Public Library Indispensable For Career Changer

Belmont Library, Photo by Eva Barrows
Belmont Library, Photo by Eva Barrows

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I forgot how great the public library is. When I didn’t have to research books and periodicals for college essays anymore I pretty much stopped going to the library. I bought books online and in bookstores, rented videos from Blockbuster, then Netflix and Amazon Prime. When my bookshelves overflowed with books I didn’t want to keep, I’d donate them.

I couldn’t continue with this lavish lifestyle of buying and dumping books when I started on my new journey to becoming a full time freelance writer. I found myself suddenly needing stacks of books to educate myself on my new business. I had to find out how to set up a WordPress website, how to get into the freelance writing marketplace, a refresher on journalism, how to write marketing copy and so on. I’d go broke buying all of these resources. So I drove the few blocks to my local library.

Statue of Readers, Photo by Eva Barrows
Statue of Readers, Photo by Eva Barrows

The local branch provided a great start to my quest for knowledge. It has current technology and business books. For a wider range of books related to the craft of writing, I turned to the online catalog that is connected to all of the other libraries in San Mateo County to order books from other branches to fill my knowledge void. The ordered books show up at my local branch in about a week.

Besides all of the technical how to books the library has, it also provides a comprehensive collection of current movies, TV, music and audio books. Listen up people! Go to your library and rent the recent release movies for free. Ok, not all libraries are alike. I’ve heard that some public libraries charge for renting new movies but it could still be a better deal than streaming them. Within the last few weeks I’ve checked out the current movies: Suffragette, Man Up, Brooklyn and the new Bridget Jones all for free…

I’m grateful to the San Mateo County Library network for assisting me in learning my new trade and keeping me entertained at the same time.

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Exploring Ralston Hall from the Outside, Belmont CA

Ralston Hall, Photo by Eva Barrows
Ralston Hall, Photo by Eva Barrows

I didn’t grow up in the city of Belmont. I’ve just used it as my closet for the past nine years. You know, roll out of bed, dust myself off, toss on some clothes and coast to work on HWY 280. Travel mug sloshing the coffee that was to get my day in the cubicle started off right – if there is a right way to start a day in a cubicle. So with this daily routine and weekends of slumber, chores, and quick excursions elsewhere, I missed out on most of what Belmont has to offer.

I always knew I lived in a pretty area. I couldn’t miss the rolling hills, brown in summer and green in winter. The scent of forest trees wafting at me as I make my way into Safeway, with reusable grocery bags stuffed under my arm. Ample wildlife meander near my apartment building, deer, skunk and raccoon. These are the obvious characteristics of the city, the ones you don’t have to search for.

Deer on grounds, Photo by Eva Barrows
Deer on grounds, Photo by Eva Barrows

Now that my cubicle has been packed up and sent to another state without me, I’m venturing out into my community to explore its treasures. I live off of a street called “Ralston” and gather that this is a big local name. There’s a mansion, Ralston Hall, located at Notre Dame De Namur University, that my husband and I tried to find once but we went around the wrong portion of the school. Fellow history buffs told me that they were married at the Hall, so it has to exist.

View from Ralston Hall, Photo by Eva Barrows
View from Ralston Hall, Photo by Eva Barrows

This time, I used Google Maps to confirm Ralston Hall’s location, then drove down Ralston Avenue and arrived within minutes at the mansion. The fact that I live only a few minutes away from the estate of William Ralston, the man who had much to do with the shaping of San Francisco during the Gold Rush, makes me appreciate my surroundings even more. Desire to know the history of where I am pushes me to discover and enjoy what remains of the past.

Creek, Photo by Eva Barrows
Creek, Photo by Eva Barrows

My visit was on a clear crisp January day between rain storms. Water runoff filled the creek that runs through the property, creating a soothing water feature. Parking was easy because it was the university’s winter break. Children were at recess, playing games and running around at the neighboring grammar school.

Ralston Hall from side, Photo by Eva Barrows
Ralston Hall from side, Photo by Eva Barrows

I took my time walking around the front of Ralston Hall. The building is closed to the public because it will be undergoing seismic retrofit. I’m the type of museum visitor who wants to see every room of a historic home. I want to jump the velvet rope cording off the staircase and check out the upper-level bedrooms. Yes all forty-eight of them. So, I’m sad that I can’t go into the mansion at all.

On my trip around the grounds I peer, to the best of my abilities, into any window with curtains pulled back. I glimpse two fireplaces, wood flooring and a mirror hanging on the wall. That’s as good as it gets for interior snooping.

Grotto, Photo by Eva Barrows
Grotto, Photo by Eva Barrows

I pass by what appears to be an original brick wall with white painted wood posts at top, sheltering a memorial grotto nestled next to the carriage house. It’s a peaceful retreat to the left side of the mansion. On the right side of the mansion there’s another relaxing area. It is wooded with a variety of trees, several benches for rumination, and a hedged walkway. I spy a family of deer in repose next to the hedge. They closely monitor my movements for signs of danger.

The most ornate object I find around the mansion is a decorative urn that is taller than I am. The faces of Greek Gods and an angry dragon protrude from around the urn. Purple flowers overflow from the top. I’m disturbed to find that there is a map of the university posted right next to the artifact. It’s difficult to take a picture of the urn without getting the map in the shot as well.

Urn and Ralston Hall, Photo by Eva Barrows
Urn and Ralston Hall, Photo by Eva Barrows

The university is everywhere around the mansion. I can’t help but wish there was a time buffer around Ralston Hall. I want to see it in all of its glory inside and out. Maybe in a few years the Hall will re-open and I will be able to explore the grand ballroom and opera boxes for myself. Until then I am content that the mansion is standing and there’s hope for its future survival.

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Little Free Library: Neighborhood Destination, Belmont CA

redwoodcitylfl
Redwood City LFL, photo by John Barrows

I feel somewhat isolated living in an apartment complex, nestled alongside other complexes built on the side of a hill in Belmont, CA. I love to walk but am challenged when I walk out my front door. The hill I’m immediately confronted with is the neighborhood equivalent of Yosemite’s Half Dome. So rather than walk around here I often drive to places that are flat to get my exercise.

Yesterday my husband alerted me to the fact that there are random tiny libraries popping up in local neighborhoods. He found one in Redwood City, CA in someone’s front yard. It’s a box with a sleek modern look mounted on a post. The sides are clear so you can get a great look at the books inside!

He recalled seeing another one of these structures in our neighborhood, just across the busy main street that cuts through the hill and then back onto an off street. My interest was piqued. I looked the spot up on Google Maps. It wasn’t too far away, walking distance, I hoped it was flat terrain all the way.

I put my raincoat on as it has been a drizzly couple of days, eased open the umbrella and took off across the street. The wet sky, smell of cut grass and forest trees made me think I was tramping into a mystical world.

Eva's Dream Home, photo by Eva Barrows
Eva’s Dream Home, photo by Eva Barrows

I passed construction workers building a foundation in a pit where a new home would soon sprout. Only half of the homes had sidewalks, so I had to walk in the street most of the way, making the path seem even more rural. I ambled by my dream house and swooned. It reminded me of something out of Anne of Green Gables.

Belmont LFL, photo by Eva Barrows
Belmont LFL, photo by Eva Barrows

Finally, I approached something on a post that wasn’t a mailbox. I had found the Little Free Library in someone’s side yard. I felt funny standing there in the street gawking at this tiny structure. I took a few pictures of it and hoped no one was watching me from a window as I checked it out. I opened the little door and smelled the wood interior. There was a book in there by Sarah Vowell that I’ve read, The Wordy Shipmates.

I didn’t take any books because one, I have way too many books already and two I didn’t bring a book to exchange. To participate in the Little Free Library, you’re supposed to exchange one of your books for one of their books so that they don’t run out of books! It’s not enforced but still I would feel bad if the library was depleted.

In my search for the Little Free Library, I not only found the structure I was looking for but I also discovered a whole other area of my neighborhood that happens to be on flat walkable land.

Do you have a Little Free Library in your neighborhood?

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