Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hollywood House Hunting: William S. Hart Hacienda

Confession time.  My name is Mr. Tiny and I am an architectural voyeur.  One of my very favorite pastimes is entering homes (mostly lawfully) to see the manner in which people live, to steal decorating ideas, and to exchange whispered bon mots with my companions regarding drapery lengths and furniture placement.  It is a particular pleasure to cross the threshold of historic homes that offer a glimpse into the thoughtful interior architecture from days of yore.  

Given the general consensus, as presented by HGTV and its ilk, I am definitely among the minority who abhors the notion of everyone in my kitchen via an "open concept."  The fact that Mr. Tiny's Kitsch-en Kounter projects are top secret make me appreciate that many older homes offer purposeful distinctions between the living areas and the working areas, adjacent though they may be.  Homes offering such distinctions allow me to imagine myself taking up residence.  After our recent tour of the William S. Hart Ranch & Museum of Newhall, CA, my imagination had me easily installed as lord of the manor or ruler of the ranch, at least! 

"La Loma de los Vientos"
William S. Hart Ranch & Museum - Newhall, CA

The Spanish-Colonial facade of William S. Hart's hill-top manse is slightly misleading in that it perhaps doesn't convey the grandeur befitting one of early Hollywood's greatest film stars.  Born in New York state in the waning days of the Civil War, William S. Hart was a renaissance man whose stardom came as the result of the many careers he tried - including stage acting.  Having once been castmates with legendary film producer, Thomas Ince, Hart was convinced he could move to California and become a star.  By 1925, after seventy pictures (mostly Westerns), Hart was considered Hollywood's undisputed king of the cowboys - with a kingly income to match (he was reputedly making more than Charlie Chaplin).  Life imitated art and in his retirement, Hart selected a large parcel of land in the Santa Clarita Valley on which to live out the wildest of his wild west dreams.

William S. Hart
December 6, 1864 - June 23, 1946

The home may look unprepossessing but at approximately 10,000 square feet, the house became a roomy retreat for Hart and a host of his Hollywood compatriots.  With construction completed in 1927, the Hart Ranch, known as "La Loma de los Vientos," became the primary, and final residence, of Mr. Hart and his sister, Mary Ellen.

The sprawling grounds includes many outbuildings including a bunk house and a watchtower/gatehouse
bearing the Spanish name of the estate; "La Loma de los Vientos" translates to The Hill of the Winds.

Immortalized in oil, Bill Hart and his faithful companion, Fritz the horse.
Fritz was Hollywood's first celebrity horse and is said to have been welcomed
to Hart's star-studded dinner parties.

My favorite parts of the house were the hand-
painted Southwest/Native American motifs. 

The circular foyer with its spectacular, vaulted, wagon-wheel ceiling has an adjacent
powder room that graciously afforded road-weary luminaries a place to freshen up.

The beautiful dining room, the breakfast room, and kitchen

The first floor of the home looked like it was paved in bricks.
In fact, it was thousands of redwood blocks that were set
by repeatedly flooding the floor, swelling and locking the
blocks into place.

Rarely do I walk into a home and think, "I wouldn't change a thing."
The only thing that needed changing in the magnificent, second-floor living room of the Hart house was my tune.

A few of the bedrooms and an all-original bathroom

William S. Hart was so wacky tacky in his heart that he included a
bedroom built especially for his beloved dogs.  Dogs eventually laid
to rest in the...

Dogs Graveyard!!!

More than just a house, more than just a pet cemetery, the museum includes a small feeding area for animals (deer, pigs, cows, chickens), a circa-1910 ranch house, log cabins, and sprawling grounds.


It would be impossible to come to the William S. Hart Ranch & Museum without feeling a bit like Hollywood royalty.  The minute I crossed the threshold of La Loma de los Vientos, I earnestly wished that I could move in on a very permanent basis - the very reason I am always conflicted when estates become county institutions/museums.  Even though I find the least expensive Southern California's real estate to be cost prohibitive, the historic landmark status truly eliminates any possibility of me one day owning the property.  And that's a bummer.  On the other hand, were the Hart Ranch and others like it to remain private properties, jerks like me would never get the chance to wander the grounds and dream.

If, in some bizarre twist of fate, I should ever take up residence at the Hart house,
my only real concern would be the persistent pest problem in the trees.

As well as coveting the house, I will also confess that my maturity level (falling way below developmental guidelines for a thirty-something) encouraged me to laugh every time we saw the historic landmark sign and say, "William Shart Ranch & Museum, more like it."  I really should have been more reverent because the benevolent man who built this house always knew that one day he would want to share it with the world; "When I was making pictures, people gave me their nickels, dimes, and quarters.  When I am gone, I want them to have my home."

Thank you, Mr. Hart!

I guess the takeaway is that if you leave your doors unlocked, chances are you will come home to find Mr. Tiny respectfully admiring your built-ins and definitely, definitely, definitely not trying on your clothes...

William S. Hart Ranch & Museum
24151 Newhall Ave
Newhall, CA



Mr. Tiny

The William S. Hart Ranch & Museum is one of the special venues included in the yearly Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.  Tiny & Mary are proud to be featured performers at the 2015 festival on Sunday, April 19.  Please visit the festival website for more details.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Crazy Crafty: That's MISTER Potato Head to You!!!

I don't know if "Potato Head" has ever been used as an ethnic slur against the Irish, but I think it is high time that the Irish, and those of us who boast some kind of vague Gaelic heritage (mostly by way of seasonal, marathon viewings of The Quiet Man (1952) and Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959), claim the term as our own.  An entire corner of the toy industry was founded on transforming the humble potato into a thing of greatness and that, as they say, is no small potatoes!

Invented in 1949, with distribution by the Hasbro toy company beginning in 1952, Mr. Potato Head has been a mainstay of toy store shelves for nearly seventy years.  Right up there with the Easy Bake Oven, old Mister Potato has never experienced a season of famine.  Year after year, the farmers at Potato Head Farms must supply a bumper crop to keep up with perennial demand.  Using the 1949 toy/craft as inspiration, I set forth on our St. Patrick's Day Crazy Crafty!

It was obvious from the image on the front of the original "Mr. Potato Head Funny Face Kit,"
that making Mr. Potato Head a leprechaun was not going to be too big a stretch.

The original Mr. Potato Head Funny Face Kit included only prosthetic appendages and accessories, requiring the use of an actual potato.  Not until 1964 did the kit come complete with the lumpy, plastic potato body, so well known to folks of my generation.  Always one to bring a little vintage wacky tacky stylings to the holiday proceedings, however, I decided to go old school and craft a homemade potato head with only materials I could find around the house - including fresh produce.  While challenging in its own right, finding a picturesque potato would prove to be the easiest part of this holiday craft.

I mean, have you ever sewn shorts for a potato?
Authoring this blog has taken me down some roads of questionable creativity, but this was a first.
The eyes are made of layered buttons.  The hat, ears, nose, glasses, and shoes are made of paper.
The eyebrows and muttonchops are made of unraveled yarn, while the bet is grosgrain ribbon.  The
legs are made of wire wrapped in yarn and the pipe is made of a bamboo skewer, paper, and a cotton
ball.  And who needs arms when you have the luck o' the Irish and the magic of the leprechauns!
I was particularly pleased to be able to use my grandmother's pot as our little leprechaun's pot o' gold!

This potato has eyes!!!
Speaking of eyes, I think I have unwittingly discovered how I want my next pair of specs to look.
Can someone please manufacture these glasses in a size suitable for the world's largest potato head?

Did you ever play with Mr. Potato Head or his lovely wife?  According to Wikipedia, Mr. Potato Head was the first children's toy to advertise on television.  Obviously, the strategy of marketing directly toward children was a winner.  Lo, this many years later, children (and the perpetually childish) continue to play with their food, making funny faces with Mr. Potato Head!

An early commercial for Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head Kits

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sew What?! An Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Matchy-Matchy Ruffle-kini

While it has heretofore gone undiagnosed, I am certain that I suffer from profound Matchy-Matchy Syndrome.  The symptoms exhibited themselves early on, when as a child, I sat starry-eyed watching Doris Day in a 1962 fashion sequence from That Touch of Mink in which mannequins at Bergdorf Goodman modeled luxurious lounging pajamas of acid-green brocade with matching robes, smart skirt suits with linings to match the blouses, and mink coats with interchangeable, satin overcoats meant to coordinate with every ensemble.  Since then, the height of chic was defined for me by a woman's ability to have everything match, a theory which has not always served me well.

My matchy-matchy fate was sealed when I watched Bon Voyage!another seminal film from that fabulous year for female fashion, 1962.  In it, Deborah Walley wears one of the coolest (and hottest), matching, seaside ensembles that has ever graced the silver screen - a wacky tacky matchy-matcherson's dream come true!

Deborah Walley as wild woman in Bon Voyage! (1962)

Living in one of the sun-worshipping capitals of the world, I have seen many
a far-out swimsuit.  None have ever come close to rivaling the sophisticated
savagery of Ms. Walley's leopard-print bathing costume with matchy-matchy

Have you ever seen a suit suite like this?!!
Everything about the outfit is oversized - the hat, the glasses, the duffel bag, the style!
As Bon Voyage! is a Disney film, it is possible that old Uncle Walt, considering the bikini
too risqué, ordered the addition of the criss-cross modesty straps with the belly-button bow!
In my opinion, this could very well have been the precursor to today's monokini and those
much-coveted "Scandal Suits" presented by Cole of California in 1964.

Having enjoyed a winter season in California that was close to breaking records for its mild manner (aside from a recent, freak hail storm), my thoughts easily stray to summer.  As a result, I have been revisiting many of Deborah Walley's beach-bound performances in Gidget Goes Hawaiian, the AIP Beach Party movies, and, of course, Bon Voyage!  Consequently, my first real "Sew What?!" project for 2015 is an itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie, matchy-matchy RUFFLE-KINI!!!

This navy, white, and citron-yellow floral-print cotton was
purchased at my favorite place for my favorite price - 99¢ per yard!
It had been sitting in the stash for years waiting for just the right project.
Because the flowers are printed in large scale (7-8 inches), and I figured
that my best bet in diminishing the material's overtly flower-power
message would be to gather the fabric into miles of ruffles. 

It takes miles of ruffles to make a Ruffle-Kini.

To send this outfit truly over-the-top, it was imperative to find a finishing touch that indeed went over the top...over the very top of the hat.  As shown in the illustration, I had the idea of a long fall cascading from the pinnacle of the Put A Lid On It! Sun Hat.  As it happens, fake hair - even "cheap" fake hair - isn't all that cheap.  I found an online distributor of the finest polyester fibers masquerading as human hair, but the ponytails were always the most expensive pieces.  I decided to take a chance on an eight-dollar, twenty-nine-inch, clip-on, bleach-blonde extension and pray for the best.  When I got the "hair," I just removed the clips and rolled (and sewed) the hair into a ponytail.  I don't think my makeshift fall would fool the likes of Vidal Sassoon, but I am happy it turned out so well.  The following images, taken by our pal, Fabian Fioto, are the soon-to-be-legendary results of a photo shoot which we lovingly refer to as, "Legends of the Fall."

After all, any outfit is made by the fall!
Even after sewing all of those ruffles, I had exactly enough fabric to
make a matchy-matchy hat, beach bag, cover-up, and ruffled mules!

Nobody told me how much work it was to apply so many layers of ruffles to a bikini.  About halfway through the process, I was all the way ready to give up - out of both frustration and concern that the result would look like a bulky baby's bathing costume!

And I was afraid that the ruffles would look too juvenile!
I think Mary was able to prevent things from going too far
in the diaper cover direction!

For each piece, I either made my own pattern or made it up as I went along.

"I'm forever blowing bubbles!"
What you can't see in this photo is Mr. Tiny and Allie going blue in the face
trying to blow as many bubbles into the frame as possible...to questionable result.

The only photo I took all day was this behind-the-scenes shot.
Never having had an on-set hair expert, we felt very lucky to have little Allie on
hand.  Working so diligently at taming the fall, it might have been nice if Fabian
let her use the ladder once in a while to climb to the top of Mount St. Mary!

For me, there is no denying the greatness of the above photos.  However, when I stopped "directing" and truly left Mary, Fabian, and the afternoon sun to their own devices, the photos became really special. 

We were lucky enough to have the use of some beautiful friend's beautiful home for the afternoon.
They were gracious enough to let us shoot indoors and out!

I'm allowed to say , "Wow," because I am neither the subject of the
 photo nor the photographer.  All I did was make the lousy ponytail hat...

How to stuff a ruffle-kini!

This one is my favorite.

Or maybe this one...

Or maybe this one...
After Fabian had taken exactly one million photos of her in the bikini, Mary changed so Fabian could get some photos for his own portfolio.  I decided to do as the cool kids do and photo bomb; I snuck behind the bar and popped up just as the shutter clicked.  Initially, Fabian was none too thrilled with my hijinks, but we all ended up thinking the photo was pretty cool!

I'm not sure that there is any cure for Matchy-Matchy Syndrome, let alone any treatment.  Furthermore, I'm not sure that I would want one anyhow; much like Deb's beach get-up, I think it would be impossible for this matchy-matchy leopard to change his spots!

Whether you prefer matchy-matchy or mixing-and-matching, wacky tacky
will always encourage you to make with the fake hair and WHIP IT!

As always, a huge THANK YOU to my compatriots, Fabian, Allie, and Mary, for elevating my crimes against fashion into something beautiful!!!  Thanks also to our hosts for endangering their position with their home owner's association and neighborhood watch group by opening their beautiful Beverly Hills home to our ragtag bunch!  MERCI BEAUCOUP!!!


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

wacky tacky Icons: Dame Edna Everage

You know it's a good day when you can convince your adult sister that staring at pictures of the sun (sunrise photos from her recent camping trip) is just as dangerous an act as staring into the sun itself.  Will I ever grow up?  May the odds be never in my favor.  

Stargazing would seem like a safe alternative to sun-staring but there is one star so bright that she outshines the very center of our solar system by far.  To gaze directly upon her radiant magnificence is to be blinded by the brightest heavenly body that the universe has ever known.  To the residents of Moonee Ponds, she is just Mrs. Everage, Melbourne housewife.  To the British Royal Family she is trusted advisor and confidante.  To the rest of the world, she is Australian gigastar and squillionairess, Dame Edna!

"Hello, Possums!!!!"
Dame Edna Everage wearing a rather -modest example of her signature "face furniture."

After attending Dame Edna's farewell tour of 2009, I had resigned myself to the fact that the only way to get my fix would come from reading her books, re-watching my collection of Dame Edna DVDs, and bingeing on the hundreds of available YouTube videos.  Fully convinced that her last farewell tour would indeed be the last farewell tour, I was delighted when my friend asked me me if I wanted to attend the dame's latest farewell tour, "Dame Edna's Glorious Goodbye."  Surely hers was a rhetorical request as she had to know that I would never pass up the opportunity for a few hours of Dame Edna's legendary "caring and sharing."

So maybe I should have paid closer attention; it says right
there on the ticket, "Dame Edna: My First Last Tour."

If you have never been to a Dame Edna show it is important to know that the first six-or-so rows of the orchestra section are akin to Sea World's "Splash Zone."  Theatergoers with the temerity to opt for the most expensive seats will likely become unwilling or, at the very least, unwitting participants in Dame Edna's ever-interactive performances, to wit, "Do you have any regrets?  I mean, besides placing such misplaced confidence in your hairdresser."  Feeling quite young and brave the first two times I saw Dame Edna, I opted for the "good seats."  Only once was I graced to be picked-on; fortunately, it was just to stand and tremble my gladiolus (the Dame's favorite flower).  This time, we sat well into the safe zone of the Mezzanine where, as spectators, we could relax and fully enjoy the hilarious proceedings.

The show was at The Ahmanson Theater in Downtown Los Angeles;
the beautiful grounds, the sunny February day, and the drunk audience
made for a magical day of live theater!

To avoid looking like a poser, I should explain that I have loved Dame Edna since childhood.  When I was young, my grandparents traveled to Australia to visit my uncle and his Aussie bride.  Returning home with an unbridled enthusiasm for Australia's greatest export since Vegemite, they passed their love for Dame Edna onto me.  My fandom is so enduring that I once costumed Mary as the Dame for Halloween (using the officially-licensed wig and glasses) before she even really knew who Dame Edna was.

At the very end of the performance, Dame Edna invited us
to get out our cameras and take photos of the curtain call.
It's always a poignant moment when Dame Edna creator, Barry Humphries,
comes onstage as himself.  Unfortunately, I was applauding with such fervor
that this is the best photo I could get.
At 81 years of age, Barry Humphries, the man behind Dame Edna, mightn't be as agile as once he was.  But after fifty years of glamorous globetrotting and treading "the boards" in exquisitely-crafted high heels and fantastic frocks by in-house couturier, son Kenny, who would be?  His/Dame Edna's timing and inimitable wit are still firing on all cylinders, keeping the audience roaring with laughter.  As one who loves to laugh as earnestly and deeply and often as possible, I admit to entering early-onset asthma anytime and every time I am in the rarified presence of Dame Edna.  Honestly, my raucous laughter actually got me a few stares from other audience members; I like to think that they were simply making sure that the weird fat guy in the row behind them wasn't experiencing some sort of theatrically-induced medical problem. 

If this truly was a "farewell tour," then I am thrilled that I was able to attend.
If this is not a true farewell tour, then you can be sure that I will have tickets
for that "Glorious Goodbye" as well! 

I tend to reject the popular use of terms like "spirit animal" but were I to hurl such an epithet at any living person, it would definitely be wacky tacky icon, Dame Edna.  As wonderful as all of the physical trappings may be (gowns, hair, jewelry, face furniture), my affinity for Dame Edna is founded in her wit.  Balancing the line between "nothing sacred" and "family friendly," Dame Edna's ability to interact with a live audience without missing a beat, should be considered a master class for all aspiring performers.  She has connected three continents with her "slightly raunchy" brand of cleverly-disguised insult comedy.  She has bridged multiple generations of celebrity with her inventive programming.  She has conquered the worlds of stage, screen, and television.  She has captured the hearts of wacky tacky comedy-lovers everywhere.  She has interviewed Lauren Bacall and Tom Jones at the same time; there is not a damn thing this dame can't do!

My favorite episode of The Dame Edna Experience with Lauren Bacall & Tom Jones (1989)

As the song says, "There is nothing like a dame!"  Oh, Mr. Oscar Hammerstein II, you are so right!


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hollywood House Hunting: Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

In the great scheme of things, an adventure to find one of our favorite houses from one of our favorite films seems positively puny when compared with the BIG adventure of the film's hero.  It might also seem highly unreasonable for a grown man to consider said house as holy ground.  When one considers that the house' primary, if fictional, resident was one Pee-Wee Herman (the original "eccentric man-child"), it all starts to make more sense.

Pee-Wee's House from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
There are many subliminal (or overt) style cues/taste preferences I picked up from both Pee-Wee Herman and art director,
David L. Snyder - cowboys & indians, holiday decor, lawn art, space age travel, and symmetrical homes
of the 1920s.

Built in 1922, this delightfully-symmetrical house made Mr. Tiny jump for joy.
Even without its fire-engine-red paint job, yard full of statuary, and Water
Wiggle sprinkler system, this home would suit this eccentric man-child to a T!

Nestled between quite sizable Craftsman-style homes, the scale and current color of Mr. Herman's house make it a real standout in its lovely, South Pasadena neighborhood.  Having made no secret of the fact that my very favorite houses are those that resemble either a child's drawing or the sweet simplicity of a Mary Blair illustration, I could easily see myself feathering this particular nest.  I have never even seen the inside but I know that living in Pee-Wee Herman's house would make me feel like "the luckiest boy in the world."

With its red-tinted roof, picket fence, and twin peaks, Pee-Wee's house is a passable,
real-life stand-in for The Little House - even without the gingerbread trim.  

In taking this picture, I assured Mary that I was Pee-Wee and she was definitely Francis.
The neighbors, including Mr. Crowtray (I always thought he said "Crabtree"), were not buying it either.
Incidentally, this shot includes the window from which Mr. Crowtray communicated with Pee-Wee.

I am such a die-hard fan of everything Pee-Wee related that someone might be liable to call me "crazy," "a nerd," "an idiot."  To that person, I have only one thing to say, "I know you are but what am I?"

 Pee-Wee's house in action

Pee-Wee Herman's House
1848 Oxley St
South Pasadena, CA


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Holy Rollin': Calvary Chapel of the Canyons

Even the most pious among us will acknowledge that every religion works some kind of angle - faith, charity, karma, guilt.  Are you a church-going type?  If so, what angle are they working at your church?   Well, if you're a parishioner of Calvary Chapel of the Canyons in Silverado, CA, then you know that the angle working overtime at your place of worship is the TRI-angle.
Calvary Chapel of the Canyons (1961) - Silverado, CA

Cleaving into the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains like a modernist's interpretation of Abraham's sacrificial knife, this mid-Century church takes religious symbolism to a new level.  It does not, however, take the genius of Benjamin Franklin Gates, Nicolas Cage's inimitable symbologist, relic hunter, code-breaker, mechanical engineer, history nerd, unwitting criminal-turned-savior-of-the-world's-most-valuable-antiquities in the National Treasure franchise, to interpret said symbolism.  To we wacky tacky laymen, it was clear that the Holy Trinity could be found in the endless series of triangles that make up Calvary Chapel of the Canyons.  Narrowly escaping the destructive flames of wildfires in 2013, the church's survival is sometimes credited to its resemblance to "a pair of praying hands."  Perhaps I'm too literal, but I don't see it.  Don't go by me though; I was never able to see the hidden image in those 3D Stereogram kiosks so prevalent in late '90s malls either.  Triangles, on the other hand, I can see.

Alright, so maybe from this angle I can kind of see it...
But approached from any angle, angelical Christians and architectural enthusiasts
alike are greeted by a veritable tessellation of triangles.  The silhouette is a triangle.
The buttress is a triangle.  The three arms of the church's triangular combination bell-
tower and steeple are braced by graduated triangles.  While marked by some rec-
tangular panes, even the stained-glass windows form a triangle.  It seems that the
only thing not triangular in nature at this church is the cross!

We I should have known better than to think the Calvary Chapel website would include a page dedicated to the church's architectural history.  With much more weighty matters on their minds (and souls), it makes me wonder if the architectural significance of this splendid church ever crosses the minds of the squares attending this jazzy triangle!

"A Jazzy Triangle Meets A Square" from Sesame Street (1969)

Sadly, Calvary Chapel of the Canyons was closed for business when we were taking our most recent joyride through "the canyons."  So spectacular is the church that I wouldn't put it past these wacky tacky "holy rollers" to take another joyride out to Silverado on a Sunday morning, if only to catch a glimpse of the interior in person (pictures found online indicate that the interior architecture is also dominated by geometry's holy trinity).  Until then we can only pray that we'll find more opportunities for some wacky tacky holy rollin'.

Calvary Chapel of the Canyons
8002 Silverado Canyon Rd
Silverado, CA



Mr. Tiny

Monday, February 9, 2015

Kitsch-en Kounter: The Love Shack!

One word that I make a conscious effort to use as infrequently as possible is "obsessed."  Hosting exchange students in our house quite regularly, most of them Japanese, I learned how bizarre it was to them when we we would so freely express our love - of bagels, of TV shows, of shoes, of songs, of weather, of hair products, of sunglasses, of almost anything except one another.  It is my understanding that the word for love in Japanese is reserved exclusively for only its most romantic definition; it therefore must have seemed particularly odd when I would jubilantly proclaim, "I LOVE hamburgers!"  Some romances never die.  

These days, it isn't enough to like something.  It isn't even enough to love something.  To prove the fervor of our 21st-Century commitment to trends, movements, and inanimate objects, we must say that we're OBSESSED!!!  Well, occasionally, I fall victim to the vernacular and find myself obsessed with something, in this case, Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cook Book.

vintage betty crocker
Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cookbook

Originally published in 1957 and printed many times since, Betty Crocker's Boys and Girls Cookbook was among the first to acknowledge the interest of a burgeoning youth population to participate in the kitchen.  The edition that I grew up with, the new edition, was published in 1965 with edits, updates, and a new crop of "home-testers."  When my grandmother would pull this book from the uppermost kitchen cabinet, we knew that we were in for a self-styled treat - mostly because she was probably so sick of looking after four rambunctious kids that she knew the only way to take a break was to sacrifice her freshly Pine-Sol'ed linoleum and unleash us on her immaculate kitchen of lime-green formica.

For what seemed like hours, my brothers and sister and I would pore over the images of party-cut sandwiches, Hawaiian Luau Loaf, clown-faced hamburgers, and - my favorite - the soda fountain drinks served in all manner of old-timey glassware.  We spent so much time deciding what to make that I honestly can't recall if we ever actually made anything (crafty Grandma).  Year after year, I have returned to this book for inspiration, for nostalgia, and for a gateway to my grandparents.  The book makes frequent cameos in conversations with my siblings, mostly as we wax nostalgic and wonder who the keeper of the book is (I guess I'm letting the cat out of the bag).  At this point in its fifty-year history, the book's pages are spattered, dog-eared, and torn.  The back cover is missing and the rusty spiral binding could more accurately be described as barbed wire.  Well worn and well loved, it is a physical manifestation of the kitschy culinary obsessions that blossomed in Mr. Tiny's earliest years.  Way beyond both the limits of our food-styling abilities and the limits of Grandma's patience, one particular recipe in the book very tragically went ever unmade.  Having dreamt of the Enchanted Castle Cake since childhood is proof that an unmade recipe can become the fodder for a lifelong obsession.

wacky tacky castle cake
Enchanted Castle Cake

"My father took a picture of me with my cake."
Oh, Joan, it was probably because he wanted to capture that lovely
asymmetrical haircut you received at the Braille Beauty College.

With its red/white/pink color story, this recipe made like Cupid, drawing back its bow and shooting straight to this cake lover's heart.  With cake in our hearts and hearts in our eyes, the Enchanted Castle became our Valentine's Day Kitsch-en Kounter project for 2015.  I, of course, terribly bored with the tedium of printed instructions, immediately went rogue.  Even at my advanced age, an entire castle seemed rather daunting; we would take our cake in the direction of something more romantic, more intimate, and more cost-conscious.  Something that, if you saw a faded sign by the side of the road, you'd be more than willing to drive fifteen miles to share in its sweet delight. 

wacky tacky kitsch-en kounter
Humble of both address and architecture (cake-itecture?),
the Love Shack is just a little old place where we can get together.

Starting with a tried-and-true, basic cake recipe, I figured it would be easy to adapt
 into a heart-shaped cake that was also colored in an appropriately-thematic fashion.

I had never before made a red velvet cake and, as it happens, I still haven't.
By the third heaping tablespoon of red gel food coloring, I just couldn't
stomach anymore.  "Maybe it will magically turn red in the oven..."  It didn't.
Incidentally, I just watched someone make a red-velvet cake on TV today
and they used two whole bottles of liquid food coloring!!!  No thanks.

Taking style cues from the Enchanted Castle Cake, I added iced ice-cream-cone spires; swirled in pink confection, they were topped with heart-spangled banners waving from heart-shaped picks.  A polka-dot red carpet welcomes lovers under an awning supported by paper straws.  The edifice is paneled in candy-stripe sticks and studded in pink, candy buttons.  Surrounded by coconut grass and a blue velvet sky, the sweetly-scaled Love Shack is to the Enchanted Castle Cake as Marie Antoinette's little Hamlet is to the Palace of Versailles.  The Love Shack became the perfect finishing touch to our humble Valentine's Day tablescape.

As a child, my favorite part of the book was the possibility, the dream that artfully playing with my food could one day become a legitimate avocation.  As an adult, with easy access to a car/grocery store/kitchen, my favorite parts of Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cook Book are the juvenile "home-testers'" reactions to helping with the book and testing the recipes (see Joan above) accompanied by the lovely, sometimes-flattering charcoal portraits.

"Being a home-tester was the most exciting thing I've ever done." - Randee (What a pity to peak so young)
"I learned how to use a sharp knife - without cutting myself." - Sandra (A recurring theme at Sandra's therapy sessions)
"We learned what words like baste and fold and beat meant." - Peter (Definitely the words of a serial killer)
Betty Crocker is like a real friend to me now." - Carol (You said it, Carol.  Imaginary friends are the best friends)

So, what are your obsessions?  Are you obsessed with making a Love Shack of your own?  Don't let Mr. Shakespeare fool you into thinking that "music be the food of love."  It's cake.  Yes, definitely cake.  So, if you're heading down the Atlanta highway and see our heart-shaped shack, just "Bang, bang, bang on the door, baby."  We'll let you in and save you a piece!

"Love Shack" - The B-52's

Happy Valentine's Day, you wacky tacky turkey necks!!!


Mr. Tiny