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.

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)


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, 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, 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 Entertainment, Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California, Tourism, Travel

Scaring Up A Good Time In Old Town Pasadena: Personal Challenge, Day 39 (10.25.12)

On my birthday, my friend Ida and I went through the Old Town Haunt in Pasadena.  We were only about 20 feet into the basement when we asked if we could volunteer to work in the Haunt.  They told us to ask the man out front after the maze.  So we did and he said we could come back on Thursday at 6:15pm.  So we did and we were so excited to get our “scare” on.

When we arrived, one of the owners, Ron, walked us through the process of the Haunt and helped us create our characters.  They had costumes, masks, prosthetics, and make-up ready for us to use.  Ida chose to just use make-up and a wig.   I decided to try using prosthetics since I have never used them before.  It was lighter than a mask and seemed more realistic.  Plus it was scarier than anything I could do with make-up.

Once we in character, Ron took us to our scare locations, giving us tips on how to use our areas to get the best scares.  Thankfully for us, Ron stayed close to Ida to give her advice on her scare techniques while the other owner, Mark, was close to me, giving me helpful hints and advice throughout the night.  It was a blast but exhausting at the same time.  By the end of the night, I didn’t have much of a voice left but I would do it all again in a heartbeat.  In fact, we plan on returning to the Haunt as scareactors before the season ends.  It was definitely a volunteer opportunity of a lifetime.

But I don’t know, look at the pictures.  Do you think we were scary enough?

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Posted in Entertainment, Life, Personal Challenge, Tourism, Travel

Not An Academy Award Winning Experience: Personal Challenge, Day 38 (10.24.12)

Lately I have been focusing mostly on trying new food places so this time I thought I would try something in the genre of entertainment.  Using the 365 Days of things to do around Pasadena list, I found the Academy Cinema (number 17 on the list).

The Academy Cinema in Pasadena is run by the Regency Theatre group.  It hosts movies that are no longer in the mainstream theaters but are not yet available for purchase or rental via DVD or digital download.  The Matinee (any show before 6pm) prices is $2, Regular price (after 6pm) is $3 and the Saturday Midnight screenings are priced at $8.  I decided I would see the 5:10pm Matinee of Disney’s Brave.

When I arrived there, I realized that you get what you pay for.  The ticket prices are low but the food prices are way overpriced, like any other theater.  I didn’t even bother with drinks or popcorn when I noticed that the cheapest combo price was $9.

Maybe I have become spoiled by the ArcLight cinemas (my preferred movie experience) but the Academy Cinema needs some serious TLC.  The bathrooms were vandalized (lots of profanity written on the inside of the doors).  The theater had not been cleaned since the previous showing.  There were drinks and garbage still sitting in the cup holders through the theater.  There was also a strange, unpleasant odor lingering in the air inside the theater–perhaps from the trash.  There was plenty of staff just standing around the concession stands chatting.  I’m sure someone could have inspected the theater before allowing patrons inside–like other theaters do.

They also left the doors open so you could clearly hear all the noise in the lobby.  There was only a curtain to serve as a buffer between the door and our seats inside the theater but that too was left open.  I actually got up to close the doors and the curtain once the film had started.  (The staff was again standing around talking when I went to close the door–one noticed me and offered to do it for me but I had already completed the task).

You can see the garbage left behind in the cup holder of the seat in front of me.

In addition, the seats were uncomfortable and made an annoying squeak every time you moved.  Patrons were on their cell phones or talking throughout the film.  Again, I am used to the ArcLight where this kind of behavior wouldn’t fly and the seats are very comfy.

The movie itself was a good film but I would rather wait to spend the $2 to rent it from Redbox and watch it in the comfort of my own home instead of going through another experience at the Academy Cinema.  As Mr. MoviePhone would say at the end of a bad review, “I’m out.”