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.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

William S. Hart Museum & Hart Park

Saturday, September 8, 2012
My Cost: FREE!

24151 Newhall Ave
Newhall, CA 91321

After Tuesday's visit to the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, I learned that there is a family of museums that includes the Natural History Museum, the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, and the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall. I have been to the Tar Pits a fair number of times, and I have also been inside the Page Museum, but I had never heard of the William S. Hart museum. So I had to do some investigating online.

The entrance off of Newhall Avenue.
First, you should know that everything on the property - the former ranch of silent film actor William S. Hart (1864-1946) - is free to the public per instructions in Mr. Hart's will when gifting the land to Los Angeles County. He wanted to thank all the people that came to see his films and made him a success. Here is a description taken from the LA County Parks website: "William S. Hart, also known as 'Two Gun Bill', was the first cowboy movie star during the silent film era. He made almost 70 silent movies from 1914 to 1925, and donated his sprawling ranch for the public to enjoy. The park features Hart’s home which is now a museum filled with his personal effects and movie paraphernalia, along with Native American artifacts and Western American art."

A painting of Bill Hart, astride his horse Fritz, that hangs in the museum.
The artist was James Montgomery Flagg, of "I Want You for the U.S. Army" poster fame.
There were a few other things on the website that piqued my interest (besides the fact that everything is free.) One was that the Hart Ranch, which is now Hart Park, has a herd of bison. I had heard about a park up in the Santa Clarita Valley area that had bison, so now I knew which one it was!

Also, I was excited to see that the Hart Museum has a temporary display, (until mid-September,) called Taking to the Skies: Famous Aviators at the Hart. Apparently Bill Hart, (as the tour guide called him,) was friends with Amelia Earhart, and the display description promised, "To commemorate... the 75th anniversary of Amelia's disappearance," with, "a new temporary display on famous aviators." Omar is a pilot and loves all things aviation. Honestly, he would rather be flying for a living. So I thought he would really like the Taking to the Skies display.

So, per my suggestion, we decided to go! We packed the kids in the car after Vivi woke up from her nap, and we headed up highway 14 into the hills. The park is not hard to find, it's just off of Newhall Avenue, but the Museum is a different story. There were all kinds of buildings and signs as we entered the park. Hart Hall, the animal barnyard, the gifts shop and the Ranch House are all very close together and near the entrance, so I assumed the museum wouldn't be far away. Boy, was I wrong!

A woman sitting outside of the gift shop pointed us to the trail head that went uphill to the Museum, (which is the Hart Mansion, now converted into a museum.) I was to find out later that she possibly was having some fun at our expense sending us up a trail with a stroller. Read on to find out more...

At the start of the Museum trail.
Our hike up the hill was a truly comical affair. First of all, it's important to note that Omar didn't even want to do anything out of doors today because of the heat, which was upper 90s, or possibly even triple digits. I had promised him that we would mainly be going to the museum to see aviator stuff, and we would be out of the heat as much as possible. We definitely did not anticipate a hike up to the museum! Second of all, we had the kids in a fairly heavy double stroller, and the trail is not paved. In fact, not only is it not paved, it's got a lot of big rocks that came close to breaking my stroller wheels, it's got some patches of sand that we got hung up in, and it's got some steps built out of railroad ties that took a team effort to lift the stroller up and over.

We were taking our time and taking plenty of breaks in the shade, but we were both still breathing heavy, and I for one was sweating more profusely than I have all year! So let me save you some trouble - if you have a stroller, do not take the trail! There is a nice paved road to the museum that the volunteers and other authorized personnel are allowed to drive up, and though it is a longer distance than the trail, it will be much easier with a stroller. It's to the west of the trail head, between the Ranch House and the picnic area.

The view from partway up the hill down towards the barnyard area, etc.

This bunk house is about halfway up. I, of course, had thought it was the mansion
and was terribly disappointed to learn we still had a ways to go.
Looking back down at the trails we had climbed while pushing a stroller.
On our way back down the paved road I snapped a photo of what some of the railroad tie steps were like.
Makes me tired just looking at it!
But, despite the unexpected difficulty, we did make it to the top in one piece, (or, four pieces actually - Omar, Vivi, Alex and myself,) and the museum is quite lovely, as is the view!

Almost at the top, you can see Vivi was ready to make a break for it!
(And Omar looking good in his aviation-themed Hawaiian shirt!)

Finally free from the stroller, Vivi did a few laps in front of the building.
The Hart Museum (formerly Hart Mansion,) was built in the 1920s with super sturdy construction. They cut into the hillside so it's on a solid foundation. It was not damaged at all during the Northridge earthquake of 1994 that took down whole malls in North Hollywood.

From the vantage point of the museum you can see down the south side of the hill to where the bison are kept.

Up above the house are some restroom facilities and another trail.

Daddy and daughter coming down from the back of the house.
Museum tours are offered every half hour, so we had to wait about 15 minutes to get inside. (If you have  a large group, you have to make reservations in advance.) The docent-led tour was very informative, but they are also very careful about preserving the house. So much of it is original, that they really don't want you touching anything - not even walls - so that makes it not so kid-friendly. Thankfully, they did install railings and carpet to keep the tours on the right "path" through the house, so I didn't have to worry about Vivi touching everything, mostly just the walls and a few larger display pieces.

The rooms are still furnished as they were left.

I'm sure many meals were cooked on this stove.

Alex and I in the dining room. The floor is made of wood blocks (mahogany? I don't remember the variety,) that were simply laid together in a staggered pattern, and then the floor was covered in water so the blocks would swell and make a tight seal. Pretty ingenious method of doing a floor!

Horseshoe tributes to each of Hart's horses.

Painted beams are just some of the fine touches of decoration.

The beautiful entryway. Note there are two bannisters and two rails - the original was at a height that just wouldn't protect today's tall people!

The upstairs great room has a bear skin rug!
One of the temporary aviator displays.
There were only about three cases like this, so not nearly as much as I had anticipated.

The view into the dogs' bedroom.
 (It had been Bill Hart's bedroom, until a new addition was completed. Then he gave it to his dogs.)

This wheelchair belonged to Bill Hart's sister, who lived with him in the house. Beyond that is her bedroom.

The desk inside William Hart's bedroom. It reminds me of my maternal grandfather, who always had a very neat desk.

Enlarged photos of William S. Hart at work.

He was said to be the "good bad man."
After our tour of the museum, we were ready to get back in the air conditioned van and head home, but I did take a peek inside the original 1910 Ranch House at the bottom of the hill. It is open for self-guided tours, (unlike the mansion,) and the park website explains it contains, "Hart's tack and saddle collection, personal furnishings, and additional Hollywood mementos. It was too dark for pictures inside.

A description of the Ranch House and how it was used by Hart.

There also is a barnyard, that Vivi and I did a loop through. There was a pig and a cow, and a lot of birds (chickens, geese, etc.) Here are some pictures: