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Little Free Library: Neighborhood Destination, Belmont CA

redwoodcitylfl
Redwood City LFL, photo by John Barrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a Little Free Library in your neighborhood?

Black Friday: A Reflection

Black Friday holds a little of that Christmas morning anticipation and excitement that gift wrapped presents create. I had to hold myself back this morning to avoid sprinting in excitement to turn the computer on and see what great deals were ready to be had!

Image from sweetclipart.com
Image from sweetclipart.com

Last year was my first real Black Friday. Actually my shopping started on Thanksgiving as I was getting side dishes ready to take to my parent’s. I was thrilled about all of the prices I found. There were $10 bedsheet sets and $25 sneakers. I filled my online basket at Macy’s and JCPenny.

My online rush was unexpectedly crushed when the Macy’s order was cancelled. I put a few hours into figuring out what I wanted and I used up around $100 in gift cards. The system stopped my order and sent me an email announcing everything was cancelled. My jaw dropped. This couldn’t be happening. I had such a perfect lineup of items at wonderful prices. I wanted my order!

After waiting on hold for a few hours over a span of several days, I spoke with countless Macy’s customer service reps. First, I found out the reason for the cancellation. My delivery address did not match my billing address, which was what I had requested. And I was told that they wouldn’t be able to reinstate my order. I was frustrated by this because it shouldn’t have been impossible to send me my order. Then I became worried about getting my gift cards re-credited because I didn’t trust Macy’s system or representatives. The resolution to my Black Friday shopping last year with Macy’s was being refunded and never getting my deals. So this year I didn’t waste my time with them.

I went straight to JCPenny this year because my order worked out with them previously. I zeroed my online search into the items that I’ve been wanting for a while; long sleeved interestingly designed tops. Checking under my size and designers that I’ve liked in the past, I found a few things that I wanted to buy. I clicked on the items to save them in my virtual cart to look over later. When I was ready to buy, all of the items I saved had disappeared! I went back through the website to find some of them to add back but they disappeared again. I was a little miffed by this glitch but I knew from last year that sometimes online ordering takes a little perseverance. I scrolled to the bottom of the page and found there was a “recently viewed” section that had most of the things listed that I was interested in. I put these in the actual shopping cart and was able to make a purchase.

As long as my order doesn’t get cancelled, I will be getting some nice shirts and new bedding delivered to me in about a week. I look forward to opening my box like a kid on Christmas morning.

Parkside Aquatic Park: Urban Beach in San Mateo, CA

Playground and Beach, Photo by Eva Barrows
Playground and Beach, Photo by Eva Barrows

I caught a glimpse of Parkside Aquatic Park a few months back when strolling along the opposite side of the Marina Lagoon. The sandy beach with children happily playing in the water surprised me as I wouldn’t expect such a park in the middle of San Mateo!

Picnic Area, Photo by Eva Barrows
Picnic Area, Photo by Eva Barrows

Yesterday, I was in the area and decided to go take a closer look at the park. It is located in a residential area and hidden behind homes. Since it was a weekday there were few children around but adults on lunch breaks were there taking in the view.
The park was alive with shore and sea bird activity. Birds dominated the water, sand and dock. A few sand-castle remains, evidence of human activity, held strong but the sand was firmly imprinted with bird tracks.

Dock with Birds, Photo by Eva Barrows
Dock with Birds, Photo by Eva Barrows

During the weekends of May to September, California Canoe & Kayak rents out small boats and stand up paddleboards at the park. I am putting this on my list of activities to do next year. The lagoon would be a great place to try out different water sports.
Parkside Aquatic Park is a beautiful place to take in the scenery, swim when it’s warm and play in the sand!
Location: 1595 Seal St, San Mateo, CA 94403

Early Voting With the Masses

I decided to vote early this past Monday November 7th by going to the San Mateo County Registration and Elections office to get it done. I swung by the location mid-day and found there were very few places to park as the official parking lots were full. I decided to come back later in the day hoping for easy parking and short voting line. When I came back, I lucked into a good parking spot but the place was still hopping with motorists and pedestrians all eager to get their voting completed.

Long Line!, Photo by Eva Barrows
Long Line!, Photo by Eva Barrows

There was a hefty line to wait in but it went quickly. I filled out an intake form and asked for a paper ballot. Soon, my name was called and I got to pick up an individualized “vote by mail” packet and filled it out on the spot. As I was voting I overheard a poll worker say, “There have been so many votes that one of the electronic voting machines had to be rebooted.” Then pretty soon I heard her say to the people standing in line, “Great news, we’ve had so many voters that we have had to reboot the vote by mail computer.”

Vote by Mail Box, Photo by Eva Barrows
Vote by Mail Box, Photo by Eva Barrows

The line of voters was even longer when I left at 4:30pm with only a half hour left before the location closed for the day. A steady stream of cars drove up to the curbside vote by mail box and people slid their ballots in. I felt proud of the residents of San Mateo County for making sure they voted!

Oh Deer! Not Skittish at Crystal Springs Reservoir

The deer at Crystal Springs trail in San Mateo, CA don’t hesitate to graze wherever they want. These guys didn’t flinch when runners, families and bicyclists passed them by.

Crystal Springs Reservoir, Photo by Eva Barrows
Crystal Springs Reservoir, Photo by Eva Barrows

Searching for Vietnamese Sandwiches: Kat’s Vietnam House Restaurant Review

I had a hankering for a good Vietnamese sandwich. You know, tasty meat mixed with kimchi on a French sourdough roll. The sandwich seems out of place at an Asian restaurant but makes sense when you remember the French colonized the region back in the day.

Kat's Vietnam House, photo by Eva Barrows
Kat’s Vietnam House, photo by Eva Barrows

I looked up local Vietnamese restaurants and found that Kat’s Vietnam House serves the sandwiches I was looking for. Kat’s is located in an industrial meets family friendly area of San Mateo, in the Laurie Meadows strip mall at 35 Laurie Meadows Dr., San Mateo CA 94403.

Interior of restaurant, photo by Eva Barrows
Interior of restaurant, photo by Eva Barrows

When I arrived around 1pm, I was the only customer and a few others trickled in while I was there. The interior was dark due to limited natural lighting. Some of the tables were used as restaurant/office supply storage however there were plenty of available places to dine. The walls were decorated with the pictured large repeating motif.

Variety of noodles, photo by Eva Barrows
Variety of noodles, photo by Eva Barrows

I enjoyed the visual aid of the different types of noodles the restaurant uses. Each type is labeled in English and Vietnamese so that you are sure to order the correct noodle, preventing order confusion.

The waitress greeted me promptly. She answered my questions about how the meat is sliced for the sandwiches – advising the pork is a cutlet and the chicken was in strips. I ordered the chicken sandwich and a Thai iced tea. The meal was brought out to me within ten minutes.

Vietnamese sandwich with Thai iced tea, photo by Eva Barrows
Vietnamese sandwich with Thai iced tea, photo by Eva Barrows

The fixings (lettuce, lightly pickled carrot and cabbage, cilantro), chunks of dark skin-on chicken meat in a sweet sauce, and fresh French roll were all there. The bread was of a flaky consistency when I had been expecting a lightly toasted interior and sourdough crispiness. The Thai iced tea was sweet and refreshing.
I enjoyed my lunch at Kat’s but am still on the hunt for the *perfect* Vietnamese sandwich because I’m a sucker for the lightly toasted!

Nature doesn’t have to be annoying: 3 things that can ruin your outdoor fun and how to deal

Have you ever started out on a short hike, a romantic picnic at the beach, or overnight stay at a campground, realizing only after embarking on the outing that nature could ruin the experience at any time? This has happened to me on several occasions.

Mosquitos

Lyon Arboretum on Oahu, HI, Photo by Robin Kent
Lyon Arboretum on Oahu, HI, Photo by Robin Kent

This is me at Hawaii’s Lyon Arboretum on Oahu. I thought it was safe enough to explore the rainforest in cut off pants, short sleeves and a light dousing of OFF! bug repellant. I was dressed for the tropics but not for protection against blood sucking mosquitos. I literally spent two minutes in a shady spot of the forest to take pictures and dozens of mosquitos descended upon me, leaving a red map of Hawaii on my skin.

Mosquito Bites!
Mosquito Bites!

Solution: I went back to Hawaii a few years after and suited up with long pants and Sawyer Premium Maxi Deet Insect Repellent which contains 98.11% Deet. I have no idea what ill effects such strong repellent has on the human body but I managed to get around two bites instead of what you see here.

Yellow Jackets

When I was about twelve years old I went on a camp trip with my Girl Scout troop and we had set out a lunch of cold cuts at a picnic table. Soon there were several yellow jackets buzzing around us and landing on our food. This is when I was most terrified of the critters so I ran away from the table and witnessed one take a hunk out of the bologna.

Yellow Jackets on Tri Tip, Photo by Randy Robertson via flickr
Yellow Jackets on Tri Tip, Photo by Randy Robertson via flickr

Not so long ago I was at my husband’s work picnic for an exterminator company and ironically, a yellow jacket was assigned to each participant’s paper plate throughout the function. One hardened exterminator grabbed a yellow jacket’s midsection and flung it away from the table. I was in awe of this action but that didn’t take care of my personal yellow jacket problem.
Solution: Eat inside. Sorry folks but if you’re being followed by hungry yellow jackets, its best to give them the steak.

Poison Oak

“Here Eva,” my Dad would say pointing to some plants around the base of a tree when we were out on a family nature walk. “That’s poison oak. See the red leaf there, the wavy edge and the shine?”

Poison Oak Sign, Photo by Daniel Ramirez via flickr
Poison Oak Sign, Photo by Daniel Ramirez via flickr

“Um. Yeah?” I’d say looking at the spot where five different plants intermingled. I figure I’m never going to be able to identify poison oak on my own. So I’ve just stayed out of the foliage all together. I can tell when I see a black berry or a Christmas tree but that’s about it. Luckily I haven’t fallen into poison oak or if it’s rubbed against my pants by accident there’s been no issue.

Solution: If you’re concerned about poison oak, stay on the path. Don’t frolic in the bushes.

Simple As That : Rewriting a Short Story

Fruit and Story, Photo by Eva Barrows
Fruit and Story, Photo by Eva Barrows

December 2014 – Wrote short story during an online writing class. Had particular goal in mind for characters but wasn’t pleased with outcome. Instructor said he thought story was fine and I was being hard on myself.

All of 2015 – Story hanging out in computer — All year. Wonder what it was like in there…

August 2016 – Thank god I found a writers critique group to be a part of. Story re-visited.

September 2016 – Kept essence of characters, moved the setting around, explored using different points of view and found the one that would show off the most interesting character the best. Edited myself as I wrote (slap on back of hand). Made my critique group read parts of story several times. (Will make it up to them somehow…chocolate?)

October 2016 – Agonized over ending. Complained at dinner table to husband about not knowing how to end story. Went back to desk, struck by lightning – premise isn’t what I wanted it to be, it was even better! And better yet, everything I needed was already there. Finished story and told husband. He said, “Really?!?” He didn’t understand how I could be in despair one moment then done with the story the next.

Currently – Waiting for next critique meeting to see what the girls think.

Next – I have some ideas about how to punch up the ending. Then I’m going to submit the sucker and get the story published. I hope it likes hanging out on paper better than stuck on my hard drive.

What’s the Best Winter Vacation Destination?

Island of Kauai, HI, Photo by Eva Barrows
Island of Kauai, HI, Photo by Eva Barrows
Lake Tahoe, CA at Heavenly Resort, Photo by Eva Barrows
Lake Tahoe, CA at Heavenly Resort, Photo by Eva Barrows

There’s no place like home for the holidays but let’s just say you had a little cash and a little time to go somewhere…where would you go? Would you seek out the never ending summer of a place like Hawaii or play in the white snow somewhere like Tahoe? Doesn’t matter if I’m in a cozy winter cabin OR bathing in the tropical ocean, my priority would be the same in either setting – warmth!

Gold Rush City Crawl


The Gold Rush era downtowns of Grass Valley, CA and Nevada City, CA are only four miles away from each other. Start your day of art gallery ogling, historic sightseeing, and ice cream licking in one town, then hop on over to the other and start the cycle all over again! Fall is a great time of year to visit the area as the trees are changing color and the temperature is just right for a stroll down Main Street.