Over an Overpass in a Yellow Surrey, Oxnard CA

Surrey on the sidewalk

The sight of the yellow canopied two person surrey parked out front of our hotel lobby brought us relief. All we had to do was rent it at the front desk, hop in, and start roaming around Oxnard, CA via pedal power.
The day before, we left our home in the San Francisco Bay Area excited to start on our weeklong vacation in Southern California. During the first few hours of the drive down we soon discovered mounting traffic delays were holding us hostage from enjoying our vacation.
Our estimated five and a half hour drive became an agonizing eight hours. Our cold-hearted GPS continually announced 15-minute increments being added to our ETA.
So, we weren’t eager to get back in the car upon reaching our destination. A surrey was the perfect mode of transportation for us. The surrey fit two people side by side on a bench seat, four wheels guaranteed our stability, and we each got a steering wheel.
I turned my wheel and tried pedaling, but the surrey seemed just to be listening to John’s steering. I looked at the mechanics behind our wheels and saw that his was hooked up to the steering and mine was decoration only. My right side foot pedal was bent, making it hard for me to keep my foot straight.

Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard CA

After a little parking lot practice, we pedaled to the harbor front path running in front of our hotel and condo complexes lining the harbor. A friendly maintenance man driving a golf cart slowed down so we could pass. A jogger, people walking their dogs, a girl in a stroller, smiled at us as we cheerfully made our way along the shaded waterfront.

Breathing in fresh sea air, jointly propelling our little cart, yachts bobbing in their berths, John finally smiling, we made it, we were finally on vacation.

A quarter of a mile later, we neared a monumental obstacle, Channel Islands Boulevard overpass linking to the other side of the harbor.
We approached the traffic intersection. My first thought was to stay on the sidewalk, but it was too narrow for the surrey. A single bike rider came toward us and could tell from my furrowed brow and hands on my hips that we needed some assistance. He told us that the lane we were in was the bike lane, we wouldn’t have figured it out otherwise because the bike lane signs were on the other side of the overpass.
So we pushed the surrey up over the overpass hump, got back in at the top and rode the brakes down. While on the other side of the harbor we stopped at Channel Islands Maritime Museum. Our surrey dutifully waited for us outside as we explored inside. John was delighted to see that they have an impressive collection of maritime ship paintings depicting dramatic sea voyages and battles going back to the 17th century.
As we pedaled our way back to the hotel, it was high noon in the beach town, with warm beating sun overhead. John was sweating…a lot. He stopped cycling for a moment, and suddenly I was tasked with taking up his slack, which I couldn’t do for long. I think he was trying to show me just how hard he was working to move us both.
Back over the overpass, we went. This time when we reached the top, John wanted to take a selfie from the summit as we were quickly going downhill. I had to remind him that we were on the road, with cars and didn’t want to do something dumb just for a selfie!

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Affordable Southern California Vacation Spot Hides Behind Its Name…Oxnard?

Channel Islands Beach, Oxnard CA

This year my husband and I celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary. Of course we’d have loved to jump in a plane and flown off to some exotic locale. But with time and financial restraints we had to be a little less lavish in our summer vacation planning. I wanted to go somewhere warm, on the ocean and far enough away that we’d feel like we really “went” on vacation.

I pulled up Google Maps and ticked off all the California coastal towns we’d visited together – Mendocino, Bodega Bay, Carmel, Monterey, Morro Bay – until I scanned down to the Santa Barbara area. The hotel prices seemed a little high to sustain us for a full week. I looked around at the nearby towns – Ventura sounded familiar which was next to Oxnard. “Hummm what’s going on in a place called Oxnard?” I thought as I compared hotel prices, beach access and ocean proximity. Between the two towns, I found a nice harbor front hotel for a medium price per night in Oxnard – all requirements met.

When I told my husband John where we were going for our ten year anniversary, he set down the laundry he was folding, looked at me with disgust on his face and asked, “Oxnard?” like I’d lost my mind.

“Hey, it’s really not as bad as it sounds,” I said defending my decision. It’s got to be the words “Ox” and “Nard” together that raise eyebrows. I mean if I said we were going to “Ventura” nobody would screw their face up over that.

Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard CA

So, I have to admit I became a little nervous I’d made the wrong decision after we got off Highway 1 heading into Oxnard. We’d passed up Santa Barbara’s blue ocean views, brown sandy beaches in the foreground, and outline of the distant Channel Islands breaking horizon sight lines. Acres of flat farmland then barren sand dunes surrounded the road as I thought to myself “this can’t be all there is out here.”

Breaking free from the rural and lonely landscape, we arrived at the vibrant Channel Islands Harbor alive with restaurants, yacht clubs and boaters. Our hotel was on the peninsula which divides the harbor into three prongs. It was dinner time when we arrived. The open late Toppers Pizza we’d eat at within the hour was all aglow in red and gold lights like a Broadway show. Checking in to our modern hotel, the evening breeze wafting through the remaining balmy warmth of the day, I felt reassured that Oxnard would provide everything I wanted in a vacation destination.

Enjoying Channel Islands Beach, Oxnard CA

Over the next few weeks read about our Oxnard adventures. I’ll share stories about exploring Southern California right here in this blog. Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen and shades for a fun time under the sun!

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All the Books and Movies You Could Ever Want with “Library on the Go!”

I bought a new cell phone last month. In my world, this is news because I only upgrade when forced. Texted images were constipating my old phone, making me miss receiving some of my messages. I am pleased by the sleek technology of my new phone. The first thing I did was hook all my email accounts up then gave a brief thought to what app I would add next. After Facebook, I loaded “Library on the Go!” from the San Mateo County Library system.

“Library on the Go” has so many useful features: online video streaming, research databases, and e-books just to name a few. What I love the most is being able to search for a book or DVD (as I’m out and about) and clicking “hold.” My order is sent to the Peninsula library where my item is located, someone pulls my choice off the shelf, and then ships it to my local library where I pick it up. So easy, so convenient and so FREE!

If you’re researching a topic, binge-watching every Jane Austen movie adaptation, or reading a book series, search your library system (not just your branch) and check out the material for free. Just think about how much it would cost to buy all the DVDs and books you’d like to watch or read in a year. If there’s a good chance you won’t re-read or re-watch them – then why not check them out from the library? Now that I have the “Library on the Go!” app I’ll be tempted to check items out more often.

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Nature Stakes a Claim on San Jose’s Historic New Almaden Quicksilver Mine

Casa Grande, New Almaden
Casa Grande, New Almaden

Look closely at the rolling green hills of the Capitancillos Ridge on the southern end of San Jose, CA. At times the peaceful landscape is jarred by large pieces of rusting machinery, remnants of California’s first mine. No, gold wasn’t found in them there hills but mercury aka quicksilver. The element was used in the gold and silver mining processes to separate the precious metals from crushed ore. Lucky for the ‘49er gold rush crowd, operations to extract quicksilver from San Jose’s New Almaden mines began in 1846 a few years before the gold frenzy.

Almaden Quicksilver Park
Almaden Quicksilver Park

On our way to find out for ourselves what’s left of the 170-year-old New Almaden mine, my husband and I pass multiple new housing developments on previously rural farming land. I remembered reading that the local reservoirs contain high levels of mercury making the fish unsafe to eat. I wondered at the decision to build new homes in the area and if the residents had to be mindful of mercury exposure.

Street View of Casa Grande
Street View of Casa Grande

The suburbs transition to fields, as we take New Almaden Road off the expressway toward the forested community of historical homes nestled between Alamitos Creek and the rising hillside. Entering Casa Grande, a three-story mansion which was home to the succession of New Almaden Mine managers, our imaginations go back in time and deep underground. Antique furnished parlor, library and drawing rooms give a sense of the activities of those who lived there.

A very knowledgeable docent met us as we toured the home and made our way to the Quicksilver Mining Museum located inside Casa Grande. The interpretive museum and docent answered our questions about the mercury mining process. Examples of red cinnabar ore mined deep within the earth are on display. The process of filling tall slender flasks with liquid quicksilver after cinnabar is heated to separate mercury and sulfur is depicted. Black and white photographs of the miners hauling ore and squeezing on the lifts that took them on their decent hundreds of feet underground cover the museum walls.  Visitors catch a glimpse into what mining life must have been like.

Water tower behind Casa Grande
Water tower behind Casa Grande

Back outside we stroll through Casa Grande’s lush green yard to look up at its swaying palms and clear blue sky. Then we started down the street on a section of the 1.6 mile historic home walk that loops around Casa Grande and the Alamitos Creek. Although historic, the colorful homes circa mid- 1800’s  with white picket fences and built with a variety of materials: brick, adobe, wood are all private residences. We walked along a length of original brick sidewalk while reading the informational markers in front of each house. Soon we felt at risk of becoming Peeping Toms with residents clearly going about their day. We decided to get back to the car and see more of the area by road.

Barn at Senador Mine Trail
Barn at Senador Mine Trail

Driving around the perimeter of the Almaden Quicksilver Park I spotted rusting mining equipment jutting up from the treetops at the Hacienda park entrance. We continued along the wooded drive passing the Almaden Reservoir and recently opened access to Mt. Umunhum. Then wrapped back around the hills and entered from McAbee Road closest to the Senador Mine. Walking on the wide shaded path, we passed an old wood barn near the park entrance.

Senador Mine Furnaces
Senador Mine Furnaces
Closer look at furnaces
Closer look at furnaces

About a half mile into the walk we found the concrete chimney remains of the Senador Mine. Three crumbling furnaces where cinnabar was once roasted stand, a perfect dystopian backdrop. Markings of the past are everywhere along the park trails, from covered ore cart rails, foundations of buildings or strikingly majestic ruined equipment. I wonder at the natural beauty of the hillsides and its hints of a long forgotten internal apocalypse.

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Visit 100 Years Ago Today at History San Jose – Part 2

San Jose’s Pacific Hotel

After exploring the Trolley Barn, we discovered our pancake breakfast had worn off. We walked down the wide street of San Jose’s History Park wondering if we could order up a hot dog for lunch. Turning a corner, we faced the Pacific Hotel, a replica building that grounds visitors with a sense of what the city of San Jose originally looked like. The first floor of the hotel houses O’Brien’s Ice Cream Parlor. O’Brien’s a local favorite for candy and ice cream from 1868 through the mid-1900s. Since it was the only food-related establishment in sight, we walked into the white counter, mirrored, air-conditioned shop.

What’s for lunch? Ice cream!

I asked the ice cream server if there were any other places serving food in the park and the answer was no. So I went ahead and ordered a hot fudge sundae for myself and a chocolate milkshake for hubby. We ate, a little guiltily at first, but finished our sweet treats trying to remember if we ever had a lunch like this before.

Electric Light Tower

Back outside in the warm afternoon sun, we set out to explore the rest of the park’s extensive grounds. The replica Electric Light Tower catches visitor’s attention rising above the park. John photographed interesting geometric designs looking up through it. The original was erected in 1881 at a busy downtown San Jose intersection and was quite a spectacle then.

As we continued down the block, we met up with Rosie the Riveter across the street from the replica 1869 Empire Firehouse. Rosie looked like a real person from afar. I thought she was checking out the firehouse but discovered she’s a statue.

Rosie the Riveter across from Empire Firehouse

The dark wood paneled Stevens Ranch Fruit Barn at the back of the park is a museum sharing Santa Clara Valley’s history as an orchard and farming community before its transformation into Silicon Valley. Next to the barn are a few samples of migrant worker one-room houses giving an idea of what living conditions on area farms was like.

Historical homes of founding San Jose families were moved to the park. The preserved homes help tell the story of the families that used to live in them. Some of the structures are furnished to re-create what life was like during the period of the home. Other homes are sponsored by cultural groups displaying cultural relics and exhibits. We peered in windows, walked through homes, and peeked in backyards. It dawned on me that we were amongst the highest concentration of outhouses in the Bay Area, maybe even the entire state of California. Little wood structures – painted similarly to the home they sat behind – covered rickety wood benches with centered cutout.
Closing out our trip to San Jose’s History Park we stopped by the print shop on the way out. A docent and member of the printer’s guild spelled my name backward and upside down demonstrating typesetting. She showed us how a few of the printing presses ran leaving us in awe of how time intensive (and dangerous – squished fingers?) printing used to be.

It’s really amazing how much history is available to explore in one place – San Jose history, California history, transportation history, immigrant history and much more. Activities happen throughout the year featuring different aspects of the park. Come once to explore all of the buildings, and then come again to focus on just one area of interest, if you can narrow it down that is!

Find visitors information for San Jose’s History Park here.

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Visit 100 Years Ago Today at History San Jose – Part 1

Associated Gasoline Station

Recently my husband and I were looking for something to do that would divert us from our everyday life. We couldn’t go great distances for our getaway but we could go back in time. How’s that done? You may ask.

I was pretty sure that San Jose has a collection of old buildings open for touring. We looked into it and confirmed that a section of Kelley Park houses San Jose’s History Park . After a big pancake Saturday breakfast we were ready to visit history.

History Park’s main entrance at the end of Phelan Avenue opens up to a wide pedestrian-only tree lined street – huge wood barn on the right and historical homes on the left. We veered right toward the crusty Associated Gasoline station and the blacksmith shed with early farm tractor out front. Taking in the scene by snapping pictures, we spun back to the Trolley Barn.

Electric Horseless Carriage
Electric Horseless Carriage

Caught Up in the Trolley Barn

Trolley Barn volunteers – train and trolley enthusiasts – greeted us and shared their wisdom about some of the vehicles found inside.

14 Car Batteries and Charging Station

The 1914 electric-horseless-carriage caught my attention. I was amazed that a car from so long ago runs on 14 car batteries (no gas) and has the capability to be re-charged. I did “know” that different car manufacturers tried out different fuel sources – electricity being one of them. But I’d never seen a car with a carriage inspired frame filled with 14 car batteries before. And it works!

Vintage San Jose Trolley
Vintage San Jose Trolley

The barn houses several vintage trolleys that volunteers preserve, display and give rides around the park on. We got to check out a 1930s era streetcar, with a guided demo on how to start it and clang the bell to get pedestrians off the tracks.

Later in the day we rode the outdoor track around the perimeter of History Park. The car we were in was open air at the ends – nice for warm San Jose days – while the middle of the car is covered.

Steam Engine
Steam Engine

I highly recommend the Trolley Barn to car, train or trolley buffs. Don’t miss their special Transportation Day celebration held on Father’s Day every year. All the cars and trolleys – that are able – are taken out for a spin.

Cable Car Ride
Cable Car Ride

Catch up on our adventure at History Park next week: Ice Cream for Lunch at O’Brien’s, Wild West to Orchards and Housing Cultural History – all covered in Part 2.

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Getting to the Top of Nob Hill Ain’t Easy – San Francisco, CA

Powell Street Cable Car, Photo by Eva Barrows

Nob Hill, a San Francisco neighborhood that rises 376 feet in elevation at a 25 percent grade is not easy to get to. The top of Nob Hill is home to silver baron, James C. Flood’s 1886 mansion and properties of other San Francisco elites past and present. No moat or portcullis needed to keep the riff-raff away, mounting the hill itself is deterrent enough.

The past two years I’ve attended the San Francisco Writers Conference held at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel perched at the top of Nob Hill. Reluctant to drive myself into the heart of the city I’ve experimented with different methods of transportation to the conference. Each method is a strenuous adventure.

Nob Hill Views Down Mason Street, Photo by Eva Barrows

Via MUNI Bus

Surfacing from the Powell Street BART station into a rainy cityscape, I attempted to track down the MUNI bus that would take me to the top of Nob Hill. With a bus number in mind from my review of the online bus schedule, I could not find where it stopped. I stuck my head inside the door of another bus loading passengers and asked that driver where to catch a bus that went up the hill. She directed me back across the street giving me another bus number to find.

Rainy View from Mark Hopkins Hotel, Photo by Eva Barrows

Pouncing through puddles I arrived at a bus shelter where the rain continued to come down. After a ten minute wait, the bus came and I crowded into the back door. I slogged my way to the front to pay not wanting to get in trouble for fare dodging. Before I put my money in, however, I asked the driver if he was going to the top of Nob Hill. He said, nope. He let me off at a corner where another bus that did go up the hill would make its stop. I waited under the canvas awning of a storefront amongst other commuters. The awning became heavy with rainwater and unleashed a wave of water on top of our heads.

Soaked and impatient I decided to walk up the hill myself instead of waiting for the phantom bus. I was running late and needed to get to my post at the conference. One leg lunge after the other I slowly pulled myself up the incline. Huffing and puffing like I did hiking Lower Yosemite Falls, embarrassed by my out-of-shapeness. Claiming victory at a turtle’s pace, I made it to where the sidewalk plateaued. Out of breath, outerwear drenched, shirt soaked in sweat, I arrived at the conference.

Powell Street Cable Car Turn Around, Photo by Eva Barrows

Classic Cable Car

The next day I decided to try catching the cable car up Powell Street which runs directly to my destination. The rain clouds had dispersed to reveal a sunny blue-sky Saturday morning. I bought my seven dollar ticket to ride and got in line with hundreds of tourists. The day before, (when it was raining) nobody was in line to ride the cable car. That was when I should have taken it. I wound up watching ten cars be turned around at the end of the track to take brimming loads of people up the street. As I waited I began to strategize. I was running out of time, I was going to be late for the conference, again. I noticed that people were hopping on the cable car further down the street. But only a few people were being let on at a time. It seemed that I had a greater chance of getting on sooner if I just stayed where I was. Finally, I had my turn to ride the wooden antique cable car clanging up the hill.

Fairmont and Mark Hopkins Hotels, Photo by Eva Barrows

By Car – Hired or Self Drive

Okay, technically I didn’t hire a car to take me to Nob Hill for this year’s conference. I asked my husband to drive me there. Luckily he felt sorry for me and dropped me off across the street from the hotel. I would say by far this is the best way to get to Nob Hill, stress-free (for me) and super direct (no puffing up any hills.) I had some time to watch cars start the descent down Mason Street. Kids in back seats screamed as parents lifted their feet off the break downhill. Remember that? Hands in the air like you’re in a roller coaster, and WEEEEEE, the car goes sharply downhill? Yeah, that was fun.

San Francisco City View from Mark Hopkins Hotel, Photo by Eva Barrows

If you do drive yourself to Nob Hill time-limited street parking and pricy garage parking are available. Also, consider using Uber or taxi to arrive at your swanky destination.

Top of Nob Hill at Sacramento and Mason, Photo by Eva Barrows

Hoofing it aka Walking

I really really really don’t recommend walking to the top of Nob Hill. It can be done but if you’re going up there for a fancy dinner or want to impress anyone with your appearance do – not – walk. I watched as other people struggled to get to the top of the hill. A woman who appeared to live in the area replaced a trip to the gym with a hike up Nob Hill. Wearing workout clothes and clinching a bottle of water, she slowly made it up the street. Her face was pink and sweaty, she gulped for air. An old man plodded up the Mark Hopkins block and paused to hold a trunk of a tree to steady himself. A young woman walked her Labrador up the same block, the dog’s haunches visibly swayed as he climbed.

InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel, Photo by Eva Barrows

My Recommendation

The most comfortable and direct method to surmount Nob Hill is to have someone drop you off. But this can be cost prohibitive if the person taking you isn’t related. The second best way is taking the cable car during an off-peak time. Otherwise, you’ll have to drive yourself mentally prepared to pay for a parking garage.

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Writers on a Boat: Eireene Nealand and Eva Barrows Talk Writing (Part 2)

Eireene Amongst Boats
Part 2 of 2 Part Series

The sun pours in from the cabin windows and from the open hatch above. A cooling breeze wafts into the cozy space smelling of salt and seaweed. The bark of harbor seals, the “ting ting” clang of various ropes hitting against wrapped sails, and the ever-present seagulls squawk overhead. Eireene and I share our thoughts on writing tucked inside the boat docked at Half Moon Bay California’s Pillar Point Harbor.

The Nest: Tales from Bela Rechka, book written by Eireene Nealand, Photographs by Megan Lueneburg, available on Academia.edu for download

Uncommon Approaches to Structure

Eva: I like to base my writing around dialogue. Just focusing on what people would say and then tightening it up and trying to make it sound funnier. I don’t really have jokes, it’s just the situation that’s humorous.

Eireene: Did your family go back and forth a lot?

Eva: Sometimes we’d have a banter.

Eireene: I don’t think I ever learned that.

Eva: You didn’t banter?

Eva Writing in a Boat

Eireene: Yeah, I’m too serious. (laughs)

Eva: But you had music? All of your family members know how to play instruments?

Eireene: Yes. I think it helps to have that. I really write by the sounds of language a lot. So I think I paid a lot of attention to songs. As I write I’m hearing the tones and the sounds. A lot derived from poetry. I love overhearing conversations.

Eva: Right I saw some of your snippets.

Eireene: I’m trying to figure out what to do with the snippets.

Eva: So are you going to take those and make a story?

Eireene: I need to figure it out but I think that’s actually going to be my style. It’s going to have to do with how many conversations I’ve ever heard. Cause I’ve been doing it for years. I have giant files of people’s conversations.

Eva: Do you go back and look at them?

Eireene: Every now and then and I’ll modify them a little bit. And I’ve also learned a lot about storytelling. People are so good at telling stories out loud to each other like in coffee shops. I’m amazed people just visualize the whole landscape and they have a good sense of pacing.

Eireene: Nothing happens in the one little snippet but then you put another snippet next to it…

Eva: It’s like a collage.

Eireene: I like that one little story will connect to another story and deepen it. One sort of becomes a metaphor for the other one.

Eva: You’re kind of like a reporter.

I think a lot about structure. I worry about it and I think about it. And that happens until I know the big structure.

Eireene: I’m more of an arranger. Same with the historical stuff. I just get open to facts and mash them together. I think a lot about structure. I worry about it and I think about it. And that happens until I know the big structure.

Eva: I think of structure as beginning-middle-end, if it flows, if it makes sense, but you have a different scope of structure.

Eireene: I like the detours.

Eva: Do you usually know what the meaning is when you start or does it appear?

Eireene: By the time I’m done writing it’s totally something else. I usually have the beginning and the ending and I stick with those things pretty strongly. Then I spend years writing the middle.

I like the detours.

Eva: So what do you want to get that down to? A couple of months?

Eireene: I’m learning so much. There’s a structural thing about how the beginning and ending are related that you just have to figure out. You can actually, hopefully, this is how I plan to save time in the future —you can sit and think about that a lot then know.

Eireene Nealand’s stories, poems and translations have appeared in ZYZZYVA, Chicago Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Poetry International, Catamaran, Sidebrow, WHR, elimae, and The St. Petersburg Review, among other places. Her work has received multiple awards including a Fulbright Fellowship in Creative Writing, an Elizabeth Kosova Fellowship, and an Ivan Klima Fellowship. To her degrees from UC Berkeley and San Francisco State, she recently added a Ph.D. in Literature from UC Santa Cruz, where she studied proprioception, a neurobiological phenomenon that allows us to see textures and shifts. She currently lives in Santa Cruz, where she writes and translates Russian, Bulgarian and French prose and poetry.

Eva Barrows is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer. Eva writes about local places, people and events on her website www.evabarrows.com. She founded the online literary journal Imitation Fruit www.imitationfruit.com in 2007 and has enjoyed promoting fellow writers and artists ever since. Her writing has appeared in the California Writer’s Club, Fault Zone Uplift anthology, and the San Mateo County Fair’s, Carry the Light fair winner collection.

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Writers on a Boat: Eireene Nealand and Eva Barrows Talk Writing

Pillar Point Harbor, Half Moon Bay, CA
Part 1 of a 2 Part Series

The bay sparkles. Clear blue skies overhead and fishing boats flit across the calm water. Eireene Nealand and I take over her sister’s green sail boat docked at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, CA.

We tell ourselves that we’re actually going to do some writing once we get inside. Eireene takes my bag of crab cake sandwich and fries so I can keep my balance stepping onto the back of the boat. She assures me I won’t fall in the water.

Eva Getting Used to Boat

She unlocks the cabin hatch, slides it back and moves the ceiling panel so we can make our way inside. We sit across from each other on padded benches with a multi-use pop-up table between us. Eireene heats up water in the micro kitchen lining one side of the cabin. She sips tea and I eat my lunch.

The boat gently sways back and forth. I take out my digital voice recorder. She agrees to an impromptu interview. For a little context, Eireene is a poet, short story writer, European language translator and holds a Ph.D in Literature and MFA in Creative Writing. So, I have lots of questions for her as I’m in awe of her resume.

I start with the basics.

Siege of Leningrad and the Office Breakroom

Eva: What’s your favorite type of project to write?

Eireene: I like writing weird connections with history. I wrote a story about Lake Ladoga the Siege of Leningrad. It was about a girl in California who felt she was suffering then she learned about the Siege of Leningrad and was like “Wow my life’s not so bad!”

I like writing weird connections with history.

Eva: Do you fantasize about Eastern Europe?

Eireene: I did fantasize about the Communist Revolution when I was younger. But then I went and visited and found it wasn’t so romantic.

I did a whole story about that. It was really great that people had a big dream and the big dream had a lot of awful things to it. But how much worse would it be if there was no big dream and there was just awfulness?

Eireene: What do you write about?

Eva: I try to write about something that’s happened to me. I blow it out of proportion like a Seinfeld episode.

Eireene: Do you stay away from politics?

Eva: I keep it casual. In, The Birthday Committee, which is a funny story, I have a character in the office breakroom and she’s watching CNN and it shows a bomb going off in Syria. It’s not really a comment on Syria it’s a comment to the story. It’s a war zone in the breakroom.

Eireene: What kind of settings do you like to write about?

Eva: Things I’m familiar with. A lot of my writing has been about things that’ve made me mad. I want to go back and reinvent the moment. Become empowered in some way. It’s never a big deal. It’s just something that’s bothered me. The settings are small and familiar, the breakroom at work, the college campus out in the back fields, a coffee shop confrontation.

Eireene Not Reading

A Family of Characters

Eireene: It’s interesting a lot of other people have written about my family but they do it in a completely different way than I would do it. They draw on all of these hippie stereo types.

Eva: How many articles have there been?

Eireene: There’s been two major ones about the idea of a hippie family. I think they do a really good job. A better one than I could do. I can’t get at real life directly. It seems like you’re closer to real life.

Eva: I write about my husband a lot. Like things he does that influence me. He’s usually like “oh god you’re writing about that?” I’m not writing deeply about myself, kind of expressing myself.

He’s the other character in my life.

Eireene: I notice a lot of writers have this break-through moment when they fall in love and write about the other person.

Eva: But I’m not even gushing about him though.

Eireene: Yeah you’re just tracking his behavior. You’re noticing him a lot because you’re happy. One day I aspire to write that kind of story.

Eva: He’s the other character in my life.

**More of our discussion will be posted on the blog next week. Come back to find out how two different writers approach structure in writing.

Eireene Nealand’s stories, poems and translations have appeared in ZYZZYVAChicago Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Poetry International, CatamaranSidebrowWHR elimae, and The St. Petersburg Review, among other places. Her work has received multiple awards including a Fulbright Fellowship in Creative Writing, an Elizabeth Kosova Fellowship, and an Ivan Klima Fellowship. To her degrees from UC Berkeley and San Francisco State, she recently added a Ph.D. in Literature from UC Santa Cruz, where she studied proprioception, a neurobiological phenomenon that allows us to see textures and shifts. She currently lives in Santa Cruz, where she writes and translates Russian, Bulgarian and French prose and poetry.

Eva Barrows is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer. Eva writes about local places, people and events on her website www.evabarrows.com. She founded the online literary journal Imitation Fruit www.imitationfruit.com in 2007 and has enjoyed promoting fellow writers and artists ever since. Her writing has appeared in the California Writer’s Club, Fault Zone Uplift anthology, and the San Mateo County Fair’s, Carry the Light fair winner collection.

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Abundant Holiday Spirit at the Dickens Christmas Fair, Daly City

Christmas Carolers, Photo by John Barrows

They say it’s the smell of roasting chestnuts, the scent wafting through the busy streets of recreated Victorian London at Daly City’s Cow Palace. The warm sweet smell floats on the crisp ocean air even before we make it into the building. Later in the day, a friend would offer me a chestnut to taste. Eager to try it, due to the advertised aroma, I was disappointed when the nut turned out to be ordinary.

Eva, Hard Cider and Ghost of Christmas Present, photo by John Barrows

Besides the delicious smell, the Dickens Christmas Fair transports visitors to another time and place through many theatrical methods. One of the most obvious conveyances is what people are wearing – royal officers in uniform, Queen Victoria parading in a silk ball gown, unsettled Mad Hatter, and everyone else working at the fair in mid-1800s period correct costumes.

Hundreds of noses are deep inside newspapers

Another striking visual is the use of newspapers. When entering the fair, you’re given a newspaper detailing all of the festive events. Hundreds of noses are deep inside newspapers…a scene that’s extinct nowadays, only to be revived at the Dickens Fair.

Friends at Dickens Fair

Guests are welcome to wear whatever fanciful outfits they’d like or not get dressed up at all. I’m a half-hearted costumer myself. I’ll wear historical dresses I’ve sewn to costume dances but I don’t feel like wearing a hoop and corset all day at the fair. There are too many practical things to consider: clearance to pass people on the London streets, sitting comfortably at a crowded picnic table, and especially maneuvering in tiny bathroom stalls.

A little effort was all we needed to feel like we belonged

My husband and I opted for hybrid costuming. He wore a tuxedo coat, top hat and black jeans. I wore a Victorian-inspired velvet jacket over my normal clothes. A little effort was all we needed to feel like we belonged at the fair.

Mark Twain, Drawn by John Barrows

Last year at the fair, I noticed a parlor room with art easels set up for drawing. My husband, an accomplished artist, would have lots of fun participating in something like that. So he brought his backpack full of art supplies and took part in two different life drawing sessions. A string of interesting characters sat for the artists: Mark Twain and a sprightly green fairy to name a few. Unique participant activities like this are sprinkled throughout the London buildings.

Posing for Artist, Photo by John Barrows

My new partner confirmed that I did, in fact, know the choreographed waltz well.

While my husband was occupied with art, I ran off to Fezziwig’s Warehouse accompanied by friends who met us at the fair. Fezziwig’s is a large dance floor where costumed dancers and performers lead guests in vintage dancing. A live brass band, Bangers & Mash, play polkas, waltzes and other dance music. Free of my husband I got the chance to dance the Congress of Vienna with another partner. My new partner confirmed that I did, in fact, know the choreographed waltz well. It felt strange however dancing in pants when I’m used to a swaying dress!

Weird Science, Photo by John Barrows

My friend and I got in to see the much anticipated Saucy French Postcard Tableaux Revue. The show was an interesting mix of history lesson and naked people. If you’re over the age of 18 and want to get a seat for the French Postcards pick up your tickets early at the telegraph office – seating runs out quick!

Dark Garden Corset Shop, Photo by John Barrows

When Postcards ended for the evening, Cow Palace event security was out in full force. My trio was actually escorted to the exit during the sweep of the building. My husband was surprised at how fast the day went and couldn’t believe it was already time to go. Every trip to the Dickens Fair brings opportunities for new experiences – activities to try, characters to meet, shows to watch. But something that always remains constant is the wish for a very “Happy Christmas.”

Charles Dickens, photo by John Barrows

Plan to Go:

Weekends through December 17th, 2017

10am – 7pm

Cow Palace in Daly City

https://dickensfair.com/

 

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