joanna irl

April Wanderings and Updates

Oh hey! WordPress just told me it’s my 7th anniversary with this blog. Huzzah for that!

Things have been pretty hectic here the last couple of months. We were supposed to move into a new place at the start of May but for various reasons which aren’t terribly interesting the timetable got accelerated… and we moved March 24 instead. I also have been picked up for a lot more hours at my job and have successfully interviewed and been taken on as a volunteer at a local place (details to come later, as I feel it needs its own post).

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In the meantime, I have been to North Carolina twice in the last five weeks, first for my sister’s bachelorette weekend and then for her wedding (how did it go? it worked!) and now I’m at the other end of all of the things and have a few days to finish unpacking my household and putting stuff on the walls and figure out what the next six months hold.

We did hit up a national park while we were down south: Appomattox Court House, where the Civil War ended and General Lee surrendered his troops. They’ve got much of the original village either restored or replicated, and it was fascinating to visit it having just been to the Abraham Lincoln Home in Springfield, IL, about seven months previous. The two are, of course, closely tied together and the perspectives on everything happening at that time are fascinating and sobering.

One of the things I like about national parks in general is that they preserve slices of things important to our heritage, whether it’s vast forests that have unreachable depths, ancient homes, or sites where important things happened that directly impact us today. It’s a way to literally touch history. I also generally just like being outside and doing things, so that’s nice, too.

Other big things include launching a new YouTube channel for Geek Girl Pen Pals. We don’t have many videos up yet, but the plan is to have regular content focused on our monthly site themes, and to encourage response videos from members of the community.

There have been many other things happening in the last couple of months and I may not get to all of them on here. If you need my new mailing address, please contact me in the usual way. ~_^

joanna irl

BEDA Day 2: California Friday

Old Town, printer


Day TWO! Friday is going to be California Friday this month where I tell you about something local that I’ve done recently. When my folks were here last month, my dad and I visited Old Town. I’ve been there a few times (my tea shop is there), but I always enjoy it, and usually find something I haven’t seen on other visits. This time I discovered the print shop. It had old printing presses with the movable type and such. Very cool.

Old Town, dad's root beer

We walked around most of the afternoon and enjoyed live music, pretty scenery, historic (reconstructed) buildings, and then took a break at the root beer shop, where you can find dozens of different root beer varieties, as well as other unusual sodas. I’m not a huge root beer fan, but I very much like Virgil’s, which is relatively local. Their other sodas are good, too, and they make the Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer for making “Butterbeer” at home. ^_^

WIleys visit, Old Town

We checked out some gardens, and a lot of the shops and museums. It was such a nice day that we made reservations for dinner that night, and came back around sunset to enjoy some good food.

Old Town, sunset

joanna irl

Pioneertown, California: a little real and a little surreal

The day after camping at the trailer palace, J and I (and our friends who went with us) decided to drive to Pioneertown.

Pioneertown Mane Street

Pioneertown is a little place in the middle of almost nowhere that has a restaurant, a post office, a motel, and some buildings that are all straight out of an Old West film. This is not an exaggeration: many of the buildings in the town are stage pieces, built in the 1940s to have a permanent place to film scenes.

Pioneertown horse

The buildings are small, but look functional, and some of them (such as the post office) are real. There are hitching posts for horses (and many people there use their horses for local transportation), and all sorts of odds and ends that add details to the ambiance.

Pioneertown jail

The restaurant was good, and served barbeque and such things, and we enjoyed strolling the dusty streets. Really it was surreal to be walking down something that was sort of a set…. and then not; we could see people’s real houses just off of the main road.

(Photos of Pioneertown in the already-posted album begin here.)

joanna irl

A visit to San Juan Capistrano Mission

San Juan Capistrano, Great Stone Church

After visiting Old Town San Diego, J and I had an interest in visiting some of California’s famous missions. There were twenty-one founded during Spanish colonization, and many of them are still standing (in some form or another) as they are all less than 200 years old. The first we decided to visit was San Juan Capistrano, home of the famous swallows.

San Juan Capistrano hallway arches

If we’d done our research beforehand, we’d have know that the swallows return was March 19 (three days before we went) and that the big Swallows Day Parade was the day after, but, y’know, it’s US so we just went on a whim. Maybe next year we’ll plan a little better.

San Juan Capistrano swallow nest wall

Still, the grounds were covered in flowers, and though I didn’t see any swallows (just swallow nests, which aren’t quite visible in the photo above), there was a lot of history. This mission is extremely well preserved and maintained.

San Juan Capistrano Serra Chapel
It also has the only chapel still standing where Father Serra is known to have held mass. There is a statue of him outside the modern day basilica. The original basilica, however, fell in an earthquake when it was only six years old, and the ruins are still standing. You can even see some of the tile and painting on the ceiling.

San Juan Capistrano, modern Basilica

The modern basilica was built to be similar to the Great Stone Church that fell, and is just outside the original mission property. We peeked inside (though there was a wedding rehearsal happening) and it is beautiful.

We’ll have to go back and see the swallows, though. ^_^

Photos are here. Lots of flowers. ^_^

joanna irl, the geek life

Dire Wolves and Saber Cats! (La Brea Tar Pits)

La Brea, mammoth

Ever since I was old enough to understand what they were, I’ve been fascinated by prehistoric animals. When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a piano-playing-astronaut who was a paleontologist when I wasn’t in outer space. Seriously. (And what happened with that? You’d think I’d have gone all sciencey, but instead I went all artsy. Weird.) Anyway, I had this book with full color illustrations of extinct animals, and half of it was dinosaurs and half of it was ice age mammals and I probably destroyed the book, if my mother doesn’t have it stashed somewhere. (Hey mom, is it stashed somewhere?)

The point of all of this is that the dinosaurs and giant ground sloths and such have always been my FAVORITE parts of natural history museums, and there’s a reason that the Smithsonian Natural History Museum is the one I’ve visited three times (and am on their mailing list even though I haven’t lived on that side of the continent in years). So when the chance came to drive up to La Brea (and see the tar pits) one afternoon, I jumped at it.

La Brea, bubbling lake

It only takes about two hours to get to the tar pits from our house, and we enjoyed the drive to Los Angeles. We got to the Page Museum right around lunch time, so we walked to a NY pizza place and had a really good lunch before heading back to tour the museum. They have a pond out front with tar leaking into it that bubbles from the methane-producing organisms on the bottom of it, but they also have several pits currently being excavated.

La Brea, bones in excavation

I didn’t know that the tar is actually a natural asphalt, and hardens when it’s cool outside, so when the water is removed and it’s dry, they’re basically chipping away at something solid and not at gooey tar. Pretty interesting. It’s also why they don’t tend to find nocturnal animals in the pits: at night, the ground was hard.

La Brea, J with dire wolf skulls

There is a huge collection of fossils on exhibit, as you can see from the number of dire wolf skulls in this photo, and they have so many saber cats that they can show a row of skulls at different stages of teething. Really. There are also camels and ancient bison and all sorts of things. But my favorite?

The mammoth.

La Brea, Jo with Mammoth

This was the first time I can remember ever seeing a real mammoth skeleton.

La Brea, giant jaguar

All of the fossils in the museum are real, which is sort of mind boggling. They even have some North American lion fossils, which they now think was actually a giant jaguar and not a lion like the ones in Africa. Pretty cool (and terrifying) to think of a jaguar that’s almost twice the size of a saber toothed cat!

We got to see some current excavation sites, and see volunteers sifting through the tiny fossils found in the tar matrix (insects and seeds and other tiny things get preserved, too) and the project they’re working on that involves the most complete mammoth skeleton they’ve ever found. Very exciting stuff.

So kindergarten-me was very excited. And I’d totally volunteer there… except for the two hour drive! (Check out more photos here!)

joanna irl

Exploring historic Old Town San Diego

Last week, J and I took a sunny afternoon to explore Old Town San Diego, the original town site. It is just beneath the site of the Spanish mission, and has been refurbished to look much as it did 150 years ago.

We had been there several times for dinner (and they have some pretty good Mexican restaurants down there), but never during the day when the museums and historic sites were really open. We got there in enough time to see all three of the major museums this time, and to do the hour long guided tour, which was very useful.

Old Town great house

I learned a lot about California history, especially in the last two hundred years (it’s one of the most recent colonial sites). The site itself became popular again thanks to the novel Ramona, and a large house on the property was named “the wedding place of Ramona,” and so was preserved and now is the centerpiece of the restoration.

Old Town kitchen

The houses are set up to look like they would have in the town’s heyday, and cover a wide range of income levels. You can even see California’s first public (one room) school house, which they didn’t get until California became a state. Public education was a very American idea.

Old Town stagecoach


They also have a huge collection of western memorabilia, such as real stagecoaches, saddles, and the like. Twelve year old me would’ve had a fit to see all of that stuff, and I could feel her in there, really wanting to touch it all.

It was a very fun day, and we discovered all sorts of great shops, including places that sell loose leaf teas, homemade pickles and old fashioned candies, salsa and hot sauces, local artwork, and things I’m forgetting, plus some of the best churros I’ve had outside of Mexico.

So yeah. Come visit and we’ll go there. ^_^

(Photos from Old Town and a couple of SD Zoo trips are in this album.)

joanna irl

Casa Grande Ruins: an unexpected very neat thing

Casa Grande, Arizona, Jo with Cactus

In my quest to see national parks (and collect passport stamps from them!), I’ve made it a habit to check for any that are an easy drive from a place I might already be. In this case, J and I were in Casa Grande, Arizona, for the renaissance festival, and we kept seeing signs that said “Home of the Casa Grande Ruins.” It showed up on my national parks guide, so off we went.

We stayed in the newer part of town, but as we drove toward the park, it felt like we were going back in time. The old town of Casa Grande looks about like I’d imagine it did in the 1960s, except with modern cars on the narrow roads. The signs are hand painted, shops are a little careworn, and pastels are everywhere. After about half an hour, we reached the entrance to the national park site.

Casa Grande, Arizona, sign

I think we were expecting something more like piles of rocks. After all, other ancient sites we’re familiar with (mostly on the east coast and upper midwest) tend to be mounds, or maybe some stones with carvings. We weren’t expecting anything like what we found.

Casa Grande, Arizona, wide of house

In the middle of a wide stretch of cactus-covered plain, there is a huge three story house. There are also the walls of a compound that surrounded the house, plus several other compounds, a ball court, and other signs of a huge community.

Casa Granda, Arizona walls

The dry, desert air has preserved the site. It used to have a small river going through it, and the people who lived there had an elaborate irrigation system for agriculture. The site was populated for a while beforehand, but the great house itself is about 800 years old.

Casa Grande, Arizona, back of house

We walked around, looking into the interior of the house where you can still see the places where wooden beams formed ceilings, floors. The walls were almost destroyed by graffiti in the 19th century, as the place was used as a waypoint for people traveling west, but has since been restored. The roof overhead was built in the 1930s and protects it from the summer storms.

Casa Grande, Arizona, house

All in all it was a very cool thing to find, and completely unexpected.