Seal Point Park Rehab, San Mateo, CA: Guest Post at Wild. Here.

Catch my writing this week on the Canada based Wild. Here. blog that discovers nature in urban areas. I explored Seal Point Park on the San Mateo, CA shoreline and found that the park has an unexpected history. Come enjoy a beautiful California spring day with me at this intersection of urban life and nature.

Wind Tuba Sculpture, Photo by Eva Barrows
Wind Tuba Sculpture, Photo by Eva Barrows
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Reasons to Return: Mesa Lane Steps, Santa Barbara CA

Whenever guest blogger Yvette Keller’s dog isn’t walking her on the beach, she writes, reads, and narrates audiobooks. As the owner of Mesa Steps Consulting, she designs training content from her home office and recording studio located in Santa Barbara, CA. This is the life she has always wanted, and she feels extremely fortunate to have arrived there. So fortunate that she regularly wonders, “How did that happen?”

 

Pacific Ocean and Santa Cruz Island from The Mesa Steps - Photo by Yvette Keller
Pacific Ocean and Santa Cruz Island from The Mesa Steps – Photo by Yvette Keller

It is an old saying that change is the only constant. Recently, it seems to me like the rate of change has swerved away from the natural flow of time like a Tesla powered by a flux capacitor. When political and social upheaval comes my way, I venture out to not-too-distant neighborhoods, parks, and historical sites. They rejuvenate me and I’m reminded that I control my internal stability and my personal awareness of time.

Olieo Dog on Mesa Steps Beach - Photo by Yvette Keller
Olieo Dog on Mesa Steps Beach – Photo by Yvette Keller

One of my favorite places to go is my local beach. I visit it over and over again to survey the eternal serenity of the Pacific. It is calming to know that though it is changing (and not all for the better) the ocean isn’t going anywhere.

However, thanks to wind, sand, and waves, the beach is never the same twice–a perfect reason to return. Beaches change dramatically from season to season and year to year. I believe my visits help me become more accepting, more comfortable with any constantly shifting landscape.

Can you spot the away team in this alien vista? Photo by Yvette Keller
Can you spot the away team in this alien vista? Photo by Yvette Keller

This is an image of the same stretch of beach. The California Current is constantly moving particles along, from North to South. Sometimes there is sand. Other times, not so much. Winter storms can often take our sand south to L.A. or San Diego. That’s the best time to go tidepooling and beachcombing for treasures.

Beach glass, agates, and shells, oh my! - Photo by Yvette Keller
Beach glass, agates, and shells, oh my! – Photo by Yvette Keller

Because there is always something to see, bright summery afternoons or silent, misty mornings are equally good for skipping down 247 steps to arrive at the secluded paradise of Mesa Lane Beach.

Yvette and Olieo at the Top - Photo by Mark Bessey
Yvette and Olieo at the Top – Photo by Mark Bessey

The trick is getting back up again. Cardio anyone? Built in 1982 to provide pedestrians with safe beach access, Mesa Lane Steps might be the narrowest and most vertical “park” in Santa Barbara. A friend of mine once told me that I could easily train for the Bright Angel Trail at The Grand Canyon by walking up and down the steps a few times every day.

Upper Stairs - Photo by Yvette Keller
Upper Stairs – Photo by Yvette Keller

Getting down is easy, but leaving Mesa Lane Beach requires a level of athleticism that typically excludes families and tourists. Locals (including students from the nearby Santa Barbara City College) and surfers tend to be the only ones brave enough to face the many wooden, metal and concrete steps it takes to get home at the end of the day.

new_stairs_mark_bessey
Yvette at the Bottom – Photo by Mark Bessey

Less regularly, the infrastructure that provides beach access also changes. In 2012, the old steps at the bottom had become so badly damaged by high tides and surf that they were replaced. In the image above, I’m standing in front of the new metal steps. The beautiful picture below, by my friend and artist David J. Diamant, shows the original stairs at sunset.

Old Wooden Stairs at Sunset - Photo by David Diamant
Old Wooden Stairs at Sunset – Photo by David Diamant

Olieo dog loves running on the beach more than any other activity.

Dog in the Fog - Photo by Yvette Keller
Dog in the Fog – Photo by Yvette Keller

Getting outdoors and being with my family, on the beach, no matter what else in the world changes, is one of my favorite ways to stay healthy and happy, inside and out. Do you have a favorite beach you escape to?

Sunset Playtime - Photo by Yvette Keller
Sunset Playtime – Photo by Yvette Keller

 

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Enjoy Spring at Ardenwood Historic Farm: Fremont, CA

Train Station, Photo by John Barrows
Train Station, Photo by John Barrows

Ardenwood is a historic East Bay farm that’s got crops, animals and wood barns. It was established in the mid-1800s in the Fremont area and is now part of the East Bay Regional Park District. I’ve been to the farm several times and it offers a different experience every time I go. Once I went to Ardenwood with my Girl Scout troop for an Alice in Wonderland tea, another time I toured Ardenwood with my groom-to-be as a possible wedding location and another time to take part in a Renaissance Faire. This past Saturday my husband and I happened to be in Fremont and stopped by Ardenwood to enjoy the beautiful spring day – clear blue sky no sweater required.

The parking lot for visitors is nestled between vegetable field and cow pasture with the road into Ardenwood passing through the organic crop fields. The produce grown on the land is sold at local farmers markets. In the fall, Perry Family Pumpkin Patch fills the fields with pumpkins and spooky decor for Halloween fun.

Free Range Chicken, Photo by John Barrows
Free Range Chicken, Photo by John Barrows

The entrance fee to explore Ardenwood varies depending on the season and there are additional fees for park attractions such as the railroad and historic farm house tour. Check the park district website for current fees. The 1.5 mile railroad with historic wooden rail cars will re-open to take visitors around the farm, along with tours of the Patterson House in April.

Sheep, Photo by John Barrows
Sheep, Photo by John Barrows

Farm activities take place throughout the day to keep up with all the work that needs to be completed. Special demonstrations happen on the weekend such as animal appreciation like “Meet the Chickens” where visitors learn all about chickens. Victorian crafts like embroidery and felting with sheep wool taken from sheep on the farm are also available to visitors. Saturday, March 18 would be a fun day to stop by the farm to watch Ardenwood’s sheep get their spring haircut on Sheep Shearing Day!

Baby Lambs, Photo by John Barrows
Baby Lambs, Photo by John Barrows

Animals are all around at Ardenwood. Cows greet visitors from their pasture near the entrance. They’re expert at hanging out and relaxing in the shade. The rustle of free range chickens hunting inside an overgrown bush can be heard as the birds scratch at fallen leaves to uncover yummy bugs to eat. While other chickens roam through garden boxes and under wheelbarrows. A few turkeys and peacocks squawk throughout the farm contributing to the farm ambience. Sheep with matted hair wait for the upcoming shearing day as they graze through new grass. A few baby lambs learning how to walk hobble in their newborn pen. Newly hatched chicks huddle together in spacious chicken hutches.

Just Hatched! Photo by John Barrows
Just Hatched! Photo by John Barrows

Ardenwood teaches kids about animals and farming through games and interactive displays. A game mounted to the barn door has a spinning arrow that lands on a picture of an animal that children are tasked to identify on the farm. Another activity that caught my attention is a large wood cutout of a 3D cow with attached udders children can “milk.” Water sprays into a milk pail when the teats are tugged on. Another interactive activity was simply using an antique water pump. Kids and adults use their biceps to bring water up out of the ground. A few dads faced off against each other to show their young how water pumping was done.

Patterson House, Photo by John Barrows
Patterson House, Photo by John Barrows

The nucleus of the Ardenwood estate is the Patterson House built in 1857. The home is referred to as a farmhouse but I’d call it a mansion. It was closed for tours at the end of last year, Christmas decorations still adorn it, but will reopen in April. Visitors can enjoy the large veranda and sit in the shade of the house soaking up the serene park and garden setting. Ornate Victorian woodwork details decorate the exterior of the building along with varied rooflines and interesting architecture. A separate cook house and outhouse accompany the main home.

Ardenwood offers both serene settings and activities to get visitors involved with the workings of a farm. History buffs, animal lovers and recreation seekers won’t be disappointed with a visit to Ardenwood.

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Screenwriters Hook Up With Hollywood at San Jose Cinequest

Hammer Theater Center, San Jose CA, Photo by Eva Barrows
Hammer Theater Center, San Jose CA, Photo by Eva Barrows

Cinequest’s ad on the Visit San Jose website flashed at me as I was cruising upcoming city events. I clicked over to Cinequest’s site and found that the 13 day film festival just began, running from February 28 to March 12. The festival will honor actors Jane Lynch and Fred Armisen for their bodies of work and screen 100 feature films, 150 short films, and virtual reality films in San Jose and Redwood City. During my internet search I discovered that the film festival was hosting a one day “Writers Celebration” for the budding screenwriter. I was lucky enough to find out in time and attended this past Sunday.

The Writers Celebration kicked off at the San Jose State University campus with two panels of entertainment industry insiders. The first session was a how to pitch and pitch challenge with movie and television talent agents. The winners of Cinequest’s screenwriting competitions pitched their story ideas in front of the agents and audience. Some presenters had flair and kept the early morning crowd’s attention while others went long losing momentum. The panel advised writers to stick to the main character’s story line in a pitch and highlight how the secondary story lines propel the main story. They also encouraged writers to be concise and use action to keep the audience engaged.

The second act of the Writers Celebration was dedicated to discussing the business side of getting into the entertainment industry. The four person panel included Carol Leifer, standup comedian and television show comedy writer. Carol wrote for the television show Seinfeld where she pitched story lines for the character Elaine. Carol advised that women are needed in the writers room because men can’t tap into issues that women face: such as “skinny mirrors” (where department stores create optical illusions) and Korean manicurists that speak about you to their co-workers in front of your face. Carol carries a notebook around with her at all times to get these funny observations documented. Since her reminder, I’ve jotted a few gems down myself in my “funny file.”

Cinequest Banner, Photo by Eva Barrows
Cinequest Banner, Photo by Eva Barrows

The other members of the panel work in acquisition for production companies, Sierra Affinity (Entertainment One) and Grindstone Entertainment Group (Lionsgate). They named a few film and screenwriting competitions their companies scout for new projects: Sundance, Nicholl Fellowship, UCLA and SXSW. They also troll script rating systems, Blacklist, Script Pipeline and Ink Tip. The panelists advise that when a project is submitted to them they pay attention to catchy email titles and intriguing loglines, and if those aren’t there they don’t read the query.

The finale of the Writers Celebration festivities was a recognition ceremony at the San Jose Hammer Theater Center for the Cinequest screenwriting competition winners. Approximately forty screen writers filled the stage with ten writers in four categories: full length feature, short film, 60 and 30 minute teleplays. Some of the winners got to pitch their log lines to the audience and the audience voted for their favorites.

The Cinequest Maverick Spirit Award was given to accomplished director and screenwriter Jason Reitman. The award celebrates Reitman’s bold story telling choices in his work. Being the son of a successful director, it was important to Reitman’s to find his own path. When he started making movies he entered them in film festivals and caught industry attention. Reitman’s experience with film festivals illustrates that they are a great place to gain exposure and recognition.

The cost of attending the Writers Celebration at Cinequest, a mere twenty five dollars was well spent. I left inspired to keep up my “funny file” and look for outlets and opportunities for my own screenwriting. I will definitely keep Cinequest on my radar for further exploration next year.

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