Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits

Tuesday, October 2, 2012
My Cost: FREE!

5801 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

By taking advantage of the free Tuesday, (first Tuesday of each month,) we completed our summer trilogy of LA County Natural History Museums! (See my previous blog posts on the William S. Hart Museum, and the Natural History Museum.) 

The top of the museum peaks out above the mound that surrounds it on three sides. A walk around the top will give you a peek inside the central atrium of the museum, but you have to go inside to see all the bones!

The entrance is below ground level at the bottom of a long ramp - giving the feeling
one is "sinking" into the past, to see the remains of animals that weren't able to free themselves.

While a lot of the places we've been going lately are totally new to me, the Page Museum is actually one that I visited some years ago. I think it was back in 2007, but I can't remember for sure. (What is more memorable is the time in 2008 when my college roommate and her husband came for a visit and we decided to kick it at Hancock Park for a bit. We got a little silly and spent a while rolling down the grassy hills pictured above, and somehow I totally and completely lost my car keys, never to be seen again... Had to have a locksmith come and make a whole new key using the tumbler that was stashed in the car by the manufacturer.)

Harlan's Ground Sloth is the first skeleton you see, and he's sort of the mascot of the museum.
You can't tell the scale from the picture, but this guy is over six feet tall!

For those who have never heard of the Page Museum, or the La Brea Tarpits, it's a museum of Ice Age fossils that were retrieved from the area's asphalt deposits. Here's a quick rundown:

The land where the Page sits is oozing with asphalt deposits, which have come to be known as "tar pits." Although now hemmed in on all sides by urban development, this was once an enormous tract (4,400 acres,) known as Rancho La Brea, that was handed over by the Mexican government to Antonio Jose Rocha in 1828. A provision of this grant was that the native residents of the pueblo be allowed to use as much of this "pitch" or asphalt as they wanted, such as for waterproofing roofs. 

While people had noticed the remains of animals in the asphalt deposits, they assumed the bones to be of livestock or wild animals who had met their demise fairly recently. The first published mention of ancient fossils being present in the asphalt was in 1875 by a man named William Denton. This mention went fairly unnoticed, but then in 1901 another man, prominent geologist W.W. Orcutt, became interested in the fossils, and spent a few years with a partner intermittently investigating. Finally, the fossil load they found in 1905 was enough to interest a U.C. Berkeley professor, J.C. Merriam. 

From 1905 to 1915, large-scale fossil excavation took place by scientists from foreign and domestic institutions, plus a lot of amateur investigating. By this time, Rancho La Brea had been parceled up and sold, and George Allan Hancock had become the owner of the property where the deposits were located. In 1924, Hancock donated 23 acres to the County of Los Angeles to be used as a park, as long as the land was preserved and the fossils were exhibited.

The on-site museum was built thanks to the efforts and financial contributions of California shipping magnate George C. Page, and bears his name in tribute. Construction began in 1975, and the museum opened in 1977. Page didn't want the fossils to have to be transported to the Natural History Museum to be investigated, so today visitors can watch staff and volunteers prepare fossils in a Fish Bowl Lab inside the museum.  It currently houses a collection of more than three million Ice Age specimens, with fossils on display from deposits that are 10,000 to 40,000 years old.

The specimens come from deposits found all around the park, not just in the park itself. Contractors from those building projects have cooperated with the efforts to preserve the fossils. The current big project - Project 23, that includes a near-complete Columbian Mammoth - was unearthed when LACMA was building its underground parking structure.

So, wandering through the museum you can see lots of skeletons retrieved from the asphalt. Here are some I snapped pictures of:

This wooly mammoth skeleton is really awesome in size!
There were a lot more bones that I didn't take pictures of, unfortunately. But I did get some pictures of their two very cool animatronic displays. I don't remember them being here the first time I visited, so I think they are fairly new. Vivi kept going back, over and over, and was less and less scared of them as she began to realize they weren't dangerous.

The mammoth model rocks back and forth.

The saber-toothed tiger makes an attack on a ground sloth.
(Notice Vivi is taking a turn sitting in Alex's baby carrier that he has almost outgrown himself. Lol!)
There are also lots of pictorial exhibits showing the history of the land, the ancestry of different species, the anthropological history of the area, etc. And a film plays regularly in a small auditorium.

Another nice feature of this museum is that it is built around a lovely atrium. There is water running through the atrium, including a waterfall and a bridge, and several lovely seating spaces. It can be accessed by two doors, and there's a third door that is exit-only.  There are some steps that weren't stroller friendly for us, but it was still pretty. And turtles in the water! Everywhere we visit with an outdoor water feature seems to have turtles!

Looking up to the sky, and the windows look out from the gift shop that arches into the atrium. 
The turtles and koi!
Looking at the turtles with grandpa!

Now, even though this is a fairly small, one-story museum, your visit doesn't have to stop once you exit the building. There are all the related sections of Hancock Park to visit. Here they are on a map:

All the blue areas are Page-related: Lake Pit, Pleistocene Garden, Pits 3, 4, 61, 67, the Pit 91 Excavation, the Project 23 boxes, Pit 9, Pit 13, and the Observation Pit.
Not on the map are some life-sized statues of the Ice Age animals in the park.

Mammoth replicas in the Lake Pit evoke an earlier time, but the traffic and buildings in the background sort of spoil the illusion...
The Pit 91 Excavation Viewing Station is open daily from 10am to 4pm.
Did you ever see the episode of "Dirty Jobs" from season 5 where Mike Rowe was in the pit slinging buckets of goop?
Looking into the excavation, but no one was working today.
And, as our final bonus for the day, we went and walked, (well, Vivi sort of ran,) under Levitated Mass, LACMA's new "Big Rock" installation. If you don't remember the 105-mile trip the rock made from Riverside to LACMA last February/March, you can read a recap on the LA Times Blog here, including live tweets and behind-the-scenes photos from the first night of the 11-day trip.

It was not crowded at all on a weekday. I wonder if skateboards are prohibited?

Vivi really got a good lead - and lost her drink bottle, which rolled down the ramp.

Coming up the other side, I was wondering what my father-in-law thought of the installation,
or if he thought it was a waste of footsteps, lol! 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Autry National Center

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
My Cost: Free!

4700 Western Heritage Way
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Before I get into the outing of the day, I just want to say that I did spend some time this morning reflecting on the events of September 11th, 2001. It's strange to think that my children will have no memory of the event - they will only learn about it as a part of history. My thoughts are with those who lost loved ones, as well as the survivors of this traumatic event. In the summer of 1997 I went to the top of one of the World Trade Center towers. I looked across at the other and marveled at how high up we were. It must have been absolutely terrifying on that day.

Now, on to less serious thoughts - the outing of the day. The Autry National Center is free to the public on the second Tuesday of every month. I have looked at this museum many, many, many times as I drove up and down the I-5 freeway, every time I visited the zoo, driving past to other Griffith Park attractions, etc. I am now embarrassed to say that I didn't make it a point to come sooner. I even knew of childrens' programs that were promoted in partnership with the Ford Theaters, (thanks to my work with another LA County Arts Commission grant recipient organization: The Los Angeles Jewish Symphony,) and yet I still never really associated The Autry as a childrens' destination. Boy, was I wrong!

Exiting the zoo last Friday, I took a picture of The Autry, so you can see how the
two places are basically connected across the parking lots by a big walkway.

(Side note: another reason why The Autry wasn't as high on my list of places to go as it should have been was because I'd already "been there," as in, I played there during their 2007 Sizzling Summer Nights at the Autry series with the late, great Francisco Aguabella. Somehow, because I'd been in that courtyard entrance area, I thought there wasn't much more to the museum than a few hallways filled with some photographs and cowboy boots. Let me repeat, boy, was I wrong!)

Here is the band from that day, August 16, 2007.
Francisco Aguabella is behind the red congas. I am at the far right playing trombone, (the only girl.)
Jeff Goodkind on piano, Brian Wright on bass, Benn Clatworthy on tenor sax, and Brian Swartz on trumpet.
I'm forgetting the guy on drums behind Francisco. If someone reminds me, I will add his name too!)
We started our exploration on the Plaza level, (who knew this place had more than one level?) in the Norman F. Sprague, Jr. Gallery where they are currently showcasing "Katsina in Hopi Life." I would have loved to explore the exhibit, but I was horrified that Vivi almost ripped a leaf off a cardboard corn stalk, and then ran and smacked her hands against some of the pictures on the wall. Touching anything in a museum is usually super taboo, so I thought we were going to have to turn right around and leave. But then I spotted, down the stairs, the outdoor Trails West area. So we headed down there.

The lower level galleries are all built surrounding the Heritage Court, an open court whose walls are covered with murals of famous western figures and western scenes.

Vivi was more interested in climbing up to say "hello" to her brother than the murals.

A closeup.
Then, before we reached the doors leading outside to the Trails West area, we passed through the Thunder Gallery, where you are invited to dress up in cowboy clothes and try sitting astride the saddle of a replica horse. I even climbed on myself, just to show Vivi that it was okay and she needn't be scared!

Thems the rules.

Vivi was a little cautious - I think she was having flashbacks of the Griffith Pony Rides we did ten days ago.
Outside is even more fun, in my estimation. For one, they have a demonstration on how to pan for gold! But it's only offered to the public on weekends. Besides that, though, the whole outdoor patio was a neat manmade microcosm of different western regions, including mountains, deserts, and plains. I loved how the placards described how the terrain affected the paths and lives of the people of the nineteenth century. With all of our modern amenities, it can be hard to imagine that people would have to choose how they were going to cross a mountain range, or where they were going to find a source of water. Case in point - the landscape recreation includes a manmade waterfall! These days we don't have to search for water, heck, we can just install a waterfall just about anywhere!

Standing on the bridge, watching the water flow from the waterfall under the bridge.

The shallow pool at the end of the waterfall.

Some of the very realistic looking rock formation replicas.

The informative placard on the Mountains region. I grew up very close to the Cascades up in Washington, and we learned a lot about Lewis and Clark, as their trail's end is up in that area.
Back inside, we wandered through the rest of the lower level. There is, notably, a Family Discovery Gallery, where everything is hands-on, and kids are encouraged to use dress-up, and different play objects such as dishes and desks, to step into the lives of a family of Chinese immigrants - the See family - in the late 1930's.

Heading in, the gallery is divided into a porch, a kitchen, an office, a bedroom, and a restaurant.
(Maybe more, but that's what I remember.)

There are traditional masks hanging in the bedroom area.
We did take in the rest of the lower level, which flows from room to room in a U-shaped path with hardly any partitioning, but it is definitely grouped into distinct areas. Like there is a Colt Gallery with handguns on display, there is a Saloon gallery sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, and there is a law and order section with this very cool collection of badges:

Vivi is looking at a recreation of the shoot out at the OK Corral, and the Saloon gallery is in the background.
I didn't get too many awesome pictures, due to the fact that the galleries are fairly dim, and I can't hold my cellphone camera perfectly still when I'm holding a squirmy baby.

She kept running around this statue and looks pretty blurry in all my pictures.

Can you see the cornet on the left-hand side, there?

An actual stagecoach.

Looking across the Journeys gallery.

This taxidermy bison has very realistic glass eyes, and, projected on the wall behind it, is footage of actual bison running. The whole thing scared the daylights out of poor Vivi, who had to hide behind me and the stroller!

Outdoors is nice too. Vivi found some benches, built next to square planters, that were tons of fun to run on.

All in all a lovely place for a family outing. There is also a museum store and cafe, to make a day of it. And there are a lot of different events that happen, (including the Sizzling Summer Nights,) so check the website! The one coming up the soonest is this Saturday: the Kickoff Celebration for Latino Heritage Month at the Autry. To see the schedule, click here.

Go visit The Autry, and don't wait seven years like I did!

Monday, September 10, 2012

IKEA Burbank - New info!

Monday, September 10, 2012
My Cost: $5.99 + tax for my lunch

600 N San Fernando Blvd
Burbank, CA 91502

So I know I've blogged about IKEA twice already, but today we went again, (because kids eat free every MWF from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, and every Tuesday from 11:00 am to close,) and I finally found a place to nurse! This little hidey-hole would have come in handy the last few times I was here when my baby was crying, and I didn't know where to take him to feed him. Today, wouldn't you know it, he didn't cry at all! But at least I know for next time, (because, let's face it, I'm going to keep coming here a lot...)

The place you can go to nurse your baby is... drumroll please...  the family bathroom on the first floor, near the entrance!!!

It is a very nice family restroom - there are sinks at two levels (so little ones can wash their own hands,)  a nice changing table stocked with disposable liners and a nice, convenient trash can, and there is a nice little chair with a rug where you can sit and nurse. It faces the door, though, so I would recommend locking it, and hopefully no other little families with kids who can't hold it anymore will show up. The only downside I can see of using this bathroom for nursing is there is nothing to stop Vivi from playing in the toilet while I nurse. But maybe she's moved past that phase...

The secret nursing corner! Yay! I finally found it!
After discovering that bit of exciting information, I also learned another important bit of info: Småland, (aka the playroom,) is being renovated this month. It was thoughtful of them to wait until school started, I suppose, but now all those moms with one or two preschool kids left who really want that hour of total solitude won't get to take their kids here for a few more weeks! It's supposed to reopen after September 25th.

And the third new tidbit - speaking of the playroom - is that you can sign up for the new, (is it that new? I just found out about it myself,) IKEA Family program that will give you access to free coffee and tea in the cafe, special discounts on merchandise, and an extra 30 minutes of time in the playroom! Fantastic! I signed up today after getting home, so I can't say I've actually taken advantage of my new membership, but I'm looking forward to it. Here's the summary from their website. You can look up this info yourself and sign up here.

Another benefit not listed above is that now, through the end of the year, you can get $5 off regular adult admission, or $2 off regular child admission to the Aquarium of the Pacific! Just show your IKEA Family card for the discount. Neat-o!

So the nursing corner of the family bathroom, the Småland renovations, and the IKEA Family program are the three new bits of information I wanted to share. Here are just some pictures of Vivi having fun in the store, since we actually explored the showroom today!

Vivi is becoming quite the independent eater! She can dip things in ketchup now
without eventually smearing it all over her face! What a big girl!

We had the cafe play corner to ourselves for a little while, and Alex got to practice a little crawling!

She always likes to try out the kids' display merchandise for a while.
(She can't go t
o Småland yet because she's not potty trained, so this is the next best thing.)

More good times in the kiddie doorway! (She spent a good ten minutes here.)

These yellow play towers are stationed around the showroom at places where
parents might want to  take some time and do some ordering.

No, that's not someone's house, that's a display room. Letting her play "house" in these rooms reminded me of the commercials where people are actually living in IKEA.

Had to include a picture of this little guy being a good sport!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mid Valley Family YMCA

Sunday, September 9, 2012
My Cost: monthly family membership rate*

6901 Lennox Avenue
Van Nuys, CA 91405

(*All YMCA's offer free 7-day passes, and income-based membership rates are available.)

The exterior - this portion is actually the Beginning Workout room and indoor pool.

We joined the Mid Valley Family YMCA in the fall of 2010. I was pregnant with baby #1 and thought I would do a lot of swimming to keep myself in better shape. Omar wanted a gym with a basketball court, (which is why we chose this YMCA over the West Valley Family YMCA where I had previously been a member.) I did do a fair amount of swimming, but after the baby was born, my visits to the gym seriously dropped off. I remember specifically asking an employee at what age their childcare service was offered, and they told me it was available starting at 18 months old. I remember thinking, "Great! It's going to be a year and a half before I can come to the gym!" And then I got pregnant with baby #2 like three months later, so I figured it would be just shy of eternity before I would ever be able to go back.

We kept up our membership because Omar was going by after work sometimes, and there was still the off chance that I could leave the kids at home with Omar or a relative and go by myself. However, now that Vivi is finally 19 months old, but Alex is still just 6 months and I was thinking I had to wait another year before I could use their childcare, I started investigating other gyms. I was jealous of my friends who were members at 24 Hour Fitness or L.A. Fitness and said they would watch babies from age 3 months and up.

I found an L.A. Fitness close to our house and called to confirm they would watch my kids for me starting at 3 months, and I even set up an appointment to take a tour. (Their childcare is $5 per child per day, by the way, unless you pay and additional $10 per month per child with your membership.) But I decided, just to be sure, to call and double check on the YMCA childcare policy. 

GUESS WHAT??? They actually have FREE childcare starting at SIX WEEKS OLD!!!

I was totally aghast! I mean, that means I actually wasted all that time I could have been going to the gym!!! I asked when they had changed their policy, but the person on the phone didn't know. My small consolation was the fact that I still have a ruptured disc that hasn't quite fully healed, so I probably shouldn't have been doing major workouts to begin with. But I could have been swimming!

So don't make the same mistake I did, moms. Join the YMCA and let them watch your baby for you starting at 6-weeks old! At Mid Valley the service is free for an hour and a half, and if you are late, they will charge you a small penalty of like a dollar per hour you are late. (You're not allowed to leave the facility though, and they will come get you if your child is crying, or acting out, or needs to be changed or taken to the bathroom.)

Here are the hours. It should say, "Ages 6 weeks to 12 years only."
There are other perks of membership. As I mentioned already, Mid Valley has an indoor swimming pool, and a full-sized basketball court. Plus they have a Fit-Linxx system and the staff will help you set up a workout routine including customizing your proper positioning and range-of-motion on all the strength equipment. A monthly consultation is included in your membership. They have towels and basketballs you can check out, and a full schedule of group exercise classes, including water aerobics classes.

Kids' swimming lessons are offered in six-week sessions, so we're thinking next session we'll sign both kids up and take them into the pool for some family fun!

Omar was dribbling a circle around Vivi.

Vivi even got to dunk on one of the lower baskets.