Southern California 27 to 30-Dec-2017

We once again made the annual trek to Southern California to be with family and play tourist for a bit, this time at Exposition Park. We also get the opportunity to thaw out a bit in the warmer weather.

27-Dec, Wednesday: leaving Seattle

We’ve done the trip between Seattle and Downey enough times that it’s practically routine. This time we ended up getting a good price flying to Long Beach instead of LAX, so we took the opportunity to fly to the much smaller airport.

Since my aunt lives in Long Beach, she picked us up and drove us up to my parents’ home where she could join us for dinner. Since our flight was earlier than usual, we had enough time to head out for a walk before dinner, although I did do a bit of tech support first.

There was still enough daylight that we made the quick trip to look at the progress on the Downey Rose Float Association’s entry for this year. We normally go closer to New Year’s Day, so the float was less far along than we were used to. They were still welding some of the basic frame together; not a whole lot to see.

A new grocery store had opened up about a half mile from my parents’ home, which gave us a good place to pick up a few items. We could smell the fresh tortillas as we neared the place.

The store is really nice. It’s one of a chain of Latin American stores and we felt almost in another world. The first thing which caught our eye was the food court area. Seeing that they old individual tamales, we decided to try a pineapple one for a snack. Pretty good.

We wandered around some more, past the long meat and seafood counter, making the loop to the produce section. There were many items we didn’t recognize, many we did but in different sizes (huge cinnamon sticks), and of course everything in large piles.

We got some fruit and decided to get a bit of cheese, so we went to the cheese counter. They had all sorts, and the person before us was asking for some cheese that was a liquid consistency. We settled on some string cheese; they varied in size from what you see in the individual packages to some really big, chunky slabs. Ours were the more pedestrian size.

Having gotten our things, we headed back to the house for dinner, but since there was time, I snuck in forming the an balls for the next day. We had a great time chatting, but it wasn’t too long before everyone was fading, and we all called it a night.

29-Dec, Thursday: Mochitsuki

The centerpiece of the trip was to be with family to make Mochitsuki. We drove to my cousin Ron’s house where people were gathering. There were several people we knew wouldn’t be there, but others who hadn’t been able to go for a while, so there would not be a shortage of help.

Last year was the first time we made mochi at Ron’s, and we made some adjustments as the day went on. Ron had tweaked the arrangement a bit more, and we were eager to see how those things helped the flow. In addition, my cousin Dave had made a new frame for the rice grinders to improve airflow and hopefully prevent overheating, which has been a problem in past years.

Because of some of the absences, new people were at a couple of the stations, and they got quick tutorials then thrown right into work. For the past several years I’ve been the person who cuts the ground rice into mochi-sized portions, but towards the end this year I was able to convince someone else to try her hand at it. She did great, so now we’ll be able to switch.

We made it to lunchtime and people were ready for a break. It was a potluck, but Ron really enjoys cooking, so he served a lot of extra food. Everything was really tasty.

We didn’t have too much more mochi to make after lunch, so the afternoon went quickly. Mochi got divided up, things got cleaned, and people started heading out. It was quite the whirlwind of activity followed by an exodus.

We got back to my parents’ house in the mid-afternoon, which allowed time for Melody and me to go out for a walk. We have a basic route which we expand in places to stretch to however long we want to be out, and this year we went by my uncle Easy’s home. I always get nostalgic when I see the place, and my mind lingered on him for several minutes afterward.

We had quite a bit of food during mochitsuki so we just ate a few leftovers we had brought back with us. Having not slept well the night before, we called it an early night.

29-Dec, Friday: Exposition Park

Friday was our chance to play tourist, so we headed to the light rail station, loaded our cards with day passes, and headed into Los Angeles. The trip was mostly uneventful, except for one point when the train stopped because of a disabled train a couple stops down the line. It wasn’t too long before we were on our way again.

After a couple transfers, we heard the train announcement for our stop, but the stop was actually one stop early. We decided to roll with it and took the opportunity to walk through the USC campus on the way to Exposition Park.

We didn’t have a plan for anything we wanted to see on the USC campus, so I just picked a route and we saw what we saw. Since it’s a break, the place was pretty deserted unwed did have a nice stroll. We even saw the Tommy Trojan statue. Not long after that, we were crossing Exposition Boulevard, finding ourselves right in front of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Our first stop, however, was to be the California Science Center, so we started walking west.

Since the Exposition Park Rose Garden was right there, we took a quick stroll through part of it, enjoying the floral scents wafting around us.

California Science Center

There is no general admission fee to the California Science Center, only for special exhibits. Seeing the Space Shuttle Endeavour was a nominal fee, and we had gotten tickets in advance. It’s housed in a temporary exhibit space while a permanent location is being planned and built. The Science Center has already procured an external fuel tank and plan to get a couple solid rocket boosters, which will allow them to display all the parts in their upright, launch configuration. For now, the shuttle is horizontal, high enough above the ground that you can walk underneath. It was fortunate that we were able to do so, because I wanted to get a good look at the heat tiles (I have a friend who did quality control for them.)

After getting a good look, we went outside and got a look at the external fuel tank, stored outside. We saw it again from outside the museum, which gave us a better overall view.

Before viewing the shuttle, we looked through artifacts of both the Space Shuttle and the Space program in general. There were also photos and video of how the shuttle landed and was then transported through the streets, large crowds all along the route. Last year, the external tank was shipped through the Panama Canal to Marina Del Rey then driven through the streets. The tank is longer than the shuttle, but since it doesn’t have the wings or a tail, the logistics seemed less tricky.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

It was time for lunch, so we went to the Natural History Museum’s cafe to get something to eat. We sat at an outside table since the weather was so good.

Our first stop was to the vault in the Gem and Mineral Hall. We knew there were some green diamonds on display, and we also saw other colors of diamonds. There were other precious gems there, including some very vibrant opals.

We went to the three large mammal halls, one for African mammals and two for North American mammals. The halls feature many dioramas along the walls, giving you a good feeling for how the animals fit into their habitats (or at least how the people who created the dioramas envisioned it).

We then swung around to the dinosaur halls, with several skeletons (including a large number of T. Rex). Some of them include fossils from multiple animals to make them look more complete.

Exiting the museum, we went through the nature garden. We recognized quite a few of the plants in the edible garden, and also saw several which wouldn’t do very well in Seattle. We also walked through the main gardens. There’s a bird blind platform, but the only birds we saw were at the feeders on one side.

Rest of the day

It was still pretty early in the afternoon, so we took a quick break at a café, after which we took the train back to where we had parked the car. We chatted quite a bit during dinner, with my dad’s stories for that night being about some of the people he used to work with.

30-Dec, Saturday: Back to Seattle

We had enough time in the morning to go for a walk, then it was off to Long Beach Airport. There was plenty of time for us to have lunch, then onto the plane. The sun was setting as we got into Washington, so there was great color around Mt. Rainier. After train and bus rides, we were home.