Gather ’round, readers, for a tale of unfortunate diary explosions, precarious Wellington roads, and one very ill-advised decision to put a LEGO set in the oven that nearly ruined Solstice.
For the record: Do not put your LEGO set in the oven. If you take nothing else away from this story of disaster and triumph, please take to heart this single important lesson. Do. Not. Bake. Lego.
Picture it: It’s the morning of Summer Solstice. There are a pile of presents under a tree acting as symbol of multiple different holidays. We’ve just finished having a delightful breakfast of gingerbread muffins and have opened all of the windows because it is the hottest day of the season so far.
(December holidays can be very confusing in the Southern Hemisphere for a Philly kid used to wishing for a White Christmas, which is why we have leaned into celebrating the change in seasons like Pagans with a Saturnalia festival spanning from Solstice to Christmas.)
(Yes, we also celebrate Winter Solstice.)
It was an ideal holiday morning. The kid had just opened her first gift, which was LEGO’s special 2022 free holiday gift set: a diorama of a pair of elves in snowy landscape.
We picked it as the first present not only because she loves LEGO, but because it was part of our Saturnalian theme. No, not human sacrifice. You see, because I am an obsessive dungeon master who can only celebrate things like Bachelorette Parties if I turn them into day-long, city-spanning alternate realty games, I can’t just put presents under a tree with normal “To / From” labels on them.
No. That takes the mystery out of things.
Instead, our Solstice gift-giving is a double-blind process. Every time anyone in the family wraps a present, they reserve a random number for that gift on a shared spreadsheet. Then, starting on Solstice and continuing through Boxing Day, we periodically reveal gift numbers to each other and it is the kid’s job to play Holiday Elf and find said numbered gift in the ever-decreasing spread of presents and deliver it to its intended recipient
The LEGO was a commemoration of her official role of Holiday Elf. It was the kickoff gift to our whole holiday festival.
And that’s where things started to go wrong.
The kid had dumped her LEGO into the middle of the floor to begin working on bag #1. I had made myself a peppermint milk in my home sippy-cup, because I am disaster-prone and cannot be trusted with an open container even in my own home.
(As will become evident in a moment.)
I attempted to hopscotch through the splayed-out LEGO to take a seat closer to the tree so I could watch the assembly process. During my incredibly graceful leaping, my grip on my sippy-cup slipped upward towards the lid. Unbeknownst to me, I hadn’t lined up the lid with the threads of the cup, so the connection between the two was tenuous at best. The combination of holding the cup by the lid and my hopscotching sent a half a liter of peppermint milk plummeting to the ground, where it struck DIRECTLY in the middle of the brand new LEGO kit like a minty dairy bomb and spread to cover the entire carpeted path to the tree.
This sent various family members springing into action. Well, the kid mostly sprung into whinging, which was totally justified based on me dunking her entire first gift as if it was a holiday Oreo.
(That joke wouldn’t work for a New Zealand audience, because they don’t dunk their cookies in milk here, but that’s a whole other post entirely.)
I bustled across the house to find supplies to begin the long process of making sure our carpet wouldn’t smell like spoilt milk for eternity. Meanwhile, E and the kid attended to scooping all of the milky LEGO into a fine strainer to whisked away to be rinsed off in the kitchen sink.
By the time I was done with my extensive soaking up, soaping, soaking up again, and-dehumidifying process there was no resumed LEGO-ing but the kitchen was suspiciously quiet. I poked my head in.
“Are the LEGO still drying?” I asked
“Yep,” E replied.
“Cool. It’ll probably take a while for the water to drain out of all the little nooks and crannies.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I put the LEGO in the oven.”
Yes, you read that correctly. LEGO. Oven. In. These are words that were used in conjunction with each other.
(Even the two tiny elves. It was lost on us at the time that this was in fact a perfect celebration of Saturnalia.)
At this juncture I am honor-bound to point out that the blame and recriminations for this entire situation have long since been put to bed in our house. I am not attempting to re-legislate who is the most to blame for nearly ruining the 2022 holiday season. We’re past even joking about it. It’s a part of our rich history of clumsy household mishaps.
But, the story must be told.
Because, you see, baking LEGO is not the wisest of ideas. Even for the very stout-looking 2×8 pieces that seem like they could survive a good baking.
I will now be rising up the ranks of search rankings for the question “Should I put my LEGO in the oven,” and I can answer that unequivocally with a firm “NO.”
And, if you are dead-set on putting them in the oven, perhaps don’t do it in the broiler? And perhaps don’t start out at 100 C. Just as a suggestion.
Again: no finger-pointing here. What’s done is well-done.
Dear reader, I doubt it will come as a surprise to you that when we removed those LEGO from the oven a short time later, they no longer resembled LEGO. Do you remember Shrinky Dinks? Sheets of glossy plastic paper you could draw on and then stick into the toaster to turn them into warped little pieces of hard plastic suitable for a keychain or zipper pull?
That’s what the LEGO looked like when it emerged from the oven. It had gone all wavy and bendy at the edges. Picture what Candyland might look like during a summer heatwave. If it was reassembled, the kid’s Elven Diorama would now resemble a Salvador Dalí painting.
This caused much consternation amongst the trio of us for wildly different reasons. The kid was obviously upset that her holiday present had been destroyed by her responsible adult guardians. E was upset she had warped the LEGO and was trying to reverse engineer how to de-Dalí-ify them. And, I was upset that my whole “The Kid is our Holiday Elf” theme had become ruined. Cursed, even.
Feeling hopeless, I turned to BrickLink to scroll through the list of people scalping their free holiday gift set for massive profit. There were plenty of sellers in the US, Canada, and Europe, all of whom were selling the set for an exorbitant amount even before factoring in the equally exorbitant expense of long, slow international shipping.
But, wait… Hark! There was one set being sold in NZ! And for a reasonable price! And in Wellington!
I quickly hit the BUY button and messaged the seller, giving a brief explanation of our dairy disaster and asking if they might consider skipping the hassle of shipping entirely to let me pick up the set from their house sometime over the holiday.
Not only were they happy to skip shipping, but they lived exactly 11 minutes away from our house. They were putting the set into their mailbox right now! I could put right all of our parental holiday wrongs with a 22 minutes round trip!
I loaded the directions to their house, grabbed my keys, and was on my way to saving Solstice!
Without pausing here to give you an extensive topographical survey of the Wellington region, let’s just say that most of the outlying suburbs have been built on and into various hills and mountains that were never especially navigable to humans to begin with, and whose steep angles and sharp curves could be seen as Mother Earth specifically expressing her disinclination to having wheeled vehicles traverse them.
Or, in short: driving in Wellington can be terrifying. All it takes is one turn off of a major road to send you spiraling up a mountain.
My journey to the seller’s house started on the main arterial road that winds through all of the northwest suburbs of the city. Then it branched into a smaller main road through one of the suburbs. Then it branched again. And again. Now I was steering down a steep incline, using the brakes more than the gas, scanning carefully for the right house number.
There was no house number to be found. Instead, there was a sign showing a range of numbers and pointing up a slim driveway sloping upward even more steeply than the current road was sloped downward.
Except… it wasn’t just a driveway. It was a road. But, also a driveway. A one-way, single-car-width driveway that didn’t seem to get any wider as it ascended. No, instead, there was a rickety-looking little deck built off to one side of the drive, suspended precipitously about 15 meters above the still descending road.
I have seen many of these little decks throughout Wellington built as bonus parking spots for houses situated on steep hills. But, this version was clearly meant as a passing zone. If you saw or heard a car plummeting down the driveway toward you, it was your one chance to escape a potential game of vehicular chicken and side-step to safety unless you wanted to blindly back onto the road below. Once you passed the deck, you’d have to gun it up to the top of the drive and hope any opposing car would see reason and give way by backing into their own garage.
I paused before the deck and squinted up the incline of the drive. Was anyone coming down? Could I hear an engine revving? After several long seconds of silence, I decided to gun it. Up the drive I ascended, until I reached the summit and saw nary a car in sight.
The seller’s house was the first in the row, the actual house up several flights of stairs from the drive. I idled in front of their mailbox, swung open the door, and scooped the prized LEGO set out of the mailbox.
Then I was faced with my next challenge: getting back to the road. This wouldn’t be a problem for an actual reside of this little drive, because each of them could simply pull past their garages and then back into them so their cars would be noses-out. I had no such option. I kept driving up and up the still-ascending drive, hoping for a miniature cul de sac at the end. I found no such thing.
The driveway just… ended. With a beautiful overlook of the road I had previously been driving on, now many dozens of meters below. I got out of the car to peek down over the rail. There was only one way out of this mini-neighborhood, and it was back down the one-way driveway. That meant I had the do the equivalent of pulling a U-Turn on a parking ramp exactly the width of your car. Or, as Gina always called a multi-point turn during our Arcati Crisis adventures, “an asterisk turn.”
I won’t regale you with a play-by-play of getting the car turned around and how I had to get out of the car repeatedly to check if I could eek out a few more centimeters before crashing into a garage door or plummeting off the drive down the side of the cliff. Suffice to say, it was a gradual and nerve-wracking process. I am pretty sure none of the people in these houses do much entertaining unless they are hosting people exclusively driving motorcycles.
My LEGO secured and my asterisk turn finally complete, I drove down the slope, slowing at the top of the ramp down to the street to give any oncoming traffic a chance to divert onto the passing deck, and then drove back down to follow the ever-widening series of roads back to our house.
50 minutes after leaving on my 22-minute trip, I returned home triumphant, Elven diorama under one arm, ready to save Solstice.
Remember kids: don’t bake your LEGO!