October 30, 2012

31 Trips in Cali, Day 21: Sacramento, State Capitol

 As I was editing photos for this post, I realized that just as with yesterday's visit to the Mission, the sole reason behind our trip to the state capitol in Sacramento was because we had a 4th grader in the house.

I've read that Sacramento is a vibrant, interesting city with lots of cool neighborhoods and restaurants and all the culture that comes with a good-sized city.  Still, there's not much compelling us to travel there.  This half-day visit to the state capitol was tacked onto our longer trip to San Francisco. The capitol is interesting and packed with history, not to mention that it's a working building, not just some dusty old museum. But honestly, it's not a trip I would've planned without the 4th grade curriculum, focusing on state history. 

Here we go:

Ornate ceiling in the Senate chamber
Current governor, Jerry Brown
Popular former Governor
Inside the congressional chamber
Lily in front of the governor's office, guarded by "Mike the Bear"

Mounted police on the front lawn
If you'd like to see more shots of the capitol building, and some taken around the Old Town area, check out this longer post written shortly after our visit: Sacramento With Kids.   

Thanks for coming along! Come back for Day 22 of my 31 Trips in California series, when we'll take a cruise on a mountain lake.

Don't miss a single trip: Head over to Day 1 for all the links, or Like me on Facebook. 

October 29, 2012

31 Trips in Cali, Day 20: Mission San Fernando

Sure as the sun shines, if you're a kid attending public school in California, you're going to study the history of the missions and be required to write a mission report in the 4th grade.  (Chances are also good that you'll have to create a model of your chosen mission as part of your report.)

And so it was that in February of this year, we drove across the freeways to pay a visit to Lily's mission of choice: Mission San Fernando. (Officially, it's "Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana.")   Learn something new every day: I never even knew there was a mission there. (Personally, I was gunning for her to report on Mission San Gabriel, the one closest to where I grew up, but have never visited.)

Surrounded by city streets and strip malls, the grounds of the mission were quiet on this Saturday, with just a few folks walking about --- including at least one other family with a 4th grader in tow, dutifully taking notes.
The church continues to hold mass each Sunday:
Learn yet another new thing every day: Bob Hope and his wife Dolores are buried on the grounds, in the quiet garden at the rear of the property. (According to the mission pamphlet, supposedly Mr. Hope said, "Surprise me," when asked where he wanted to be buried.
Lily had no idea who "Bob Hope" was. But she took notes on it all, just the same:
Inside was a display providing more clues for her:
Whether or not you have a 4th grader in your life, if you live in California, you should get thee to a mission.  There are 21 of them going up the state, from San Diego in the south to San Francisco up north. They're a fascinating glimpse into some very old history in a state that's often dismissed as having not very much of a past.  The indoctrination of the natives by the Spanish Catholics is a story that makes us squirm nowadays (as it should), but it also proves how far back our history goes, and how our culture became so rich.
By the way, Lily got an "A" on her report. And thank goodness, her teacher didn't require the class to make cardboard and/or sugar-cube replicas of the missions. (I probably won't be so lucky when Tucker's in 4th grade.)
Thanks for coming along! Come back for Day 21 of my 31 Trips in California series, when we'll continue our 4th grade studies with a trip to the state capitol.

Don't miss a single trip: Head over to Day 1 for all the links, or Like me on Facebook. 

31 Trips in Cali, Day 19: Yosemite In Winter

Our 3-night trip to Yosemite in winter: Snow. So much snow.

Usually we don't undertake such a big trip only a week before Christmas, but this was the year I celebrated a Big Birthday, and I wanted to wake up that morning in my favorite place on the planet. (Thus far.)

This was really the first time that the kids, and maybe even I, had ever experienced so much snow. Real Sierra snow, not just driving up to our local mountains and playing in that slushy roadside stuff.
We arrived in the dark, after my husband had to stop and put chains on our tires with gloved hands and me holding a jittery flashlight. We checked into the Yosemite Lodge and awoke to sun and a million, billion fairy sparkles twinkling on the ground and in the trees.

It snowed off and on while we were there. Not a serious storm, but just enough to keep it cold and fresh and let the kids experience snow falling onto their hands and tongues.  
We walked everywhere in the valley, or took the shuttle bus out to the Camp Curry/Happy Isle area. The shuttles, which are usually packed full as a Disney tram during the summer months, were nearly empty.
There were some crazy people camping in their tents at the campgrounds. Obviously they had better insulated sleeping bags than our old Colemans.  At least I hope they did.

Warming up inside the historic (and very pricey) Ahwahnee Hotel.
We hiked through pretty good snowfall to view lower Yosemite Falls:
On the morning that we left, we hiked through the meadow. It was beautiful and sunny and so, so cold. Oh my gah, I was cold.  It was 17 degrees out. That might officially be the coldest temps I've ever experienced.
The chapel. They hold Sunday services here all year long. For me, Yosemite is my church.
I don't want my children to grow up any faster than they already are. But one of the compensations for Santa not coming down the chimney any longer might be the chance for us all to wake up in Yosemite on Christmas morning, and spend the day sharing the great gift of this wondrous place.  Someday.   

Thanks for coming along! Come back for Day 20 of my 31 Trips in California series, when we'll make like California 4th graders and visit a real mission.

Don't miss a single trip: Head over to Day 1 for all the links, or Like me on Facebook. 

October 27, 2012

31 Trips In Cali, Day 18: Mission Inn Festival of Lights

I'm on Day 18 of the Nester's 31 Day series, which means that if I'd kept up with posting daily, I'd be wrapping it up in 4 days.  But since I'm a bad blogger, (or at least a bad daily blogger), I'll be wrapping up in December at the rate I'm going.  Kidding! 

Speaking of December, let's head out to Riverside and get in the Christmas spirit, since Target and other big retailers are totally ready for us to be in the holiday mood.  The Festival of Lights takes place every holiday season at the beautiful Mission Inn hotel in downtown Riverside.  (Riverside is a good-sized city and the county seat; with traffic, it's about 45 minutes east of Los Angeles.)

For the Festival of Lights, the Inn, which is a National Historic Landmark and stretches for an entire city block, decks out the grounds and facade with millions of lights and the outdoor balconies with animatronic figures.

Here's the lowdown from the Mission Inn's website:
Allow yourself to be swept away by more than 3.6 million+ brilliant lights transforming Riverside's historic hotel into pure magic. The annual festival begins the day after Thanksgiving, on Friday, November 23rd with a celebratory lighting ceremony featuring a full fireworks display, and continues through Saturday, January 5th.  With live entertainment, seasonal touches throughout, including horse-drawn carriage rides, freshly fallen snow and special appearances by Santa Claus, Festival of Lights is a beloved Southern California tradition not to be missed.
Ooh, doesn't that sound like fun? Reading that makes me want to throw on my Johnny Mathis Christmas CDs and start decorating the house. (Well, almost. Let's just get through Halloween, first.)
If you visit the Festival of Lights  on the weekend, like my family did, know that it'll be busy, with throngs of people milling about, taking and posing for photos, and just enjoying all the decorations.  There is a line, which helps to keep the crowd organized, and it winds through the front garden and takes you indoors for a bit, into the tony and warm bar and lobby.   The downtown area near the hotel has lots of fun going on, too. When we were there, there was a live band, an ice-skating rink, and a little shop selling goodies.
Ice-skating rink
We also ate a quick dinner at possibly the most festive & decorated pizza shop I've ever encountered:
This was a fun evening, and even though I'm not at all ready for Christmas to really hit my house, I'm kind of in the mood to be back here, soaking up the lights and spirit and fun of the season. I mean, any night that includes pizza, hot cocoa, cupcakes (and funnel cake for the boy) has got to be a good one.

Thanks for coming along! Come back for Day 19 of my 31 Trips in California series, when we'll continue the winter theme and visit some epic snow in an epic setting.

Don't miss a single trip: Head over to Day 1 for all the links, or Like me on Facebook. 

October 26, 2012

Re-Post: Fall Is Here (It's in My Hair)

This is a re-post from back in October 2008.  The Santa Ana winds were whipping hard around 4 a.m. this morning, reminding me again of what I wrote here four (!) years ago.  My hair is shorter these days, but that specific scent of the Santa Ana's still gets trapped in my dense curls. 

It's fall here in Southern California. I can tell by the arrival of the Santa Ana winds, the hot dry days, the crystalline-clear air. And the smell of fall is here, which for me, during a Santa Ana event, is not the smell of apple cider or fallen leaves, but the smell of my own hair.
Fire in the hills
For years and years I've noticed that when the Santa Ana's come whipping in from the desert east, my hair gets a very specific scent -- not unlike the creosote of the desert, mixed with a flat, metallic tang that lasts for the duration of the wind. I've read that something funny happens to the ozone level of the air during the windy days, and perhaps that's what I smell in my hair. (I should point out that I have extremely thick, curly hair, that easily traps strong smells anyway. I need to tie it back when flipping pancakes or bacon, or risk smelling like a Denny's all day.)

Like any good bookish L.A. girl, raised on Joan Didion and The Doors and Dr. George Fischbeck hopping up and down with glee over the weather, I can't help but get excited during a Santa Ana. Well, excited isn't quite the word. Restless, is more like it. I'm always about 2 heartbeats away from "restless" most days anyhow, but during a Santa Ana, it's more urgent, and irritating, too.

Dig it:
Those hot dry winds that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. (Raymond Chandler)
Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are. (Joan Didion)
Perhaps that's why I've been feeling that bitter mix of wanderlust and trapped-out-in-the-godforsaken-Inland-Empire discontent so keenly this month. Growing up so close to the heart of Los Angeles, I sometimes miss it terribly. I miss feeling part of the action, part of that "scene." I'm a born and bred L.A. county native, and it's home that I miss right now.  Now that I live only a few miles north of the San Diego county line, we don't experience the Santa Ana's as frequently and intensely down south, but sometimes the wind kicks up here, too.

I'll leave off with Mr. Mojo Risin' himself. Back in my single, working-girl days, speeding across the freeways, it always felt like he was singing this part straight to me, as I cranked up "L.A. Woman" in my primer-gray little Nissan, a cigarette clenched in my left hand,

I see your hair is burnin' /
Hills are filled with fire/ If they say I never loved you /
You know they are a liar.

Oh, it's such a cliche! And yet, that doesn't make it hit any less close to home.

October 23, 2012

31 Trips in Cali, Day 17: Hearst Castle

If you live in California, you must get yourself to Hearst Castle someday.  It's  just as famous as Disneyland and the redwoods, and is such an iconic slice of state history: Hollywood glamour and money, the strange story of reclusive William Randolph Hearst, and the architecture of Julia Morgan, who was fascinating in her own right.
Set along the gorgeous Central coast, the nearest town is San Simion, and if you're heading north on Highway 1, it's also the last major stop before you start winding up toward Big Sur.  I've been to Hearst Castle a couple of times in my life and taken the most basic tours.  (There are several tours, each visiting different areas of the castle and grounds.) Next time, I'd love to take the seasonal Evening Tour, which features the staff dressed in period costumes from 1930s. And how amazing the houses and grounds must look at night.

I don't recommend the tour for children under age 11 or so, unless your little ones really dig touring old houses and admiring antiques. The pools are amazing, but I can just hear my kids whining about not being allowed to jump in!

Ready? Let's board the tram at the bottom of the hill and climb up toward the Castle. You can just make it out in the picture below, peeking above the cluster of palms at the top of the ridge on the left. Scan the hills and see if you can spot any zebras, which roam the property. 
Stop and admire the brilliant turquoise of the Neptune Pool:

According to an old episode of Huell Howser we watched recently, once a year the employees of the Castle are allowed to swim in the pool. Now that's a company picnic!

Inside, the rooms are packed with antiques and art acquired by Hearst during his lifetime: 

Detail of the gold-handled faucets in the kitchen.
The indoor Roman pool, featuring real gold inlaid into the tiny glass tiles.
And then the tour is over and the spell of pretending you could stay here like some old movie star evaporates. Back down the hill, back to the coast. Nature is always a consolation for us commoners, don't you think?

Thanks for coming along! Come back for Day 18 of my 31 Trips in California series, when we'll get in the Christmas spirit at another historic property.

Don't miss a single trip: Head over to Day 1 for all the links, or Like me on Facebook. 
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