Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Park Day: Glen Alla Park, Marina del Rey

He did the rocking boat and the rocking sea horse about three times each.
I think he's talking to himself here--or maybe to the sea turtle.
I told him to smile for the camera and this is the face he made. Heh.
Man, this kid will snack on anything.

Here's a wide view of the park taken as we were leaving. You can see the scuzzy bathroom building in the background. The trees are coral and ficus.
This playground came with rave reviews and it lived up to the hype. Glen Alla is an L.A. city park that's fairly close to our house just southeast of Marina Del Rey in a mostly commercial-industrial district. The year-old universally accessible playground equipment is great, but mostly this park spacious, clean and well-kept. Glen Alla reminds me of Playa Vista's excellent Tot Lot but without being such a madhouse and with plentiful street parking.

Anyway, much like the equally large play structure at the close-by Westchester Recreation Center, the theme of this play structure is the ocean. Sea creatures abound, the central platform is meant to look like the deck of a sailing ship (complete with captain's wheel), and there are even a couple of periscopes for the kids to use.

However, in contrast to the sun-baked and cramped Westchester space, the Glen Alla play area is extremely open and yet has plenty of shade thanks to several mature trees that are incorporated into the space. In addition to the main structure, there was an ocean-themed sand pit, and kids could even excavate cement sea creatures out of the sand. This playground seems to be the beneficiary of many community contributions of sand toys, so the kids can all rake and scoop and pour to their hearts' content. (I once tried to donate shovels and buckets to a Playa Vista park, but the guards swept up such unauthorized detritus immediately. L.A.'s benign neglect is much kinder to any would-be sandcastle architects.)

There's also a fiberglass cave/hill thingy, swings and a variety of cool detached thingies that make noise or spin. The play structure itself also deserves credit for having a huge number of entertaining boards with gears and bells or what have you, and Jackson and I enjoyed playing with them all. The only downside to this park is the incredibly icky bathroom, but another mom told me they'll probably be replacing it soon.

We drive by the area around Glen Alla all the time, and we'll definitely be visiting again. What can I say? I can't resist any park with a pirate ship!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Baby's First Swimming Pool

For grandparents and any others who may be interested, here are some moving pictures of Jackson's first dip in a swimming pool. Further footage on the YouTube.

Gopher Report

We haven't seen our pet gopher in about a week--turning of the sprinklers seems to have done the job (so far)--but I filmed this before he moved out, should you care to see a busy gopher gophering.

Another Day, Another Marsh and/or Train Thing

I think we may be getting into a rut, LOL. We live a stone's throw from Ballona Marsh, but today I tried to take Jackson down to Madrona Marsh in Torrance. Sadly, the gates were closed and locked for the holiday. We'll visit sometime next year for proper walk around the loop and visit the nature center, but in the meantime we had a very nice picnic and chatted up a lovely family (hi, Betsy-Anna-Dana-Sergio!) who were also out enjoying the sunshine and amazing weather.

On the way back home I spotted a sign pointing to the Lomita Railroad Museum, which I'd just been reading about while trying to sort out which Torrance park to visit today. If you'd asked me 24 hours ago, I couldn't have told you where to find Lomita on a map (I'd probably have pointed to somewhere in the San Francisco Bay area), but apparently it's a tiny landlocked working-class city just north of the Palos Verdes Peninsula between Torrance and the Harbor Gateway section of Los Angeles. And in the middle of Lomita, there is "a diamond in the rough," to quote the girl who sold me my ticket. I've never even heard of the Lomita Railroad Museum before this weekend, but it was wonderful, not to mention orders of magnitude nicer, more informative and more entertaining than Travel Town in Griffith Park. It's on a much smaller and more toddler-appropriate scale than Travel Town, the equipment is accessible and well-maintained and it was just a real treat!

I don't think there's much else going on in Lomita besides the Railroad Museum, so they have signs directing traffic toward it from all directions. (For that matter, no one would ever find it in a million years without the signage, because it's on a tiny lot on a totally unremarkable side street in a residential area in Lomita.)
The museum building proper, which was nicely decorated for the holidays, is a replica of a 19th Massachusetts train station, and you have to ring a doorbell at the gate to be buzzed in. Behind the gate is an early 20th century steam engine, a lovely old caboose, a handcar and a semaphore. Outside the gate is a more recent Santa Fe Railroad caboose and a giant water tower like the ones that would have been used to cool a steam engine.
The inside of the museum is filled with railroad geegaws and historic replicas of all kinds. They have a wonderful collection of railroad lights on the wall, telegraph stuff, signs, paintings and prints, a replica of the first steam engine (the Rocket), a sample of coal like that which would have fired a steam engine, and just a bunch of really well-labelled and arranged railroading paraphernalia. Jackson, of course, was drawn to the Thomas train table next to the gift counter.
Kids can climb on both the caboose and engine, and both were wonderfully equipped with stuff! All the gears in the engine were labelled, and the caboose (which was apparently both the office and quarters for the train crew) had vintage sinks, stoves, a bathroom and everything.
Engineer Jackson.

I made Jackson sit on the cowcatcher for a photo despite the fact there was a clearly visible sign saying "Keep off!" Ahem. 
Across the street from the museum proper (which costs $4 for adults and $2 for children over two) in one direction is a small park with a cattle car and a tank car, and in the other direction the modern-ish caboose.

"Open! Open! Open!"
I am totally over trains, and I really had no intention of doing another train thing today or any day soon, but the Lomita Railroad Museum was actually a perfect way to spend the afternoon and we'll definitely go back in a few years when Jackson is old enough to appreciate it even more. Happy holiday weekend everybody!

Friday, November 25, 2011


We've been practicing "floating" in the tub for a couple of months now, but Jackson got his first taste of a real swimming pool at our hotel in Vegas over Thanksgiving. He thought it was great and we had a wonderful time too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Park Day: Veterans Memorial Park, Culver City

Oy, so today was supposed to be Blanco Park, which is one of the Culver City parks nearest our house. (It's right behind the Babies 'R' Us on Sepulveda if you know L.A.) But as it happens, that's only a part-time public park, it also serves as a schoolyard playground for the kids at the elementary school on that corner. We were trying to visit during school hours, so no go!

Then I thought I'd try looking for this mysterious park I spotted a map while I was figuring out where all our city's elementary schools are. To my surprise, I did manage to find Coombs Park (I have the world's worst sense of direction), but the reason it's not featured on Culver City's parks website is because it's pretty much an oversize traffic circle with about 12 trees and some grass. So, after going zero for two, I decided if we were going to have a park day at all, we should go back to re-explore Veterans Memorial Park.

Veterans Memorial Park is the city's biggest and most prominent park, all the Parks and Recreation offices and special resources are located there, and it shares two blocks with quite a few other notable facilities. We'd visited it once before on a weekend, but we happened to arrive as the Burmese Expatriate Association was having their annual family picnic (no really, that's basically what was happening!) so the playground facilities were overrun and it was hard to see what was what. There were no large gatherings in the playground today, and all the facilities were open because it was a weekday, so we got to poke around a fair amount.

The central feature of Veterans Memorial Park is the Veterans Memorial Building, at the corner of Overland and Culver, which was built in the early 1950s in honor of World War II veterans. The 120-foot tower is closed to the public because it's not structurally sound--and since the elevators are apparently broken, the only access these days is the stairs--but the loudspeakers on the top of the tower play chimes every hour on the hour. (They also decorate the tower during the holidays with a Christmas tree made of lights.)

The building also features a "rotunda room" that's visible from the street, a 1500-seat auditorium and a number of meeting rooms that can be used by the public. The rest of the Veterans Memorial Park complex includes the Culver City Plunge swimming pool (which dates to the 1940s), the Culver City Historical Society archives and visitors center, Culver City Parks and Recreation Department HQ, a teen center, tennis courts, baseball fields and a playground. Across the street heading north on Overland is the gorgeous Culver City Senior Center, and across the street heading west on Washington is a National Guard armory, an Amvets Post, the Culver City Community Garden and a fabulously decrepit old building that is shared by the local Boy Scouts of America troop and, I am not making this up, the Culver City Rock & Mineral Club. (And they really do have rocks and minerals in storage behind the building!)
We poked around the main building for a while, reading the many, many historical markers and dedication plaques, but Jackson insisted that we take a look at the fountain post-hasty. "Foundin! Foundin! Foundin!"
Dedicated in the early 1980s, the sculpture is a film strip, representing Culver City's identity as the "Heart of Screenland." (Fittingly, you can see the corner of the Sony lot, formerly the Columbia Pictures lot, across the street in the background of the picture.) Jackson did his level best to climb in the fountain, but there was no access that didn't involve brain damage. Foiled again!
Created in 1949 and renovated in the 1990s, the Culver City Plunge municipal swimming pool remains incredibly popular with locals. Jackson thought the traffic cone was very interesting.
Here's the playground at Veterans Memorial Park, which shares space with picnic tables and barbecue facilities.
Jackson skipped the toddler play structure in favor of a spinning thing toward the back of the kid zone. (One side of this play structure looks like a house, but on the other side it looks like a car. Good stuff.)
"Down now!" Jackson says "Down now!" as one word, and when he escalates from "Down!" to "Down now!" he really means it. You can see the Plunge building and the ballfield night-game lights in the background.
Jackson makes a friend on the big-kid play structure. Side note: Happy face above aside, this is the second time I haven't felt entirely at home at this playground. Maybe it's because it's on a busy street, may it's because it's pretty crowded and lacking the neighborhood feel of other Culver City parks, or maybe it's just the landscaping, but I remain unimpressed. I felt like J was getting run over by the many rambunctious bigger kids, and I was so busy keeping him out of danger that I didn't have time to chat up other parents like I sometimes do at other parks. I love Veterans Memorial Park overall--there's so much to see and do and it's a wonderful resource (they call it the "Heart of Recreation" because it's the center of public recreation in the "Heart of Screenland")--but this children's play area won't make my top playgrounds list any time soon.
When Jackson lost interest in the playground, we walked down to the Culver City Community Garden, which happened to be unlocked because one of the gardeners was working inside. Jackson enjoyed the piles of dirt and was especially thrilled to find a whole bucket of rocks. I tried to be all "Hey look, a ripening pumpkin! Ooh, Swiss chard!" but Jackson was all, "Lady, I don't know if you are aware, but they have ROCKS here. ROCKS!"

Monday, November 14, 2011


My mother-in-law sent me this awesome video about pollinators and pollination. Hug a bee hive today!

Free Entertainment and Rototilling

So yesterday and today, we pretty much just sat at the back door and watched the gopher dig up the backyard. He has the face of an otter, he is shaped like a bullet, he's about eight inches long, and he seems friendly enough. I'm pretty sure he's here because we've been severely overwatering the lawn, so we turned off the sprinklers and will be watering key sections with just rainwater, dew and rain barrel water for the time being. In keeping with my permaculture belief system, I'm grateful that this little ecosystem architect has seen fit to loosen my soil for me, therefore allowing future root systems to penetrate more deeply, all while bringing fresh, newly aerated soil to the surface from under the ground. (That said, I'm not sure I like discovering his tunnels when my feet sink into random sections of my yard.) He'll move on eventually, or an owl or a hawk or a cat will get him, or maybe we'll just have very well-tilled soil for a long time! But basically, until he effs with my trees and my berry vines, I'm happy to live and let live.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Train Theme Field Trip

Great googley-moogley! Taking a toddler to Union Station in Los Angeles via public transportation is...exciting? Quite a day. It turned out to be slightly more dangerous than expected, but altogether, very interesting and fun for both of us.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Park Day: Culver West Park

We had a nice time at this park, which is one of Culver's many lovely neighborhood parks hidden on random side streets. Very nice people here, we met a stay-at-home dad and his baby Marcus, and ran into a mom and baby who are currently at our old day care, the Tomlinsons! This park is very close to dear husband's workplace, so we'll be back someday for a picnic-lunch meetup.

Loved these box stairs that allowed my little guy to clamber up to a high play area. He's confounded by ladders at this point, but he can do steps!

Hello world!
"Sand! Sand!" He would flip out if he knew this wall is actually for "Climbing! Climbing!"

Awesome. The toddler area at this park had these wheels designed for playing with three-letter consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words. Jackson liked making the wheels spin!

He sat down at the table in the toddler clubhouse and started demanding food. 

"TUNNEL! TUNNNNNNELLLL!" (Jackson loves tunnels right now.)

Pigeon at the wheel! Vroomy vroom vroom vroom!

Is that his personal cheering squad? Are they his hoochies? Are they performing "All the Single Ladies"? I have so many questions about what's happening here. (OK, it's just a mural of a basketball game, but this shot makes me laugh so hard.)

Sunday, November 06, 2011

  • We have a gopher in our backyard. I choose to embrace him/her/it for the time being, because he's like an organic rototiller, and according to this article I once read in National Geographic, gophers started the reconstruction of the ecosystem after the Mount St. Helens explosions. Also, I like to dig out his peephole, because he/she/it refills it the minute you turn your back. Entertaining. My solution so far is to turn off the sprinklers because overwatered lawns attract gophers, but if the kid cracks his ankle in a gopher hole, we're gonna hafta have words with this rodent.
  • Today was No-Guilt Sunday, but I felt guilty anyway after I got home from my architectural outing with my mom, so I finally made homemade playdough for the kiddo. It worked out astonishingly well, and once made it gave new purpose to semi-absurd kitchen implements like the meat tenderizer and the garlic press--suddenly they were toys and not just drawer-filling utensils. Good stuff. Our first batch of homemade playdough was yellow; next time I'm feeling guilty I'll make another color and soon I should have a whole rainbow!
  • I think we might go to Union Station on Thursday, as part of "Train Week." I would love to take the L.A. Conservancy tour but I think it's too much money and too much time to risk on a toddler. We'll do our own thing and then maybe hit Olvera Street for some Mexican food. The question is: Do I dare try to actually take public transit to Union Station? Hee. Ah, Los Angeles. :)

Friday, November 04, 2011

Trees and Puddles

Good day with Mr. Jackson! On the way to the mailbox we encountered a group of tree trimmers with lots of trucks and helmets and chainsaws and orange cones and branches falling and machines beeping! We just parked ourselves on the opposite corner from the action and sat and watched as they demolished a poor innocent carob tree, and it was an awesome show. One guy drove past and was like, "Wow, I want to join you!" Totally! My gratitude to the L.A. City Street Services Department for an excellent hour's entertainment.

Then after the rainstorm (and a nice long nap for baby boy), we went to the library to get our latest batch of books. After the library, we snuck into the not-open-yet Ballona Discovery Park at Playa Vista, which is an educational spot for kids to study estuaries and the Tongva people and so forth. Jackson had a blast finding puddles to play in and was quickly covered in mud. I kept waiting for someone to be like, "Madam, you are the most negligent babysitter I have ever seen. I will be contacting this child's mother and having you summarily dismissed from service!"

Suffice it to say, the mommy police never came, and I took the kiddo home for some nice hot soup and storytime. Tomorrow, another toddler rager. Whoo!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Rocks, rocks, rocks, as far as the eye can see!

Jackson's favorite part of our Travel Town outing was the rocks. He also liked the Cheez-Its and the train ride. My favorite part was spending the beautiful day with L&B. XOXO!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Happy Halloween from Baby Yoda

Photo by Molly Tierney

Park Day: Fox Hills Park, Culver City

Dolphin rider: Jackson enjoyed this concrete cetacean at the otherwise fairly straightforward playground.
Unlike some parks (ahem, Blair Hills), this playground actually had other kids to play with. Jackson liked meeting two-year-olds Kingston and Lyanna. Lyanna's grandmother later shared a tiny Russian-bagel snack with Jackson.
My tennis ball! Mine! (Jackson sweet-talked a couple of very nice tennis players into giving him one of their tennis balls.) 
Kiddo loves a good informational plaque.
Fox Hills Park is fairly close to us, but it seems to be mostly a sports park rather than a kids park. (Huge fields, plus a running/workout loop, as well as volleyball, tennis and basketball courts.) There's no parking lot*, and it's hard to see the park from the street, but once you get up there, it's a nice place with a lot of friendly neighborhood people around. Well, mostly friendly...

After we wandered across the field, played with the kids and explored the tennis courts, Jackson walked down the maintenance road and stepped onto the jogging path that loops around the park. I am hard-core about staying to the far right of any jogging or bike path like this, whenever we do enter one, because I know we are a slow-moving caravan and that toddlers should generally be kept far away from fast-moving, focused runners and bicycists. Just the same, we'd been on the public walking path for five seconds and we weren't bothering anyone when:

Skinny busybody: "Are you are aware we have a lovely children's play area?"
Me, gritting teeth, smiling, playing dumb like I didn't know what she meant: "Yes, we were just there."
Skinny busybody: "OK, well, this is not a good place for children!"
Skinny busybody grumbles to herself and continues her power walk.
Jackson waves vigorously at her and shouts in her direction: "Buh-bye grandma!"


* I actually got my first Park Day Parking Ticket today. I looked for signs, but there weren't any in view, so I'm going to contest the ticket. It's not like I have much better to do, and who knows, it might actually work!

"I is for Iguana"

As soon as I mentioned that the iguana appeared to be crawling, Jackson decided to join him for a little scuttle around the boardwalk.

On Sunday I finally got Jackson to the Santa Monica Pier! I've been meaning to take him there for a long time, since I went there so often with my own parents when I was growing up. We didn't even get down to the Ferris wheel section at Pacific Park but there was a lot to see and do.

We started at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, which is a small educational aquarium run by Heal the Bay. It's not exactly a show palace--everything seems a bit dark and dingy--but Jackson was fascinated by the tidepool touch tanks and cute horn sharks. We spent most of our time at the touch tanks, which are chaperoned by adorable high-school-age volunteers who graciously and enthusiastically explain the exhibits.

Then we went upstairs to ride the historic carousel. Jackson refused to sit on the horses so we sat in a carriage instead, but once the carousel got going (so fast!) he was fascinated by how they went "up!" (and "down!") so I suspect he'll be ready for a neigh-neigh ride next time. Then we danced with one of those silver-painted robot men, saw six exotic parrots and chased an iguana (see video above).

All manner of busker set up at the pier on the weekends, and their "free" birds and lizards (plus the aquarium and the carousel) make for a relatively cheap/easy/close way to entertain a toddler for a couple of hours without schlepping across town to a big zoo or a "real" aquarium. Good stuff.