December 30, 2019

In Praise of Admiring the Collections of Others

Located in an adaptively reused Victorian home that was built out of wood from the J.D.B. Stillman Winery (where the University of Redlands is now), the Historical Glass Museum of Redlands, California was founded in 1985—at the time, the only glass museum on the West Coast (though now there's a big one in Tacoma, Washington).

Constructed in 1903 by woodworker and architect Jerome E. Seymour (of the Seymour Brothers planing mill) for his family, the cottage provided a home for his daughter, Emma Cryer, until 1977, a year before her death (and six decades after her father died of influenza). Seymour's hand can be seen in many of the Victorian residences of Redlands—including the famed Morey Mansion.

A few years later, the Historical Glass Museum's founders purchased the cottage and began renovating it for public access. And as the leaded windows on the front door indicate, the real attraction here isn't the architecture (as lovely as it is), but its glass collection—primarily American-made glass from the mid- to late-19th century and 20th century.

Showcased in the house's leaded glass are 1970s-era examples of pressed cup plates, which were popularly used as coasters in the pre-Civil War period, primarily produced from the 1820s to the 1850s using mold pressing technology. But that's just the beginning of the museum's collection.

Another type of pressed glass is known as carnival glass, recognizable by its iridescence or opalescence—an effect created by spraying metallic salts on still-hot glass, which is then fired.

Early American Rock Crystal by the McKee Glass Company (circa 1920s-30s, not pictured above) is another kind of pressed glass made from a pattern that's included at the museum. At the time that it was contemporary, pressed glass was the cheap stuff—though its collector value has nudged its price tag up over time.

Of course, the Historical Glass Museum has got plenty of "elegant" glassware, too—from companies like Fostoria Glass Company (from the Ohio town of the same name), Steuben Glass Works (from Corning, NY), Fenton Art Glass Company (which ceased production in 2011 after 106 years), and many others that have been out of business for years.

Then there's the American Brilliant Cut Glass (primarily produced 1850-1915), which rivaled the finest cut glass out of Europe. The clear crystal glass was what was popular during the Victorian era—and this kind in particular was called "Brilliant" because each cut in the glass was polished. Liberace was a collector of it, in fact—and pieces from his Los Angeles home were purchased at auction for inclusion in the museum.

Personally, I find the colored pieces—like cranberry glass made pink by adding gold chloride—far more fascinating. Even if it was inexpensive to make—and buy—at the time.

Fro instance, the "Depression glass" of the 1920s-30s wasn't just affordably priced for everyday use—this "dime store" glass, for the table and kitchen, was often given away! (In cereal boxes, no less.)

Automation—which allowed such glass to be manufactured so cheaply—caused the downfall of many glass plants, including that of Paden City, one of West Virginia's many glassmakers, which lasted only 35 years and shuttered in . The museum's collection includes a Paden City-manufactured low-footed blue bowl (or "comport") in the "Gypsy" pattern, from the mid- to late-1920s.

Much of the (mostly) donated collection also includes mercury glass (or "silvered," made with silver nitrate, circa 1855-85), swirled and streaked slag glass (circa 1890s), "Vaseline" glass (circa 1930s, all yellowish or greenish, some made with uranium and therefore radioactive, glowing under black light), and a huge lot of Jadeite kitchenware (a mid-20th century jade-green milk glass).

As if that weren't enough, it also boasts one of the most extensive collections of covered animal dishes (like the ubiquitous "chick in basket") as well as rarities like auto bud vases, one-of-a-kind paperweights, and even glass irons.

"Are you a glass collector?" my docent asked me.

"Hmmm no but this reminds me of what my mother and grandmother had," I said, hesitating midway because that didn't seem like a very good answer. I'm not that nostalgic for my childhood.

Then again, a blue carnival glass candy dish with a grape pattern on it is one of the few possessions of my mother's that I still have (and haven't given away).

"I like glass, though..." I tried to explain. "You know, like stained glass... I like to look at it."

Come to think of it, I really like the clinking of glass bottles, too.

"Do you collect anything?" she pressed.

"Well, yeah... tiki mugs... and Christmas tree ornaments."

That being said, I did buy a souvenir pressed cup plate, like what's embedded in the front door's windows, from the museum gift shop.

And I didn't just learn about glass from my visit there—but about the city of Redlands itself, too.

And maybe a little bit about myself, as well.

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December 27, 2019

Photo Essay: America's Largest Balloon Parade... in San Diego?

It's considered the largest balloon parade in the nation. But how can that be? Surely the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC must be bigger.

Well, the annual Thanksgiving Day parade is certainly the world's largest parade.

But the balloon bit seems to be a technicality—since many of those balloons are float-based "falloons" or "balloonicles."

The Holiday Bowl Parade in San Diego keeps it old school with its human-powered balloons, most requiring a dozen more handlers to get it down the parade route.

Located at the San Diego Harbor, starting at the Maritime Museum or thereabouts, the Holiday Bowl Parade is the San Diego equivalent of the Rose Parade—only with balloons instead of florally-festooned floats.

The Holiday Bowl itself is newer than the Rose Bowl, having only run for the last 40 years.

But it's a major source of pride for San Diegans...

...and visiting teams, including this year's bowl competitors, the USC Trojans...

...and the Iowa Hawkeyes...

...the latter of which brought their school spirit in spades...

...and had plenty of supporters in the grandstands cheering for them.

Like the Rose Parade, the Holiday Bowl Parade featured some stellar talent from marching bands...

...including one drumline that performed a rousing version of "Tootsee Roll" by 69 Boyz.

In many ways, the parade was a celebration of San Diego itself—including such staples as sunshine and surf.

It's really a hoot to see any larger-than-life balloon floating down Harbor Drive, no matter which corporate entity sponsored the seahorse...

...or the gingerbread man.

It felt as hometown as can be, whether we were cheering on Ginger the Dog...

...Ocho the Octopus...

...or Mighty Mouse.

Local dancers gave it a homegrown flair... they tried to distract us from Mother Goose's attempt to sneak under the traffic signals overhead.

I was surprised that the little kids in the row ahead of me even knew who Garfield was...

...though they predictably ignored Pac-Man... favor of the penguins from Madagascar.

Ballet Folklórico kept the audience dazzled, as the sun set behind us on the bay...

...though many of us left when the balloon supply seemed to dry up, with dusk approaching and temperatures dropping.

The Holiday Bowl Parade has been on my calendar for several years now, but I've always been too exhausted to make the trip down from LA.

This year, I was lucky to have an uneventful Christmas Day, coupled with an afternoon-timed parade—the stars aligned.

But now that I've been once, I don't feel a strong desire to go back.

I will, however, definitely return to San Diego for more adventures.

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December 25, 2019

Two Missed Connections With the Migrating Monarch Butterflies

I can't seem to get my timing right when it comes to the monarch butterfly migration.

But then again, I've only made two attempts so far—both this year.

Back in January, I'd driven up to Morro Bay for its annual bird festival in the pouring rain. So, when I made a pit stop in Pismo Beach to check out its butterfly preserve, the few butterflies they had were all clustered high up in a eucalyptus tree, barely visible without somebody aiming at laser pointer at them.

I'd hoped to have better luck at the Morro Bay Golf Course, which is attempting to conserve its migrating butterfly population.

"You should've been here back in November," our guide told us. "They're all gone now."

Of course, I'd heard the reports that the monarch butterfly population had declined by 86%. What used to be millions had dwindled down to thousands. But when I returned to Morro Bay Golf Course in December of this year, I'd hoped to see hundreds.

"You should've seen them a couple weeks ago," our guide told us. "But that last wind storm we got blew them all away. And only a few have returned."

I was on a free tour offered by the golf course for the public to visit its eucalyptus tree grove—not an easy journey on your own, as it requires walking between the driving range and the 9th hole, right in the crosshairs of golfers that may not necessarily have great aim.

The tours are scheduled at 11 a.m. because that's when the monarchs tend to "fly out" of their clusters—but by the time we arrived on that day, they'd already "flown out."

And once again, I felt lucky just to spot one or two individual monarchs flitting about, maybe in silhouette against the blue sky, landing on an ice plant that covers the ground below or on a eucalyptus leaf in a tree above.

It turns out the main attraction was a cluster of no more than a dozen monarchs—only one of which had opened its wings to reveal its orange and yellow hues. The rest of them, exposing only the undersides of their wings, just look like leaves from afar.

It was better on my second try than on my first. But it was still disappointing.

And it still burned me up when our guide said, "Oh, just wait for February, when it should get really good after they mate, and you'll see the males on the ground."

I can't take my chances and go back again in February. I live too far away—at least a 3-hour drive—to keep chasing this moving target.

I need more of a "sure thing."

So next, maybe I'll just have to go to Mexico City—the destination for the monarch butterflies migrating from east of the Rocky Mountains.

Seeing a multi-million-strong swarm of orange wings, interrupted only by the pattern of black spots, just seems like something I need to do before I die.

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Photo Essay: A German-Style Christmas Market Along California's Central Coast

I hadn't been to the Cambria Pines Lodge since I spent one night there on my way to Big Sur in 2011. But it's not as though I hadn't tried.

Last year, I'd booked myself on a trip to visit the Cambria Christmas Market, which takes place annually at the Cambria Pines Lodge. But the night before I was supposed to make the 4-hour drive, I came down with probably the worst bout of food poisoning I've ever had.

So, I'd spent a year regretting the cancellation of that trip—and vowing to try again this year, its eighth year running.

After all, the German-style Christmas market is nationally recognized as one of the greatest holiday light displays in the country, with 30 miles of lights.

Starting with a tunnel of lights...

...and moving through red-and-green and blue-themed environments (as well as an orange-lit replica of the Golden Gate Bridge).... eventually get lost in a Christmas wonderland.

Created by the appropriately-named Winter family, the Cambria Christmas Market occupies an area called Lodge Hill behind Cambria Pines Lodge and Cambria Nursery and Florist.

Nestled among the pine trees in this quaint, California Central Coast town, this Christmas Market is the kind of place young couples get engaged inside the larger-than-life ornament balls...

...and parents and grandparents of all ages stroll around with their kids and grandkids, pointing out Frosty and Santa...

...and experiencing December traditions from Germany as well as other cultures from across the globe.

If you don't partake of the Christmas buffet dinner at the Lodge (which is excellent) like I did, the market has got everything from tacos and pizza to kettle corn and pastries. And of course there's also gluhwein (German mulled wine), in addition to the traditional biergarten.

Maybe ride the Santa Express first, so your hands are free to hold on while the tiny train (a new addition as of 2018) takes you on a 15-minute ride between the buildings, through a tunnel, and past trippy black light murals.

In the end, it was all a blur—at least for my first visit, where I was just trying to find my way through and soak it all in.

For some, it's an annual tradition—and not just because they can find some last-minute gifts from the unique vendors.

The 1960s-era zoo may be gone, and the peafowl may have not roamed the grounds freely in the last two decades, but there's still something really special about this inn, with its main lodge and guest cottages built (circa 1927) in the shadow of Hearst Castle and the logging industry.

And it's even more magical with all this holiday spirit.

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