Friday, December 30, 2011

Forest Lawn Memorial Park - Glendale, California

There are nine cemeteries managed by the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Association. The one most visited by tourists is the park located in Glendale. In 1917 its founder, Dr.Hubert Eaton, wrote of his vision for how a cemetery should be built. He thought that cemeteries were "unsightly and depressing stone yards". The dream he had is written in his poem "The Builders Creed". It is written on a couple of the buildings in the park.
 Sorry if you were hoping to read the creed, I was more taken with the statuary in front of it. Essentially what Dr. Eaton said in the poem was that the memorial park of his dreams was to be filled with "towering trees, singing birds, sweeping lawns, splashing fountains, beautiful statuary, noble memorial architecture with interiors full of light and color, and redolent of the world's history and romances". He wanted no upright markers on the graves, only flat markers level with the ground. The grave pictured below is one of the more colorful ones decorated for the holiday season. Statuary or benches can be bought and placed by the markers.
One of our stops in the park was at the Memorial Terrace which houses a stained glass re-creation of Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper". We also visited the Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection where there is one of the world's largest religious paintings by Jan Styka. The crucifixtion picture is 45 by 195 foot, and was intended to be on display for the 1904 world's fair in St.Louis. However, there was no building large enough for it at the fair. Forty years later Dr. Eaton built an auditorium for it. In the same auditorium he also placed a large painting of the resurrection. Both are accompanied by dramatic narration and music. Below is a picture of the church which is a part of the auditorium. The church is a replica of a cathedral which he saw in Orvieto, Italy. There are several other churches in the garden which also are exact replicas of  famous churches. 
Some of the inspiration is the park is more of a patriotic nature. There is a Court of Freedom section in the park which has a large mosaic of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Our last stop was at the Forest Lawn Museum which displays rare biblical coins, statuary and paintings. It also has 11th-to15th- century cathedral stained glass. I must say it was a most unusual cemetery visit for us!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum

While driving up a mountain to the museum yesterday we noticed many cars parked alongside the road. To our surprise we soon discovered that it was the over-flow parking for the museum.  Had we known that Reagan's museum was so popular we certainly would not have chosen a holiday week to tour it! But then we would not have had the opportunity to see the Christmas tree display which is in the museum now. Each tree depicts an entire decade of American history from the 1770s to the present and features defining moments of  each. Below is the tree for the decade from 1950-60, which recalls the polio epidemic and Dr.Seuss.
We spent a almost a good four hours in the museum. Ronald Reagan's life is explored in 24 fascinating galleries. It was the best history lesson I could have ever gotten concerning our 40th president and his accomplishments. In learning about Reagan's early years it was easy for me to see to see how circumstances in his personal life took him on the path to the White House. In his high school years he was president of his drama class, and in his college years and beyond he continued to shine as a great leader and speaker. He became known as The Great Communicator. Pictured below is the file he kept through out his life of famous quotations. He always had a few of the file cards in his briefcase should he ever need them.
 Equally amazing to me was to see Reagan's five volume set of handwritten personal diaries, and to read excerpts from them. I could see some parallels with his experiences as president with what is happening today. Reagan had his issues also with tax reform and, like Obama, he had to deal with a legislature not of his party. His nemesis was Tip O'Neill as Obama's is John Boehner. In frustration he once said: " Look, enough of this". "Lets work for a change that will help the people."  He kept a couple of small signs on his desk which
defined him as a person who learned to negotiate. As a great negotiator one of his crowning achievements while in office was the tearing down of the Berlin wall. He had a great friendship with the Soviet leader Gorbachev which also helped to end five decades of the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The museum has a beautiful setting in the Simi Valley of California. It sits atop a mountain and has sweeping views of the mountains surrounding it and of the valley below. Unfortunately I had become so engrossed in touring the museum that I did not get a picture of the amazing panorama outside until the sun was setting.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 2011 in Los Angeles

The above picture has to be one of the most unusual outdoor home Christmas decorations I have ever seen. The flower in the foreground is a white rose. John and I have an expression which we often say to each other while driving around Los Angeles: "it can only happen in this town". We started our Christmas day attending services at First Lutheran Church in Northridge (aka Life House). During the sermon Pastor Dana Hanson commented that we are only "a wood shaving away" from being like God. According to the Bible we are made a bit lower than the angels. About that time a scraggly haired bearded man wandered into the church noisily and sat down. He did not stay very long but soon wandered back outside to sit until the church served a dinner for the community at 2PM. John and I helped with that dinner, it was the first time we had ever participated in assisting with a meal of that nature. Fortunately the church has been giving the dinner for many years so for a few of us newbies it was easy to fit in and be helpful. As the people filed in for the dinner I thought about the pastor's sermon. Many of  the people were quite unkempt and dirty. Some were obviously mental disturbed and/or retarded. A few were on crutches or in wheelchairs. There was also a blind man and a man with one arm. All my brothers and sisters, like me, created in the image of God. Many nervously clutched all the possessions they owned in plastic bags, or carried  suitcases. One man agreed to put his bag on a chair when I promised to watch it while he stood in line for the food. And they ate voraciously, piling their plates high and returning for second and thirds. Little food was wasted. We sent many out the door later with take-out boxes of food. They said that they had friends and family to whom they wanted to bring food. During the course of the afternoon I found some of the women guests in the bathroom washing themselves. A lady commented to me that she was so thankful for warm water and soap. I found all of the people very appreciative. We served about 80 men, women and a few children. We not only gave them food but socks, blankets and toiletry items. After it was all over I felt good thinking that perhaps a small number of homeless people in Los Angeles that night were going to have full tummies and warm bodies. We had a great Christmas day and spending time that evening with our son Mike added a special bonus to our day!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Japanese Garden, Los Angeles

The exquisite flower pictured above I found growing near our home last week. I was surprised to see that it was the flower of a cactus plant. Speaking of flowers, I recently read that the poinsettia plant was brought to the states from Mexico by Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He found it growing as a weed on Mexican roadsides. It later became a favorite Christmas decoration and eventually was named after him. The shrubs blooming at this time of the year in the Japanese Garden are azalea, rhododendron, and  camellia.
 The Japanese Garden is located about five miles from where we are parked here in the San Frenando  Valley. Strangely enough, it is on the grounds of the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant. All of the water used in the garden is from  reclaimed waste water. Part of the water plant is pictured below.
Dr. Koichi Kawana was the garden's creator. In his lifetime he designed more than a dozen major Japanese gardens in the United States, including the one in St. Louis which is the largest of all of the gardens. In designing Suiho-en (the Japanese name for the garden) Dr. Kawana balanced the positive and negative forces,Yin and Yang, with a blend of traditional Japanese garden design and modern Western architecture. He was an architect as well as an artist and designed the contemporary water plant administration building located in the garden. His visionary goal was to teach visitors to the garden about the need for water recycling and reuse. We enjoyed walking around the lakes in the garden. Large groups of coots were busy feeding on the grass at the water's edge, and a lone white egret waded in one of the lakes searching for small fish to eat.  The tea house of the garden can be seen in the background of the picture below.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

John Turns Seventy

This posting is my 600th, hard to believe. Also impossible to believe is that my husband turned 70 yesterday. As many people our age are wont to say: "where have the years gone?"  We were thankful to have at least one of our children with us for John's big day. Our son Michael did a great job in helping to make it special for him. We wanted to do Disneyland but at this time of the year it is probably not the best place to be because of long lines. Mike instead obtained tickets for us to see a taping of the Tonight Show, which was John's second choice for his birthday. We did end up standing in line to get into the show for over an hour, but at least that was the only line we had to deal with. It was quite interesting to watch a talk show being produced. I counted at one time about 13 people surrounding the stage and Jay Leno. There were the usual camera men, and producers as well as the security detail. During the commercial breaks cameras are moved, cue cards are reviewed, and Leno's face gets powdered.  Numerous pages were everywhere keeping the audience in line and encouraging us to applause and cheer on cue. One of Leno's special guests for the show last night was Thomas H. Church, the actor from the current movie now showing in theaters We Bought A Zoo. He brought to the show one of the animals used in the movie, some kind of a shaggy furred creature which looked a bit like an anteater.  Another guest was the turtle man Ernie Brown Jr. from the television show Animal Planet. He showed off a few different turtles, including a most fascinating snapping turtle.  Singer Johnny Mathis concluded the show singing a Christmas medley of songs. Speaking of age, he is now 76. His voice still has the warm mellow sound which I always enjoyed listening to.  If you watched the Tonight Show last evening you pretty much saw everything I mentioned here. The show was produced at 4 in the afternoon.  After the show Mike treated us to supper at Prosecco Trattoria in Toluca Lake. We had a wonderful meal, good service and John had a big slice of bread pudding for his birthday cake (a dessert specialty of the restaurant).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Topanga State Park

The majority of Los Angeles citizens probably have no idea how fortunate they are in having this park within their city limits. In fact, it is the world's largest wilderness within the boundaries of a major city. We took Topanga Canyon Road into the park. On the way we stopped at Top of Topanga Overlook. From this spot we had a wonderful view of the city with the Santa Monica Mountains off in the distance. While standing there a ruby-throated hummingbird caught our attention as he hovered over a bush covered with red flowers.
We drove into to the state park where we noticed signs indicating that parking in the park would cost ten dollars. Consequently we did as everyone else was doing and parked on the road outside of the park. We talked to a park ranger about the fee when we entered the park. He commented that since so many people were trying to avoid the fee by parking outside of the park, state officials were considering placing no parking signs on the road where we had parked. John and I did feel guilty later that we had not paid the fee. We thoroughly enjoyed the hiking trails of the park (covered about 5 miles of the 36 ) and spent the majority of our day there. We took a couple of the trails which meandered over sunny grasslands and through heavily shaded forests of live oak. Frequently the trails opened up to spectacular vistas of the Pacific Ocean.
 When I took the above picture the sky was quite overcast. We felt a few sprinkles of rain off and on until late afternoon when the sun finally came out. We attempted the trail up to Eagle Rock, one of the highest points in the park. However we had to turn back when we realized that it was further away than we realized. On the way up to that rock we encountered quite a few other interesting geological  formations. The canyons in the park have earthquake faults, as well as volcanic formations and old sea beds with marine fossils.
One last picture I have here is that of a manzanita tree branch. I stopped to admire the tree because of its smooth red bark and small white blossoms. Bees were swarming the tree. At times like that I have to stop and seriously think about what season of the year I am in!  I certainly am not in the midwest in December.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Palisades Park, Santa Monica

Before I write about our visit to Santa Monica on Tuesday, I must deal with Albert Pujols who left our beloved Cardinals. He just joined the Los Angeles Angels who offered him a 10-year, $254-million deal. It did seem so strange to see him on television out here accepting the Angel's sport shirt. The Los Angeles Times noted that it is a big costly gamble on him since he has been in "decline for two seasons". But the Angeles General Manager J. Dipoto noted: " if we call a decline going from super human to just great" ( he did not finish the thought, but I think I get his point).. he went on to say: "I don't think we have seen the last great days of Albert Pujols". So there you have it, straight from Los Angeles regarding the Cardinal's ex-great hitter. Another great brouhaha making the papers out here is a controversy regarding Christmas displays in Palisades Park. Tuesday was a cool day, due to a front coming through Monday which brought rain.The wind blowing off the ocean on Santa Monica Pier was a bit brisk so walked from there to Paliasdes Park. It is more of an overlook park as the bluffs there hang over Topanga Canyon.
As we walked through the park we came upon several life size nativity scenes and we noticed that those three scenes did not completely tell the Christmas story. What we saw next after those displays is pictured below.
What followed the above sign were further displays from the American Atheists espousing separation of church and state as well as quotations from our nation's founders. Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying that all religions are founded upon myths and fables. The next day, after we had visited the park, we found an article in the Los Angeles Times giving us the full story on the displays. For 6 decades churches of Santa Monica displayed the Christmas story on 14 plots in the park. A protest was raised and park officials decided to use a lottery system to dole out the spots in that prime location. The churches won 3 lots and other groups won 18. Some of the 18 spots stand empty, the others seem to be all promoted by the American Atheists. Interestingly enough, one of the nativity scenes is sponsored by the Sana Monica Police Association.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hollywood on a Friday Evening

It may have seemed to our readers that we have vanished from the face of the earth. This past week we moved our home to Van Nuys, California. This is an area northwest of Los Angeles. Shortly after our arrival we got busy getting Christmas letters and packages mailed out. Last evening we decided to venture over to Hollywood boulevard where Improv Olympic West Theater is located. Mike had a show there last night which we wanted to see. We saw several other shows besides his, all lasting about 30 minutes. It is stand up comedy, improvised as the show progresses. I suppose it is the training ground for many actors and actresses, allowing them to feel comfortable speaking and acting on stage. Mike says he is just having fun with it.
Before the show we walked along Hollywood boulevard. And I am not sure that it is the place to be on a Friday evening in the Christmas season. In the area we walked through there is a large Christmas display by the Church of Scientology. The sign above Santa in the picture below declares that it is Ron Hubbard's Winter Wonderland.  And above a large decorated tree nearby Santa is posted a quote from Hubbard which asserts that peace on earth will come when people trust each other.
Part of Hollywood Boulevard was blocked off last evening for a movie shooting. For the scene cars from the 1920s were on the set as well as a trolley. Actors dressed as gangsters strolled around and large lights shone above the street. Suddenly there was a sound of shots being fired, all a part of the scene being played out.
 A man standing near us, who was holding some type of have you found Jesus poster, commented to us:  "crazy isn't this, especially after the shooting earlier today". A for real shooting happened in Hollywood Friday morning when a lone man stood out in the street and started shooting randomly at cars passing by. As we headed back to the theater we passed another real life scene going on, a man was being handcuffed and taken into police custody.  What a surreal evening we had in tinsel town, very far removed from the life we had known back home in St.Louis.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

San Diego's Balboa Park

This park is not only home to the famous San Diego Zoo (which we saw two years ago), but it is the location of 15 major museums, several performing art venues, gardens and many other cultural attractions. It reminded us of our Forest Park back home in St.Louis, but it has quite a bit more to see within its borders. Balboa Park is the result of a legacy of two Expositions. The 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal. The park's famous El Prado pedestrian walkway features highly ornamented Spanish-Renaissance styled buildings constructed for this Exposition. The Casa del Prado and Theater is pictured below. Currently the Nutcracker is being performed there.
The 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition, held to boost the local economy during the depression, added more cultural buildings, structures and landscaping. Those buildings had more of the southwestern architecture. We did not take the time to tour the museums of the park, that we will save for another time. We were quite satisfied just strolling around this area taking in the stunning architecture and beautiful gardens. Pictured below is the botanical building, it was built in 1915.
The lath structured building is located at the end of two reflecting ponds.  Inside the building are many tropical plants. Currently it is all decked out for Christmas with numerous poinsettia plants.
Lastly I want to show a part of the 200 foot California Tower, a famous San Diego landmark. It has a 100 bell carillon that chimes every 15 minutes. Adding also to our listening enjoyment were also a few street buskers playing a variety of musical offerings.

Monday, December 5, 2011

USS Midway

The size of this aircraft carrier is amazing. The start of our tour here started in the hanger below this deck. Three airplanes on that level can easily be moved on elevators to the top in a matter of minutes. This ship is one of the major tourist attractions in San Diego. An employee commented to John that attendance was a bit down the day we were there, only about 1500 people came in compared to the usual 2,000. Touring this ship was like looking at a small city. It can take care of the needs of 4500 crew members- feeding them, providing medical and dental care, and laundry, to mention a few of the services offered in this ship. Below is a picture of the chapel. The current chapel was constructed just before the Vietnam War.
The ship was active from 1945-1992. It served our country during three wars; WW11, the Vietnam War and Desert Storm. In 1975 it lead the evacuation of 3,073 refugees out of Saigon. It was the flagship of Persian Gulf air operations. Below is a picture of one a couple rooms where air strikes were planned and executed in the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. It is next to the radio room in the cpatain's bridge of the ship.
At several locations in the ship docents are available to explain its certain features. They are navy veterans, the one pictured below did not serve on the Midway but on another ship, a destroyer. He did a very good job of explaining the features of the four engine rooms. John and several other men peppered him with questions.
It took John and I about 4 hours to complete the tour, and I am sure we did not see everything.. The ship has 18 decks, many stairs up and down those decks, and countless tunnels to pass through. In the hospital and clinic area we learned that the most common type of injury needing medical attention were head injuries. That came as no surprise to us! We also learned that the average age of a crew member was 19 years. While touring the ship I could not help but think of the many women and men who serve, and still are serving, on this ship and others similar to it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tijuana, Mexico- Part Two

When we first boarded the bus to Tijuana, Juan asked where we were all from. When John and I mentioned St.Louis he said that he knew all about our famous arch and that Tijuana has one also. He added that the one here, however, is for decorative purposes only and  is used to mark the business district. It can be seen in the background of the picture above. The business district has 40 small shops in a 10 block area. Our guide prepared us before  we got off the bus. He pointed out shops where to find the best silver, leather, and liquor. He also warned us about eating at certain dining establishments. Most importantly, he gave us tips on how to handle the persistent sales people and bargain with them. John and I felt a lot more comfortable this week shopping in Mexico. We also spent some time looking at the historic Jai Alai stadium. This sport is not being practiced anymore in Tijuana, it stopped in 1995. The sport involves tossing a ball with a large mitt.  A player holding his mitt can be seen in the picture below. This statue stands in front of the stadium.
We also stepped into the oldest Catholic cathedral in Tijuana, Guadalupe De Este Iglesia. Pictured below is the statue of St. Peter. He has a tongue of fire on his head. I thought it quite an unusual statue.
We also walked past the historic Caesar's restaurant (1927), home of the legendary Caesar's salad. It turned out to be a full day. We were told it would take a total of 6 hours, but we found out later that it would take 8 or nine hours depending on how long our border crossing would take. Tijuana is the world's largest border crossing. To get back into America we had to get off the bus and stand in line to show our passports and declare our possessions to customs guards. Juan had learned that at the crossing where we had entered Mexico earlier in the day the pedestrian wait was three hours so he drove us to another crossing where we only had to stand in line one hour. For that one reason alone I probably would not return. I had seen everything Tijuana had to offer and that was enough for me. Thanks to Juan we did have a very entertaining and informative day.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tijuana, Mexico- Part One

We had a much better time in Mexico today compared to last week when we visited Algodones. This time we took a Gray Line tour to Tiajuana. Our driver and guide, Juan, proved to be a fountain of information about anything and everything in regard to Mexico. He was born in Mexico and had spent his childhood there. He explained the two different meanings of the word Tijuana. In Spanish it means "Aunt Jane"- the Native Indians pronounce the name a bit different and claim that in their language it means "men of the river".  After we crossed the border into Mexico we drove through a hilly countryside. Juan said that in this area  there are 26 canyons many of which have had tunnels dug into them by Mexicans trying to enter the United States illegally. He told us stories of how he also tried to enter the United States when he was a young boy but always got caught. Finally at the age of 23 years he entered the United States legally after a lengthy application process, and eventually became a citizen. It was sobering for us to look out at the steel fence which divides San Diego from Mexico, also to see the tall lights and cameras which sit on the American side.
Parts of the wooden fence on the Mexican side are rather rundown. Juan pointed out to us holes in the Mexican border fence where, in the past, it was the only place where families could meet up with loved ones who lived in America. Also on a portion of the Mexican fence were white crosses. Juan said they represent the 6,000 Mexicans who died attempting to cross into America illegally. Our first stop before entering Tijuana was at a plaza overlooking the ocean. This is where the fences between the two countries end. America's fence extends 1900 miles from Brownsville, Texas and stops here at the sea.. Some Mexicans have tried crossing into America by boat, many of them have been unsuccessful doing that. Juan discussed why so many Mexicans want to enter America. He pointed out that Mexico has a 60% poverty rate, minimum wage is $6.50 a day. However, unemployment is below 4 per cent, there is plenty of factory work available. Electronics is Tijuana's biggest industry. I need to clarify here that all the information given regarding Tijuana in this posting I obtained from what Juan shared with us during the course of the day.
Most of our day was spent in the shopping district of Tijuana. However, while John and I walked those streets we were able to see the heavily populated hillsides where a majority of the town's people live. The city is the fourth largest in Mexico and has around 4 million people.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

La Jolla

When I walked around the park where we are currently located I realized that we are sitting in a canyon, Rose Canyon to be exact. We are totally surrounded by hills.
By the time we got out the door and started touring today it was well into the afternoon. About all we had time for was a quick drive up the coast north of San Diego to La Jolla, "Jewel of the Pacific". It is popular for its sandstone cliffs and coves. Our first stop at one of its beaches found us in quite a crowded area, it was even difficult to find a parking space. A young man in the truck in front of us was stripping down in the back of his truck and donning on a wet suit (he did attempt to cover himself with a blanket while he was doing so). When we saw that guy a few minutes later he was diving into the water with his surf board. It was a cool breezy day with overcast skies but many others were also in the water enjoying the high waves of the ocean.
Our next stop was at a place along the coastal road where John just was curious to look at the beach just because he could not see it from the road. I chose to stay into the warm car until John insisted I had to see what was on the beach. It was quite fortunate we did stop because there we saw harbor seals.
Further up from that area both cormorants and seals were hanging out together on the cliffs. What a great sight! Here the seals were quite active and noisy. I think they were trying to claim their piece of the rock.
At that same stop we saw another group of cliffs, some with large caves in them which had been carved out by the ocean's waves. Sitting on a ledge of those cliffs was a flock of pelicans.
It certainly ended up being a very serendipitous afternoon with many surprises. We concluded our day by walking through the beautiful La Jolla shopping district where we found a wonderful restaurant (good food with reasonable prices), something which also was not in our plans for the day!

San Diego Bay

We arrived in San Diego on Tuesday. Our drive here from Yuma proved quite interesting. We traveled from flat desert land to rocky hillsides barren of little plant life. We then started climbing over mountains dotted with lush green foliage. Driving into San Diego we finally got glimpses of the Pacific Ocean. Yesterday, Wednesday, we spent on San Diego Bay. When we were here two years ago we had little interest in touring the Maritime Museum on the bay. Currently at the museum has a special exhibit  "Cook, Melville,and Gauguin, Three Voyages to Paradise". That was my incentive now to tour the museum. John spent the larger part of his day exploring the ships of the museum while I spent my time looking at the special exhibit. That exhibit is placed in two areas of the museum; on the steam ferryboat the Berkeley and on the HMS Surprise (a replica of a late 18th century Royal Navy frigate, she was used in the production of the movie Master and Commander). Below is a picture of the Berkeley.
Captain James Cook made his first South Pacific voyage in 1768. At that time he estimated the population of Tahiti to be about 200,000. On his second and third voyages to the islands he had along official expedition artists. Some of their art work is with the special exhibit in the museum. Cook's visit to the islands brought to Europe a vision of the Pacific Islands as an earthly paradise. Unfortunately the arrival of the Europeans brought disease, death and a collapse of the cultural values of the island people. By 1810 their population dropped to less than 8,000. Two subsequent visitors to Tahiti, Melville and Gauguin, witnessed and recorded in different media their experiences in the island paradise. The exhibit also has original work and artifacts associated with those men. I discovered that Gauguin not only did oils, but also watercolors, carvings and sculptures. As the curator of the museum, Marcus DeChevireux put it so aptly, "Melville captured its exploitation and Gauguin painted its eulogy". It is a wonderful exhibit which will be leaving San Diego on January 1. While at the harbor we also took a cruise of the bay in a 1914 pilot boat. Our guide on that tour had a lot of information on the history of the bay and its ships to share with us. When the first explorers came to this harbor it was mainly a marshland and  required a lot of dredging to make it a safe harbor for ships to enter. Below is a picture of the shoreline looking toward San Diego.It was overcast and a bit cool on the bay.