#ThankfulThursday: Reflections Upon My First and Second “Tours” of Walter Reed

If you remember, I had written for our Memorial Day article mentioning about a family member receiving treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Now that my family member made it “official” on social media that they are being treated for cancer, I think it is safe to say (at least), that the family member I was referring to all this time is my brother. I just returned from a “second tour” of two weeks (last time I stayed a little over three weeks in May), and I am still amazed and inspired. I wanted to take a moment to share a slice of what I had learned during my most recent trip there.

As always, the medical and support staff at Walter Reed are phenomenal. I feel that my words do not reflect how much I admire and respect all that they do at the hospital for active military and veterans. The medical team working with my brother has been diligent (sometimes over-diligent, but that’s okay). He is still not affected by nausea from the chemo (thank goodness for those newer anti-emetics!) However, he was more fatigued this time around (and lost more hair). Seeing him this way was kind of hard for me. What had kept me up was his attitude through it all. He has kept a positive attitude and, whenever he would go in for an appointment (for the infusion, labs or follow-up with the doctor) he would be like, “Let’s do this!” I am very happy and grateful for the way he has been handling this.

Like last time, we were staying at the Fisher House. This time, however, were a different mix of patients from my last visit. I spoke to a few of them and listened to some of their stories. Between their stories and the stories of my brother, I got a glimpse of active military life. There was one man who was there with his mother – I am going to call him “Joe.” When we – my brother and I – first saw him, he looked like anyone else, except that he was visibly missing the right half of his head. I was amazed that he was able to stand, walk and speak pretty well. Later, when I struck up a conversation over breakfast with him and his mother, and I learned a lot more about him.

About 13 years ago, his convoy was hit by an IED (that’s Improvised Explosive Device). The shock and shrapnel hit him in his head. One of the people in his unit refused to leave without him, despite others telling them to “just go.” He wasn’t expected to survive the night. He was flown to a hospital in Germany, where his mother met up with him. He was alive, but still wasn’t expected to survive very long. He was stabilized and brought to Walter Reed. I am not sure what happened next (they skipped that part of the story), but eventually, he did awaken and was in a wheelchair at first. His medical team remade part of his skull with a plastic-like polymer, so his brain could still be protected (of course). They are here now because that polymer “shield” had gotten infected and they had to remove it. Now, they are preparing to put a titanium one in its place.

Joe can still understand what you are saying and he can keep up in a conversation. Sometimes, if you mention something that strikes a memory in him, he will tell you. He said that his neurologist uses him as an example for his lectures at the teaching hospital. They think that his brain made new connections to compensate for what is lost. He learned to walk on a therapy horse, because their hips move similar to ours when they walk. I then learned that he is blind in his left eye and doesn’t see very well in his right. Sometimes, he has to walk with one arm on his Mother for guidance. He still remembers music/songs that he likes and is re-learning to play the bass guitar (again, I was amazed because the right-side of the brain supposedly controls creativity and music appreciation). The one blessing in all of this, is that he has kept a positive attitude, despite all that had happened. Yes, he had been frustrated at times when he couldn’t do or remember something. No signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) either. Otherwise, he has been pretty happy, he said that he would still enlist, even after knowing that this would happen.

Hearing from their experiences has given me more perspective on things. There were times I would feel down and hopeless. Yet, my brother and Joe still maintained a positive attitude, despite what they are going through. I am definitely inspired and I am humbled by their experiences.

So, my dear reader, I hope that my short story gave you some inspiration and perspective. Again, I realize there are times where we feel overwhelmed and stressed with the tasks of daily living. It may help to try and take a deep breath, then think to ourselves, “This is only temporary; this will come to pass.” Also, it would help to remember that keeping a positive attitude while weathering the current storm can help us emotionally and physically in the end (ex: less stress, less strain on the heart, less emotional toll). I am also a big fan of “talking it out,” because sometimes, by saying it out loud, it helps with the problem’s “release.” Plus, you may get some needed advice and guidance from the person you are discussing this with. There are also crisis hotlines available that one can call or even text – some depending on your area, but most are nationwide. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a list of crisis lines available (in Chicago, they are listed here: http://namichicago.org/en/crisis-lines/), which includes the Suicide Prevention Hotline as well (1-800-273-TALK).

Is there someone that you know or met in your life that gave you as much inspiration as Joe and my Brother had given me? Feel free to share in the comment box below!

–Maeven

Photowalk: Venice Beach at Night

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In my previous post, I shared a video montage of Venice Beach in the daytime. One of my favorite beaches, Venice Beach is home to a diversity of people and culture. The walls are filled with color, the people all beautiful in their own ways, the streets crowded with the hustle and bustle of vendors, tourists, and residents alike. Music is usually heard in the background, from the stalls that line the boardwalk or from street performers trying to get you attention.

But Venice Beach at night? It is a whole different world when the sun goes down.

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The streets that are usually filled by people are empty, with a few stragglers here and there. Shops and restaurants are closed, lacking in color and life. The boardwalk is illuminated only be street lamps that keep people from hiding in entire darkness. Occasionally, a cop car would drive past, keeping peace and quiet at bay for everyone.

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The exact night I went to Venice Beach with my friend MB, California had legalized weed. So you bet yourself supporters are low-key celebrating themselves that night. At one point, I had walked past a group of teenage kids with a cardboard sign that read “We need Weed.”

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If you’ve frequented Venice Beach as much as I had, being in that same place at night time is an eerily interesting concept. You know what you should expect, yet your senses are warning you that there is something lacking: the life, the vibe, the soul that keeps Venice Beach alive.

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MB and I walked up and down the street that separated the buildings from the beach. We found interesting alley ways and took a gander to see what we’d find. We walked past one restroom building and overheard a few men about to start a fight, one side provoking the other. When the cop rolled past, every one was forced to keep their cool. But other than that, everyone just minded their own business. A couple of late night musicians still played music into the night, a handful of couples walking hand in hand maybe trying to walk off the dinner and drinks they just had.

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While I am not going to suggest one explores Venice Beach at night by themselves, I do encourage seeing it at night, bring a few friends, make an adventure out of it. Even though you know it’s the same Venice Beach, the stark contract between night and day is very much noticeable.

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Happy Summer everyone!

 

xo,
Jaja, the forever tourist (IG: @theforevertourist, #theforevertourist)

Let’s talk about life.. and that Drake wall in LA

Hello, everyone! Jaja here, your resident #theforevertourist. I apologize profusely for not being active on the blog as much as I should have. Life happened, and uh, yeah. I’m just so happy that I have my fellow bloggers keeping everything active here. Thanks so much, ladies!

Let’s talk about what I’ve been up to lately.

I started a new job just a couple of months after starting this blog, and that new job basically took over my life! It was a different “career path”, something I never expected to be in, so I wanted to focus my energy into learning more about that. Aside for my new job (that I love so much), I have started a couple of projects here and there as well. Mainly, a vlogging channel on YouTube. As soon as everything’s more streamlined, I’d be more than proud to share that with everyone. Also, when the year 2017 came to be, I only had one resolution, to improve my skills as a photographer. So that’s another thing that took up a lot of my time: going on adventures, taking photos, scheduling portrait sessions, going on photo walks, editing, editing, and EDITING. I was editing photos up the wazoo, y’all.

Anyway, I feel like I’m kind of caught up with most of my projects, so I decided to jump back in the blog. Like I said, I appreciate Maeven and Justine for keeping things running.

So, let’s go back to “touristing” yeah?

When I got my new job, I found myself a photography buddy. You’ll see him occasionally on my photos, coz I make him pose for me too when I shoot random portraits. Since then, we’ve been going on tons of photo walks, mainly exploring Los Angeles. Now I know I consider myself a Chicago gal (not a fan of the absurd summer temperatures here), but walking up and down the streets of Los Angeles gave me a new sense of adoration for the city. Just like that, I started falling in love with the City of Angels. There’s just so many things to do here, and hey, places to eat as well. The best way to see the city is to walk of course.

When my friend GN asked if I wanted to check out “the Drake wall” I gave him a weird look. I have not heard of such a spot downtown.

And then he showed me some photos.

Basically, it’s the Weller Court hallway in Little Tokyo in DTLA. It’s obviously much cooler to see it at night. The hallway is lighted up in neon pink/white/purple. Oh and the lights move too. Of course, I found the place very interesting. It’s literally just a hallway. It takes you from the street to the inside of the court. But of course everybody can see the resemblance of the background from Drake’s Hotline Bling video, which begs the question “How many people actually tried to recreate the video after seeing this hallway?”

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Of course, we didn’t just drive through all that LA rush hour traffic just to take photos of this hallway. We walked a couple blocks down to where the food is! Well actually, we just stopped by Mikawaya, a dessert place in Little Tokyo that carries tons of mochi ice cream flavors. HEAVEN!!

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It was getting late so we headed back to the car. But not before trying some night photography on the street as well. We practiced with moving lights by taking photos of the cars speeding past and by writing using a pen light. I thought it was a fail on my part. I should already know how to do this. But NOPE. I mean, we tried. I felt like my photography skills regressed that night. Hence, the practice and practice and practice.

Well, that’s it for now. I have a few more photo walks to upload and talk about, and I can’t wait to share it with everybody. If you’ve been to any of the places I’ve visited, or you’re planning to go, let me know what you guys think! Have a nice rest of the week everyone!

xo,
Jaja, the forever tourist

Wanderlust Wednesday: California Missions Series: #7 Mission San Juan Capistrano

Today, we feature the 7th California Mission: Mission San Juan Capistrano

 

Hello everyone! For the second mission in this series, I’m going to share my trip to Mission San Juan Capistrano, about 60 miles south of Los Angeles. Located in 26801 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano, CA., this mission is the 7th mission built by the Spaniards, and 19th mission geographically from the north.

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The mission was founded in November 01, 1776. It will celebrate its 240th year in Nov 1, 2016. It was named after Italian saint, St. Giovanni da Capistrano. San Juan Capistrano is also home to the oldest building in California still being used today – Father Serra’s Church built in 1782. Serra established 9 missions and The goal of the mission was to be self-sufficient, that is why livelihood was taught. Farming was the main industry, and animals were raised as well.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is known all over the world for the legend of the return of the Cliff Swallows, told by Father O’Sullivan from the 1920s. Every year, the mission celebrates the legend on Swallows Day on March 19th.

Here is an excerpt of the story of the Cliff Swallows from Chapter 10 of Capistrano Nights: Tales of a Mission Town.

“One day several years ago,” He said (Father O’Sullvian), “I was passing the new hotel at the west side of the town plaza, and there was the proprietor out with a long pole smashing the swallows’ nest that were under the eaves. The poor birds were in a terrible panic, darting hither and thither flying and screaming about their demolished homes.

“What in the world are you doing,” I asked.

“Why,” said he, “these dirty birds are a nuisance, and I am getting rid of them.”

“But where can they go?” I continued.

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” He replied slashing away with his pole, “but they’ve no business here, destroying my property.”

“Then come on swallows,” I cried, “I’ll give you shelter. Come to the Mission, there is room enough there for all.”

“Sure enough they all took me at my word, and the very next morning they were busy building under the newly built sacristy of Father Serra’s church.

(Credit: Website)

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Entrance to the Sacred Garden
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The four Mission Bells

 

 

Bells were crucial to everyday life at the mission. They signal meal times, start of work and religious services, births, funerals, etc. Fun fact: These four bells were all named. Biggest to smallest: San Vicente, San Juan, San Antonio, San Rafael. Not everyone can ring the bells at the mission. Only a privileged and chosen few were assigned this task. On this bell wall, the two smaller ones are still the original ones used from the past. The two larger bells are replicas of the original bells. The two bells fell and cracked when it fell from the 1812 earthquake.

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These two large bells hanging low are the original of the large bells. Since its restoration after the earthquake damage, neither gave out clear tones. They currently sit at the footprint of the ruined bell tower.

img_6206Pictured is an area inside Serra’s Chapel, also known as Father Serra’s Church. This chapel is the only existing structure to date where it has been documented that Father Serra celebrated mass.

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The mission desperately needed a bigger church for everyone that lived at the mission. For ten years, they used the adobe chapel and it no longer served the purpose as there was not enough space. It took nine years to complete the Great Stone Church. But sadly, only six short years after its completion, the tragic earthquake on December 08, 1812 fell to shambles, killing 40 people that attended mass that tragic day. The church was never rebuilt, the priests made no attempt at rebuilding and the ruins from then on served as a symbol to remember the loss of their community.

 

Each mission has their own rich history, their own personality, and that makes me certain that as I go through visiting each one of them, I know that it will really be a learning and enjoyable experience. As much as I enjoy capturing the beautiful scenery of the missions, I also enjoy the reading and the research that I do, because I learn more about their rich history and all the fun facts in between. Go visit a California Mission today and tell us about it!

-Jaja (IG: @theforevertourist)

Resources: Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission San Juan Capistrano,

Wanderlust Wednesday: California Missions Series: #18 Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

Today Wanderlust Wednesday introduces the beginning of the California Mission series.

 

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| Photo |

Usually, when we come across the word wanderlust, some of us think of these amazing, exotic, breath-taking places that are worthy to be in a bucket list. There’s France, Japan, the Bahamas, Hawaii, what have you. One (or should I say 21) of the places that I wanderlust for is the California Missions.

The California missions are 21 outposts, or settlements, that the Spaniards had built along the West Coast, mainly to spread Christianity to the indigenous people in the region. Aside from religion, they taught the locals to grow their own food, raise animals and become more civilized.

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| My friend A |

2012 was when I first heard of the missions. It was really intrigued. Elementary students here are required to do a diorama project and a presentation on a mission of their choice. I looked up the history and the background of these missions, and from then on, I have tried to visit one whenever I can.

I know that this is not specifically Los Angeles, but I thought that I would share my touristy trips to the missions that I go to. Let’s just call this, the California Missions series of Wanderlust Wednesday. If you also happen to be a history buff, and enjoy exploring historical places like the missions, I hope that my posts encourage you into visiting the missions as well.

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Bronze rendition of the Fourth Station of the Cross

For the first in the series, I will share with my trip to Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, located almost 90 miles south of Los Angeles. Located in 4050 Mission Ave., San Luis Rey, CA., this mission is the 18th mission built by the Spaniards, and 20th mission geographically from the north.

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First and oldest pepper tree in California, planted in 1830.

The mission was founded in June 13, 1798 by Father Fermin de Lasuen. It was named for King Louis IX of France and was nicknamed the “King of the Missions”, being the largest mission at 35 acres. The California Pepper Tree (originally Peruvian Pepper Tree, first of its kind planted in the state) was planted in the mission, and a very iconic sight to see.4

The mission is fully functional to this day, and provides services through community programs. One of their facilities include a Retreat Center with day and overnight programs. Even the historic church is still used for early Sunday mass, weddings, and funerals.

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Peyri Court: The court is an inner garden dedicated to Padre Antonio Peyri who guided the development of the Mission from founding through secularization.
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Inner sacred garden, where the public is not allowed to venture into.

If you’re a history fan a road trip fan, I think that the missions will definitely pique your interest. Since I live in the West Coast, I’m taking my time visiting them. But if you’re in town for a week, or intentionally want to make a missions road trip vacation, I think that that’s a great way to see the state of California, close to the coast at least.

Thank you for reading my first mission post of the series! Let me know what you think, and go and check out the rest of the California Missions.

-Jaja

For more information about the history of the California Missions and this particular one, click the links below:
California Missions
Mission San Luis Rey de Francia
Visit Oceanside
Mission Tour