Southern California, 27–30 Dec 2016

We made our annual trip to the Southern California area. Mochi was made and miles were walked.

27-Dec, Tuesday

Our trip south from Seattle was uneventful and on time. The most exciting event was I got to use a filled Dilettante punch card, so one of the drinks was free. Whoo boy, living large.

We landed mid-afternoon, and after dropping by the grocery store and then settling in at the house, we went out for a walk, heading down to the Downey Rose Float Association to take a look at this year's Downey float. Several years ago they put a working roller coaster on the float, and they did that again this year. We usually go look at the float closer to the day of the parade, but since we were relatively early this year, there were no flowers or seeds on the float. Plenty of construction and painting going on, though. The float won the Governor's Award (best depiction of life in California).

After getting back to the house, we went out to dinner to celebrate my dad's 90th birthday. Simple and unassuming, just the kind of thing my dad likes.

28-Dec, Wednesday

Over the years we've changed several aspects of mochitsuki. The stovetop gave way to one, then two large propane burners. A large, noisy, cast iron rice grinder was replaced by a machine which processed the rice with a blade at the bottom of a large bowl, then two smaller machines. Portioning the hot mochi by hand was streamlined by the addition of a machine with a hopper that extruded the mochi past a blade which cuts the cakes. Bags closed with twist ties in the past are now sealed with machines. What used to be a gathering which lasted until well after dinner had become one which finished a bit after lunchtime, even though the amount of rice was about the same. Even the location has changed; we changed from my parent's garage to Sherry's, and this year was the first at Ronnie's.

Starting mochitsuki

With a new location comes figuring out the best way for things to flow. We ended up making small adjustments as the day went on, mostly because the mochi was cooling too quickly, creating a skin. Switching the tables around helped by keeping the warmer mochi away from the open door to the outside.

In recent years, we'd have one of the grinding machines overheat. Fans have been added to try to keep things cool, but since they're not intended for continuous duty, they eventually give up. This year, however, both of the machines overheated at the same time, which caused a complete stoppage until one of them started working again. Not long after that, it smelled like something was burning, and one of the water pots for steaming the rice had run dry. Fortunately, it didn't take long to get fresh water heating. Not long after that, it was time for lunch, so the grinding machines were given another extended cooling period.

Lunch break

Every year we do a potluck for lunch, and people brought their usual fare. What was different this year is since we were at Ronnie's house, he cooked up a storm.

While we have time to chat while making the mochi, lunchtime gives us a chance to do so while sitting down for an extended time, rather than running around doing different tasks.

Finishing mochitsuki

Fed and rested, it was time to make more mochi. Things were going pretty well, but the cutting machine didn't seem quite right. Ends up the big screw which pushes the mochi was rubbing against the back of the machine and the plastic was starting to get chewed up. There was another machine, so we started swapping parts, but there was a batch of mochi ready to be processed. Down onto the table went the batch, and a few people divided it up and started cutting it by hand, pulling mochi-sized pieces off to the side for other people to shape. It was fun to have a chance to do one batch in an old-school way.

We had the cutting machine ready to go before the batch on the table was finished, so were ready for the next batch to come. We were getting close to the end, but the grinders chose to overheat again. We were so close but had to wait a bit longer until one grinder cooled off enough to finish the last batch.

It felt odd to be finishing up later in the afternoon, but everyone rallied together to finish the last push. We ended up needing to leave before everything was packaged up, since we needed to go from Glendora to Downey, and then to Anaheim, so we helped where we could, packed the car, and headed back to the house.

Dinner with the Knoepfels

After dropping my parents off and unloading the car, we headed towards Anaheim to meet up with Melody's cousins from Illinois. They were in the area because the son was in the Tournament of Roses Parade, playing trombone in the Bands of America Honor Band. Hans was with other band members in Long Beach, so we had dinner with Kevin, Joanna, and Jenny at a pizza place near their hotel. It was great to see them, and we also had time to chat about plans for the Winkle family reunion this coming summer.

After dropping off the Knoepfels, we headed back to Downey, this time with much less traffic. It was quite a full day.

29-Dec, Thursday

Even though we were there last year, we decided to hit Downtown Los Angeles again, this time centering around the Japanese American National Museum.


We got to the train station nearest to my parents' house, loaded up our transit cards with day passes, and boarded the first of two trains which would get us within a few blocks of a Los Angeles Conservancy walking tour we were going to do. It wasn't as much a tour as a map of historic buildings and a quick sentence about each one. We had looked at a few of the points of interest (the Bradbury building, the Angel's Flight funicular, and the Grand Central Market) but there was still plenty to see.

The first building on the list was the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, where I hadn't been since my high school prom. After looking a bit more on Olive Street, we went towards Pershing Square and saw an ice skating rink set up, as well as a better view of the Biltmore. We then worked our way up Hill Street to 3rd, then over to Broadway, putting us right in the Jewelry District. It was about lunchtime, so we headed into Grand Central Market for a bite to eat. Since we were there anyway, we went to the McConnell's kiosk for ice cream.

After eating, we went across 1st Street towards Little Tokyo.

Japanese American National Museum

It had been several years since I was in the Japanese American National Museum, and it looked completely different. The special exhibit was Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War II which documented Japanese Americans who left the internment camps to labor camps in sugar beet fields since workers were needed to fill the shortage during the war. We also went through Tatau: Marks of Polynesia which was about Samoan tattoos.

We took a bit more time to go through the recurring exhibits, and quickly went through the resource center. There's supposed to be a Sadako origami crane there, but apparently, that part was open later than when we were there.

Back to Downtown

A couple quick train trips later, we were back on our walking tour. We continued south on Broadway, looking at several old theaters which are either repurposed or shuttered. Over to Spring street, where we had seen several old bank buildings which were converted into other uses. You can't mistake the heavy façades and beefy architecture of a bank building.

One of the last buildings was an arcade with a gelato shop in it. What were we to do other than sample their wares? After doing that, we went on the necessary trains to get back to where we parked the car.


We decided to stop by the store to pick up some fruit and snacks. We were looking for chocolate bars, but were at the wrong end of the store; a worker stopped us asking if she could help us find something, and she had us follow her to the correct aisle. Since we were practically going to the other corner of the store, I made a comment on how she's getting her steps in. Her eyes lit up, and she started explaining how she was pre-diabetic and had gotten a Fitbit over a year ago. Since then she had dropped 70 pounds. Quite impressive, and she was rightfully proud but realized that she still had more to go.

Having checked out, we went back to the house. My aunt had arrived to join us for dinner, and we had a great time catching up with what was going on. She was eager to go through our photos from Japan, and I was glad I had set up a highlights album (which has come in handy showing other people, too).

30-Dec, Friday

Not much to write about for our trip back, other than this was the first time we'd had my parents drop us off at the light rail station. The trip was quick, and it was nice going past all the traffic. The shuttle which goes to the terminals was right there, so there was no wait.

There were great views of the mountains, Hood, Adams, St. Helens, and Rainier. We never get tired of looking for them out the window.

We didn't have a very long wait for the train on the Seattle end, and only a minute or two layover for the final bus home. So it was a good travel day.