joanna irl

Recipe: Vegan Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL)

I don’t normally list recipes here, but I’ve been working on perfecting one for this time of year: a dairy-free PSL. (Yes, you can get non-dairy milk alternatives at Starbucks, but if you’re in the US, there’s dairy* in the syrup they use to make the coffee pumpkin-spicy, so it’s become a no-go for me (at least, without a big dose of lactaid).

Never being one to go down without a fight (or to give up my autumn tradition of a birthday PSL), I decided to figure out my own version using oatmilk. After a couple of months of tweaking, I think I’ve nailed it, so I’m sharing in case you also want to DIY at home!

Vegan PSL Recipe

(Yield 1 large serving or 2 small servings)


  • 1 cup (250ml) unsweetened oatmilk (or your favorite non-dairy, but I find that oatmilk has the best taste and texture overall)
  • 1 T (15ml) sugar (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp (5ml) vanilla extract
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 whole allspice
  • 2 tsp (10ml) ginger (or to taste– I go very heavy here because ginger, like garlic, should be measured with your heart)
  • 1 dash nutmeg (do not go overboard with this)
  • A cup of coffee (or tea!) of your choice
  • A reeeeally big mug (16oz / 450 ml)

Tools needed:

  • 1 small saucepan
  • 1 handheld strainer
  • 1 frother (optional!)

Easy-peasy instructions:

Pour your oatmilk into a small saucepan and add ALL of the other ingredients. You don’t even need to stir. The whole spices will float and the sugar can be in a big old lump in the center of the pan. It’s fine. I promise.

Set the mixture to simmer on a low heat. Don’t rush this. Trust me. Once it starts going you’ll have to move quick enough, so you don’t want to accidentally burn the milk by setting the heat too high to begin.

Wait for the oatmilk to simmer. You’re looking for small bubbles to begin to form all the way around the edge of the pan, like in the photo above. This isn’t quite there, as you’ll notice that the right-hand edge doesn’t have bubbles yet. But it’s close, my friend. Very close. Your patience will be rewarded.

Once it’s bubbling all the way around the edge, but BEFORE the milk has started to boil, it’s finally time to mix it!

I use a hand-held frother for this part to create the foam that makes this a latte in particular, but it isn’t necessary. You could also use a whisk or a wooden spoon. The important thing is to quickly mix the milk and spices so that everything is evenly distributed. Be sure your tool is fully submerged in the milk, and not at the top (so, like the image below, and not the one above).

Mix until the oatmilk starts to look a little foamy– if you are using a spoon, the heat from the near-boil will help you with this. If you’re using a whisk or a hand frother, the spices will knock into the tool and that’s okay. Oatmilk isn’t going to foam quite like dairy milk, and you’ve still got to strain this stuff, so just roll with it. It’s fine. Trust me.

Now, once you’ve got a bit of foam but before the milk boils (and it will boil over if you don’t stand there with it, so do not walk away or you will regret it as you scrape dried oatmilk off of your stovetop), it’s time to pour. Hold your strainer over your cup of coffee and pour the entire mixture through the strainer. The whole spices will be caught and the spiced oatmilk will fill the rest of your giant cup. (I don’t have a photo of this because it takes two hands.) It also takes a bit of practice to pour smoothly without spilling any oatmilk, but that’s all right. As long as most of it goes into the cup, you’re okay.

Sprinkle a little dusting of powdered cinnamon on top to make it pretty if you like. Either way, your vegan PSL is ready to be enjoyed! You’re welcome.


*Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte ingredients list (note that the syrup contains condensed milk). You can, however, order them vegan in Europe.

several small pumpkins with a hand holding one
society of dabblers

In which I learn to needle felt

Back in spring of this year (when everyone else seemed to be learning to make sourdough), I decided to give a different hobby a try– needle felting! Why? Why not! Honestly, needle felting is something I’ve known about for a while and has been relegated to the “someday I want to try that” mental bucket, so with the extra time I had after finishing school in May, I decided to give it a whirl.

a wooden furniture top covered in small wool felted pumpkins
So. Many. Pumpkins.

Felt is made by interlocking animal hair fibers (sheep, goat, camel) into a thick mat and then shaping it into useful things. Felt making itself is super old. Like, suuuuper old: this textile-making technique dates back thousands of years. The oldest method is “wet” felting where the fibers are rubbed together with soapy water until they stick. Other methods like using needles to “dry” felt by punching the fibers together are more modern. Dry felting small things by hand (aka needle felting) has only been around for about 4 decades!

To create a needlefelt sculpture, you begin with “core wool” which is usually a natural wool color (mine is sheep’s wool and tends to be cream) and use needles to mold it into the rough shape you want. Then you layer on the colors and continue shaping the piece until it looks more and more like the object you want. Smaller needles do finer work, so you can add details after the bulk of the colors are on. You can see some of the process here: the body of the cat is just core, but I’ve already started adding color to the head, which I will attach once I’ve put color on the body as well.

cream core wool body of cat with black cat head sitting beside
This is a pre-capitated cat 😛

So. What have I been felting?

Pumpkins, pumpkins, and more pumpkins. Ha!

But I started much smaller– the kit I first purchased to try felting came with a tiny amount each of a wide variety of colors, a set of needles with a single needle handle (you can have handles that hold multiple needles, and my go-to is an 8 needle), and a foam felting pad to keep from stabbing the furniture. With that variety of colors, I started with tiny mushrooms.

several small felt mushrooms, red with white spots on cap
cute lil red Amanita muscaria

I also played with felting a bunch of really tiny animals. Most of the little animals have been gifts for people, so Jared got a really small otter eating an even smaller sea star. A friend who loves gorillas got a really tiny silverback as a going-away-good-luck-with-your-PhD gift. Another friend got a belated foxie birthday gift. (These are all very early felting projects of mine and you can see how small they are from the gorilla compared to my hand.)

The pumpkins grew with the season, of course. I had a bunch of wool bits in various orange colors from a shop in Michigan, so it made sense to turn it all into mini pumpkins like the kind people use as centerpieces in the autumn. Why not make some that would last a lot longer?

several small pumpkins with a hand holding one

Mostly I make little palm-size pumpkins, but I’ve made a few interesting ones as well. My favorite is this large pumpkin lying on its side; I tried to make it look like the giant pumpkins on the farm in North Carolina where we always used to get them when I lived there.

large felt pumpkin with a curly vine stem
the big pumpkin needed a bit stem

Don’t worry, I haven’t stopped making little animals, either.  I have a new set of needles that pulls core wool from the center of the piece to create a really cool layered, furry effect, so I made a porcupine friend to go with the black cat!

little felt porcupine with black bead eyes sitting on a table
little porcupine friend

So there’s a little sampling of my needle felting! It’s very satisfying to repeatedly stab something, but you’ve got to be careful and not be distracted or take your eyes off of the wool you’re working– my fingers have been stabbed so many times in the last six months it’s almost ridiculous. (I’m getting much better at not stabbing myself though. Heh.)

If you were going to try needle felting, what would you make?

joanna irl

my daily life as experienced over a 5 minute period

If much of my life could be summed up into a single incident, I suspect it would be the one that just happened while I was home alone with my cats* on a Friday night.

Some background: I’ve had an insect nemesis for the prior THREE DAYS in the form of a FLY. This fly is equipped with special STEALTH TECHNOLOGY. It has to be. How else could a giant fly vanish for hours (days?) at a time?? It buzzes past me and then vanishes into thin air, I’m certain by activating its cloaking device, and then is just GONE for hours. It’s been BOTHERING me that I couldn’t find this fly.

Prior to tonight’s Incident, the last time I saw the fly was several hours ago, probably around lunch time, buzzing around my office. Even though I immediately closed the door to said office, the fly was nowhere to be found. So I went about my business, waiting. At some point the fly will reappear, right?

Fast forward to tonight.

I was finishing up in the bathroom and downloading a game I used to play onto my phone. It’s a silly little puzzle game from Disney called tsum tsum. It’s been around for years, but I haven’t played in a long time, and wanted to give it another whirl. The thing you need to know about this game is that, after you’ve done the tutorial on how to play, it downloads game data BEFORE you can go into settings and turn off the music.

The music that sounds like this:

So. You’ve got the scene. I’m in the bathroom, washing my hands. Alone except for cats, so the door is cracked open. THIS music is playing on a loop in the background.

And in swoops The Fly.

I slammed the door closed and twirled the hand towel into a loop. I’m reasonably good at knocking flies with a towel. I wait for my chance, and BOOM. The fly is toast. Huzzah! I flush the dead insect and go to toss the towel into the dirty laundry, its mission complete.

The tsum tsum music is still playing in the background.

And then, in my moment of triumph…

…I stepped right into cat vomit, with a single round piece of cat poop lying beside it.

And that, my friends, is what a hopping Friday night at my house is like (because I definitely hopped all the way to the sink to clean my foot).

I suspect there’s more poop somewhere, but that’s future Jo’s problem. Current Jo is figuring out how to get that awful app noise to stop playing already. It’s enough of a circus without theme music.

Looks innocent but is actually culprit of SCARF’N’BARF.

*Being at home necessarily includes cats, so this is no special designation, but I wanted to SET THE SCENE, if you will. Carry on.

joanna irl

2020 is a lot but at least there’s apple picking

Y’know, I had good intentions with getting back into blogging regularly post-grad school, but this year has been A Thing, so I guess just appreciate that this is getting attention at all. 😉

We haven’t really gone anywhere (other than J going on a floaty float for work) in six months. The air has been *not good* thanks to wildfire smoke. Outdoor spaces are crowded at best and overrun at worst. Everything is just A Lot, is what I’m saying.

side of highway with golden brown fields and hazy mountains in the distance

But a couple of Mondays ago I happened to see a post from a newly-opened-for-the-season apple orchard in Julian that was open on Mondays. The air quality happened to be okay that day. And J was home on a random day off. So! Off to Julian we went on a last minute day trip to the mountains!

sunflowers in left-third of photo with hazy mountains behind

It was exactly what we both needed.

orchard row with dirt ground going toward mountains, apple trees covered in apples on either side

Because it was a Monday, we had the orchard nearly to ourselves, which meant we could walk around the back areas without masks (a complete novelty right now!) and take a few photos.

Jared picks an apple from a tree; he's wearing a wide brim hat and glasses, and smiling as he looks over his shoulder

The apples are varieties I’m not as familiar with. We’ve never gone picking up in Julian because it’s such a short season, and often crowded with folks driving up from San Diego, and hot.

close up view of two apples sitting against a tree branch with more apples in background behind them

And it was, indeed, hot. Especially compared to the big farms with large orchards we visited in the midwest.

Jared and Jo sitting under an apple tree smiling. Jared is holding up a full bag of apples.

Despite the heat, it felt good to be outdoors, and we picked two bags of apples. We even drove into town to peek around and managed to score parking right by the Cider Mill to run in and get apple butter! We stopped by the Pie Company on the way out of town and bought the last dozen apple cider doughnuts to round out the day and headed home, tired but happy.

cider doughnuts with sugar coating sitting on checkered paper in a carbboard box

Honestly, I’m not sure I could recreate the perfect timing of it all. But we’ve got a pile of apples for the fall now and I have treats stashed in the freezer for later, and even today the heat has broken and it *almost* (not really, but for San Diego) feels like early autumn.

It’s the little things like this getting me through the year.

two pairs of feet sticking out from viewer (POV: sitting in the orchard) with a bag of apples between them. Apple trees stretch into the distance.
society of dabblers

Natural History Art: Terrarium Sculpture!

If you read my last post about beetle spreading, you’ll know I’ve been playing with the intersection of natural history and art of late. This isn’t totally new, but I haven’t been good at blogging for the last few years (thanks, grad school). Here’s a project from last year that I didn’t have time to share until now: a terrarium sculpture!

What’s a terrarium sculpture? I’m probably the only person who calls it this, but I can’t think of a better description for what it is: a glass container with a sculpture inside made of natural (or naturalistic) items.

There are a few curiosity shops I follow who make things similar to this, but I really wanted to use what I already had (see last year’s No Buy project). I went digging into my crafting bin (and sourced an old raccoon skull* from an antique store), and set about seeing what I could make!

Here is where I started: some driftwood I found as a kid and have carried around for years, some crafting moss from when I used to make fairy doors, some decorative acorns, a big chunk of amethyst I had lying around, and a hot glue gun. (It’s amazing what you can find if you go digging through what you’ve got, right? Or is this just me?)

The first step was figuring out how to get everything into the bell jar (which I found at Michael’s for about $8). I played around with several configurations and decided I wanted the whole thing to be more vertical.

Once I had the driftwood base in place, I tried the skull in a few places and found just the right spot for it along one side of the sculpture. I added some of the bright green moss and dried grasses around the base to cover where I’d glued everything.

The rest of the process was really just filling in the blank spaces. I added a couple of the acorns and nested the amethyst into the base of the piece. I also ran dried lichen (from the moss collection) up to the top of the piece to give it some balance.

So here’s the final piece, with the glass dome installed! I really love how it turned out, though I think I will add one of my recently done beetles to the top of the piece, sitting on the wood. I don’t know that I’ll make many of these, but for a one-off art piece, I think it came out pretty well!

*I always try to find ethically sourced items like this so that no animals die for me to have an art project. Antique stores are pretty good because most of the stuff you find is so old I don’t feel bad taking it home.

society of dabblers

Natural History Art: Beetle Spreading!

One of the things I’m most excited for now that grad school is over is that I have time to dabble again. I’ve been a lifelong dabbler, always wanting to try new things and learn new skills.

Add into that the fact that a global pandemic has put a hiring freeze pretty much across the whole job market, and I suddenly have a lot of time to dabble! So I’m leaning into this and trying new things while I have the time!

I’ve always loved natural history, and having been in a biology program for the last few years, I have a newfound appreciation for field methods, as well as how they can be applied via art. Last winter, I got very interested in arthropod mounts, so I asked for a beetle spreading kit for Christmas, and last week I was finally able to try it out!

Here is everything that came in my kit: it includes 10 ethically-sourced beetles (please do some research on this if you’re going to try it at home!), taxidermy tweezers, stainless steel pins, and a “rehydration chamber” aka an airtight container.

I used a combination of insect spreading techniques from these two videos:

The beetles came dry, so the first step was rehydrating them to make them pliable. I dampened a cloth and sealed them up in the container overnight. (The bigger beetles needed to sit for 2 days, but I was able to do the smaller ones the next day!)

I started with two of the medium size beetles, cutting them out of their little packets as I was ready to work with them. For the first one (this green beetle), I decided to just see what it was like to work with an insect like this, and not to try pulling the wings out.

It turns out that spreading beetles is super easy! Once their legs and antennae are pliable, it’s pretty simple to gently pull them into place. The stainless steel pins are to hold the legs in place so that the beetle dries out again, but in a shape that looks like it’s walking.

(Ooh, action shot! Please ignore my chipped nails haha.) For the next beetle, I decided to be braver and try to spread its wings as well. This involved gently popping open the hard wing coverings and using the tweezers to carefully unfold the wings from underneath.

Beetle wings are folded up to protect them, but they are delicate and all the ones I worked with were transparent!

I carefully held the beetle’s body in place while using pins inserted at a very low angle to hold the wings open to dry without piercing the wings, and left them overnight.

This wing-spreading technique was okay with the smaller beetles, but for the bigger ones, I needed to use another tool: the clear wrapping from the packets they came in was perfect for holding wings in place so that I could pin them flat!

So there you have it! My first foray into the world of insect spreading!

I didn’t spread the wings for all of the beetles. Some of them I liked as they were, and some were so small I worried that without enough practice that I’d accidentally tear them. This is definitely something I’m glad I tried, and I would love to keep working with insects this way.

I also have some plans to turn these into art, so look for another post sometime in the future with a beetle-spreading update!

joanna irl

Lessons from No-Buy 2019

Oh hey. I still own a blog. (I feel like every fourth post or so is along the lines of “wow, I haven’t written in forever” but grad school and blogging don’t seem to have meshed well.)

I officially finished grad school this weekend (HUZZAH!), though I turned in my final projects several weeks ago, which means I’ve had some time to reset mentally and take a look at some old, lingering projects (and some new ones I’m excited to share).

As I’m writing this, we’re several months into a global pandemic. This post isn’t about that, but I want to acknowledge that anything I write about for the next bit will be at least flavored by that fact. But that being said– I want to share what I learned from spending last year NOT spending money. There was a lot!

Use what you’ve got

The first goal of my No-Buy 2019 project was to use (and appreciate) what I’ve already got in my life. I started off by organizing everything and really exploring what I already had, and then made a point of making everything very accessible and easy to use. I used up several eyeshadow palettes for instance, and didn’t buy any new eye makeup (beyond when my mascara/eyeliner ran out) for the entire year. So far in 2020 I’ve splurged twice on a new thing to try, but I find that it’s much more intentional now.

It’s been interesting to track my own change in spending. I don’t feel the need any more to have the next shiny thing, because I know there will be another one coming right behind it. Instead, I plan out what I’m going to spend much more carefully. I’ve been wearing more of my shoes again, putting new outfits together with existing clothes I already had, and sourced any crafts I wanted to make from what’s in my office. I now check what I already have FIRST before looking online to see what new thing I can find.

A perfect example of this is my Spring Dapper Day outfit from last year– My friends and I went as the three kittens from The Aristocats, but instead of buying a white sundress or something like that for my Marie-inspired look, I used things I already owned to create my outfit. The only purchase for this outfit was the wide pink ribbon that cost less than $5– and by using it for a belt, I was able to turn a tank and skirt into a vintage looking “dress” with enough left over for a huge hair bow!

Another fun thing I did to “use what I’ve got” was digging out a bunch of old puzzles and things that I haven’t done in years. It’s been long enough for all of them that it was like working them for the first time!

Repairing and reusing

Another skill I got much better at in 2019 is repairing random things. I don’t need to be an expert sewer to mend a popped seam, and I don’t need to be a carpenter to fix a coat rack. I spent a lot of time working on these little repair skills over the year to get more life out of things, and honestly at the end of it all I’m floored at how much I was able to fix and keep using.

Reusing things was a big theme of the year, too, and I really did get very good at spray paint refreshes, where I found old things that weren’t quite what I wanted and turned them into something unique and fun. The pineapples and trash can were certainly part of it, but I took pine cones from a friend’s yard and painted them gold in the winter for a centerpiece, and then this spring I painted a couple of plaster rabbits we’ve had for years to make them new again for Easter. I even refreshed some of my kitchen accessories! It’s been fun giving new life to things.

Buying second hand and vintage

I know I posted before about my love of Craigslist Free (and wow I’ve gotten some great things from there over the last few years) but if I couldn’t find what I wanted, either from my own closet or for free online, then my next step was to check thrift stores and the like for second-hand or vintage things.

A perfect example of this is the dining room chairs I got last fall– I found some gorgeous chairs for sale from someone cleaning out storage, less than 5 miles away. Eight chairs for $150. They needed to be recovered but otherwise were in great shape! So, putting my new repair/refresh skills to work, I was able to finally upgrade our dining set!

Intentional Spending

If you read the first post I wrote about my No-Buy 2019, I left myself room for “intentional spending”. This was to cover things like replacing items I needed or finding things I’d been looking for prior to the No-Buy. (Dining room chairs were on the list!) But this also left me space for small splurges, which I found I had more room for in my budget without buying all the random other stuff.

Behold– the red dress! I bought this dress for homecoming after J’s deployment in November. The shoes I’ve had for ages, but the dress was brand new, and exactly what I wanted it to be– a special outfit for a special day. Plus it’s a classic style that won’t age badly and something I can use again (especially for holiday parties).

Other than the dress, I also bought a few things I needed for travel to India, souvenirs from the trip to Europe with my folks in late summer, and art. (Mostly what I bought was art!) Having room in my budget to support some indie artists I follow, and to have a few small souvenirs, made each small thing I did get special.

Would I do a No-Buy again?

I mean, I feel like I would if I needed to at some point. It was a very liberating experience, to be honest– knowing that I “couldn’t” buy anything took away a mental pressure I didn’t even know I had, and allowed me to appreciate things and then walk away without feeling like I was missing out on anything. It really has changed the way I interact with the way I spend, and how I think about consumer goods.

I’ve also gained a lot of confidence in my skills to make things work as well– I’m more likely to try and repair something myself, or to try and new skill, than to seek a replacement for something. And I’m much more aware of how I spend when I do– and have continued to try and buy second-hand or vintage items as much as possible.

joanna irl

Travelogue: India 2019

In July I spent 10 days in India. It was beautiful and wet and green and challenging and I’m still not sure what all I learned because I think I was at max capacity every day and that a lot of things are still filtering through my brain. Here are some thoughts.

First, some context– part of the reason my blog has gone, shall we say, quiet in the last two years has a lot to do with me being in grad school. I started with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly in spring of 2017 (that’s Miami University in Oxford Ohio, not to be confused with U of M in Florida) as part of the Advanced Inquiry Program, or AIP. It’s a program meant to bring a wide range of folks into the conservation biology field from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, with the idea that the field can benefit from all of our perspectives and knowledge. It’s been, shall we say, interesting to be in this program with a fine arts background, but it’s also given me a chance to pursue things that I’ve been passionate about since childhood and I cannot recommend it enough if you’re looking for a way to get a toe into science-world. 

AIP runs through partnerships with “Master Institutions” that host electives and the in-person portion of the otherwise online degree program, and my master institution is San Diego Zoo Global. (Cool, right?) 

But we were talking about India, right? So, for part of the program, we have the option of taking a course called an “Earth Expedition“– essentially an intensive 10 day experience to learn about conservation happening internationally through various themes explored in each site. Since my focus is on narrative and storytelling for conservation, visiting India was a great opportunity.

India is a fascinating place for conservation because of the presence of sacred groves, pockets of forest surrounding temples and sacred sites connected to the villages dotted across the country. These groves often provide the only remaining resource for native species and are considered* a key piece of conserving biodiversity in an extremely threatened habitat. In order to learn about the ways that cultural narrative and story have preserved these forest remnants, it meant going into India’s Western Ghats.

To give this post a little bit of a lens, I want to talk about it in terms of connections. I honestly think that was the biggest theme for me personally throughout the trip. The reason sacred groves work is, in large part, due to the connection between the local people and the land*. Their beliefs, their culture, their way of making a living is all historically connected to the groves and the land around it. This connection is their buy-in, as it were. But herein lies the rub: in a country where it can be challenging to make a living at all, land becomes a commodity. It can be difficult to persuade folks that standing trees are as valuable as the wood they provide. Long term vs short term investments and all.

This brings us to another connection– our in-country partners and hosts while in India, AERF, and the work they do. AERF has gotten to know the communities connected to the sacred groves and works with them to provide incentives to keep the trees standing. They make personal connections in the villages, train people to be forest protectors, promote conservation through traditional methods**, and more.

Finally, the last connection I want to discuss is a big one: the connection between humans and the other living things on the planet. I think we hear a lot about things like “food webs” and such (and in biology-land there are “trophic cascades” and other things), but the thing that hit me the hardest while standing in the middle of a forest in India, with rain pouring down on me while I looked up at a tree with a height I can only halfway fathom is how connected we all are. The big picture systems of our planet mean that none of this exists without the whole. Heck, there is research suggesting that the minerals that feed the Amazon rain forest come*** form the Sahara desert, halfway across the world. What might the trees in India’s Western Ghats be feeding? (Besides us, and the oxygen/CO2 cycle they help facilitate, of course!)

Want to know more about the Western Ghats as a biodiversity hotspot**** and what makes it so neat? Check out the links below!

Further reading:

*Bhagwat, S. A., & Rutte, C. (2006). Sacred groves: potential for biodiversity management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment4(10), 519-524. (CLICK TO READ)

**AERF. (2019). Conservation on the ground. [Web page]. Retrieved from (CLICK TO READ)

***Koren, I., Kaufman, Y. J., Washington, R., Todd, M. C., Rudich, Y., Martins, J. V., & Rosenfeld, D. (2006). The Bodélé depression: a single spot in the Sahara that provides most of the mineral dust to the Amazon forest. Environmental Research Letters1(1), 014005. (CLICK TO READ)

****Gunawardene, N. R., Daniels, D. A., Gunatilleke, I. A. U. N., Gunatilleke, C. V. S., Karunakaran, P. V., Nayak, G. K., … & Vasanthy, G. (2007). A brief overview of the Western Ghats–Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot. Current science93(11), 1567-1572. (CLICK TO READ)

galaxy's edge batuu falcon wide
the geek life

Let’s go to Batuu: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland is OPEN!

galaxy's edge batuu falcon wide

The wait is OVER. Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, aka Black Spire Outpost in Batuu, is OPEN! I got to go with a few friends on Monday, so I’m going to tell you all about it– which I know other blogs have done, but I feel like some of you might enjoy a first hand account of this. So here we go.


*who has asked to not hear or see anything about it to maintain the surprise when he gets to go. This also applies to anyone who wants to go experience it without seeing anything beforehand. 

Are we good? Good.

galaxy's edge batuu photo booth
A photo-op at the Star Wars Launch Bay in Tomorrowland, where we checked in for our reservation.

Galaxy’s Edge is a fully immersive, brand new world at Disneyland (and, soon to be, at Walt Disney World in Orlando), set in a place called Batuu, on the outer rim of a galaxy far, far away. Batuu itself is not from any of the films, tv shows, or books, but is instead a fully created-for-the-parks space, in order to give it a distinct feel. The entire cast is in character, and everything about it feels like you’re stepping into a village somewhere in the Star Wars universe. What helps is that they’ve gone to such a deep level that you won’t even find “Star Wars” branded merch inside the area– because, after all, the characters IN Star Wars don’t know what “Star Wars” is! (Don’t worry, you can still get ALL the Star Wars branded merch over in Tomorrowland!)

There are three entrances to the new “land”– one in Critter Country, behind the Hungry Bear restaurant (no longer a dead end!), and two in Frontierland. For the reservation slots through June 23, guests are asked to enter via Critter Country. Though they ask you not to queue up before your time slot, people of course do. It starts to get pressed around twenty minutes before the official entry time.

(Important to note– if you’ve got a reservation, the first and last hour are the most crowded because that’s when you overlap with the previous and next group of people. If you are reading this after June 23, 2019….this is irrelevant haha.)

galaxy's edge batuu resistance ship
A Resistance ship sitting at the edge of the outpost.

Entering through Critter Country, you walk a long-ish (for Disneyland) path through the trees, and the immersion begins immediately from the lampposts to the animal tracks in the sidewalk. The walk opens up and you find yourself at a small resistance outpost, complete with a ship (that looks a lot like Poe’s) and kiosks selling handy things like Resistance MREs and other bits.

galaxy's edge batuu first look
First look at the edge of Black Spire, over the crowd.

From there, you go around a corner and the main settlement of Black Spire Outpost comes into view. From that direction, we were facing the marketplace to the left, and the path leading around to the cantina line to the right (I’ll get back to that).

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Chatting with Chewie.

This area is where we also bumped into Rey and Chewbacca, who were hanging about and, I think, avoiding Kylo Ren….

galaxy's edge batuu first order
The First Order has taken over this side of the village.

…because when you walked around the marketplace and past the droid factory, suddenly you’re in the middle of a First Order encampment. (This is where the other two entrances into the land are, as well– and for the reservation previews, are the best exits to avoid the incoming crowds.)

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Kylo Ren’s ship.

Kylo’s ship is parked there (complete with PhotoPass photographers!) and he and the Troopers come out every so often to check the crowd for members of the Resistance.

galaxy's edge batuu back of market

If you can slip past Kylo and continue your loop, you’ll pass Oga’s Cantina on you right, the path back toward the lightsaber making area on the left, and the high-end collectibles shop.

galaxy's edge batuu falcon

Eventually another wide section opens up and there you are, face to face with the Millennium Falcon in all of her glory.

This large plaza is excellent for taking photos (and there are more PhotoPass people here!) but is also the entrance to Smuggler’s Run, the new RIDE. This ride puts you in the cockpit of the Falcon as a crew of 6– 2 pilots, 2 gunners, and 2 engineers– with the task of recovering some, um, cargo.

galaxy's edge batuu inside smuggler's run
Walking behind the Falcon while in line for Smuggler’s Run.

ABOUT THE SMUGGLER’S RUN RIDE: Because I am a person who doesn’t like certain kinds of rides and wants to know EXACTLY what I’m getting into, here’s the important stuff! First, this is a flight-simulator ride, kind of akin to Star Tours or perhaps Flight of Passage, but WITHOUT the 3D glasses, though the view port IS rendered in 3D so you may still have the effect. This ride DOES move around a lot and, if you are prone to motion sickness, could bring on a bout of icky feelings. There are SHARP and SUDDEN movements, but NO DROPS. (That’s an important thing to know for yours truly.) Finally, if you are prone to issues with any of these types of things, I’d recommend NOT being the Pilot– Pilots have the most screen-heavy roles. But if you sit toward the back as an engineer, you can concentrate on pushing buttons and not have to look at the screen.

galaxy's edge batuu falcon smugler's run
Hanging out on the Millennium Falcon, nbd.

There are fantastic Falcon photo ops both while waiting for your turn and directly after, and it feels like you’re really walking around the ship.

galaxy's edge batuu black spire

Walking around, this feels like the Disney answer to Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The detailing in the shops is not to be missed. Even if you aren’t buying anything, the shopping experience reaches Wizarding World levels of detail.

galaxy's edge batuu collector's shop

Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities is easily where you can spend the most money, if you aren’t building a droid or lightsaber.

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Ithorian shopkeeper Dok-Ondar.

There are shopkeepers, creatures in habitats, familiar and not-so-familiar bits from all over the galaxy… Everywhere you look, there’s something else to see.

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Droids lined up outside of the Depot.

In the Droid Depot, feet wheel overhead and the walls are lined with custom upgrades for your creation, including personality chips to change the sounds and behaviors, and more.

galaxy's edge batuu milk

So about the blue and green milk. This is the Galaxy’s Edge equivalent to butterbeer at Wizarding World. I’m thankful before I went that others had recommended mixing the two together because individually the flavors are a bit strong, but once they are stirred and have melted a tiny bit, it was a nice cool drink in the heat of the day. Also– they are VEGAN so my non-dairy self could enjoy the whole cup!

galaxy's edge batuu marketplace
A wide-angle view of the marketplace “roof”

The marketplace feels like its own space entirely, which is very cool, and is lined with stalls selling individual merchandise, including a toy store (with wooden and cloth toys that any youngling or youngling at heart will love), clothing, snacks (you’ll find the popcorn here–I’d describe the flavor as “spicy kettle corn”), and even Jedi robes. There was even an adoptable creature shop that gave my no-buy year a serious challenge.

galaxy's edge batuu cargo bay
There are datapad scan codes on all of these bins of cargo.

Finally, if you have the “Play Disney” app on your phone (aka your “datapad”), you can use it to scan things all over Batuu, solving puzzles and have the shipping labels and more translated, further pulling you into the experience.

galaxy's edge batuu doorway
Hanging out, drinking a coke imported from…somewhere?

(I’m sure you can see what I mean about the Wizarding World similarities, if you’ve been there. But I don’t want to imply that any of this is a copy. Merely that much of what works in terms of immersion at WW is also at play here, because it’s good modern theme park design!)

Before I wrap this up, I can’t leave out Oga’s Cantina. The line for the cantina waitlist was actually our first stop upon arriving at Galaxy’s Edge, and it still took nearly 3 hours for our names to get called. (The line for the waitlist only took about twenty minutes. Then they texted when it was our turn.) You are seated in any available chairs (even in mixed groups) and if you are at a table, there is a 45 minute time limit. There is also a 2 drink/hour limit, and NO you cannot take them out of the cantina. Given that this is the FIRST place in the original Disneyland Park (Club 33 aside) to serve alcohol, I am not surprised at ALL at the level of care and restriction.

galaxy's edge batuu ogas cantina alcove

BUT. If you make it inside, it is VERY worth the effort! We got in about an hour before the end of our time, so we largely missed the press of the next wave of guests. The bar is set up in a horseshoe with the bartenders in the center, and alcoves along the walls. The drinks have a lot of variety, and the Batuu Bits were a nice snack mix of random things that paired well with the cocktails.

NOTE: There are 2 cocktails and 1 beer flight that come in collectible vessels, and you CANNOT order them except as part of the collectible. The “Yub Nub” is a rum drink in an Endor-themed tiki cup. The “Cliff Dweller” is a non-alcoholic mocktail in a PORG-themed tiki cup. The “Rancor Beer Flight” is served in a souvenir board with the four samples in “teeth”, all of which you also keep. I tried the Yub Nub and it was fantastic (but strong– it’s all you’ll need). (You can view the whole menu here.)

galaxy's edge batuu chatting by speeders
Chatting with friends by the speeder docking area.

There you have it, my very long walk-through of my 4 hours at Galaxy’s Edge. If you are a Star Wars fan, this is a thing you are going to LOVE. It’s everything I wanted and now I just want to go hang out there all the time. But…y’know…after the crowds calm down. Ha.

Have you been to Batuu? Are you planning to go this year?? 

conservation ftw, joanna irl, society of dabblers

Travelogue: Anza Borrego Superbloom 2019

Thanks to all of the rain we’ve had in southern California over the last few months, this spring we are being treated to that spectacle of nature, a desert superbloom!

Two weeks ago while J was on leave, we took a day trip out to Anza Borrego State Park in the eastern part of the county to visit the desert and see the blooms for ourselves. We were not disappointed!

The first thing to know about Anza Borrego is that the town beside the state park is very small, and if you’re going on a weekend, they may close down the roads if they run out of parking. Go on a weekday if you can and you’ll have no trouble finding parking.

The second thing to know is that this is very much a choose-your-own-adventure type of outing, and that there are dirt roads that really require AWD vehicles. (I love taking our Subaru Outback on adventures!)

Finally, NEVER pick or trample the wildflowers, even if you REALLY want that one really cool pic that everybody is posting on instagram. Walk with caution, and be aware of your impact because if we aren’t careful, there won’t be another bloom like this for years.

Okay, now on to the good stuff! Anza Borrego is a pretty open desert park, and there is a small visitor center with bathrooms and accessible trails so you don’t have to go far to see desert flora. They post bloom updates on their website as well, so you’ll always have a good idea of where to go. So helpful!

We pretty much just headed out into the park after a quick stop at the visitor center to buy a day pass (this gets you into all of the day use areas, including the trailhead to Palm Canyon, which is in the back of a campground).

Palm Canyon Trail goes back between two ridges, and when we visited had free-flowing water running through the middle of it. There is a stand of palm trees at the very back and a small waterfall that lets you know you’ve reached the end of the trail.

The flowers in Palm Canyon were gorgeous, but the thing that really set this one apart for me was that we saw bighorn sheep! I’ve wanted to see sheep in the wild for years, but always just miss them when we’ve been out hiking in the desert. The day in Anza Borrego we got lucky– there were FIVE, all hanging out on the ridge just above us! Of course I didn’t have my good camera with me, but it was still a breathtaking experience.

(If you look VERY closely, you MIGHT be able to see a little white dot at the top center– that’s a sheep!)

After Palm Canyon, we grabbed lunch at a local Mexican restaurant (which was slammed even on a weekday because of the superbloom, but worth the wait) and then headed out to see a massive outdoor art installation: towering metal statues in the middle of the desert.

Many of them are ice age creatures, some are dinosaurs, there were giant insects (see photo above), and there was even a huge dragon that goes “under” the road. The area is just open ground and you can offroad out to most of them on trails that are pretty easy to see.

From there we headed even further out into the park, and spotted a lot of wildlife apart from the flowers: turkeys, coyotes  (spotted from the car), and even a black-footed jackrabbit!

There was an area where the ground was covered in desert lilies as well, and we stood in the sunset light watching everything. The desert is so much more colorful and fascinating than I ever thought it would be, and I’m amazed every time we go out into it.

Have you seen the desert blooming?