Wrapped in Holiday Magic at Filoli Mansion Woodside, CA

This year I was treated to a completely new perspective of the mansion at night. My husband and I attended the media preview of Holidays at Filoli, where the mansion and gardens are all aglitter with festive holiday lights. Golden lights accentuate the simple elegance of the home’s front entrance.

Filoli has been a daytime getaway for me over the past decade. I was delighted when I discovered that the 1917 home and garden was open to the public and just a ten-minute jaunt away in Woodside, CA. I’ve visited the wooded country estate with family, friends and even stopped by on my own to sit in the sunny garden. I’ve watched the afternoon ocean fog cascade over the coastal mountain tops and have enjoyed a refreshing walk in the garden in the crisp early morning.

This year I was treated to a completely new perspective of the mansion at night. My husband and I attended the media preview of Holidays at Filoli, where the mansion and gardens are all aglitter with festive holiday lights. Golden lights accentuate the simple elegance of the home’s front entrance.

Inside, each room has its own holiday theme, décor and historical stories of the people who lived and worked in the home. Docents gather up visitors in different areas of the house, like the main stairway to talk about changing trends in holiday decorations over the years, and in the kitchen where staff prepared holiday delicacies.

After touring the home, we made our way outside to the patio where oversized golden ball ornaments dangled from tree branches. Conversation fireplaces offered warmth for visitors to get cozy and chat over a hot beverage. Recharged, we walked the English Renaissance gardens transformed by holiday cheer.

Hedges, topiaries, and lawn ornaments are all aglow in red, blue, green and gold lights. Holiday music followed us as we walked around the sunken garden, swimming pool, and out to the rose and herb gardens. It felt intense to walk between the bright rows of golden hedges decorated in lights from the ground to head height. Once clear of the hedges, the holiday lights danced around our feet covering low lying plants.

On our way out, we stopped at the Clock Tower Shop where estate made gifts like hard apple-pear cider, teas and spices can be purchased. Historical and Filoli inspired items are for sale, and other unique items. Plant lovers coming to enjoy the garden can take a new plant friend home with them!

Holidays at Filoli is not just lights and decorations but also special events like evenings with Santa and chocolate decadence nights with See’s Candies wine and chocolate pairings. Visit www.filoli.org/events/holidays for event information and to buy tickets.

Holidays at Filoli is on now through December 30th.

Open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Plus Thursday – Sundays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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Photo-Ready and Social Worthy in Hollywood, CA

OUE Skyspace Live Wall

We ripped off our jackets and tossed our hair back like supermodels as we stepped off the Southwest airplane we had boarded in overcast San Francisco, to arrive in Burbank’s summer heat at the start of our Hollywood weekend. As Editor-in-Chief of FitNFabs Magazine, I was invited by its publisher, Rosalidia Dubon to tag along with her as she prepared for the summer issue release pool party. Rosalidia got behind the wheel of an over-sized sedan and whisked us off to our Airbnb accommodations at the La Belle apartments neighboring the famed Hollywood Tower.

Killer Selfies

Stop number one on our itinerary was lunch at Dream Hollywood Hotel’s rooftop poolside restaurant. I wore a blue shirt dress with flip-flops, and my companion went with a form-hugging burgundy dress. Our table for two looked out on the city streets below and onto the rooftop pool deck across the street. Aromatic planter boxes overflowing with lavender plants lined the low concrete barrier and protective glass panel walls.

As we waited for our lunch order to arrive, Rosalidia said, “Let’s take a selfie!”

Dream Hotel Rooftop Restaurant

Phone at arm-length we took a few pics. In one of them, my smile was too goofy, and in the other I had a low-key bemused look which was good enough to go social. Rosalidia got to work adding virtual eyebrow darkener and lipstick to my face with an Instagram app. I nodded consent when she was done touching us up and out it went onto Instagram and Facebook.

Still not completely comfortable with taking selfies, I had the chance to watch Rosalidia in action as she took selfies after getting her makeup done by a professional makeup artist the next day. Snapping pictures in a booth with perfect front lighting, she kept the phone high above her head and to the side. I’m thinking this helps slim the face and eliminates double-chins and wrinkles.

OUE Skyspace Photo Booth

Social Photo Ops

That night we rocketed to the 71st floor of the US Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles. OUE Skyspace occupies the building’s top floors and offers 360 panoramic views of the LA skyline. A clear slide attached to the outside of the building descends two stories at the height of 1,000 feet. The slide attracts tourists during the day, and a new ultra-lounge with unbeatable views draws adults at night. We were invited to check out the unique digs by a past FitNFabs cover model, singer Ranella Ferrer.

When we arrived and were looking for the lounge, we passed several photo opportunities. There was a recording booth with hanging mic, LA sports memorabilia and an odd psychedelic decorated mailbox to nowhere. Rosalidia struck a Mariah Carey pose in the booth, while I pretended to put a letter in the mailbox commemorated by a super silly Boomerang video.

OUE Skyspace Fairy Wings

We found our way to a staircase that took us down a level to the lounge. A DJ played mid-90s hip-hop/R&B the same stuff that was blasted at my high school dances. Two outdoor viewing decks looked out on the sparkling hillsides and streets below. From our vantage point, we were looking down on nearby skyscrapers. A glass deck panel had a set of decorative fairy wings decaled on it. Rosalidia took my picture in front of the wings and city below. I feel pretty good about the picture, although it’s dark!

Back inside, two touchscreen photo stations were set up so that visitors could take pictures against different fun backgrounds. It was difficult to figure out where the camera was within the screen and made for many disconnected and awkward shots. Finally, one came out where we were both looking in the right direction.

FitNFabs Pool Party Photo Booth

Many Ways to Social Share

The next day, FitNFabs pool party was held at Sunset & Vine Apartments, with the Hollywood Walk of Fame as the sidewalk. Apartment residents and FitNFabs fans from LA and the San Francisco Bay Area joined in the tropical pool-side fun. Another DJ played hip-hop while swimsuit-clad 20 and 30-somethings cooled off, socialized and drank up around the pool.

Sunset & Vine Apartments, FitNFabs Pool Party

A mix of selfies, live-streaming to social media and photo booth collaborations documented the release party. The FitNFabs sponsored photo booth offered outlandish hats and funny disguises for attendees to play with. A camera took automatic shots of the crazy poses, either printing them out or delivered them via email.

At the party, I exercised my new found selfie-taking skill and took part in a few photo booth shoots. Thanks to my trip to Hollywood, I got enough practice to feel confident in whipping out my cell phone to take great-looking selfies!

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Chalking It Up At Courthouse Square, Redwood City, CA

I appreciate a well-executed artistic composition and can cobble together a decent looking craft project or two. But I’m no artist. So when my artist husband hinted he wanted me to help him create a chalk sidewalk painting, I thought I’d be more of a hindrance. The chalk painting started at 7 a.m. on the 4th of July at Redwood City’s Courthouse Square. There was no way I’d be getting up that early to apply chalk to cement. If John wanted to go, fine but I’d be in bed for another few hours. However, John was tired from his work week and was ready to go to the festival at noon. I was up by then so I tagged along toting water bottles and a roll of paper towels.

When we arrived at the festivities, the parade crowds were just breaking up. We were definitely getting a late start. After finding parking, we booked it over to the chalk art sign in. I spotted our “canvas” right away, a blank 12’x 12’ space for Art Bias wedged between already completed chalk paintings. Art Bias is the San Carlos art community, where John rents his art studio. Many artists had left or were putting finishing touches on their large scale chalk art. Upon check-in we received two boxes of pastel chalk starter kits with basic colors and were pointed toward poster paint we could use to even out the cement surface.

Laying out design in black chalk

Woefully behind from the moment we arrived, I wondered where John’s art compatriots were because we could have used a few more hands. I had come to support John because I knew this was something he wanted to do after watching other artists work with chalk at festivals. I didn’t realize we’d be staring down an outdoor shed-sized space, with festival goers walking past and wondering why they were seeing a huge blank cement square.

With no option but to get started, John jumped sketched out where his portrait of Uncle Sam would lay within the square. Next, he painted white poster paint on the ground where Sam was to go. I filled in the remaining background with gray paint we mixed from our two options, black and white. Once we got our foundation down, we put the paint rollers away and stopped to get lunch while it dried.

Prepping the "Canvas"

Before we left our square, I heard a passerby say something like “This one’s weird,” after she looked at our sea of gray with white splotch in the middle. “It’s not done,” I called after her. She seemed to turn and look at me like maybe she didn’t realize I could interact with her, since I was inside the cordoned off area. “It’s not done yet,” I said again with my hands on my hips. I was taking ownership of our burgeoning creation.

After lunch, I let John go back to the square on his own. His heart must have sunk when he went back to conquering the huge task on his own. I walked around other parts of the festival and found there was a chalk art alley on the street divided into smaller squares. The size wasn’t as impressive as the one we were dealing with but a lot more manageable.

Between completed chalk paintings

I went back over to where John was hard at work. He had drawn in Uncle Sam with black chalk. I pulled up a knee pad and asked him how I could help. “Oh good, you’re going to help me with this?” He seemed relieved. “If not me, who?” I asked, or at least thought. I started with Sam’s hat filling in patriotic blue around the hat’s white stars, then filled in red vertical stripes. I caked the chalk on. I had tried to mix the chalk into the painted surface, only to pull the chalk dust up with the paper towel I was using as a mixing tool.

Filling in with color

John worked on Sam’s face blending red, peach, white, and black to get his features to stand out, nose, lips, eyes, beard. John blew on an area of extra chalk dust only to create a dust bowl sized cloud which carried across the courtyard on a gust of wind. At one point, John went to ask one of the experienced chalk artists how they got their chalk to adhere to the ground. What they did differently was bring their own high-quality chalk in an array of color shades, and they methodically applied the chalk to the ground. These guys got to their spot early and stayed late getting all the details down. Since good chalk and loads of time were not an option for us, we continued to cake on the dust to simulate vibrant color.

John filling in areas

We kept at it. I filled in Sam’s white hair, trying to “draw” in the boundaries of his hair only to be vetoed by the artist. I had to laugh at John for wanting to be precise within the context of how far behind we were. But I didn’t let his exactness stop me; I knew he needed my help. So I caked blue chalk on Sam’s jacket, added a light layer of yellow to his shirt and blending it with white for a creamy appearance. After all the colors were down, John re-drew the definition in black chalk and created Uncle Sam’s iconic finger pointing at the viewer.

As the event organizer packed up for the day, we finished our piece. Festival-goers interested in how our square turned out swung back around our aisle. A few let us know they were glad to see we got it done, and a few people took pictures of it.

Our creation was not the best, but it was patriotic in celebration of the 4th of July. We did our best for first-timers who didn’t fully realize what they were getting into. John’s drawing talent shown through especially at the end where he quickly and expertly added the definition that gave shape and life to the chalk painting. After taking pictures with Uncle Sam, we left Courthouse Square and tried not to think of the city workers who’d soon be by with power hoses to wash it all away.

 

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The Ocean Side of Devil’s Slide Trail – Montara to Pacifica, CA

Pacifica to Montara on Devil’s Slide Trail

“We can park on either side of the tunnels,” I say to my husband as we drive north on HWY 1 to Devil’s Slide Trail.

“But I want to park on the ocean side,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say, “either side will do.” I glance over at him, he grips the steering wheel at ten and two. There’s a contemplative stare behind his sunglasses. Still, I see, he’s not picturing it.

Devil’s Slide is the link between Pacifica, CA at the north and Montara, CA at the south of San Pedro Mountain. Highway 1 used to snake around the mountain ledge with rocky ocean surging below and loose rocks sluffing down the hillside above. As of 2013, motorists now drive through the mountain via the Tom Lantros Tunnels, circumventing coastal erosion related hazards. The old highway was transformed into Devil’s Slide Trail for pedestrians and bike riders to enjoy.

Tom Lantros Tunnels from Montara

I look out for roadside signs to guide us as we rapidly approach the mountain from Montara. Fortunately, a traffic light was installed at the Devil’s Slide Trail parking area, making it easy to get across the opposite lane of traffic without holding cars up behind us. We are definitely on the ocean side. The mountain and tunnel entrance sight lines give way to coastal bluffs overlooking the seemingly indefinite Pacific.

We drive around two small connected lots a few times waiting for someone to leave. I mention again there’s a parking lot on the Pacifica side, but my husband ignores the suggestion. I know he feels he’s holding out for the ocean view – even though both sides are on the same trail. We successfully stalk a family, wait for them to pack up their SUV, and swoop into their vacated parking spot.

The first thing we do after winning our parking spot is take in the unobstructed ocean view. A cooling wind hits our skin; the sun warms us from overhead; the ocean water bobs below. We walk to the trailhead leaving the cars blasting their horns in the tunnels behind.

Cliff Side Tree

I think my husband is amazed he can walk on the road his family used to drive when he was growing up in Pacifica. You can pick up so much more detail walking the 1.3 miles than you would zooming by in a car. Yes, the rocks are still sliding down the mountain. Fencing restrains the rubble, but it’s a good idea to keep some distance. A tenacious tree grows within a cliff-side crevice resulting in a lone pine wedged into a rock. Colorful wildflowers and grasses brighten the earthy hillsides. The smell of old, salty, fish waft up to the trail. I assume birds toss their catch onto the cliffs, trying to split open shells against the rocks.

The trail’s easy to moderate incline begins about a third to halfway in. I am glad to tackle the climb first so that our return is easier. We stop at a lookout area with plenty of bench seating. The ocean and sky are blue; the sun is still out. Back on the trail, we make it to the Pacifica side parking lot. True we did take a turn away from the ocean through brown dirt-exposed hillsides for a few yards. My husband and I take a turn around the Pacifica parking lot. He shoots photos of the horse ranch below.

“So, this is the other parking lot,” I say. We turn around to start back on our ocean side walk.

What’s your favorite coast side trail, and what makes it special?

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Curating Sea Life Beach Arrangements in Pescadero, CA

Sea Life Collection

Once we scaled down the muddy coastal bluff, we landed on a rocky beach. This wasn’t a spread-out-a-blanket-for-sunbathing kind of beach; it was way too lumpy for that. My husband’s family had gathered for the weekend at a palatial oceanfront rental home to celebrate my sister-in-law’s wintertime birthday. The home, located in the small coastal community of Pescadero, CA between San Francisco to the north and Santa Cruz to the south on Highway 1, has access to a private beach we were allowed to visit.

I scanned the beach and noticed bits of sea life wedged between the rocks. Pieces of abalone and snail shells, colorful clumps of seaweed in shades of pink, purple and white, and ocean whittled driftwood mixed in amongst the rocks. As the afternoon sky darkened with an impending rainstorm pushing toward the coast, I quickly arranged the sea life into pleasing formations then took pictures of them. The time pressure sped my decision making about how to place the sea life. I quickly moved to the next spot on the beach as I only created arrangements of ephemera within arms-reach.

My sisters-in-law liked my idea of curating beach arrangements. One of them spotted a rock holding down a feather which looked like an eye with eyelashes. I added a smaller blue rock, a pupil, to the formation. After a windy half-hour on the shore looking for sea treasures, we trekked back up the bluff and into the house as the rain began to fall.

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Crabbing at Pacifica Pier, Pacifica CA

Pacifica Pier

When my husband and I visit his hometown, Pacifica CA for a day at the beach, he usually incorporates a little reminiscing, whether that’s driving by one of the homes he used to live in or telling tales about the adventures he had with his gang of friends. These friends, four teenage boys, roamed free atop their bicycles and later inside a 1975 AMC Matador. Bike or car these guys grabbed up their crab nets, slung them over a shoulder or inside the trunk, and ditched their suburban tract homes for a day out on the pier over the Pacific Ocean. I’ve heard tales of the guys dragging up six Dungeness crabs in one day, and bringing the feast home to share with their families.

John Getting Crab Net Ready

I grew up further away from the ocean in the San Francisco East Bay. My family would visit the coast, but we never tossed nets in the water to see if anything would crawl in to be our dinner. It never occurred to me until recently that I can give crabbing a try myself. It doesn’t just have to be something my husband did growing up; it could be something we do together…now.

John Casting the Net

The crab season opened in early November giving us the opportunity to get out over the water with a net and lots of hope of catching delicious Dungeness on my husband’s birthday. Before hitting the pier, we stopped by New Coastside Bait & Tackle to get geared up for crabbing. The store clerk sold us everything we needed to get started, brand new crab net, a gauge to make sure any crabs we caught were big enough to take and attractive bait – frozen blocks of squid and sardines, yum. Other things we brought with us out on the pier were protective gloves for handling sea life, a cooler to store bait and anything we would catch and an always handy pocket knife – used for exposing bait guts.

Me and My Parents, Robin and Phil

My parents and one of my husband’s friends from his carefree Pacifica teenage days, Scott joined us for the birthday crabbing expedition. John and I arrived first to stake our spot on the pier. We passed fishermen lining both sides of the wood-planked cement-walled pier. They expertly cast their fishing pole lines yards out into the ocean below, grooved to boom boxes blasting music and teased each other with no concern for political correctness as they waited for something in the depths to take their bait. John picked a spot between fishermen who’d been out there for hours already, near the end of the pier where the structure takes a right turn as our home base.

He took out a few thawing squid and sardines, roughed them up with slits to their bellies, and stuffed them inside the bait cage attached to the inside of the crab net. He tied the end of the crab net’s rope line to a lamp post. We unfurled the full length of the rope, and he tossed the basket over the side of the pier like it a giant Frisbee. When the net landed in the water, it settled directly below us. Then the waiting for a crab to walk into the net began.

Inspecting a Catch of Ocean Critters

Our guests arrived shortly after we put the net in the water. John hauled the net up a few times to find nothing in. We messed around with the bait a little to see if we could make it stink more to attract a crab. The hard thing is, we don’t know when a crab is walking through the net. If we leave it down there for lengths of time, a crab could walk up, eat all the bait and get off the net before we pull it up. After a few hours we got some activity, a cluster of muscles rolled into the net and a small fish but no crab. We put all these back into the ocean. The next time we pulled up the net there was a crab in it but it was too small to keep, and it was a female. I made John bring it up to the pier so I could take a picture and document that we were somewhat successful.

A Small Crab

After this, John felt like we might be on a roll and closer to catching a crab big enough to take home. Scott told us a story of how John made him stay on the beach for hours when they were teenagers because John was so excited that he might catch something. Crabbing is like gambling, you may catch a jackpot, but you have to keep spending time to win, at some point you need to pack it up and go home.

We didn’t catch a Dungeness crab dinner, but we did stop by the grocery store and bought a few crabs in honor of John’s birthday!

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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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