Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Tar Pits and Pink’s

Jill's Journal: There’s a small lake in Los Angeles which may cause a passerby to do a double-take: a family of life-sized Columbian mammoths is helplessly watching one of their members meet an untimely end in the lake. The mammoths may be models, but they tell a true story at the La Brea Tar Pits.

In the 1800s, asphalt was mined from the area where the lake appears today. Rain and groundwater soon filled the quarry to form this lake. Oil slicks of asphalt are visible on the top, as are constant large bubbles composed of methane escaping from fissures beneath the lake. About a hundred years ago, it was discovered there was much more than tar to be found here.

The mammoths are showing how an animal might get trapped in the tar while either unknowingly walking across a thin layer of leaves and dirt or simply trying to get a drink of water. Herd members would be powerless to help. Predators, like saber-toothed cats or dire wolves, would attack and then become trapped in the tar themselves. These “death traps” account for the massive amount of fossils found and preserved in the tar. Over 100 tons of bones have been recovered from the tar pits over the last century. Most are from the Ice Age. Interestingly, one human – a Native American woman believed to be a few thousand years old – was also found.

We headed inside the adjacent George C. Page Museum to see several of the fossils recovered from the tar pits.

The girls’ favorite part was probably learning first-hand how hard it is to pull something out of sticky tar.

The paleontology lab is called “the fishbowl” because visitors are welcome to watch the ongoing work.

One of the projects they’re currently working on is uncovering Zed’s skull. Zed is a Columbian mammoth and parts of him are on display all over the museum.

Here’s an intact Columbian mammoth. Look how big these guys were compared to Victoria standing there! They are different from wooly mammoths and were apparently very common to this area, as were camels, bison, ground sloths, and many others we don’t think of as North American animals.

Check out the fangs on a saber-toothed cat! A large number of these muscular, vicious predators have been found in the tar pits. We learned very quickly they’re officially called cats and not tigers.

Over 1,600 dire wolves (similar to today’s timber wolves) have been found to date in the tar pits; here’s just over 400 of their skulls.

This was a mother and baby American mastodon (ancestor of today’s elephant) who were trapped together in the tar pits.

An observation pit is nearby.

The most prolific of the La Brea Tar Pits has been Pit 91. Excavation of Pit 91 was started in 1969 and is still ongoing. Thus far, the excavation has gone 12 feet deep and has recovered over 50,000 fossils, including rodents, plants, and insects.

Tools of the trade.

After leaving the tar pits, we walked out to find a parking ticket had just been placed on our car – only the second one ever for either Rob or me! We’d paid the parking meter, but it would only accept money until 4:00pm and it was just after that time. We’d seen a sign that the meter was invalid after 4:00pm and we mistakenly thought that meant free. What we quickly learned the hard way is that no parking is allowed on major streets in L.A. after that time…first they ticket you and then they tow you! Apparently we’d missed the memo. We were mightily annoyed until we saw two cars just up the street, parked like us, getting towed. We thanked our lucky stars we “just” got the annoying ticket instead of a tow as well.

We decided to drown our sorrows with a visit to the original Pink’s, the most famous hot dog stand in Los Angeles and arguably the country. The Hollywood landmark is located at Melrose on La Brea and has been in the same spot since 1939, when it started as a pushcart with 10-cent chili dogs during the depression. Paul Pink, the founder, built the small building in 1946 and it’s still family-owned.

Pink’s now has several other locations throughout Southern California and even Las Vegas, but this is where it all began. Very little has changed here in the last 73 years.

The walls are covered with autographed photos of what has to be hundreds of celebrities who have visited.

Humorously, only two of our family members even like hot dogs (and I’m not one of them), but when in Rome…!

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Cowgirl Birthday

Jill's Journal: Our sweet Erika turned eight today and she had one birthday wish: she wanted to be a cowgirl (and dress like one too). Erika is normally our dainty dress-wearer who would wear dresses 365 days a year if given the chance. She usually looks forward to the prospect of a new birthday dress for months in advance, so she surprised the heck out of us by asking for a cowgirl outfit instead. To prepare, a few weeks ago she very carefully picked out Wranglers (because that’s what the cowboys wear), boots, a belt, a hat, a western shirt, and a bandana (she insisted she needed a bandana!). She tried very hard to talk us into spurs and a lasso also, but we have our limits.

And so, decked out in her new duds, we embarked on what she later declared the “best birthday ever.” Rob and I needed our annual birthday pictures, so she patiently indulged us because she knew what afternoon fun was in store.

While waiting for our pictures to print, the girls enjoyed an escalator. Are our kids the only ones enamored with these things?

They get such an inexplicable kick out of riding them.

On the plus side, escalators are far cheaper entertainment than a carousel, which we also indulged in today because a birthday only comes around once a year.

After lunch, it was off to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.

Erika was introduced to Henry, her trusty steed for the afternoon.

See the smile on this freshly-minted 8-year-old’s face? She was in H.E.A.V.E.N. Absolute heaven.

Erika and I took an hour-long trail ride in L.A.’s famed Griffith Park. This is one of the entrances to the beautiful park.

This was Erika’s first time riding alone, without someone leading her, and she felt so grown-up and proud of herself, which is exactly how one should feel on an eighth birthday. I think it’s safe to say she loved every single moment. I know I loved watching it.

We practically had to tear the poor child away from Henry at the end of the day. She did not want to leave. She needs a pony. If only one would fit on the fifth wheel. Erika wouldn’t tell, of course, but I suspect a pony is exactly what she wished for when she blew out her birthday candles after dinner.

Happy Birthday to our most favorite 8-year-old, cowgirl or not, in the whole, wide world.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Finally home.

I'm so excited to be back home. The plan was to post a photo of my plane coming into LAX - showing my joy to be back home - but I found out, after the fact (just tonight), that the phone was full... You can see my fantastic photo below.

What's missing in the photo is the view of downtown LA and the Hollywood sign over the front of the wing of that 757. Too bad too, because it was a really nice vista. Regardless of the artwork - I'm glad all is back to normal and that the kids gave me a great welcome back. I don't like that I'll have to do it all over again soon, but I'm looking forward to the welcome back then too.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Excellent Pursuits

Jill's Journal: Much to the girls’ consternation, Rob’s trip to New Jersey got extended. There were real tears when they learned the news a few days ago…how they miss their Daddy. I suspect there will be some serious jubilation when he steps off the plane tomorrow, eight days after he left. Here’s some random photos from this week, just to make Rob even a little more eager to hurry home!

They’ve been such good girls this week. With the exception of Rob’s absence, the quiet week has been lovely for both them and me. School has gone so smoothly and I have gotten many projects around the house completed while the girls have played, dressed up, and played some more…all excellent pursuits.

Rob knows this, but I had to put a picture up here: Victoria is officially reading. She started in earnest a couple of weeks ago and is doing an amazing job, not deterred in the least that she’s just four. I tried to put her off since she’s so young but she would have none of it. Then I was sure she'd lose interest because she's so young, but she's proving to be a determined, avid learner. She’s also just days away from being done with the entire curriculum for her first year of preschool, which was supposed to last until June. She’s going to give her big sisters a run for their money if she keeps this up.

Apparently Victoria has a secret to her success. I was teasing her this afternoon, asking how she’d gotten so big and strong and clever lately. Without missing a beat, she said, “It’s because I drink milk.” I suspect her Grandpa, who has been in the dairy industry my whole life, would be awfully pleased with that answer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Incoming: 83 Degrees?

Jill's Journal: My darling husband is in New Jersey for a few days on business and I’m told it’s cold there. Really cold. That sure makes me appreciate sunny Southern California. The forecast here calls for sun and 80 degrees tomorrow, with sun and 83 degrees the day after that. Eighty-three degrees. In January. Ahhhh, bliss. There’s a reason this is the most populous area in the most populous state.

The girls and I are taking some down time while Rob is out of town. Down time for us still means we have a full school day, but then the girls get to play to their hearts’ content afterward without any “field trips.” It feels nice to have a few quiet days while this busy city buzzes around us, but it’s also freshening us for the days ahead. We have so much to see in the Los Angeles area – I have a “must see” list that’s a mile long – and we’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve promised the girls one more quiet day tomorrow and then we’re officially kicking into high gear.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Noah’s Ark at the Skirball Cultural Center

Jill's Journal: The Skirball Cultural Center is a Jewish educational museum in Los Angeles, but -- shhhhh -- we weren’t really there for the culture. We were there for Noah’s Ark.

The Skirball has a gigantic (as in 8,000-square foot) Noah’s Ark. There are life-sized elephants, giraffes, and 400+ other animals, all two-by-two, of course. Everything is made from recycled materials and/or regular objects found around a house (brooms, bottle tops, etc.). It’s really quite amazing. But the best part – the very best part – is that it’s entirely hands-on. Kids are encouraged to touch absolutely everything.

It was very expensive at $35 to get us in the door and for that one only gets a two-hour time slot to play, explore, and experience this Old Testament playground. However, the girls absolutely loved it. They’re already asking to return.

Kids can pretend to feed and care for the animals, as well as clean up their dung (!). Someone clearly had a sense of humor when creating this exhibit.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Family Dynamics

Jill's Journal: The girls have probably visited with their Great Uncle Punior (loosely rhymes with “junior”) only six or seven times in their young lives, which is actually quite impressive considering we’ve always lived on the opposite end of the country. Last year and this, they haven’t been able to share a word with him as he has been deaf since spending about a month in a coma nearly two years ago. He’s still recovering, but one thing is obvious: he loves these girls. And they can tell; look at the smiles on their faces.

Dinner at Great Grandma Lili’s –featuring her famous, authentic Armenian pilaf– also gave us a visit with Punior’s long-time partner, Patti, and the girls’ Great Uncle Brian. All these people may appear meek in this photo, but they’re always surprisingly rowdy, especially when gathered together during meals. It’s fun for the girls to get a taste for different family dynamics.