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

Chillin’ With The Turtles at Caltech: Personal Challenge, Day 49 (11.4.12)

I am currently participating in the NaNoWriMo challenge (National Novel Writing Month).  This morning, they had planned a gathering for the Los Angeles NaNoWriMos at a Library at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).  The only stipulation was you had to arrive between 10-10:30am.  With Daylight Savings ending, you would think that would be a piece of cake, getting up and getting out of the house before 10am.  Yeah, not for me.  I only woke up because I had a reminder of the event on the phone and it was vibrating on my nightstand.

I really did want to get out to a new place and get some writing done so I decided I would head out to Caltech anyways.  I read on the Pasadena Views website that there are some cool ponds to check out at Caltech—the Turtle and Lily Ponds.  So I figured I would bring my camera to get some photos as well as my little laptop to get some writing done.

First of all, the Caltech campus is beautiful.  It is so quiet and serene.  I parked on Wilson and immediately started taking pictures of the architecture.  I made my way over to the ponds and instantly fell in love.  I love turtles and there were turtles everywhere (I didn’t see any lily pads but I did see one really big bullfrog).  They were swimming in the water or sunbathing along the shores or on the rocks.  There are even some ducks hanging out right next to the turtles.  I went picture crazy.  The ponds are actually five-tiered ponds connected on a hillside via waterfalls.  There are benches throughout the park like area where you can see students reading, writing, or meditating.

It reminds me of sections of Descanso Gardens or the Arboretum when you can just absorb the sights and sounds of nature while you are in the middle of the big city.  We are just blocks away from Old Town Pasadena but you would never know it, sitting here listening to the running water and the occasional quacking duck.  On the weekend, there is free parking on the streets around campus.  I haven’t seen too many students lingering around so it makes for a great place to read and write (or meditate).

There are a few families with their children here, which would normally bother me, but the kids here are well behaved—unlike some that I have come across at the Gardens.  The parents are using the area to teach the kids about the turtles and the ducks.  There are even a group of kids that are on the hunt for tadpoles and bullfrogs—but without all the lily pads, there are actually harder to find.  Others are discussing the ecosystems and how everything in the pond works together (the Koi, the ducks, the turtles, the algae, etc).  Of course, this is the Caltech campus so it makes sense that this would be used as an educational space for families.

I would definitely come back here on the weekend to write.  There are no admission fees and fewer people in attendance than the gardens.  It is a beautiful campus, from the architecture to the ponds, offering lots of inspiration for the creative mind.

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

Dia De Los Muertos Celebration Pictures: Personal Challenge, Day 48 (11.3.12)

On Saturday, I took the Metro down to Union Station and headed over to the Dia De Los Muertos celebration on Olvera Street.  I have always been told by Los Angeles natives that Olvera is the place to be on The Day of the Dead and they were absolutely correct.  The elaborate tributes, the costumes, the make-up, the dancing, the music, the shopping and the food–it was phenomenal.

I am going to let the pictures that I took speak for me, explaining what it was like celebrating Dia De Los Muertos on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles.

Posted in Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California, Spirituality

Learning How to Ghost Hunt in Southern California: Personal Challenge, Day 44 (10.30.12)

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Tonight I went to a book signing at Vroman’s Bookstore on Colorado in Pasadena.  I have been to book signing’s before but this was the first books signing I have been to where the book focuses on the Paranormal and the author is a Psychic Medium Ghost Hunter.  The book is entitled “Ghosthunting in Southern California” by Sally Richards.

Unlike other authors who tend to read passages from their books, Sally started off the evening with a presentation about the history of spiritualists.  She talked about her own history and her experiences with death, drowning at  a young age as well as being struck by lightning during her adulthood.  Her near death experiences have opened her up to another realm where she can communicate with spirits and feel energies that the rest of us can only imagine experiencing.

She has her own team of “ghost hunters” that goes out and communicates with the spirits.  Sally works mostly with the photographic experts.  As a photographer myself, it was interesting to hear her techniques for capturing ghosts inside photographs.  I am personally skeptical when it comes to ghosts in photographs.  I teach my students how to “fake” ghost photos.  But some of the images that Sally showed us, I have no way of explaining the effects captured in her images, especially a few photographs of her daughter.  Dust, slow shutter speed, or a lens flare are the usual explanations for images captured by some of the famous ghost hunter crews (like Ghost Adventures) but again, these explanations don’t work with the photographs of her daughter where there is a strange lighting effect only on her face.  It was interesting to see.

Aside from her photographs, Sally has many fascinating stories and mentioned that she is currently working on a ghost hunting book for Northern California.  As for the Southern California edition, it does cover some of the most interesting places in Southern California, like the Queen Mary, Linda Vista Hospital and the Cobb Estate.  I first purchased this book at Vroman’s when I started my personal challenge, visiting the Cobb Estate on the first day.  Her book is a great resource for places I still want to visit and I can’t wait to see what she find up in Northern California.

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

Fourth Free Friday: Personal Challenge, Day 40 (10.26.12)

On the fourth Friday of every month, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena offers free admission to anyone who wants to stop by and check out what exhibits they have to offer.  Since I didn’t get a chance to check out this museum during Art Night, I decided the Free Friday event would be the perfect opportunity to do so.

I managed to find a parking spot at a meter right in front of the museum.  I was greeted at the front desk and they instructed me to start to the left and work my way around until I returned to the sign at the entrance.  As someone who is fascinated by all things Buddhist and Hindu, this is the perfect museum.  The statues and artifacts drew my attention instantly.  I took my time, reading all the information on each piece, learning the differences between each Buddha and the poses and hand signals.  I could easily spend hours just studying the statues.  Unfortunately, I almost forgot about my plan to visit the museum on Friday and I only had 40 minutes before closing to explore.

Even though I love all of the Buddhist artifacts, I can’t imagine spending the $9 admission price.  The monthly Free Fridays will provide me with ample opportunities to explore and learn from the Pacific Asia artifacts.  I did grab a brochure of upcoming events but I do have to be honest, I hanot looked at it yet.  Perhaps there are events that are worthy of the admission price.  But this cash strapped teacher is going to stick to the free museum days.

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

My Pizza is a Blaze: Personal Challenge, Day 36 (10.22.12)

It has become a challenge in itself trying to find something new to do every day.  People keep asking me if I am exhausted from going to all these different places.  My answer, I am exhausted from my day-to-day “doing the exact same thing several times a day” work routine but my personal challenge energizes me.  You get a rush from trying something new.  You feel alive.  The hard part is the first few moments after you leave work and you just want to take a nap.  I know if I go home, that is exactly what will happen.  So instead, I go somewhere else to figure out what to do next.  That someplace else is usually Vroman’s bookstore on Colorado in Pasadena.

After work, I will go to the Zeli coffeehouse, located in the front section of Vroman’s.  You can get a large coffee for under $2 (and it is better than Starbucks).  I find a table–or couch–and start searching through my list, books, different websites, Pasadena & LA Weekly, and the flyers/posters in the coffeehouse.

Sometimes, if nothing catches my eye, I will stroll down Colorado to see if anything catches my eye.  On this day, I decided to walk over to Halloween City by Paseo Colorado.  I needed some accessories for my Zombie costume.  On my way from Vroman’s to Halloween City, I passed a pizza place that looked interesting, Blaze Pizza.  I decided I would make that my food adventure for the day.

When you first walk in, Blaze looks almost like a high class sandwich shop with the long counter of ingredients.  The have so many different options for pizzas.  They do have signature pizzas for $6.85 but they also have build your own, customizable pizzas.  So if you are Vegan, Vegetarian, have an allergy to Gluten or an allergy to dairy or soy, this would be an idea pizza place for you.  They have options to meet everyone’s needs.

I decided to go for a personal signature pizza–the art lover.  The art lover is topped with artichokes, mozzarella, ricotta, chopped garlic, and red sauce.  I am not usually a fan of a thin crusted pizza but this was one tasty pizza.  And I still can’t believe how quickly it was prepared.  You place your order, it hits the ingredient assembly line and then it is fired in the oven.  I was definitely impressed and I love that is located so close to Vroman’s.  I don’t think I will ever go back to Domino’s after trying Blaze.

Posted in Diet, Exploration, Holidays, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California, Tourism, Travel

Celebrating in Old Town: Personal Challenge, Day 35 (10.21.12)

This weekend felt like my own personal birthday gift from the heavens–they gave me rain!  It finally cooled down and felt like October.  It would have been better to see the leaves change color but I will take what I can get.

Russell’s Meatloaf dinner with a Bellini drink

For my birthday, I decided to hang out with my friend Ida in Old Town Pasadena.  I had a craving for my staple comfort food–mashed potatoes and gravy.  So I searched Yelp for a diner in Old Town Pasadena.  The search mentioned Russell’s on Fair Oaks.  The reviews described it as being a diner type establishment that was always crowded.  So I was imagining a 50’s style diner or even something like Denny’s but Russel’s was neither.  Russel’s felt like a very fancy restaurant, a perfect place for a first date.  Yes, there were booths but they were more elegant than a typical diner.  There were lamps instead of cheesy light fixtures.  There were classic paintings by Masters like Picasso and Van Gogh covering the walls; it almost felt like an art gallery.  There was classic music playing and a fancy looking menu.  However the food was similar to a diner menu, but again a more upscale diner.

We both ordered a Bellini, even though it didn’t really seem to go with my meatloaf and mashed potatoes dinner but I liked it nonetheless.  Ida ordered the Chicken Breast dinner.  We were both pleased with our meals and I do have to say, the mashed potatoes were amazing.  But we both agreed that the Yelp reviews did not do this place justice.  It wasn’t what we expected . . . it was better.

After dinner, we decided to check out the Old Town Haunt on Raymond and Colorado.  I have done the Knott’s Scary Farms and the Universal Halloween Horror Nights.  I am the kind of person who laughs through a Haunted House.  I am usually laughing at the girly girls who are screaming.  It takes a lot to scare me.  But I read a lot of good reviews for the Old Town Haunt and the actual Haunted History of the building where the haunt occurs.

Old Town Haunt

When we first arrived and got into line, we were excited about possibly being scared.  Unfortunately, my excitement turned sour when the group of inconsiderate 20-something a**holes started smoking in line, breaking a whole bunch of city ordinances.  They didn’t even care when I was vocal about my allergy to smoke and started coughing.  In fact, they all decided to light up so I had to excuse myself from the line.  Being the good friend that she is, Ida braved standing near the IAs.

Personally, I will never understand the selfishness of smokers.  There are so many people in a small area waiting to go into the haunt, many were children.  If you want to smoke and kill yourself, that is your prerogative but why force the rest of us to choke on your second-hand smoke just because you have a sad, pathetic addiction that will lead you to an early grave.  I like my life and I have seen too many people die from lung cancer–some never smoked a day in their lives but their family members did.  OK, that is my rant for the day.

Thankfully, Ida and I were put with a group far away from the smoking IAs.  And from the minute we took our first step down the staircase into the basement of the Old Town Haunt, all our grievances were forgotten.  The decor was amazing.  Our experience started with a tour guide (who is also the organizer of the event).  We asked him if we could work for him and he said all we had to do was talk to the ticket taker on our way out.  From that moment on, our excitement grew and our adventure began.

We did spend most of our time laughing at the people in our group–even the guys were screaming and freaking out.  I got three hugs from the different characters throughout the maze.  The decor was so authentic.  The costumes were freakishly good and we were even startled a few times.  The area where it was pitch black and we had to feel our way through–then crawl our way through–was pretty awesome.  This was by far the best haunted maze I have ever been through.  Universal and Knott’s have nothing on the Old Town Haunt.  And the best part, starting on Thursday, Ida and I will get the chance to haunt the maze and cue up a little scares of our own.

After the Haunt, our adrenaline was pumping so we decided to try yet another place in Old Town Pasadena.  We headed over to Lucky Baldwins for drinks.  The 21st was the last day of their Oktoberfest specials so I decided I would partake in the festivities with the t-shirt, glass and German beer special.  Finally, good German Oktoberfest beer to redeem the disappointment from the Montrose Oktoberfest.

All and all, it was a great birthday (spent with a great friend).  It’s funny how sometimes everything just seems to fall into place.  Originally I had wanted to go to a play but we opted for the Old Town Haunt instead.  That slight change in plans led to an opportunity I wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t decided to go to the Old Town Haunt and ask if we could volunteer.  Now I have my plans set for Thursday where I will get the chance to do something I have always wanted to do, work in a haunted house.  I can’t wait for Thursday!!

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

Old School Drive-In . . . Japanese Style: Personal Challenge, Day 34 (10.20.12)

Finally, it feels like October here in California.  I now have all my Halloween decor and I am ready to decorate.  I spent the day organizing my decor and then I had to make a trip up to Lowes for supplies (batteries, extension cords, ground stakes, etc.).

On my way home from Lowes, as the hunger set in, I decided to look for a place to eat a late lunch.  Through Yelp, I found a place called Bean Sprouts in Arcadia.  It said it was a Chinese restaurant and that sounded incredibly good at the moment.  So I made my way into the quaint little downtown area of Arcadia that has a bunch of little shops and restaurants.  I found Bean Sprouts but it was closed for a private event.

POK-A-DOTS

As I walked back to my car, I noticed this store called Pok A Dots, a costume shop near Bean Sprouts.  Being a Halloween fan, I decided to stop in and check it out.

Pok A Dots, in a small, crowded little shop filled floor to ceiling with costumes and accessories.  They even have costume rentals.  The costumes range from the ones you would find at Party City/Halloween City to the costumes that would be used in a play or movie production.  It reminded me of a very small version of Hollywood Toys and Costumes in Hollywood (minus all the Halloween decor).  There were so many people packed into this small store (including a couple making out in the costumes in the back) that it was a bit difficult to really check things out.  But I noticed the staff was helping each individual person with their costume choices.  This is definitely a store I want to go back to, but not on a weekend in October.

Bento Ya

In the meantime, the search for food continued.  Once again, I pulled out my phone and searched Yelp.  There was a Japanese place, Bento Ya, located down First Avenue in Arcadia, a half a mile from my current location.

Bento Ya looks like a 50’s style Drive-In restaurant.  There is even oldies music playing.  But there is no diner food here, it is Japanese food and drinks.  I decided to order the Chicken Teriyaki meal with a California Sushi Roll as a side.  I also ordered the Japanese Green Tea.  The meal also came with Miso soup and steamed rice.

Chicken Teriyaki Meal

Overall, the food was pretty good.  It wasn’t the best Japanese food I had ever had but it was OK–a three star rating.  But maybe my rating is also based on the surreal atmosphere at Bento Ya.  It was very strange to hear Stevie Wonder music playing in a restaurant where everyone speaks Japanese.  It made me wonder if this is what restaurants were like in Japan in the 1950s.