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 Holidays, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California

Halloween in the Dog Haus: Personal Challenge, Day 45 (10.31.12)

Halloween is by far my absolute favorite holiday but unfortunately, the universe decided it should be my worst Endo day this month.  So with very little energy and in a lot of pain, I am still surprised that I managed to get some decorations out.  I had so many plans for my holiday decor but I guess I will just have to save the ideas for next year.

But I didn’t want my holiday to be ruined.  Despite being in an exorbitant amount of pain, I could still partake in some of my family Halloween traditions.

When I was a kid, my Dad would get all dressed up to take us trick-or-treating.  My Mom would stay home to pass out candy and make us a big pot of chili to eat when we came in after a night of walking around in the brisk fall weather (this was in Michigan so we had some chilly Halloween nights).  I remember coming inside and sorting through our candy while my Mom prepared a bowl of chili for each of us.  Then we would sit in front of the television and watch a Halloween themed movie–like Nightmare on Elm Street, any of the Halloween movies or any of the Friday the 13th movies.

Wanting to keep up with my challenge of trying something new every day as well as family traditions, I decided to find a really good Chili Cheese Hot Dog.  Originally I set out to try Slaw Dogs but despite the hours posted on Yelp and on their door, the restaurant was closed when I arrived around 8:30pm.

So through another search on Yelp, I found “Dog Haus,” located on Hill Street in Pasadena.  At first I was a little taken aback by the prices.  Six dollars for a hot dog seemed extreme.  But I was set on a Chili Cheese dog so I couldn’t back out now.  I ordered “The Little Leaguer,” a hot dog covered in chili, cheese, onions and fritos.  I also included a side of tater tots and a drink.  For a person used to spending $1.50 at Costco for a hot dog and drink, this was out of my price range with a total of $13 for my meal.  But when I finally received my order and realized I could have fed two people with my order, I didn’t feel quite as bad.

The Little Leaguer was in no way shape or form a little hot dog.  With the Sweet Hawaiian bread bun and the massive dog in the middle, that would have been meal enough.  But add on what looked like a can of chili, cheese, onions and a bag of fritos and you have got yourself an entire meal.  I didn’t really need the order of tater tots.

Overall, it was a good hot dog.  It still can’t beat my love for my hometown coney dogs at National Coney Island (it’s a Detroit thing) but it was still a good dog.  Just be warned, the portions are much larger than you would imagine.

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 Life, movies, Personal Challenge

Burn Movie Premiere: Personal Challenge, Day 43 (10.29.12)

Tonight was the LA Premiere of a film that is very near and dear to my heart.  The film was made by two of my friends and it is about my hometown of Detroit.  This film is called Burn: A Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit.

This is a documentary on the lives of the firefighters in Detroit.  It will make you laugh, it will make you cry and it will open your eyes to what is really going on in our own country in terms of budget cuts made by politicians and how those cuts affect the working class.  I cried several times throughout the film.  It also made me a little homesick–with everyone drinking Vernors and talking about going to eat at National Coney Island.

At the premiere, I had the chance to spend some time with the firefighters who are featured in the film.  They flew out to LA just to be there for the Grauman’s Egyptian Theater premiere.  We all reveled in what a small world it is.  One firefighter, “Doogie,” went to school in the same school district and graduated a year after me.  It turns out that we used to hang out at the same places and were probably there at the same time.  Another firefighter, Dave Miller, lives fairly close to my older brother.  After seeing this film, I feel like I know them, like they are family.  I received several hugs from Dave Parnell, a retired Detroit firefighter, that evening, just because I am a Detroit native and I support this film.

It opens this Friday in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Noho 7 in North Hollywood.  This film will change your lives and it may even just change the way you vote next Tuesday.  Check out the Burn website for more information, to see the movie trailer, or to find out if it is going to be playing in any theaters near you.

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

Sunday Comfort Food: Personal Challenge, Day 42 (10.28.12)

With neither one of us feeling well on Sunday morning, my friend Ida suggested we try a restaurant that always makes here feel better with the Vietnamese version of comfort food, Pho.  The restaurant is the Golden Deli Restaurant, located on Las Tunas in Temple City.

My Beef Pho

Since this is one of Ida’s favorite places to eat, I deferred to her for food recommendations.  Ida ordered the Pho Tai, rare beef pho.  She mentioned that the beef cooks in the boiling broth and is usually cooked by the time your meal reaches the table.  I decided to ordered something fully cooked so I went with the Pho Chin Nam, fully cooked brisket beef pho.  Ida also ordered us Spring Rolls as appetizers (which she suggested we dip in our noodle broth instead of the fish oil).

Spring Rolls

Well, Ida was right.  The Beef Pho did make me feel better.  It was just as soothing as the Chicken Noodle Soup that I had at the Noodle House in Pasadena.  I also tried dipping the spring rolls in the fish oil dipping sauce and in my pho broth–it tasted better dipped in the broth.

So overall, when comfort is needed, a good friend and good noodles will do the trick.

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.