Ortega Falls

A Short, But Rocky Scramble

I knew there was a Falls somewhere off the Ortega Highway, near the Candy Store. I also knew that with the drought, it was dried up and not cascading last year when we stayed in Lake Elsinore for the winter. But this year was different, turning cooler and wetter with severe storms pummeling Southern California. One such storm damaged a section of Road on the Ortega Highway in Orange County preventing traffic flowing from Lake Elsinore to San Juan Capistrano.


But businesses such as the Candy Store, Kristy’s Country Store, Hell’s Kitchen, and The Lookout House were still open, as were our favorite places to hike. It took a homemade sign near the intersection of Grand Avenue and the Ortega Highway to remind me of the Falls. It simply said Candy Store, Hiking, Falls, Camping.

We have driven by this dirt packed turnout between El Cariso Village and the Candy Store many many times not knowing that a trail leading to the Ortega Falls is hidden here. (Or, that from the turnout you could actually view the waterfall.)


So, bound and determined, I used Google Maps for an exact location, trying to visualize the turnout.



Apparently, some 5+ years ago the turnout was marked by a sign requiring all parked cars to display an Adventure Pass or its equivalent.


But not in 2015, 2016, or 2017…

So, after several rainy days we go exploring in search of the Ortega Falls.

There are several trails leading from the turnout where we park, beside many other cars filled with fellow hikers and waterfall seekers. We choose one because Jeff assures me that all trails will meet eventually. As we start out I capture the Santa Ana Mountains above us.


According to hikespeak.com, Ortega Falls is a 35-foot seasonal waterfall just off the Ortega Highway in the Santa Ana Mountains. Although the hike to and back is only 1/3 of a mile, the most prominent trail is an arduous scramble of rocks leading to the base of the Falls. Apparently we missed the fork in the trail leading to the right “uphill along the lip of the canyon along a dirt and rock trail heading straight to the base of the Falls.” 


I scramble on my butt and knees while Jeff confidently hops from rock to rock until it becomes too slippery. (In my defense, I have miss-stepped one too many times spraining my ankle or hurting my knee.) Too much caution, however can be just as dangerous. I rely on Jeff’s strong arms and encouragement to support me.

We arrive at the pool beneath the Falls. (Other hikers along the way have expressed my same hesitation to continue. But a father and his small son jump from rock to rock in bare feet.)




Below the pool, the cascade continues.






We look up to the top of the Falls.


And decide to head back.

I take a picture of the trail back. Can you find it?


Neither can I!

Lake Elsinore Riverwalk

People, Insights… New Friends

It’s called the Riverwalk, a mostly black-topped path along a runoff channel, beginning at the end of Lake Elsinore at Lake Shore Drive. Two and 3/4 miles later it ends at Highway 74 near the intersection of Collier Avenue.

Since I discovered this 5 mile + out and back route last winter, I am frequently seen walking here. Likewise, I often encounter the same familiar faces along the way.

There’s the man who lives at Pottery Court Apartments at the corner of Sumner Avenue and Pottery Street…


(The green arrow shows where Pottery Street dead ends and connects to Sumner Avenue. The blue arrow points to more apartments across the street, lining the Riverwalk.)


He walks to the Ortega Highway, Route 74,

and back everyday, wearing the same dark gray sweatpants and lighter gray hoodie. He explains that he received a kidney transplant. He greets me with a thumbs up and a great big smile. Everyday is special to him! He inspires me to keep walking too and reminds me that it’s a gift, especially when my motivation runs low.

There’s the beautiful woman with red hair, a sparkling smile, and deep melodious voice…

I finally just start addressing her as My Friend, whenever we cross paths on the Riverwalk. “Hello, My Friend.” “My Friend, how are you?” And then I feel upset with myself. What on earth possessed me with taking the liberty to shout out, “My Friend!” to her whenever we meet? I don’t know. It just came blurting out of my mouth! Am I perhaps crossing boundaries and offending her? Her good energy makes me smile. She inspires me in some subtle way I can’t explain.

And then one day, on my way back from the Ortega Highway turnaround, I hear someone shouting, “My Friend!” I look up and see red hair, a sparkling smile, and waving hands in the distance. I can’t begin to tell you how touched I am! I feel special connecting with her and her magnetically kind energy.

Several weeks later, after heavy rains pummeled Lake Elsinore day after day, My Friend is sitting on a bench along the Riverwalk. I stop and talk and learn that she is homeless. The field where her tent is pitched is now soaked in water. She lives with an undocumented Mexican, the father of her two children. Fearful of deportation for him, she is afraid to get married. I don’t know any of the details of her life and what led her to homelessness. All I do know is she will remain My Friend forever.

Then there are the handful of older Mexican men who gather on the benches on the thoughtfully landscaped, and cement-paved section of the Riverwalk abutting the Lake Elsinore Police Station…

One old man I greet sips from an oversized beer can each morning. Another man with a white mustache receives food in styrofoam containers from a woman wearing hospital scrubs who pulls up at Graham Avenue. And there is the man in a cowboy hat… He moves around in a golf cart. Others are younger but recognizable and frequent on occasion. All of them greet my smile with theirs and just seem happy for living through another night and enjoying a new day filled with warm sunshine and bright blue skies.

There are also the gals from the Lake Elsinore Water Department who walk during their lunch hour along the Riverwalk  from Chaney Street

to maybe the Ortega Highway, or not.


But I don’t think so, because every time I see them they are returning within a 1/4 mile towards Chaney Street.

There is also a young man who walks from Chaney Street

to Sumner Avenue’s Pottery Court Apartments every week day.

We pass, smile, and briefly chat from time to time. All I know about him is this: 1.) He doesn’t work for the Water Department because he tells me he suggested to the Water Department gals to walk from Chaney Street to Sumner Avenue like he does. 2.) He eats a banana during his walk.

Then, I make 2 new friends that I will probably never see again but who will touch my heart forever.

Returning from the Ortega Highway on my out and back, I encounter a woman just sitting there along the Pottery Street Apartments. All of her stuff surrounds her and she holds a toothbrush with toothpaste. Her head is shaved but the remains of blue dye still exist. Her fingernails are speckled with old polish above and ingrained with dirt below.

I stop to chat with her. She tells me her name, Christina?, but all I can remember is her nickname, Mustang. She is in her early 30s, has children who live somewhere, a mother with whom she is estranged, and somehow she came to Lake Elsinore from the city of Riverside. Her story intrigues me, but she rambles onto a new subject before I can catch my breath. She collects other people’s trash and recycles them as gifts to everyone she meets. She has bestowed the following upon me:

The leather ring and pouch was connected to a bracelet on her wrist. The earring was special to her too so she kept one and gave me the other as a symbol of sisterhood. (I will recount the gifting of the necklace later.)

But Mustang is not the only person I encounter this day.  Abner arrives and soon the 3 of us are sharing our stories.

Abner explains that he works for an auto mechanic on the other side of the Riverwalk channel. Raised in Lake Elsinore, he left several years ago. This new job brings him back and today of all days he decides to revisit his old haunt along the Riverwalk. Soon, the 3 of us are chatting away! The more we talk, the more we discover what we have in common. We are good people! With hugs all around, we depart.

A few days later I see Mustang again. She is carrying Christmas lights and a garbage bag full of more trash-collecting treasures. She is headed under the bridge where Sumner Avenue intersects the Riverwalk.

I return the next day with a small bag of my favorite earrings in my pocket, hoping she is still camped under the bridge. My ear piercings have healed over and I no longer wear earrings or jewelry, except for a special bracelet my sons gave me when I retired.

She’s there! We wave at each other and she comes out to greet me with a hug. She is thrilled with my eclectic collection of earrings with feathers, beads, and other artsy creations. I know she is going to create something wonderful and special with them. Her creative juices are shining from her eyes. And then she presents me with a gift. She removes a necklace from around her neck, yes, the one in the picture above… “I knew I was supposed to give this to someone today,” she says.

The next time I walk, she is gone.

A week or 2 later something else is gone… the wrought iron benches along the Riverwalk beside the Lake Elsinore Police Station.

I worry about the old man sipping his beer. He is always so kind to me… He cautions me about slipping on the small round seeds dropping from the palm trees along the path… He blesses me crossing the street in the crosswalk, hoping cars will have the courtesy to stop. I try to speak to him in Spanish. He tries to speak to me in English.

I run into My Friend who tells me that not only are the benches gone but also are all of the old man’s blankets and jackets. She helps him as much as she can, gathering blankets and coats for him and keeping an eye out for him during the day.

A downside to living a downsized life in an RV is the reality that we have no extra anything to help the old man… Or do we?

The Hills are Alive

With Wildflowers

After a winter of overcast skies, cool temperatures, and lots of rainy days, spring blossomed with an abundance of yellow-orange California poppies growing in the hills. Their presence even made ABC’s Nightly News with David Muir. But what’s even more amazing is that the photos taken and shared with the rest of the world came from Lake Elsinore’s Walker Canyon, right in our backyard, so to speak!

Their colorful appearance against sunny blue skies was a welcome sight for our sorry eyes, as Jeff and I endured a winter of medical maladies and a series of unfortunate events.

First our dog, Murph, would not eat or drink. He lost his spunk and just laid around. Jeff had to carry him outside to do his business. A $1,000 later and lots of inconclusive tests, Murph got a shot of anti-nausea medicine, received subcutaneous fluid for dehydration, and was prescribed an antibiotic for a fever.

Then Jeff had his share of medical issues, resulting in finding a primary care physician, undergoing routine tests, expensive drugs to treat his symptoms, and follow-up appointments to address secondary problems.

I finally visited a dentist to have an infected tooth pulled. Five hours later I left, with 2 teeth ground down, a temporary bridge in place, deep cleanings for my diagnosed gum disease, and expensive antibiotics because at 7:00 PM I didn’t shop around for the lowest cost.

Jeff also scheduled a cleaning and left with a cavity filling and more deep cleaning for his gum disease. (Just last June he had this done in Oregon!) He opted out of having a crown made for a half tooth.

But wait! The RV needed repairs as well. Insurance paid for replacing the door and screen, except for the $500 deductible which Forest River would not agree to cover. (We replaced the faulty door lock twice before a locksmith destroyed the frame and screen to allow us to enter and exit our RV.)

Then we had to replace the protective awning covering the kitchen table/living room sofa slide-out. Heavy highway winds across South Dakota sent the awning roller banging against the RV roof while we were driving.

And finally, the switch on the Fantastic Fan in the bathroom had to be replaced. (While we were in Colorado, the on-off switch broke while the fan was running. Jeff had to climb on the roof and cut the wires to turn it off.)

But wait, there’s even more!

I received a letter from the IRS with a balance due for Jeff’s Affordable Care Act Health Insurance. (No, we didn’t notify our accountant…) I called. I paid online per telephone instructions.

I received a confirmation number. The amount was subtracted from my checking account.

Then I received another notice. I called and gave my confirmation number. I was told that online payments took 8 weeks and to ignore any future letters.

The next letter came registered mail threatening a lien on any property I owned. I called and waited on hold for over 1 1/2 hours. Finally, I sent a letter enclosed with copies of my confirmation number and my bank statement.

Meanwhile, we planned leaving Lake Elsinore in March and had made reservations along the way, traveling north to Port Orford, Oregon. I also paid for a round trip airline ticket, through a 3rd party, flying out of Medford, Oregon to Columbus, Ohio on March 29th in time for my grandson’s 2nd birthday.

Dental follow-ups and Jeff’s medical tests changed these plans! And, because I booked through a 3rd party, I had to forfeit my entire $500 flight out of Medford and book a new one from California.

Oh, I forgot one… Murph needed surgery to remove an ugly growth that suddenly appeared on the inside of his left hind leg. While he was “under” he also had 9 teeth pulled. (5 years ago he had his teeth cleaned under sedation… go figure!)

So, you get it now? Our days were so gloomy, depressing, and financially draining.

We desperately needed a silver lining to our cloudy luck… A rainbow with a pot of gold would do nicely!

The rainbow appeared but not the pot of gold to help pay for everything. So… we did the next best thing. We took to the hills and stopped to enjoy the gift of Spring!

The following photos are from Walker Canyon off the 15 where the hills are alive with California poppies.

More Lemonade Days

Stopping to Enjoy Spring

Today we chase more sights of Spring – new life, new color, new views, new hope of renewal – at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve in Murrieta.

This is my favorite picture of all:

Look at theses puddles of tadpoles!

And the mountains with their shrinking snow caps…

Lesson learned today…

Love life. It’s only because of these rocky times that we can fully enjoy standing in the sun.

Can You Tell Me How to Get…?

How to get to Jernigan Street

Jeff gets local news updates on his phone. Imagine our surprise when we hear about an accident on the corner of Lakeshore Drive and Jernigan Street!

Jeff “googles” his surname on the maps app and there it is.

Of course we have to check it out! It’s a short dead end street off of Lakeshore Drive heading away from Lake Elsinore.

But it makes Jeff Jernigan jump for joy!

Tenaja Falls

Murrieta, California

A relatively easy and beautiful hike deep in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness in the Cleveland National Forest, the trailhead to Tenaja Falls is off the beaten path. There are 3 cumbersome approaches to the Falls.

  • One involves hiking in from the Morgan Trail and the Bear Canyon Loop. Depending on where you put in, this entails either a 3+ mile hike one way or a 6+ mile workout one way. Not today.
  • Another involves driving in 15 miles off the Ortega Highway on the South Main Divide. We decide to take this route when we leave.
  • The 3rd approach is off Clinton Keith Road, about 5 miles south of the Santa Ana Ecological Reserve.

We choose Door 3, I mean the 3rd choice. From Clinton Keith Road we turn west on Tenaja Road past large homes with sprawling fenced-in yards and horses. But soon the the 2 lanes of paved highway narrow into a 1 lane long and winding road of crumbling blacktop and potholes. We encourage our little Scion IQ to keep on going.

About 5 miles later we turn right again and carefully chug along for 5 more miles.

Confident now that our car is going to survive the road conditions, I sit back and look for wildflowers.

We park the car and approach the trailhead.

A hundred yards later, we sign in.

And continue…

(I remember driving past Fisherman’s Camp. Jeff and I were so encouraged and grateful to see other cars parked in a lot off the long, rugged, and winding road. Until then we felt all alone in a misty wilderness.)

Then suddenly our easy-peasy trail becomes a bit tricky. There’s a creek to cross!

Jeff steps, wobbles, and jumps. I step, wobble, and crawl from rock to rock.

So grateful for not slipping and arriving on the other side with dry shoes and socks, I take delight in the flowers and budding plants applauding my accomplishment.

Soon the trail bends to the left and we catch glimpses of the Falls.

(It turns out that these glimpses are the best opportunities to photograph the Tenaja Falls, unless you want to scale the rocks. No, thank you. But our lack of adventure did not deter the handful of younger others seeking a slippery adrenaline rush. Oh, the irony… The rock nymphs crave thrills and I crave safety and pictures. But I don’t want any injuries preventing me from living my wandering gypsy lifestyle! Call me gutless… but I am still crazy 😜.)

A sharp turn to the right and we cross the source of the 150 foot cascading Falls, a trickling brook.

(Shh… There’s someone sleeping in that hammock!)

And then, to avoid the slushy muddy trail, we put our adventure hats on as we carefully make our way over these rocks to the top of the Falls.

The best photo I can capture here is of the long and winding road through which our little car led us, at last, to the trailhead.

This zoom-in from my iPad also captures the last leg of the trail to the source of the Falls. Look to the right in this photo.

I decide to take the designated trail back and I am glad I did. I discover that my grandson, Oliver was here! Not really, but there are goldfish crackers scattered on the ground. (Now, Ollie loves crackers of all sizes, shapes, and nutritional benefits… And when his father is in charge for the weekend while his mother is away… Well, you can connect the dots… Actually I had just talked to my son and Ollie was devouring a lot of goldfish crackers. Please don’t tell Ollie’s mom!)

Soon after the goldfish spill, I encounter the slushy and muddy part of the trail and swiftly pass through with less than a dozen steps. (The person in the hammock has still not stirred!)

More wildflowers greet me.

(Can you spot the butterfly above?)

And then, unnoticed before…

How on earth a car could have ever driven in here is beyond me!

Oh no… the creek crossing again approaches!

I can’t do this again! I look for a shallow passage to wade through. Nothing looks promising in either hiking boots or bare feet. So, Jeff hops, skips, and jumps (not really) and I step, crawl, and slush through the creek. With soggy socks and shoes, I reach the other side and take one last picture.

Back in the car, we head back in the opposite direction toward the Ortega Highway.

The closer we approach the Ortega Highway,

Lake Elsinore comes into view…

Seeing a rainbow is wonderful, but finding a waterfall after a drought is extraordinary!

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O…

 O is for Oliver and Ohio

I flew to Columbus, OH on March 29th for my grandson’s 2nd birthday. My son, Brian, and daughter-in-law, Jen, and I had been planning Oliver’s party long distance.

After discussing various themes, Jen and Brian settled on the Alphabet. Oliver really enjoys books. He chooses his favorites and brings them to you. Then he turns around and settles himself in your lap so that you can read them together.

But recently Oliver has discovered the letters of the alphabet. Amazingly so, he can identify both upper case and lower case letters!

So, his birthday theme started to take shape.

The brunch menu centered around the letters of his name…

2017-03-31 13.25.00

Orange juice

Lemon scones

Idaho herbed potatoes and tomatoes

Vanilla waffles and a Veggie side of asparagus


Rashers, aka, bacon

The decorations were easy… ABCs everywhere!

2017-03-31 13.23.06

2017-03-31 13.23.26

2017-04-01 09.51.54

2017-04-01 09.53.04

Ollie woke up to a paradise of letters. You would have thought he had won the lottery! He pointed, laughed, covered his face with his hands in disbelief, and started identifying all the letters on the walls.

The guests started arriving:

  • Opa, Mimi, and Aunt KeKe (Brian’s Dad, Step-Mother, and Step-Sister)
  • Aunt Julie and Cousin Caleb (Jen’s sister and nephew)
  • Grandma and Grandpa (Jen’s parents)
  • Aunt Jessica and Uncle Steve (Jen’s sister and her husband)

Grammy L (me) and Uncle Andy (Brian’s brother) were already there since we both flew in from out of town.

Unfortunately some of the family could not attend Oliver’s 2nd birthday bash. Uncle Brad (Julie’s husband and Caleb’s Dad) had to work as fireman/EMT responder. Papa Jeff was back in California taking care of our dogs, Casey and Murph. Uncle John and Aunt Amanda (Brian’s brother and sister-in-law) had moved to Dublin, Ireland. Funkle Tim and Thom (my brother and brother-in-law) couldn’t drive in from Warren, Ohio.

We visited, ate, and played a game of sorts… Each guest answered 15 multiple choice questions about OUR ONE and ONLY OLIVER. Did you notice the alphabet alliteration here?

The winner, Aunt KeKe, received a recent 4×6 candid photo of Oliver in a magnetic pouch to display on the refrigerator. But of course no one went home empty handed. Each family unit received a set of magnetic ABCs!

Then Oliver, with Mom’s help, opened his gifts. Ooohh, he kept saying!

2017-04-01 12.25.23

He even looked at his cards with Mom… so precious. At one point he walked over to Caleb to share a gift with his cousin. And then when Oliver started clapping his hands, everyone roared with laughter.

Clothes, toys, first games, a zoo membership, shoes, plush “animals” from books, a mint collection of coins, alphabet cards and books… No doubt about it… This munchkin boy loves books!

2017-04-01 12.37.36

Finally, Oliver had one last gift to open. Another shirt… yeah! But Ollie wasn’t paying attention. And I have to admit, neither were the rest of us until we read the message on the shirt.

2017-04-01 12.40.55

That’s right! Brian and Jen are expecting their second child, due to arrive the beginning of October! What a surprise to all of us and what a clever way to announce it to the family!

2017-04-01 12.41.32

I captured some cute moments at the party…

…Spending time on Uncle Andy’s lap, reading books and pointing to his head when he sees a hat. (Even after Andy left, whenever he saw these pictures he exclaimed, “That’s Andy!”)

2017-04-01 13.42.14

2017-04-01 13.42.40

…Ollie cuddling with Thidwick, the big-hearted Moose, and Little Critter. (Later he strapped these onto his John Deere riding toy and pushed them around the house!)

2017-04-01 13.55.49

…Reading with Grandpa. (Look at those big smiles of joy!)

2017-04-01 13.59.37

…Dad, Mom, and Ollie reading the book from Aunt Amanda and Uncle John, O is All Over. (John wrote and published this book!)

2017-04-01 19.49.43

Happy birthday, Oliver! You are Loved!

2017-04-01 13.07.04

The Letters in My Neighborhood

 ABCs All Around Me

Inspired by Oliver’s alphabet birthday theme, I am embarking on a new “I spy with my little eye” (or i) adventure of finding all 26 letters in my environmental surroundings. Actually, I’ve wanted to do this for a long long time, ever since discovering Stephen T. Johnson’s unique book, Alphabet City.


Johnson captures each letter of the alphabet as it occurs naturally in the urban setting of New York City. I tried to do the same in park trails and forests but with only limited success.


So, I expanded my surroundings and now I am working on finishing this project.


As a teacher, librarian, organizer, filer, writer, reader, children’s book collector, and now Grammy L, the alphabet has served me well. So, it is no surprise that ABC books have always delighted me with their simple concept represented in creative and colorful ways… from alliteration to zany rhymes.

Some of my other favorite titles include:

A My Name  is Alice by Jane Bayer and illustrated by Steven Kellogg…


This clapping beat and jump rope chant is alliterative … A my name is Alice and my husband’s name is Andy and we come from Alabama and we sell apples

Alligators All Around written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak…


Another simple yet awesome alphabet account abounding with alliteration.

This gang of green gators brings giggles entertaining elephants, having headaches, and making macaroni… (Amazon editorial review by Emilie Coulter)


Of course Dr. Seuss’s ABCs is an amazing alliterative alphabet book with rhythm and zany rhymes!


And a perfectly pitched predictable pattern… “Big  O little o, What begins with O?” 


Old Black Fly by Jim Aylesworth and illustrated by Stephen Gammell…


The following refrain repeats throughout this rhyming alliterative romp of a feisty fly wreaking havoc in 26 different ways one day:

Shoo fly! Shoo fly! Shooo


The Handmade Alphabet by Laura Rankin…


Each letter of the alphabet is represented by the corresponding hand-shape of American Sign Language holding a familiar object  starting with that letter.


Q is for Duck by Mary Elting and Michael Folsom, illustrated by Jack Kent…


Why? Because a duck quacks.

This alphabet guessing game promotes critical thinking while learning about some basic animal facts. It’s just clever and fun!



Tomorrow’s Alphabet by George Shannon and illustrated by Donald Crews…


A is for Seed, B is for Eggs, C is for Milk… The seed is tomorrow’s Apple, the eggs are tomorrow’s Birds, the milk is tomorrow’s Cheese. This clever book emphasizes future possibilities depicted with realistic full-page illustrations.


Alphabeasties and Other AmaZing Types by Sharon Werner and illustrated by Sarah Nelson Forss…


Each illustration is creatively and realistically designed in typography using the first letter in the animal’s name. Werner and Forss are graphic designers at Werner Design Werks in Minneapolis and the creators of this children’s book about typography. Their website describes Alphabeasties to a T (get it? Groan…)

Blocky or small, thick or tall. Roundish, slopey, fancy or dopey. Letters look different in all different places, that’s because they have different typefaces. wdw.com


But my very favorite ABC book of all is The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg!

Karen K. Radtke from the Milwaukee Public Library wrote the following review for School Library Journal:

…an alphabetical morality play in 26 acts. Each sculptured letter is the subject in an action-packed tableau enacted on a sedately curtained stage. Here is a preview of coming attractions. A was in an Avalanche, B was Badly Bitten, C was Cut to ribbons. Children can try to guess what action has occurred, thereby increasing their vocabulary and the fun, or they can turn the page and read the text, or better yet do both. This clever romp resembles old vaudeville theater with one curious act following the next. The Y is even yanked offstage by a crook. …While the younger crowd may be able to guess some of the verbs that Van Allsburg illustrates, this is more an alphabet book for older children, who will enjoy guessing what heinous act is being foisted. amazon.com

Can you guess what happened to E and G?


San Juan Capistrano

The Mission

The ruins of the Mission of San Juan Capistrano are just across the Ortega Highway from Lake Elsinore.

The Spanish mission was founded by Franciscan friars when Las Californias was a colonial territory of Spain from 1768-1804. It was named for San Giovanni, a Catholic saint and priest from the town of Capestrano in the Province of Abruzzo, Italy. (en.m.wikipedia.org)


John was born in 1386. His father died when he was quite young and his mother valued his good education. He studied law in Perugia and later was appointed governor. His high ethical standards and commitment to justice earned him a renowned reputation. While mediating between 2 warring cities, however, he was thrown in jail where he received God’s call and became a Franciscan in 1416. He studied theology under St. Bernardine of Siena and later helped him reform the Franciscan order which was growing corrupt. John earned the respect of secular leaders across Europe who often sought his counsel. At 70+ years, he planned, led, and executed a crusade to defend Europe from Turkish invaders, earning him the nickname, the soldier saint. He died from the plague in 1456. His feast day is commemorated on October 23rd, the birthday of my son, Andy. (legatus.org)

According to missionsjc.com, the Mission’s Museum website, Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, a Spanish missionary and Franciscan padre, came to California in 1761. Further details from gocalifornia.about.com explain that he and Father Gregorio Amurrio were sent to what is now Mission San Juan Capistrano to say Mass and establish a mission.

After constructing an arbor, hanging 2 bronze bells from a branch of a nearby tree, and erecting a cross, Father Lasuen consecrated the grounds on October 30, 1775.  Within a few weeks, however, the founding padres and soldiers were summoned back to San Diego where a mission had been attacked and a missionary murdered. But before leaving, the 2 founding missionaries buried the original bronze bells. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

The historical marker on the premises preserves the Founding Document.

A year later, Father Junipero Serra returned to re-found Mission San Juan Capistrano and excavated the buried bells which were permanently mounted in 1791. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

A chapel, later named after him, was built in 1782.

Not only did Father Serra celebrate Mass here, but it is the oldest building in California which is still used today as a mission parish. (en.m.wikipedia.org.)

Here is a closer view of the elaborate pulpit:

This is the side altar dedicated to St. Joseph:

Along both sides of the walls are 14  paintings of Jesus on the day of his crucifixion, known as the Stations of the Cross. The day we visit is Good Friday and one couple is seen here stopping at each station to say selected prayers and reflect upon the final sufferings of Christ.

The goal of the Mission was to expand Spain’s territories while spreading Christianity to the Native peoples of California. Led by Franciscan friars (padres, priests) and Spanish soldiers, the colonial outpost would become a center for learning and training for the  Acjachemen, the indigenous peoples living here.

Below is a picture of a Native American communal grinding stone found on the premises.

The indented bowl shapes held the grains that were pounded down by pestle-like tools. (Can’t you just imagine me in a past-life with several other women gathering under this shady spot to work and gossip?)

After converting to Christianity, the Native peoples would be called Juanenos. They received new names after being baptized,  learned to speak a new language, adjusted to new social customs, were taught new skills, and lived under a new set of rules, one of which was to not leave the grounds without permission. (missionsjc.com)

Founding a mission was no easy task.  The Spanish government and Catholic Church provided funding for the first 5 years, after which the mission was expected to be fully self- reliant. So, besides their theological role, the Padres had to master new job titles, such as: teachers, architects, farmers, ranchers, supervisors, accountants, musicians, builders, and medics. (plaque on site)

Below are some museum models of the Padres’ rooms:

Note the shadow on top of the wall just right of center. The most beautifully simple and rustic crucifix is there…

When Spain granted permission for the founding of a new mission, a group of 4-6 soldiers, known as an escolta, was assigned to protect the mission and its Padres. The soldiers lived in a cuartel separate from the main mission compound. (factcards.califa.org)

By 1794 over 70 adobe structures were built to accommodate the growing population of the Mission. Some still stand today in the oldest residential neighborhood of California. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

In 1806 over 1,000 people were living at the Mission and raising over 10,000 head of cattle. That same year “The Great Stone Church” was completed.  Unfortunately this magnificent church collapsed during an earthquake in December of 1812.(missionsjc.com)

Within a year a brick bell wall was built, with salvaged bells from the wreckage, between the remains of the stone church and the Mission’s first chapel. (en.m.wikipedia.org) Today this courtyard is known as the Sacred Garden.

I didn’t mean to ramble on so. There is so much history here to digest and reflect upon, such as, were the indigenous peoples converts or slaves? But I will leave these thoughts for a later time…

And I haven’t even shared the pictures of the beautiful blooming grounds yet or the historic downtown district! Stay tuned for San Juan Capistrano, Part  2.

San Juan Capistrano Part 2

The Mission Grounds and Beyond

Before leaving Mission San Juan Capistrano on its early 12 noon closing on this Good Friday, I capture these beautiful pictures of the flowering grounds:

A block away from the Mission is the Los Rios Street Historical District, the oldest neighborhood in California.

According to the historical marker, Native Americans of the Acjachemen Nation lived here before Mission San Juan Capistrano was established in 1776. In 1794, 40 adobe structures were built for the newly converted Native Americans, 3 of which still remain.

Today most of the homes  along Los Rios Street are wood-framed buildings of  board and batten built between 1887 and 1910. (plaque on site)

San Juan Capistrano’s Historic Downtown is an eclectic mix of private residences, cottage businesses, museums,

a park…

…with butterfly gardens,

an 1894 Santa Fe Railroad Depot…

…still providing Metrolink and Amtrak service,

and a lot of history!