Posted in Holidays, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California

Small Business Saturday: Personal Challenge, Day 69 (11.24.12)

Nationwide, today is Small Business Saturday, a chance for Americans to support their local economy by spending this annual shopping weekend buying gifts at the Mom & Pop shops in their neighborhood.

Yesterday was Black Friday, the reason why I personally hate the winter holiday season.  People are lining up, pushing & shoving, trampling over others and for what?  To save money on things their loved ones really don’t need?  People are rude, there are car accidents galore, and this all comes after a day when we are supposed to be thankful for what we do have.  It is pure insanity.

Instead, I like the idea of Small Business Saturday.  Not only are you getting gifts for your loved ones but you are also helping your neighbors out by supporting their businesses.  And you can actually get better gifts, gifts that have meaning.  For example, if I wanted to get my Mom something that could only come from California, from Pasadena or the Altadena area, I would shop for her at Webster’s Fine Stationers on Lake or Vroman’s Bookstore on Colorado (or Foothill).

But one of the great things about living in Los Angeles is all of the thriving small businesses.  I have plenty of shopping options up and down Colorado in Old Town Pasadena.  There are also great shopping areas in downtown Montrose and Sierra Madre.  Or I could head over to the Eagle Rock Block Party happening today in honor of Small Business Saturday (or more details, check out an article in LA Magazine).  Or for some gifts with cultural flavor, I could take the Metro to Union Station, cross the street and check out all of the shops on Olvera Street.

So this is my new adventure today.  I am going to finish up my holiday shopping by supporting the local businesses in my area.  If you would like to do the same, you can click on this link to find out what local businesses in your area are participating in Small Business Saturday.

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Posted in Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California

Saturday Shawarma: Personal Challenge, Day 41 (10.27.12)

With a busy Saturday filled with activity, my personal challenge to try something new was once again focused on food.  My morning and early afternoon plans revolved around finishing my Zombie prom queen costume for my friends’ annual Halloween bash.

I had just finished my costume when my friend TJ arrived.  We had made plans to hang out and have dinner before I had to pick up my friend Ida and head off to the Halloween party.  TJ is the kind of guy who is always up for trying a new, local restaurant.  After searching Yelp, we decided on the House of Basturma in Pasadena.

The House of Basturma is located on Washington Blvd, just west of Altadena Drive.  This is an Armenian restaurant named a type of Mediterranean meat (Basturma).  The guy working there was very helpful, answering all of our questions about the menu items and offering advice on what to order.

The Chicken Shawarma Plate to go

I read in the Yelp reviews that the House of Basturma has the best Shawarma.  So we both decided we would order a Shawarma plate to see if the reviews were accurate.  TJ ordered the beef Shawarma while I went with the Chicken Shawarma.

Though I haven’t had enough Shawarma to say whether or not this was the best but I know enough to say it was really good.  I managed to devour my food before TJ, which says a lot.  Usually when we eat out, I never finish my food and TJ gets to enjoy my leftovers–which is why we usually order different menu items.  Even TJ was surprised that I left nothing behind.  The pitas, the Chicken Shawarma, the hummus and the salad, all gone.

So if you are in Altadena or the north-east portion of Pasadena and you are craving Mediterranean/Armenian Food, House of Basturma is the place to go.

Posted in Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California, Tourism, Travel, Universe

I’ve Still Got A Ticket To Ride . . . For 2.5 Hours: Personal Challenge, Day 24 (10.10.12)

After a few days of using the Metro to get around Pasadena and Downtown LA, I contemplated taking the bus to and from work.  I used the Metro Trip Planner but because of JPL and the Arroyo Seco’s placement between my home in Altadena and my workplace in La Crescenta, there was no real easy way to get to work.  The shortest trip would be 1 hour and 40 minutes.  I would have to get up super early in order to get to work on time.  Considering I am not a morning person, I figured I could survive with the 20 minute car ride back and forth to work.  Yes, gas prices here in California are the highest in the country but I figured if I just used my car to commute to work and my bike and the Metro for traveling elsewhere, I wouldn’t go bankrupt trying to fill my gas tank.

Cheapest gas prices in La Crescenta, CA

But the Universe intervened.  I think someone somewhere really, really wanted me to attempt taking the bus to work on the 10th.  I woke up late and when I discovered a few issues with my car, I figured I would just take the bus.  The 1st period of the day was my prep period so if I left right away, I would make it to work with 30 minutes to spare before my next class.  I had no clue as to what the Universe really had in store for me.

I printed out the trip planner route to get myself to work.  It was a 1 hour and 40 minute trip that had me going south into Pasadena, West through Pasadena, Eagle Rock and Glendale then North from Glendale to La Crescenta.  Then I would have to just hike up the hill to school.  My first group of students wouldn’t be in my classroom until 9:50am so if I left at 7:30am I could make this work.  It is really funny looking back at how optimistic and naive it was to think that the trip planner was accurate and everything would go according to plan.

I didn’t really take into consideration as to how long it would take me to actually walk to the bus stop.  I was walking down the street with the bus stop in sight.  I managed to watch as my bus pulled up and left exactly one minute before I arrived at the stop.  (I was too sore to run from my 3 mile hikes home from the train).  But I remained calm.  I remember when I lived by USC in downtown Los Angeles that the buses would show up every 15 minutes during the morning and evening rush hours.  So I pulled out my phone and clicked on my handy dandy “Go Metro” app.  The next bus would be arriving at 8am.  I started to panic then reminded myself that it was only a 1 hour and 40 minute trip so I would arrive in La Crescenta at 9:40am and I would still have 10 minutes to hike up the hill.  Everything would be fine.

The bus arrived at the stop at 8am.  I watched as the passengers departed but when I tried to board, they told me it wasn’t time yet and they pointed to the sign that said “Layover.”  What?!  They closed the doors and for 15 minutes, the bus driver and a co-worker sat on the bus chatting for 15 minutes.  At 8:15am, they finally opened the doors and let us board.  OK, I was getting stressed now.  As soon as I was on board the bus, I used my phone to email the secretaries at work, telling them about my situation and that I might be a few minutes late.  I would need someone to let the students in the classroom and wait for them until I hiked up the hill.  One of the secretaries told me to just call when my bus arrived on foothill in La Crescenta and she would send someone down to pick me up so I wouldn’t be too late.  So I started to feel a little bit better and of course my Libra optimism kicked in.  Maybe the trip planner was over compensating for time.  When I took the bus the other day, they didn’t have to stop at all of the stops so we arrived early.  So maybe the odds will be in my favor again and everything will work out just fine.  (Famous last mental words to self).

With the high gas prices, it seems that everyone is trying to save money and take the Metro to work.  We stopped at every single bus stop.  I kept checking my Metro app and it kept adding more and more time to my trip.  But I tried to stay calm.  I was doing my best to pay attention to the streets (some buses announce each stop and others do not, this was a bus that didn’t announce the stops).  At each stop, I noticed that my next bus that would take me into Glendale (780 Rapid Metro) had the same stops as my current bus so I really could get off at any of these stops and just catch my next bus there.  But I thought it would be best to follow the directions given to me by the Metro Trip Planner.  (I should have listened to my own gut instinct).

I was just concentrating on getting off at Colorado and Fair Oaks to catch the 780 there–just like Trip Planner said.  Of course, this was my first trip on my current bus 686 so I had no idea that it actually turned down Fair Oaks and I would have to walk back to Colorado to catch the 780.  The 686 bus got into the left turn lane.  I could see my bus stop on the Northwest corner of Fair Oaks and Colorado.  I could see the 780 drive past us, stop to pick up passengers and head off toward Glendale all the while the 686 bus was still in the left turn lane.  AHHHHHHHH!

The 780 bus had been right behind us.  If I had gotten off at the previous stop, I would have made my connection but alas, that was not in the cards for me that day.

So I got off the bus, pulled out my phone and checked the Metro app.  The next 780 bus wouldn’t arrive for another 20 minutes.  AHHHHHH!  There was nothing I could do.  I sat on the bench, pulled out my ipod, set it for shuffle and hoped the music would calm me.  But no, the Universe wanted to mess with me a bit more.  Of all the songs on my ipod, the shuffle had to pick the triad of songs that the Universe used a year ago to remind me of Big (Adele “Rolling in the Deep,” Justin Timberlake “What Goes Around,” and Linkin Park “Waiting for the End”).  REALLY?!  REALLY?!  The guy on the bench next to be decided to get up and stand as far away from me as he could.  I was really shouting “Really?!” instead of saying it in my head, like I thought I was doing.  I scared him.

So the bus finally arrives and for some reason, I kept telling myself that I had to get off at the Colorado and Broadway stop.  But when we reached Colorado and Broadway and I requested the next stop, the bus didn’t stop.  It kept going until it reached Glendale High School.  So I started to think that maybe I requested the stop too late so that is why the bus driver didn’t stop.  But I also didn’t notice an actual stop either.  So I got off at Glendale High School and looked at the sign.  I didn’t see any indication that I could catch my next bus in this area.  I needed to catch the 90 to La Crescenta.  So again, I pulled out my phone and checked the Metro app.  I was supposed to get off at Broadway and Glendale Ave, not Broadway and Colorado.  CRAP!

There was a young girl sitting there and I asked her if the 180 bus stopped at Glendale Ave.  She said yes.  I looked at the Metro app and it said it would be another 15 minutes before the 180 bus arrived.  I figured I could just walk Glendale in that time and once again I was saying out loud what I was thinking.  She told me I should just wait because the bus was right behind me.  Thank God!

So now I was on the 180 bus (Thank God for my all day Metro TAP pass).  I got off at Glendale Avenue and found the stop for the 90 bus.  I sat down on the bench and emailed the secretaries to give them an update.  It was now after 9am and according to the Metro app, I had another 50 minutes until I reached La Crescenta.  The weather was finally cooler but I was sweating from all the confusion that I had endured over the past hour and a half.

The 90 finally arrived and I just sat back, succumbing to my circumstances.  There was nothing I could do but just sit back and wait until I reached my final stop.

I called the school secretary as soon as I got off the bus.  She was coming down to pick me up.  I decided I would just start to make my way up the hill anyways.  But my legs were sore from previous adventures and hikes.  The hill up to my school is steep and my calves were on fire with each step.  But I urge myself to keep moving.  The secretary finally pulled up and drove me to the front of the school.  I had another small hill to conquer before reaching my classroom.  It was 10:10am (again, cosmic joke on me) when I finally walked into my classroom.

So if I had actually made it in time for the first bus, (and the other connections), I would have arrived at work at 9:10am.  But no, my first trip via Metro bus had me arriving an hour later.  With our school’s block scheduling and my prep period being the first block on even days, I only missed 20 minutes of my 4th period class.  But if I want to take the Metro on an odd day (and factoring in time for any mishaps), I would have to take the 5:30am bus to make it to work by 7:30am.  That is never going to happen so I guess it is safe to say that this was my first and last trip to work using the Metro as my mode of transportation.

Posted in Exploration, Family, Life, Personal Challenge, Photography, Southern California, Sports, Tourism, Travel, Writing

Archery and Coffee, A Perfect Saturday Combo: Personal Challenge, Day 13 (9.29.12)

Today, I decided to enlist my honorary nephew, Brandon, to help me out with my personal challenge.  On the Discover Los Angeles website under 100 Free things to do in Los Angeles, I found a link to the Pasadena Roving Archers group that offers free archery classes on Saturdays.  The only downside is that you have to get there really early because it is on a first-come, first-serve basis (and the small parking lot fills up quickly.  I recommend parking on Arroyo and just walking down the hill to the park).

Brandon is a Boy Scout and really interested in learning archery so I thought this would be a fun thing that we could do together. Unfortunately, since he is under the age of 10 (he is 9), he is required to take an evaluation and preliminary instruction course before he can participate in the other classes.  The introductory class for adults starts at the same time (8:30 am–the time hasn’t been updated yet on the website for the kids evaluation class) but it is on a different range.  So I decided I would just stay with Brandon and watch his first class.  I could always come back and take the introductory class later on or take a one-on-one instruction course for $25.

I was impressed with the way the instructors, Jim and Terri ran the youth class.  They were organized and patient with the children.  That emphasized all of the important safety issues and they would complete stop the class whenever anyone was disobeying their safety rules.  They explained everything step by step and they had additional instructors that would help the kids individually, if needed.  It didn’t take long for the kids to get used to their class structure and whistle system.  I would highly recommend this class to anyone who lives in Pasadena or the other local SoCal areas who have kids (or nieces and nephews) who are interested in learning archery.  The introductory class is free and they request a $5 donation for any subsequent classes.

Jim mentioned that since the release of the films Brave and Hunger Games, classes on the range have increased in popularity and fill up quickly.  Brandon and I realized this when we arrived and there were absolutely no parking spaces available in the parking lot so we chose to park on Arroyo Blvd and just walk down the hill to the park.

I asked Brandon what he thought of the class and he said he loved it.  He definitely wants to come back (and since the “returning” classes start at 10am, my California sister will actually be awake in time and able to join us).  He said that in Boy Scouts, when teaching archery, they just tell the kids to line-up and shoot.  They don’t explain anything.  Brandon said it was nice to have all the instructions and the helpers there to let you know if you were doing anything wrong.  He also liked that all the equipment was provided.  Each kid was fitted for an arm guard, a finger guard, a quiver with specific colored arrows, and a bow.  And it was easy to see that Brandon wasn’t the only kid who enjoyed the class.  There were plenty of parents asking about the returning classes and private lessons offered by the Pasadena Roving Archers.  Again, I was really impressed by the instructors and the class.  I would recommend this to any of my friends with kids.

Now since I had to start my Saturday much earlier than normal, I decided I would take the opportunity to have another first time experience before the day was out.  Somewhere on Facebook, I read that today was “National Coffee Day.”  As a coffee lover, this was something I could whole-heartedly support.  After having lunch and running some errands with my California sister and Brandon, I decided I was in need of a coffee break.  Many times, I have passed a local coffeehouse on N. Lake in Altadena called “The Coffee Gallery.”  I have read reviews about how it is a local artists haven and hang out, complete with a backstage area for bands, shows, comedy, and open mic nights.  So in honor of National Coffee Day, I thought I would check it out.

There is no parking lot for The Coffee Gallery so after finding street parking on Lake, I made my way over to the cozy coffeehouse.  You can definitely feel the relaxed atmosphere the minute you walk into the door.  This is nothing like the corporate designed Starbucks and don’t expect the same menu.  I had no qualms asking the barista for recommendations.  He asked me if I liked Lattes: Yes, I do.  He asked me if I liked sweet drinks: Yes, I do.  So he recommended the “Caramel Turtle” Latte or if I liked something a little more spicy, like Chai, then he recommended the “Filthy Dirty Chai” Latte.  I chose the latter (I love Chai Lattes).

Now all I have to say is Starbucks, eat your hearts out because this little coffee-house blows you right out of the water.  The Filthy Dirty Chai Latte was amazing.  I can’t wait to go back and try other items on their menu.  I definitely have a new favorite coffeehouse/hangout place/writing spot (they have free WiFi).  If you live in the Altadena area, there is no need to go to the Starbucks located in Ralphs.  Support our local businesses and go over to The Coffee Gallery instead.

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Posted in Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Photography, Southern California, Spirituality, Tourism, Travel

The Enchanted “Haunted Forest”: Personal Challenge, Day One (9.17.12)

Recently, my students told me about an area called “The Enchanted Forest” in Pasadena.  (The locals actually call it “The Haunted Forest”).  They had never been there but they had heard stories about how haunted it is.  I have lived in the Pasadena/Altadena area for almost a year now and I had never heard of any local haunted places aside from Suicide Bridge.

So being a curious knowledge seeking Libra, I decided to look into “The Enchanted Forest.”  First step, Google.  I found a few blogs that mentioned that “The Enchanted Forest” (aka Haunted Forest) is actually “The Cobb Estate” in Altadena.  You simply take Lake Ave North until the street ends at the gates of the estate.  There were a few accounts and some YouTube videos about the Cobb Estate but I didn’t bother to read or watch them.  I pass this area on my way home from work so I decided I would just check it out for myself and I didn’t want my own feelings or personal experiences to be corrupted by the stories of others.

So I followed Lake until it ended and I noticed the iron gates on the right.  I parked my car and proceeded to walk toward the gates.  To my left, I heard this loud noise in the bushes.  My heart started to pound as I slowly approached the bush.  I inched forward and almost screamed when a doe (aka deer) jumped out of the bush and ran up the hill toward the estate.  I couldn’t help but laugh at how silly I was being.

I made my way to the gates, took a few pictures with my phone, and checked myself in on Facebook (just in case I went missing and my friends & family needed to know my last location).  I’m guessing the driveway was once majestic but now it is worn and weathered.  There was a smell of sawdust and a scent reminiscent of wood burning in a fireplace.  The grass, brush and trees looked dead.  As I was taking in the scenery, I noticed the locals power hiking their way past me.  There was a weather-beaten sign showing the different trails that would take you up parts of Mt. Lowe.  It kind of reminded me of parts of Eaton Canyon but without the crowds of people.  This was a place where people come after work to hike.  Yeah, the iron gates, random staircases that led nowhere, the worn down drive and signs and the dead foliage do give it an eerie sense of foreboding but if I hadn’t known about the “haunted” claim, I would just think this is a really cool place.  It reminded me of the Nevada ghost towns I used to explore with my friends.  With my stomach growling and my throat begging for water in the unseasonably hot weather, I decided it was time to stop exploring and head home.

Now that I have fed myself and quenched my thirst, I thought it would be a good time to figure out the real story behind the Cobb Estate in Altadena.  According to the Altadena Historical Society, the land was purchased by retired lumber magnate Charles H. Cobb in 1916.  After a few years, Cobb and his wife, Carrie, decided to make this their permanent home and built a house there in 1918.  Carrie passed away in 1934 and Cobb was able to enjoy his lavish estate until his death in 1939.

As a Freemason, Cobb designated his property be left to the Scottish Right Temple.  After a few years, the Masons sold the property and it became a retreat for the Sisters of Saint Joseph.  In 1956, the Marx Brothers purchased the land as an investment, they had no plans of actually living there.  So while the comedic family tried to find projects for developing the land, the area became a hangout for teens and “misfits” who vandalized the area and were often arrested for their misdemeanors.  The once grand and luxurious mansion fell into disarray and was removed in 1959–only the foundation, a few stairways and a wall remain.  The Marx Brothers tried to turn the land into a cemetery but met opposition from the residents.  So in hopes of unloading the land for a housing development, the property went up for auction in 1971.

Then the story turns into something you would see in a Hollywood screenplay.  Bob Barnes, a social studies teacher at John Muir High School, joined with a band of students, led by Senior Maggie Stratton, to raise enough money to buy the property and leave it as wilderness, making it a part of the Angeles National Forest.  They had nine days to raise the money and with the help of a last-minute donation from Virginia Steele Scott, a storied art collector, they bought and preserved the 107 acres of land.  In an article for the Pasadena Star-News, Barnes said that the day after they won the auction, he and Stratton bought a Star’s Map in Hollywood, drove to Groucho Marx’s home, knocked on the door and when he answered in his robe and slippers, they informed him they bought his property and said “thanks.”

Now as I was reading this tale, it sounded like one of triumph and victory, not really the makings of a tale of horror and suspense that Hitchcock would drool over.  So I need to dig deeper and do a little more research.  There has to be a reason why this area is called “The Haunted Forest.”  In the mean time, you can see the pictures I took today and a video I found of a walk-through of the Cobb Estate.

(I just read that the gates were used in the first Phantasm movie–cool!  And there are old abandoned gold mines down in the canyon below the Cobb Estate–I will have to check that out another day.)

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