Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve

Lots of things to see on our 6 mile hike.

Lots of things to see on our 6 mile hike.

(Click on images to expand)

California is a very diverse place. If you want to be connected, you can be connected. If you want to disconnect you can do that too. Yesterday (2/15/14), was one of those days that I really felt I needed to disconnect. It has been awhile, but I remember back in my construction days getting out and hiking along the trails of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve.

 

 

 

Denise and AJ at the preserve museum.

Denise and AJ at the preserve museum.

Found on the outskirts of Murrieta, CA you get to the preserve by traveling on the 15 to Clinton Keith Rd. Travel up the mountain past Bear Creek and all the fancy houses and you will eventually end up at the preserve. If the visitor center is not open you can place your fees ($3 for adults, $2 for children, $1 for dogs or horses) in one of the metal posts.

You can see in the background a stile step. These stairs allow people through but keep out cows without the need for a gate.

You can see in the background a stile step. These stairs allow people through but keep out cows without the need for a gate.

For our hike we decided to go to the historic adobes. To understand the adobes you have to understand the ranch system of California. Interesting fact about the original rancho was that it original land grant was 48,000 acres. After California became part of the Union the ownership of the Rancho came into question.

In 1885 there was a challenge to the ownership and it was sold for $1,000 dollars to Augustin Machado. The price included $500 worth of cattle. The adobes were believed to be built that year for the cowboys. The title was not settled until 1872. This caused problems, which compounded with other problems broke down the land grant until in 1904 Walter Vail bought the Santa Rosa Rancho in 1904. The majority of the land was used to found what is today known as Murrieta and Temecula. The preserve part of the Rancho was considered a outer limbo like area and the adobe was a sort of makeshift jail for drunken cowboys. Several developers later in 1984 a conservancy group bought 3,300 acres of land which now incorporates the preserve.

The land today is very beautiful and serene. Which after a long week of work is what I wanted. The land is known for some vernal pools, which fill up after heavy rainfalls. We hiked along trails and enjoyed a nice day imagining what it must of been like being a cowboys roaming the prairies (except we didn’t have any horses).

Ice Cream For Breakfast Day

icecream collageI don’t know exactly when, why, or where Ice Cream Breakfast day was started, but if it involves the consumption of ice cream I can easily be pressed for service in celebration. For our Ice Cream Breakfast celebration we settled on two choices of ice cream: Extreme Moosetracks and Pecan Pie.

I like watching YouTube videos and this morning I for some reason got stuck on watching videos about people making crepes. I am not much into French cuisine but I do have a very distinct memory of my first crepe. My first crepe was ironically as far away from France as you can get, it was in Japan. Somewhere in some random department store in Odawara I had my very first crepe. It was light and fluffy and filled with nutella, bananas, and whip cream. It was awesome. I have had many crepes since, but none like that first one. I don’t know if it is due to a distorted memory but I have yet to taste anything like that first one.

Anyhow, today AJ and I decided to make it a go and make our own crepes. Here was our recipe:
Two eggs
1 dash sugar
1 dash salt
1 cup milk
1 cup flour

I found heating the pan and then swirling the crepe was easier.

I found heating the pan and then swirling the crepe was easier.

This recipe was super simple just mix together all the ingredients in a bowl and then fry in a non-stick pan. I personally discovered that putting a dollop in the middle of the pan and then circling the mixture in the pan worked best for me.

Being Ice Cream for Breakfast Day we of course put ice cream in the middle of the crepes which made them that much better. YUMMY!

The finished product.

The finished product.

Financial Outlook for 2014

budget13jpeg
Today we finalized our budget for 2013 (Click here to see PDF) and created the new 2014 Generic Monthly Budget that will hopefully guide us for the new year. Overall 2013 was a good year for us. Following a strict budget we were able to come out with a positive cash flow. The goal to becoming totally debt free is not quite there yet, but with only the student loan left, it is certainly coming in view. The biggest factor in the budget is that after all is said and done and if we were to liquidate today our net worth would be $58,303 dollars. This is significantly up $43,690, which is what we estimated our worth to be in January of 2013. All monthly expenses are accounted for in the new budget and give us plenty of room to save in the upcoming year.

Negatives:
Not including basics (rent, tithing, utilities), the big purchases for 2013 were cars, travel, and computers.

In May our car was having some major issues. In just two months we had spent over $2,700 dollars worth of repairs in the car. Anytime you start spending that kind of money it is worth it to start looking into getting a new set of wheels. Luckily, we have been saving along the way and we had $12,000 in savings when this started to happen. Shopping around we got our 2010 Nissan Versa. It is an ok car. We call it our “automatic nothing car”. It is very simple. So simple in fact that the only keyed door is on the driver’s side. It is a little weird, but our car repair fund has been able to recover substantially this year so we are happy.

The next major expense we had this year was travel. Coming in at $3284 for the year it can mostly be explained in three different trips. The big trip for the year for us was down to San Diego for a family reunion in Julian, California. We spent a week down there visiting the Wild Animal Park, Sea World, the beach, and eating a lot of apple pie. John completed his goal this year of visiting all of the 21 California missions. In a crazy weekend driving adventure we saw the last 5 missions on our list all within the 3 day memorial weekend.

The last non-regular expense was computers. When it comes to computers we generally have ours on two year cycle. We tried to extend a little bit this cycle and our computers were about three years old. This probably seem very old to some of the family reading this (I recently had a conversation with a family member who was still using Windows XP), but for us that is a long time. If it helps to understand our reliance on computers we will say that we have no monthly phone or cable bill. Just one monthly $54 internet bill. For computers this year Denise ditched her laptop for a Tablet Nook ($120), I switched out my old laptop for a Windows 8 touch screen netbook ($400), and the best deal was refurbishing the main computer at Denise’s parents house ($50, Denise’s parents have a lot of spare parts).

Other non-regular expenses were several small car trips to various different places, but those we don’t track as closely so I can’t say exactly how much we spent. I can say that we did not go over our $1,200 allocated yearly budget for weekend travel.

Positives

Looking at the year I am grossing about $62,000 dollars. Actual net into the checking account is about $50,000 dollars. Not much, but not exactly the poor house either.

Main revenues came from my paycheck which is currently netting about $1830 every two weeks. John continues to work for the Riverside Police Department as a Police Program Supervisor. It is a great job with a steady paycheck and good benefits. Unfortunately, in today’s political environment public servants are enemy number one. As a public employee it is understood that you will not make any money. The deal has always been “we will pay you low, but we will take care of you.” Not anymore, It seems that cutbacks and layoffs are the new order of the day. John considers himself extremely grateful to be working for the City of Riverside. The City of Riverside was the only Inland Empire city that did not have to layoff some it’s workers. The paycheck did take a major hits as deferred comp (a 401K for government workers) was eliminated and our payment to health insurance doubled, but the pay check is still there and for that we are grateful.

Due to the cutbacks at work John is determined this year to make every extra dollar he can. In April he started his own Mobile Document Preparation Service business and is officially registered within the County of Riverside as a Registered Legal Document Assistant. Basically, that means he can legally help people file their own paperwork with the court (a lot cheaper sometimes than hiring a lawyer). He also does English/Spanish translations and designs website. The business is a slow start but right now it is at least breaking even.

In an effort to get rid of his stuff John has cataloged a big part of his “stuff” and started to sell it on E-bay. He has even gone as far as going to the local Goodwill, buying more “stuff” there and selling that on E-bay. So far after expenses John estimates that he has made about $500 this year.

stocksJohn’s biggest money maker so far has been stocks. The stock market in 2013 was what is known as a “raging bull” market. The DOW is at record highs, the NASDAQ increased by an unheard of 25%. Companies are running record breaking profits at the expense of their workers’ benefits. The federal government is buying bonds which make traditional gains from things like savings accounts, CDs, and bonds impossible due to low interest rates. Why the people allow this to continue is a political debate far beyond our perspective, but from a financial view it is an incredible opportunity. All that money is flowing in one direction and that current direction is stocks. John started in 2011 saving money into his cash stock account. At first it was nothing but losses, but this year is definitely different. Currently his paper value is $6,658 dollars in stocks. Yes, it could all crash down in a second, but considering he started with only $200 it is rather impressive. John isn’t a financial advisor and therefore will not be giving out any individual stock advice, but if your looking to safe stocks he would strongly suggest a simple S&P500 such as $SPY or $VOO (most of our retirement account consists of S&P 500 index funds).

Denise is thinking about activating her credential again and going back to substitute teaching on John’s 9/80 day off. Her hope is that with the extra money she can help supplement the grocery budget.

Looking Forward

Continuing to save will be the order of the day for 2014. Due to the cutbacks at work we had to eliminate our weekend activities budget from the budget. To offset this a bit we increased each other’s personal budgets, but it means if one of us wants to do something fun on a weekend it is up to the person that proposed the idea to figure out how they are going to pay for it.

This does not however affect vacations which are still accounted for in the travel save budget. Travel however will be definitely reduced this year. We are planning for a trip to Aguas Calientes, Mexico in May to see the San Marcos Fair (largest fair in Mexico), but I doubt we will get to travel at all beyond that. It is too bad but that is what you have to do sometimes.

New budget categories for the year are AJ’s new education costs. Even though AJ goes to public school their are still costs involved. Everyday he buys lunch at the cafeteria and much to John’s dismay it seems that even at Kindergarten there is a new fundraiser going on every month. John and Denise both agree that they don’t like the idea of fundraisers at school. John and Denise don’t think the things paid for by fundraisers are bad, but if they are needed shouldn’t they be paid for by taxes? People like to complain a lot about how bad the education system is, but at the same time no one wants to pay for it.

Other than that we press forward.  We should note that this post only deals with our financial goals, there are plenty of other things we would like to do in 2014, but luckily not everything costs money. The whole point however is to do the most with what you have. Too many people avoid talking about money. One thing we do very well in our relationship is we have a very open ongoing dialogue when it comes to money. We don’t hide anything from anyone. We both don’t claim a perfect knowledge of all things. It is a constant ongoing process. We sometimes make very bad mistakes, but when we do we acknowledge them and go on. The way we see it is if you choose to stop moving forward you will next get to where you want to go.

A Short Trip Into LA 11/9/13

We went through the prosperity side on the left so I am hoping for big things.

We went through the prosperity side on the left so I am hoping for big things.

A few weeks ago was my mom’s birthday. The plan was to ride the train into LA and go to Olivera ST and have some really good Mexican food. Unfortunately, she go sick so she didn’t go. We missed not going with my mom, but we didn’t have any other plans for the day so we decided to go anyway.

For us taking the train into LA is a no brainer decision. Driving into LA is not that hard to do, but it can often be a frustrating experience. Traffic is legendarily bad and parking is always hard to find (and often costs a lot). The other thing is that LA is kind of sprawled out, so unless you are going to just one place you will find yourself multiplying the process. On a normal day it cost $26.50 for a round trip ticket (kind of a lot), but on the weekend an all day pass is just $10. The weekend pass also includes all day access to the light rail and the dash bus system.

Rialto Station

Rialto Station

We got on the train at Rialto. Rialto Station was a very simple station. Most of the Metrolink stations are kind of simple. They are catered to commuters so there is usually a big parking lot and not much else. Rialto Station as a depot, but it was pretty sad. All it had was a few coin vending machines, a few tables, and a really old TV. AJ had fun running up and down the ramps, but other than getting to and from Rialto it was pretty simple.

Riding into LA we went up to the top of the train. This area is a quiet zone during the work week, but on the weekend it made for a perfect viewing area. Most of the scenery along the way was very industrial, but there were some interesting scenes passing by the mountains and watching people going about there business. In Covina the train is right in the middle of the freeway, which was funny because we were going faster than the stop and go traffic.

Love the view at dusk of Union Station.

Love the view at dusk of Union Station.

Our first desination was Union Station. Built in 1939, Union Station is one of America’s most historical train stations. The building design style is called Mission Revival and it typifies the decorative elements of the late 30′s. The train station is a hive of activity with trains constantly coming and going. Go to the information booth and they will tell you almost anything you need to know about LA. Unfortunately, they told us that Angel’s Flight was closed so we needed to get a new idea.

 

 

 

Something is always going on in Little Tokyo

Something is always going on in Little Tokyo

As mentioned the light rail system is included with a weekend Metrolink pass. So we went to one of my favorite LA standbye places, Little Tokyo. Taking the Gold line we went to Little Tokyo. Our first priority was food and we promptly went to my favorite ramen shop Diakokuya. For dessert AJ had a pistachio macaroon, Denise had ice cream mocchi (ice cream surrounded by a rice jelly skin), and I had Imagawayaki (a red bean cake). While we had our various desserts we sat and watched shamisen (Japanese guitar) player. If you are interesting in seeing Imagawayaki being made or how a shamisen sounds check out this video:
 


 
 

The Japanese American Museum was very interesting.

The Japanese American Museum was very interesting.

As luck would have it Target was sponsoring a family day at the Japanese American Musuem so admission was free. It was great, we got to see all the exhibits and AJ got to jump in the jump house and participate in the drum circle (what 5 year old would pass on an opportunity to bang on a drum).

After going to Little Tokyo we took the metro over to Chinatown. In Chinatown we looked at all the colorful food. I wanted to try the roast duck, but we were really full. So instead we settled on taking home some rambutans. If you ever get the chance to try a rambutan I suggest you do, there is a reason they were considered a food fit for royality.

A Bank of America in Chinatown.

A Bank of America in Chinatown.

In LA the vista is always changing. Walking just a few blocks we soon found ourselves in Olivera ST. Where else in the world can you hear shamisen players in the afternoon, have marachi singers serenade you at dusk, and listen to a Cuban salsa in the evening. It was a great day out and we hope to do it again soon.

 

 

 

We should also mention that AJ has been learning about modes of transportation so this was a practical trip as well:

Here are some more pictures (as if we haven’t bored you enough):

Monta Ramen, Las Vegas, Nevada

It is a very small place, but I came for the noodles not the floor space.

It is a very small place, but I came for the noodles not the floor space.

One of the greatest known fallacies to Marathon running is the idea of carbo loading before a race. Yes, you need a lot of energy to run a marathon and yes, noodles have a lot of carbs. However, the idea that you will run better because you ate a lot of them before a race is not true. The reality is you will probably become bloated and run worse.

That being said I love noodles. So if I can in anyway contribute to the eating of more noodles (even at the risk of bloated marathon runners) I am going to go for it. So, with that in mind I went out on a journey to find noodles right before I ran the St. George Marathon.

A good ramen is hard to find.

A good ramen is hard to find.

Although I enjoy noodles in many different formats I have to say ramen is one of my favorite forms. For those not in the know ramen is a soup based dish that originated in China, but became popular in Japan. Many people in the USA are familiar with ramen in the form of “Cup-O-Noodle”. While that is ramen, it is probably the worst form of ramen you can have (ever wonder why it is so cheap?). Luckily the secret to high quality ramen has been leaked out of Asia and fresh ramen can be found in the USA. In particular Southern California has become a hot bed of ramen activity as evidenced my the many ramen shops that have opened in California. My guess was that the idea of ramen has spread to other states, but not having seen ramen in other states I was starting to worry.

Be prepared to wait for a seat.

Be prepared to wait for a seat.

A good ramen is hard to find.[/caption] Luckily, a quick scan of Yelp let us know that the “city that never sleeps” was indeed in the know about ramen. This is how we found Monta Ramen in Las Vegas’ Chinatown. Like most of Las Vegas, Chinatown had the sincerity of blackjack dealer when they tell you “your doing a great job” (right as you busted for the 5th time in a row). OK, so the authenticity of the neighborhood was a little bit off, but I do have to say that Monta Ramen had good ramen. The base price was just under $8.00, but to get the type of ramen you see in our picture you would have to pay about $10.00 (it has an egg and nori). The noodles were definately manufactured, but they still had a good texture. The broth was not what I would call authentic, but more of a fusion syle. Salty like traditional ramen broth, but it had a slight sweet taste brought into the mix. Still not bad for someone looking to carbo load before a big race (and no I didn’t feel bloated during my marathon). Overall it was good deal and if you have some extra time (it is a busy place so be prepared to wait) I would check it out.

AJ’s Family School Project

A portrait done in downtown Riverside.

A portrait done in downtown Riverside.

At school AJ had to do a project where he was asked to show what his family did in pictures. It was kind of interesting to see what pictures he went with…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taken while camping at Fern Basin, Idyllwild http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/fern-basin-idyllwild-california/

Taken while camping at Fern Basin, Idyllwild
http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/fern-basin-idyllwild-california/

http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/fern-basin-idyllwild-california/

 

A mini-family reunion: http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/mini-family-renunion-9112/

A mini-family reunion:
http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/mini-family-renunion-9112/

http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/mini-family-renunion-9112/

Camping with the Harris' in Idyllwild: http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/camping-in-los-angeles-national-forest/

Camping with the Harris’ in Idyllwild:
http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/camping-in-los-angeles-national-forest/

http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/camping-in-los-angeles-national-forest/

Learning how to make chocolate in Guatemala: http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/choco-museo-antigua-guatemala/

Learning how to make chocolate in Guatemala:
http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/choco-museo-antigua-guatemala/

http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/choco-museo-antigua-guatemala/

Going to another run with Papi: http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/a-totally-awesome-80s-10k-race/

Going to another run with Papi:
http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/a-totally-awesome-80s-10k-race/

 http://www.johnpedroza.com/blog1/a-totally-awesome-80s-10k-race/

#16 Learning How to Milk a Cow at Amy’s Farm in Ontario, CA

milkjohncowI am not sure it if it sounds weird or not but I really like milk. I know a lot of people in the world are allergic to milk. That is very unfortunate when you think of all the yummy things that can be derived from milk.

When I first moved to the Inland Empire my mother was working as a nurse at the Heman G. Stark Youth Prison . It was in the middle of nowhere Chino. As far as prisons went it was ok, but I distinctly remember passing all the cow pastures to get there. Whenever I passed by those cows I remember it being stinky, but it made me think of happy to think of all that milk being produced.

That was several years ago and things have changed a lot in Chino. The early 21 st century has experienced an over 40% decrease in dairy farms in Chino this is due to numerous reasons but the main reason is simply urban sprawl. Houses go up, cows go away, and all that is left for me is a memory of driving through endless roads of dairy farms.

I had always wondered what it would be like to be on a dairy farm. I like animals and most every cow I have ever met is usually pretty happy (or at the least part agreeable). For some reason I have always wanted to learn how to milk a cow, but as the dairy farms in the area have decreased I have found this harder to do. Another thing I have learned is that not many places actually milk their cows by hand. Commercial dairys have big machines that attach to the cow and do the job quickly and efficiently.

Quickly and efficiently is good for the public in that it usually equates to safe drinkable milk. For me however it is horrible because I don’t get to learn anything. Luckily for me I stumbled onto Amy’s Farm in Ontario, California.

milkgardenAmy’s Farm describes itself as a poly cultural farm that provides hands-on learning to students of all ages. I first learned about this place when my son (who is five) told me that his class was trying to raise funds for a field trip to this place. As soon as I found out that the tour included a lesson on milking I knew I wanted to visit this place.

Going to the website I read that you needed a group of 10 or more, but that sometimes if they had extra room they would add you to an existing group. Since it is only the 3 of us I was kind of worried, but I filled out the online contact form and to my surprise the next day I got a personal phone call saying that if I showed up at 12 PM I could be included in a tour.

I think the goat was trying to whisper to AJ to help him spring him out of there.

I think the goat was trying to whisper to AJ to help him spring him out of there.

The tour cost $8 ($10 for AJ but he got a pumpkin) and was about an hour and a half long. The lady (Farmer Carrie) giving the tour was very energetic. Which was good because AJ was really excited to be there. The tour included a visit to the organic garden, animal feeding, learning about different horses, and best of all cow milking.

 

 

 

 

 

Turns out milking a cow was really easy. I made a video (see below):

Not much to it. Just squeeze and go. If your wondering if you can drink the milk directly from the milk the answer is not legally. FDA agents not present, no one was really interested when I squeezed some milk into my hand and tried it. Not bad, kind of warm (expected that), kind of watery (didn’t expect that), didn’t die, but I still prefer 2% homogenized and pasturized milk.

AJ showing off his pumpkin.

AJ showing off his pumpkin.

Overall we had a lot of fun and it was great to be able to check off something from “the list.” If you happen to have an extra $8 dollars and an extra hour and a half I would highly recommend the tour. Plus, for an additional $6 dollars more you can do what I did and get some very yummy chevre goat cheese (I told you I like milk).

 

 

 

 

The Nature of Stuff

AJ helping me sort through all of "my stuff."

AJ helping me sort through all of “my stuff.”

This is all of “my (John’s) stuff.” I say “my stuff” because there is lots of stuff that I consider “our (family) stuff.” I don’t know what gets into me sometimes but every so often I have these urges to just surge ahead and do something.

This latest urge came from the an early morning workout session. I have a pull-up bar in my closet. Every other day I get up and I attempt to do a full pull-ups on the bar. It is a pretty pathetic attempt, but due to the position on the bar I am forced everyday to look at all the junk in my closet. Somehow in the brief moment of pulling up on the bar I decided I wanted to get rid of all the junk in my closet. You would think I would have done something right there and then, but I didn’t. However, the idea just kept nagging me in my head, but I didn’t act on it. Kind of a weird concept if you think about it.

Anyhow, a few days later I am sitting on my bed and I am again staring at my closet and I decide “right now I am going to go and throw away a box of stuff!” So, I get up take down the first box I can see and a picture falls out of it. Bad move, turns out the picture was interesting, which led me to open the box and find more interesting pictures. I decided I wanted to keep some of the stuff, but I still have a strong urge to purge my stuff so I decided I was going to force myself to at least look at all of my stuff.

In the process of looking at all my stuff I have noted that I do indeed have lots of stuff. I think everyone has lots of stuff. I guess we accumulate stuff for all kinds of reasons, but in thinking it about it, it just is stuff. I have pretty much come to the conclusion that stuff needs to be useful and when it is no longer useful it needs to be removed.

My stuff a bit more organized.

My stuff a bit more organized.

Luckily, I have found lots of ways to reorganize my stuff. I think my best weapon for reorganizing my stuff is to digitize it. A lot of stuff can be either scanned or I can take a picture of it, and it is almost as good as having the original item. I still have a long way to go but everytime I get rid of something it makes me strangely a little bit happier. As of right now I can put all of “my stuff” in my side of the closet. I have two containers under the bed as well, but I could put it on my side of the closet if I wanted to. I still want to continue to purge my stuff, but I am not exactly sure how much more stuff I want to purge. I would really like to one day get an exact count of what I have.

Asistencia Santa Ysabel, California

The official title was Asistencia Santa Ysabel, but it had one of the highest conversion rates of all the California Catholic churches in it's day.

The official title was Asistencia Santa Ysabel, but it had one of the highest conversion rates of all the California Catholic churches in it’s day.

On our way back home from our recent Jackman family renunion we visited Asistencia Santa Ysabel. Having visited all of the original California missions I felt compelled to stop and visit the Asistencia.

Starting in San Diego in 1769, the missions were built as a safeguard of the Spanish empire in California. As the missions in California grew it became necessary to fill in the gap areas between the missions. In 1816 the mission fathers in San Diego officially requested the Spanish Governor for the right to build an Asistencia (helper) Mission in what is now known as Santa Ysabel.

Santa Ysabel was intended to be the first of a chain of missions that would extend all the way through Arizona and onto Sonora, Mexico. In the 1830s the Mexican government desecularized all of the missions and Santa Ysabel suffered by a lack of priesthood visiting the area.

Eventually, the mission completely deteriorated and the mission bells were lost (the story says lost, but it looks to me like they were stolen). It was not until 1903 with the arrival of Father Lapointe that the mission became what it is today.

 

 

A quick video of the chapel:

Today there is not much to look at but it was interesting. Besides the chapel there is a cemetery (which lots of Native American graves) and a Native American museum. The museum was a bit dusty and looking at the visitor’s log it didn’t look like it saw many visitors. I enjoyed looking at the pictures of old chiefs and old tribal dances.