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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Olieo dog loves running on the beach more than any other activity.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
The Lathrop House wasn’t always located only three-yards back from a busy downtown street with no front or back yard. Just the opposite is true. It was originally a grand estate with a number of service buildings surrounding it, unattached kitchen, outhouse…that sort of thing. All on beautifully landscaped and gardened acreage in Redwood City, CA.
But now, the ornate by modern standards, home is cruelly close to a street full of people rushing to the towering superior court house across the street. Encroaching new construction behind the home and on all sides, make it seem as though the Lathrop House is the structure that doesn’t belong.
The house is no stranger to being made to move. It was moved to the back of its own land to make room for a school and then moved again by a new owner. That’s a lot of moving especially for something built in 1863.
The Redwood City Heritage Association opens the house twice a month for visitors to explore the interior. I recommend going on the third Saturday of the month to avoid the crazy parking situation on the other day it’s open, the second Wednesday of the month. Yes, parking really is that bad.
Visitors have full access to the first and second floors of the home with a docent tour. Lathrop House was constructed with local redwood. The owners decided to have the redwood look like more “expensive” wood by having the visible trim painted to look like oak. Original wallpaper was uncovered in the house during restoration. There was enough left to be reproduced for a full repapering of the home.
My favorite part of the tour was the walk-in closet off the master bedroom. The docent advised that the closet may not have been original to the home. Some Victorian era clothing was on display and a wool swimsuit hung on one of the closet doors caught my attention. I always pictured wool swimsuits being made from thick wool that would be heavy with water once it got wet. However, the wool cloth was very thin and did not feel scratchy to the touch.
While I was inside the Lathrop House, I got to peek into what life was like 150 years ago for about forty-five minutes. Then I walked out into the loud, growing and groaning modern world and couldn’t help wishing I could stay in the past a little while longer.
Menlo Park, CA has swallowed up a secret under the canopy of its tree-lined streets. A few un-exciting brown historical marker signs on the main street, weakly hint at the existence of something worth checking out. These signs have never caught my attention.
“How’d you hear about us?” The grandma aged store clerk asked me as I perused the Artisan Shop.
“Online,” I’d said not thinking about the reasoning behind her question. My attention was on the hand-crafted fur embellished Eskimo doll and red-faced European style marionettes for sale.
“Good job,” she said as she worked at straightening some hanging jewelry.
My husband, an artist, was intrigued when I told him I’d found a hidden art guild he’d never heard of nestled into a Menlo Park neighborhood. He eagerly agreed to come out with me during a break in January rain storms to explore the Allied Arts Guild compound with me.
Some buildings like the sheep shearing shed turned pottery studio and the barn which is now a woodworking shop are original 1800’s era ranch buildings. Other buildings were re-imagined or newly constructed in the Spanish Colonial style around 1930 when the Allied Arts Guild was formed.
Artwork created in the 1930’s has seamlessly melded into the idyllic ambiance of the Guild’s grounds. The tiered courtyard fountain creates the soothing sound of trickling water. A colorful fresco painted onto the recess of the music room’s exterior wall. Pottery overflows with plant life or is simply lined up next to other pots silently welcoming visitors.
We poked our heads into shop windows and found that about half of them were open that day. There was a closed quilt shop that featured piles of colorful folded stacked fabric which I would have loved to browse through. The pottery studio was open and featured Japanese style details such as bud vases attached to lengths of bamboo. My husband was disappointed to find the Portola Art Gallery was closed for the day. The gallery represents current local artists in a wide variety of art styles.
On weekends my husband and I usually move slow and thankfully we arrived just before the Blue Garden Café stopped serving lunch. I ordered a steak panini and my hubby ordered a turkey and cheese panini. I was delighted by the tender and tasty meat and he was pleasantly surprised by apple slices in his sandwich! The meals were on the expensive side but we didn’t mind too much because we enjoyed every bite.
We walked the brick-lined garden path and noticed a few other couples exploring the unique grounds. A group of parents with young boisterous children came to play amongst the adobe style courtyards and pathways.
The day became even more gray threatening rain. It was time to take shelter so we headed to the car. I watched as the parents slipped back out to the road, pulling children in wagons or chaperoning an unsteady tricycle. This recreation seeking group knew the secret of the Allied Arts Guild but to them the Guild was just a part of the neighborhood.
Carmel is the perfect distance from the San Francisco Bay Area for a quick weekend get-away. It’s beautiful with lush green hills, farmland, rugged coastline and crashing Pacific Ocean waves. There are tons of activities and places to explore in Carmel. Here are the places I explored with my spouse on our mid-January trip to Carmel.
1) On The Way: Moss Landing
On the way to Carmel, we drove over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz or Capitola are both seaside towns with lots of character and would be great places to stop for lunch or sightseeing on the way to Carmel. We decided to keep driving on HWY 1 towards Carmel and ultimately stopped in Moss Landing for a much needed lunch break.
Moss Landing’s pair of power plant smoke stacks are the defining landmark of the fishing village. The stacks interrupt the marshland and harbor feel of the area with their industrial purpose.
We had our lunch at Sea Harvest Fish Market & Restaurant. The restaurant is located at the harbor’s entrance channel where fishing boats come in and out from sea. Kayakers pass by and so do large families of sea otters! The restaurant has great tasting seafood and the best view to take in all of the harbor activities.
2) Where to Stay: Carmel Mission Inn
Carmel Mission Inn is my go-to hotel when staying in Carmel. I’ve been there several times and love the fact that it has updated amenities and a spa-like feel. It’s an affordable place to stay when compared to other hotels in the area. The hotel is right off of HWY 1 and there’s plenty of shopping and eating choices in walking distance.
The moment we got our bags up to our room, I started changing into my bathing suit for a dip in the hot tub. The pool area is nicely furnished with sun chairs and beds to relax on. There’s even a statue of a life-sized happy cow who watches over the swimmers in the heated pool.
3) What to do When It’s Dark: Del Monte Shopping Center
If you go to Carmel in the winter months, it may be sunny and warm during the day but the nights get frigid! Both nights on our quick trip to Carmel were spent at the indoor movie theater, Cinemark Monterey 13, at Del Monte Shopping Center in Monterey. The mall is a quick ten-minute drive on HWY 1 from the Carmel Mission Inn or any other hotel in Carmel.
When waiting for the next movie time to roll around you can do some mall shopping or hang out in one of the many restaurants to grab dinner. We went to Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks. As the name says they serve burgers as well as a selection of tacos and your favorite island drinks. I got my buzz on with the help of a Mai Tai and my husband stayed smooth with a Pina Colada.
Then we watched “Hidden Figures” the first night and “La La Land” the second. I enjoyed both films and was glad we found something to do after the sunset over the ocean.
4) Breakfast, Breakfast, Breakfast! From Scratch Restaurant
From Scratch Restaurant made my list because of two things. One it’s a two-minute walk from the hotel, located at the Barnyard shops next door. And two, it was featured on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” so it has to be great.
There’s close quarters indoor dining and outdoor patio seating with room for dogs to come along. I’ve visited From Scratch a few times and decided I like the homemade cinnamon bun bread dressed as French toast. My husband tried the crab omelet this time and ate it all.
I just watched the “Triple D” review of the restaurant and found that the “extreme sausage biscuits and gravy” featured on the show doesn’t look too daunting to eat. I have new-found courage to try it the next time I’m in Carmel.
5) Do Not Miss Sunday Brunch at Mission Ranch Restaurant
The Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant is a short three-minute drive from our home base. It’s a historic hotel with multiple buildings facing ranch-land. The most photographed flock of sheep in Carmel live at the ranch. You can hear the sheep munching on grass as they mow the pasture. They also terrorize the lone tree in their yard by tugging at it and scratching themselves on it.
Brunch is only on Sundays from 10 am to 1:30 pm and is $40 per person. We went on a beautiful sunny morning and were fortunate to be seated on the patio with a vibrant view of Carmel’s coastline. Beyond the lush green field, is a sandy beach that leads out to the blue ocean and a craggy rock point.
Since this is an all-you-can-eat meal my husband stacked his plate high with, prime rib, beef rib, eggs benedict and tender salmon, enough food to get him through the entire day. I tried not to stuff myself right away, so started with a made to order omelet and chocolate covered strawberry. I went back for seconds and picked up spinach salad, French toast and key lime pie. I enjoyed the hot coffee and a mimosa which were included in the price. In conclusion, the food was delicious and the best buffet we’ve ever had. That’s saying a lot!
6) Walk it Off at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Carmel is blessed with a ruggedly beautiful coastline. One of the best places to explore the coast is at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. The entrance gate to Point Lobos is in the middle of a wooded forest that leads to your pick of a rocky beach or sheer cliff bluff. Wildlife of the sea, shore and air abound at the reserve.
One of my favorite things to do at the ocean is whale watch. I was not disappointed on this winter’s day to see puff upon puff of whale spouts in the distance. Yes, I wouldn’t mind if the whales were a little closer to shore but just knowing they are out there makes me happy. I also heard the “arf arf” call of sea lions at Point Lobos.
Point Lobos is a photographer’s wonderland. My husband waited for the right moment to photograph the sun’s light passing through a wave to capture the crystal essence of the water.
7) Carmel Art Galleries and Shops
Everyone thinks of art galleries when they think of Carmel. Or at least they should. It’s estimated that there are one hundred galleries concentrated in downtown Carmel. My husband is an artist so gallery perusing is always on our list of things to do in Carmel. A few of his favorite galleries are the Wyland and New Masters Gallery.
The architecture of the buildings downtown is historical and even fairytale like. Just looking at the buildings and imagining what fairytale they are inspired by is almost as interesting as looking in the shops themselves.
My favorite place to shop in downtown Carmel is the Sockshop where I just picked up a supply of cute and warm socks to get me through winter.
8) Carmel Sunset Beach
After a morning of gallery hopping walk or drive the rest of the way down Ocean Ave and hang out on the sandy Carmel Sunset Beach. This seems to be a local favorite because everyone and their dog is playing hard out in the waves and wet sand. I like to sit on a blanket and dogs like to come up to me and see what I’m up to on this beach.
The beach is part of the semi-circle of Carmel Bay. The waves are calmer in the bay and dolphins like to put on shows for people watching from the beach. This is a great place to relax, enjoy a snack and watch all of the action laid out in front of you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.