancy set up like this?

And most importantly, how many of them have a fancy pizza oven on site., much less sell pasta and whatever that amazing sandwhich in the back is?

Epic McDonald’s has been a staple in many a Florida vacation for the last couple decades. I remember coming here as a kid and being amazed about everything it has to offer. Just recently, Epic McDonald’s has seen an extensive renovation, but it has kept it’s charm as one of the largest entertainment McDonald’s in the country, quite possibly the world. 

This two-story McDonald’s houses not only the pizza and pasta bar, but an epic dessert bar that offers a variety of cakes and baked goods, in addition to the ice cream creations you have known to love from any other McDonald’s you have been to.

Unlike its previous design, which looked very tacky and neon to today’s standards, Epic McDonald’s new look brings a more Modern Cafe vibe, from the seating to the artwork, it doesn’t feel like your typical McDonald’s, even though it hints at it.

On the second floor, Epic McDonald’s houses it’s infamous PlayPlace and arcade. PlayPlaces have become a dying fixture in many McDonald’s due to costs of upkeep and lack of interest, as kids would rather play with their IPad instead. Epic McDonald’s PlayPlace is a rare gem, not to mention huge. If only I were smaller so I could explore this thing.

And of course, my friend Amanda and I had to partake in some fun. Oddly enough, we weren’t limited by our sizes in the toddler area.

In addition to the PlayPlace, an arcade with a variety of modern games and a prize redemption area grace the top floor. From SkeeBall to Jurassic Park and everything in between. It’s indeed a gamer’s dream come true.

Just like the downstairs area, quirky artwork graces the top as well. Even McNight the Moon makes an appearance. 

It’s also a great place for a birthday party, as I was able to snap a photo of a set up before it began. I remember having a McDonald’s birthday party when I was little and how awesome it was, I can only imagine how epic one at Epic McDonald’s would be.

Epic McDonald’s is located at 6875 W Sand Lake Rd, Orlando, FL 32819-9349. You can read up on EpicMcD at its website here and learn more about the special events they offer as well. Face painting and Magic Shows, anyone? 


Posted in Nerdy and Nifty, Out and About in Orlando

Zombie Outbreak- Not Your Typical Orlando Attraction 

Somewhere in between the Mouse and Hogwarts lies a corridor known as I-Drive (International Drive) which has essentially become the Las Vegas for families. Every single restaurant you can imagine, along with a vast array of roadside attractions as far as the eye can see, dot the street amongst the many shady Disney ticket sales booths and knock off gift and luggage shops. It’s a hodgepodge of crazy hokeyness that makes Wallyworld from National Lampoon’s Vacation look weaksauce.

But amongst the many tourist traps stands Zombie Outbreak, a laser tag experience with a twist. It prides itself as a real life video game, complete with movie set quality props and scareactor zombies around every corner. 

Zombie Outbreak is very hard to find, as it can easily be mistaken for a restaurant. But inside this average-looking building lies an attraction like no other. A sight for sore eyes when it comes to tourists looking for a thrill rather than a novelty.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of laser tag places within the general Orlando area, but how many can let you shoot real zombies?

For roughly about $25, you will be set up with a bandolier and an army replica rifle as you are taken in by militia who will talk you through everything you need to know. 

Upon entering, you will be given the backstory of how the zombies came to be by a very professionally made video. Afterwards you are led by your captain who will give instructions on how to use your gun, at which point you are sent through a very detailed maze of both real and animatronic zombies getting ready to chow down on you. 

The attention to detail is very realistic, almost as if you’re on an army base testing facility. The props used are very high-grade so it doesn’t feel like you’re running around a fun house like most people assume this place would be, myself included originally.

Navigating through the maze takes roughly about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how fast you run through it. Your score would be shown on the screen the end of your run. I did seem to have some trouble with my gun, where it would keep going on to safety mode for some reason,  so for those who’ve never held a gun before in their life, it’s always best to have a friend who knows what they’re doing. 


Although if the worst case scenario happens, you are too scared or your gun gets all weird, you can always back out of the game at anytime and a friendly neighborhood zombie will help you get out of the maze safely. So for those who are noobs like me at this kind of thing, I felt safe knowing I could get the help I needed should something go awry.

And if you’re not great with mazes, no worries. There’s yellow lines on the floor telling you where to go.

Now for a discounted rate, you are able to play up to two more times for about $10 a round. However, doing so will make the game more intense, as in those live zombies will be following crazy close. So be prepared.

For an additional amount, you could take home an awesome souvenir picture of you in your heroic militia gear. The Walking Dead ain’t got nothing on you. They also have T-shirts and the occasional oddity (usually some form of taxidermy) to chronicle your survival and victory.

Zombie Outbreak is located on 7364 International Dr, Orlando, FL 32819, nestled between the CocoKey Water Resort and The Titanic Experience. You can learn more about this experience and buy tickets here.

Can’t make it to Orlando? No worries, they also have a location in Wisconsin Dells. All the information on that is listed in the link above as well.

Happy hunting.

Posted in Nerdy and Nifty

Let Me Introduce Myshelf- Part 8, Let’s Have Some Funko

Over the course of the last couple years, I have accumulated quite a bit of Funko Pop figures. For those unfamiliar, Funko Pops our little vinyl figurines of pop culture icons with big heads and big beady eyes. Almost like the modern-day bobblehead but many of them don’t bobble. Except Groot. He’s the only one that bobbles.

(And yes, I know Dollar Store Jesus isn’t a Funko, but he likes to hang out here anyway.)

Personally, unlike many Funko collectors, I don’t try to go after the whole line of characters. A fellow friend of mine has a wall of them still in their boxes. If I ever found myself getting that bad, I would need a bigger apartment. 

I collect from a bunch of different franchises. Of course, Strawberry Shortcake is my favorite, followed by Adventure Time, Big Bang Theory, Gudetama, and Disney. I also have a couple My Little Pony figures as well.

What I love the most are the minifigures that are found in the blind boxes. Once in awhile I treat myself to a blind box whenever I get the chance, but with work being sporadic, I haven’t had the funds to do so in a while. 

I always love the design of a Funko Pop, often very minimalist in nature and yet still very much detailed. A very fun item for any collector no matter what you’re into.

“Let Me Introduce Myshelf” is  an ongoing series about the meaning behind my collectibles. You can read it from the beginning here

Posted in Media Reviews, Nerdy and Nifty

“Like Stars On Earth” Review- A Beautiful Find in Bollywood

As a kid, I grew up in a mostly Hindi neighborhood, and with that in mind, I fell in love with the culture, adoring my friends’ beautiful sahris, trading in my American junk food for some cold curry and rice, and watching the weekend variety shows on a local UHFstation that played all the Bollywood movies and music videos. 

I always loved Bollywood movies, but the sucky part was reading subtitles too small for me to see. The music was catchy, but I couldn’t get into the movie as much as I wanted to. 

That was until I stumbled across a movie that RJ found on YouTube called “Like Stars On Earth” or known in it’s Indian release “Taare Zameen Par” a 2007 film that chronicles the life of a young boy with learning disabilities. This movie was so well renowned, that Disney decided to purchase the rights to distribute it to the English speaking masses, the first time a Bollywood movie found such acclaim

Eight year old Ishaan Awasthi is the younger son of a successful business man and his wife and the younger brother of Yohan, a boy who excels in everything from sports to academics. Ishaan is the exact opposite of his big brother, he constantly finds himself the target of neighborhood bullies, doesn’t do so well in school, and is known to “bunk” school (what we call “play hookie” here in the states.)

Ishaan is often refered to as idiot or duffer by all his teachers and the adults in his life. After he is caught one day exploring the streets of his city alone and convincing his brother to write a fake absence note to cover himself, his father sends him to a boarding school in a last ditch effort to straighten him out and not have to send him to a special needs school. 

While at the boarding school, he is befriended by a young boy with physical disabilties who becomes his friend and helper. When their art teacher leaves, he is replaced by Ram, a local teacher who also works at a special needs school nearby called Tulips. Ram takes interest in Ishaan and learns that despite what the other teachers have said, he is a bright young kid that just so happens to be Dyslexic… 

(SPOILER ALERT) 

Just like Ram.

Although the movie has a bit of an “inspiration porn” vibe on the surface, it actually keeps it’s focus on the thoughts of Ishaan as he navigates this tough time in his life. Even down to his daydreams, as the screenshot below shows him in a spaceship shooting down planets during a math test.

The movie’s musical numbers also focus on Ishaan’s inner thoughts, from wanting to be free away from his schoolwork and away from the adults who are always negative around him to his resentment towards his mother for agreeing to send him away. It’s a highly emotional journey for Ishaan as he finds himself and learns that he can overcome his disabilities with the help of a great mentor like Ram.

Although this movie is awesome, there are some things that irked me, but given cultural differences, it was easy to understand why. The father often refers to his son as mentally retarded and holds a lot of fears that Ishaan won’t be able to succeed like his older brother or function well in society. This is understandable given the caste system well known in Indian culture. Being able to work and be successful is a must in their society. It’s all or nothing.

They also show that in this modern society, children with special needs are still separated into different schools, such as the case of Tulips, the school Ram works at. Ram mentions his disgust for the way schools are still separated, stating that the local version of the IDEA act is supposed to promote inclusion for his students, but teachers are stuck in their own ways. 

Whether the Indian School System still stays in their old ways or not remains the question, but watching this makes me believe that more needs to be done to spread inclusion and diversity in countries that haven’t grasped the concept most other countries have. This movie nails it on the head. It remains fun, yet stays serious. It’s beautiful story between a teacher and student reminds me of some of the teachers I had as a child. This is a beautiful gem out of Bollywood not to be missed. You can find the DVD here.

And although it has subtitles, it comes with a English dubbed version as well. My eyes are happy. Blind Bagged Approved. 😀

Posted in Cast Member Chronicles, Nerdy and Nifty

Let Me Introduce Myshelf- Part 7, Of (Little) Mice and Men

When I first moved down here, I didn’t have any furniture and the walls were pretty bland. The only thing I had was a small ledge above my sliding glass door.

So one day, when I was working the Disney gift shop on International Drive, it dawned on me. These little Vinylmation guys would look cute up there.

And well, a collection was born.

The Collection got so big, it actually stretches among three different shelves in 3 different places of the apartment. I have some on the top shelf of what I called the Tower of Power, I have some hanging out in the coffee bar near the Keurig, and I have others on the TV stand.

Vinylmations were an easy little collection to start up with. For about $3 to $5 each at the shop I worked at, I would be able to bring home a little Mickey Mouse figure painted in different ways to fancy up the bare ledger of my apartment. When I first started this collection, Walt Disney World Resort used to allow trading these figures the same way they trade the pins. That was another way for my collection to expand. Sadly, they put an end to the trading, but upon doing that, I was able for a short time to purchase some of Disney’s supply of trading vinyls at The Cast Connection store, a special shop for cast members only. A dollar a vinyl? Can’t beat that.

Wait a minute,what the heck are those little things in the bottom right corner?

For a short time, Universal Orlando resort tried the jump on the vinyl trading bandwagon with their creation the U-Mini or Uni-Mini. These figures were shaped more like a monkey or like the item they were representing, like the squarepants pineapple man. Although they still sell them today, it just never caught on as the next big thing. 

To be honest, I would have loved to see them expand on it more, like a mini Jimmy Fallon or a little baby Terminator.

As of now, Since I no longer work on Disney property, the days of collecting Vinylmations have pretty much come to an end and  the focus has been replaced by my quest for Funko Pops. You’ll see them in the next post.

“Let Me Introduce Myshelf” is  an ongoing series about the meaning behind my collectibles. You can read it from the beginning here