Irvine Then and Now: Frances Packing House

In 1916, the orange groves were so bountiful on the Irvine Ranch that a 48,000 square foot packing house was built to process the fruit. The facility was located on the Santa Fe Railroad’s Venta Spur at Shop Road ( now Yale Ave.)



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New year…new camera

So I got this new camera for my birthday last month.

Yesterday was such an extraordinary southern California day, that I decided to take it out for a spin.

I headed to The Sherman Library in Corona del Mar to play with my new toy. 


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Christmas Greetings from James H. Irvine

James H. Irvine (1867-1947) liked to be in charge of things.

Very little left the Irvine Ranch without his fingerprints; including the annual Irvine Family Christmas cards.

So poetry wasn’t his strong suit. 

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Lake Lawn Holiday Memories : Delavan, Wisconsin

Every year we did the same thing.

Two days after Christmas, my parents would pack all of us into the family station wagon and head north from the Chicago suburbs to our annual vacation heaven: Lake Lawn Lodge. It was a ritual so firmly ingrained in Baker family lore, that it was impossible to imagine a year where we didn’t spend December 27th through the 30th on the shores of Lake Delavan. 

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What Dad Really Wants for Christmas

My good friend John Fabris is a good Dad. An excellent dad, actually. 

As a member of the YMCA Adventure Princess organization,  he has devoted much of his precious free time to camp, hike and discover the Great Outdoors with his daughter Jenna. And he’s loved every minute of it. 

John agreed to share his idea for the perfect Christmas gift for all you “Daughter Dads” out there. Pay attention Mom: this is a gift for you too!

Guest blogger John Fabris, and his daughter Jenna

By John Fabris

When I was a kid, I wished my dad played golf. Then when Christmas came, I always would have had an easy gift idea.

My friend Ralph – a regular kid with a dime allowance – always bought his dad a bunch of golf tees or a box of balls. Ralph’s mom could buy Ralph’s dad 18 holes at a nice golf course. That would cost – what? – a hundred or two bucks in 21st-century dollars?

I’m a dad myself now, but I don’t play golf. So my wife and my kids and my parents have no idea what to get me for Christmas.

I tried golf once and it was fun. But I don’t have time for it. Who does? Monday through Friday you have to work. Saturday and Sunday you’ve got chores around the house. Plus it’s your chance to catch up on the work you couldn’t finish at work. Plus maybe pay the bills, watch some football, pick up the dog poop, take a nap, or even pay attention to your wife.

I’m a busy dude.

Frankly, I don’t have time for my kids either.

I know that’s not the right message for Theresa Santoro’s parenting blog. But Theresa was kind enough to let me write in her space today because I have a solution:

This Christmas (or Hanukkah), buy your favorite Irvine or Tustin dad the gift of time with his little girl.

Fun in the mountains! No Moms Allowed!

Get him the gift I gave myself and my daughter Jenna five years ago when we joined the Orange Blossom North Adventure Princesses.

Click over now to the group’s Facebook page – – to learn more about the experience and how to literally give a Holiday Gift Membership.
(“Like” us while you’re there.)

Adventure Princesses is a group, descended from the Indian Guide/Indian Princess program, in which community-based tribes of dads and daughters go camping, earn pins, sing songs, make crafts and – most important – lock the world out. It’s for Irvine and Tustin girls, grades K through 5. We dance, bowl, sleep in tents and cabins, help the less fortunate, get dressed up, get muddy, find mentors and fill our vests with patches.

It’s a group of girls who blossom in the focused presence of their fathers. (I’ve watched meek little angels transform into brave leaders and role models.)
And it’s a group of dads with a lot in common: We work too hard and stress too much. We’re busy at work. Or struggling to find work or to keep our businesses afloat.

Just horsing around

But the thing we have most in common is this: We love our daughters. So the Princess program saves us. It gets our girls on our calendars. We check the monthly meeting schedule. We huddle with our daughters and pick the campouts and events that sound most exciting, memorable or affordable. The girls get excited. The dads pull out their iPhones and block out the dates.

The time arrives. And for a glorious day or two we are swept away with our daughters. We power down our smart phones and realize, “There is nowhere more important to be right now.”

(At this point, since I’m hoping moms are reading this, I should pause and point out: While your little darling and her daddy are off enjoying this gift of togetherness, you, Mom, might just have a couple of days all to yourself. So this is a gift for you too.)

Moms, please don’t wait till next year or next week. We Princess dads are vividly aware how fast our girls are growing up. And on a practical note: You should order this gift membership by Dec. 21 if you want a Welcome Package for dad to open on Christmas.

I’m sure Ralph’s dad always appreciated his golf tees. But THIS, my friends, is a gift that a dad and his daughter will never forget.

Girls just wanna have fun…With their Dads!!!

— John Fabris, Orange Blossom North elder /OCPrincesses

Big Sale at the Big A just in time for Christmas

OK, so Arte Moreno already gave Angels fans their Christmas present with the signings of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson.

But the gifts keep coming at the Angels Team Store, where there are enough bargains to please any Grinch.

….or should I say, a Rally Grinch.

Now through December 30th, all Retro items at the Angels Team Store at the Stadium are 40% off. That includes T-shirts, hats, or jerseys with the “old school” logo.

After all, they need to make room for the new merchandise that will be arriving this Saturday.


Angels Team Store:

Phone: (714) 940-2618
Hours: Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Closed on Sunday except on game days. The Team Store may close briefly prior to gates opening on game days/nights. Team Store hours are subject to change without notice.


Sawdust Festival Winter Fantasy: Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach’s Sawdust Festival, my favorite summertime treat, is all dressed up and deck-out for the holidays. OK, so there are eucalyptus trees towering overhead instead of snowy pines and there’s sawdust underfoot instead of snow. It may be Christmas “California-Style,” but the 21st Annual Sawdust Festival Winter Fantasy is sparkling with holiday spirit.

I spent the evening, strolling past artist booths, twinkling with lights, listening to holiday music and sipping on hot apple cider to keep away the chill. Over 170 artists display their creations at the Sawdust Festival, many of whom were on hand to say hello. Just like in the summer, the Winter Fantasy gives visitors a chance to get a taste of Laguna Beach’s famed art culture in an informal, relaxed environment.

Santa is on hand. It even manages to “snow” on festival-goers once and awhile. But, by far, the best part of the Sawdust Festival Winter Fantasy is the shopping. Most artists have created holiday themed pieces that are for sale at very affordable prices. Where else can you find beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces of art to please everyone on your shopping list?

I decided that it would be a Laguna Art Christmas this year, and began to pick out unique gifts that matched my loved ones perfectly.  I happily snatched up glittering artisan glass ornaments for $15 each. There were jeweled bracelets, bright beaded key chains, and wooden wine bottle stoppers. I found festive glass plates and Christmas corsages covered in colorful ribbons and delicate, ceramic flowers.

By the end of the evening, I had a heart full of Christmas spirit and shopping bags full of special treasures that couldn’t be found in the local mall.

It’s not too late to find your holiday treasures at the Sawdust Festival Winter Fantasy. There’s still one more weekend to shop!

Final Weekend of the Sawdust Winter Fantasy.

December  9,10, 11. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Admission: Adults $6, Seniors $5, children 6-12 $3. Season pass $9.  936 Laguna Canyon Rd.




Jeffrey Open Space Trail in Irvine: A Trip Back in Time

I recently spent a morning walking the Jeffrey Open Space Trail, the quiet strip of park land that borders the Village of Woodbury in north Irvine. It occurred to me, within minutes of arriving, that this is why I choose to live in this city: when it comes to planned recreational spaces, Irvine gets it right.

It’s always been this way. Back in 1960, when the Irvine Company commissioned architect William Pereira to design the future city, the balance between development and open space was part of the plan. The Irvine Ranch and its 110,000 acres offered an historic opportunity for planners to create a city based on a utopian ideal: improve the quality of life of residents by preserving the natural beauty of the surroundings.

But the Jeffrey Space Open Trail is more than just a pretty place. The mile long trail, which runs along Jeffrey Rd from Irvine Blvd to Trabuco, is a living, breathing history museum. All along the path, informative displays tell the story of Irvine and the people and events that shaped its history. Instead of walking through the halls of a darkened museum, visitors can read of the past out in the fresh air, while enjoying manicured lawns and shady California sycamores.

If you start your journey at the Irvine Blvd entrance and walk south, you will literally take a trip back in time.  Every 100 feet or so, a marker will describe a point on the Irvine history timeline. Ever wonder how the city got its name? Who were the people that lived and worked here? What was life like on the Irvine Ranch before 200,000 people came to call it their home?

One of the most inventive displays on the Jeffrey Open Space Trail is the site where the Irvine Valencia Growers packing house once stood. Built in 1929, the busy packing house was a hub of activity on the Irvine Ranch where oranges were cleaned and processed before being shipped across the country. At one point on the Jeffrey Open Space Trail, the path winds through a “Stonehenge” of original packing house timbers that mark the spot where building once stood. Nearby, another marker shows the location of the Venta Spur of the Santa Fe railway line that once ran through the Irvine Ranch, carrying its produce to market.

I spent about an hour: strolling and stopping, learning about the history of the place I call home. Some facts I knew. Some were surprises. After my visit to the Jeffrey Open Space Trail I left with a greater appreciation of Irvine and its rich heritage. I also found it encouragingly refreshing that a city so enamored with progress and new development has created a space to honor the legacy of its past.




Holiday Happenings: Friday, 12-2-11

Yes, I realize we just finished digesting our turkey dinners. 

Ready or not, the holidays are upon us. Here are a few festive favorites guaranteed to share the spirit of the season.

In the city of Orange: 


The 17th Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony
and Candlelight Choir Procession



Sunday, December 4, 2011
3:30 p.m.
Old Towne Plaza Area

Come and join the City of Orange for an evening of holiday cheer and family fun as we sing traditional carols of the season
with the Orange Community Master Chorale
led by musical director Michael Short.

Our local non-profit groups will provide delcious food and
youth activities for a nominal charge.

In Corona Del Mar:

33rd Annual Corona del Mar Christmas Walk
A Holiday Festival & Community Tradition

FREE to the public
December 04, 2011 11:00AM – 4:00PM
(949) 673-4050 /

The Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce is proud to present the community’s most popular event of the year! This is an absolute can’t miss special event filled with holiday festivities for family, friends, residents and visitors looking for a spectacular way to ring in the holiday season. Each year “The Walk” brings together thousands of fun-loving people into the Village of Corona del Mar for live entertainment, food, prizes and games in true holiday spirit!

If you’re willing to travel to Riverside:

Mission Inn Festival of Lights

Every year, Riverside’s historic Mission Inn is transformed into a Christmas wonderland thanks to millions of twinkling lights. Visit for the evening or spend the night as a holiday treat. Check out hotel specials here.

The Season to Show that Someone Cares.

December 1, 2011

They were already lined up and waiting at the door when I drove into the parking lot. It was a mixed group waiting patiently outside the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa. Elderly men and women were interspersed between twenty-somethings. A bearded man with unkempt hair stuffed under his hat stood next to a clean-shaven man in a tie who was reading a newspaper. A few kids huddled next to their mothers. It was a sunny California day, but there was a chill in the air. 



 At 1:00pm, the doors opened and the hungry filed in. They sat quietly at long tables, waiting for their turn to eat. In keeping with tradition, the elderly ladies were allowed to be first in line. They all moved  through the service line, saying thanks to each volunteer for filling their plate. Then they sat, in the company of others, and enjoyed the comfort of a warm meal. For a few minutes in their difficult day, they were allowed to rest.


 Someone Cares Soup Kitchen has been serving the homeless community since founding philanthropist Merle Hatleberg made her first pot of soup to share in 1986.  Twenty five years later, on any day of the week, over 400 people are served a hot, well-balanced meal in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. For many of the homeless in the Costa Mesa area, this is their lifeline; their daily connection with kindness that sustains them almost as much as the food they receive.

It may seem like an established neighborhood institution like Someone Cares Soup Kitchen would have plenty of benefactors. It’s true, local business like Trader Joes market donate much of the food that is consumed there. But tough economic times have affected not only the visitors who come to the soup kitchen, but the funding sources that keep the doors open. 


“Funding is harder and harder to come by,” says Corey Donaldson who heads up fundraising for the soup kitchen. “We try and stretch the dollars as best we can, but these days we have a challenging time paying the bills like everyone else.”

Donaldson and his “dream team” of volunteers are beginning their 4th annual Holiday Campaign to raise money for the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen. The holiday campaign aims to raise more than $100,000 to feed Orange County’s hungry. In addition to financial donations, Someone Cares Soup Kitchen is also seeking contributions such as socks, warm coats and toys. Every year the Soup Kitchen assembles 450 backpacks for adults and seniors that find themselves upon difficult times during holiday season. Donations from the holiday campaign has allowed Someone Cares Soup Kitchen to fill hundreds of backpacks, host the annual holiday dinner and give away thousands of new, unwrapped toys as well as support the Soup Kitchen’s ongoing programs, including its tutoring center for at-risk kids.

If you’d like to find out how you can help, visit for more information.

Someone Cares Soup Kitchen 

720 W. 19th Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Images courtesy of Suzanne Broughton