Noelani’s Bar and Grill Creates Escape to Hawaii, San Carlos, CA

Foster Botanical Garden, Honolulu, Photo by Eva Barrows
Foster Botanical Garden, Honolulu, Photo by Eva Barrows

I take a few cautious sips from the hurricane glass filled with Mai Tai. Warned about the strength of the drink from a disclaimer on the menu enforcing a three Mai Tai max per person. I try to take it slow. Guzzling a drink with three different kinds of rum is never a good idea.

It’s Friday evening after work, my weary husband takes his time looking over the Hawaiian fusion items on Noelani’s Bar and Grill menu. He’s concerned about not ordering enough food and points to the words “plate lunch.”

“It says lunch, does that mean it’s a small portion?”

“You know what a plate lunch is,” I say. “Pick a main course and add a scoop of rice and the mac/potato salad to it.”

Skeptical, he continues to look over the menu. Eventually he picks salmon from the dinner specials and I go with my taste buds and order a kalua pork quesadilla.

I can tell he’s not completely happy with where we’re sitting. He makes the universal “I’m cold sign” crossing his arms over his chest and tucking his chin in. He asks the staff to turn the outdoor heating lamps on and that helps everyone outside warm up.

The live Hawaiian music starts and I’m disappointed that I can’t hear it too well outside. I stand up to go inside the restaurant real quick to listen. The two sips of Mai Tai already coursing through my body.

A male guitar player/singer and a female backup singer un-obstructively serenade the sports bar atmosphere. After a few minutes enjoying the warm vocals, I go back to our outdoor table. I relay the fact that there are a few open tables inside the restaurant.

My husband speaks with the hostess and we’re re-seated inside, only a table away from the live music. Our experience of the place gets better. I’m warm enough to take my jacket off and I absently sip some more Mai Tai.

The musicians play a Hawaiianized version of Orlean’s “Still the One.” I mouth the words to my husband across the table and he smiles knowing how I hate it when he mouths lyrics at me. I grab his hand over the table and do over the top googly eyes at him, something else that makes me uncomfortable when he does it. We’re doing all the cutesy dating things and make the people at the next table squirm in their seats.

The Mai Tai is only a quarter gone and I’m feeling distanced from the hustle of the dining room. I feel like it’s just me, my husband and the musicians. I don’t even know what game is on or if anyone’s staring at us. I put my hand up to the side of my face as if to block the musician’s view.

“Do you think he can see us?” I shout over the table. The musician looks straight ahead when he performs, he’d have to be looking at us from the corner of his eye.

Suddenly a two foot long quesadilla appears in front of me. My husband gingerly picks through his serving of fish. I can tell he doesn’t think it’s enough food. I offer to share my mac/potato salad and he digs in. I shove greasy cheesy flour tortilla in my mouth and I taste the tender smoky flavorful kalua pork.

I shout again to my husband, “This is my new favorite restaurant!”

He laughs, “You know what happens to your favorite restaurants.”

“Oh no! I didn’t mean that!” I say feeling my eyes widen wishing I could take that sentiment back. All of my favorite restaurants close.

I continue stuffing my face, sipping Mai Tai and bopping my head to the music. My husband and I have gotten into the habit of listening to Hawaiian during dinner when we’re at home.

There’s one song that goes “pineapple, mango, pineapple, mango.” My husband wants to request it but I stop him thinking that’s not sophisticated enough to request.

Our meal nearly gone, the waitress comes over and asks if we want to see the desert menu. I wave the “bring it on” hand gesture at her.

I order malasadas for us, mini doughnuts without a hole served warm and rolled in sugar. We also got a scoop of pineapple-coconut ice cream that we eat in tandem with the malasadas. We eat it all and agree it’s a heavenly combo. I slurp down the last of the Mai Tai.

The escapist evening was ending. I walk past the musicians and the guy stops me. He said something to me I can’t understand and hands me his business card. I take it and thank him.

“He did see me dancing in my chair!” I exclaim to my husband as we walk out to the street.

What restaurant provides an escape for you?

Google Maps Point Hungry Travelers in the Right Direction

I stood on tiptoes peering out through the shutter-covered unusually high-placed hotel room window to see what eating establishments existed across the busy and dark Ventura Boulevard of Studio City, CA. My husband’s Fitbit had declared long ago that we’d put in ten thousand steps by midday and we had many more steps to go on our site seeing day.

Art by Eva and John Barrows
Art by Eva and John Barrows

Squinting through the window at the place straight across the street from us I tried to figure out if it was a viable option for dinner. I had a feeling that the place was fancy because the restaurant name was in script lettering and climbing ivy was all over the front of the building.

I took my smart phone out of my purse and brought up Google Maps. I dove into the map and found that I was looking at Bistro Garden, “Continental eatery for upscale dining” with three dollar signs next to it. Yes, that would be an expensive place to eat at.

My husband suddenly hovered next to me to see what I was up to. My head bowed over the phone, “There’s supposed to be a Five Guys over there,” I said continuing to look over Maps.

He glanced out the window and said, “Yeah its right there.” I shifted slightly to the right and there it was! Red block lettering indicating a very affordable burger joint that we’d had the pleasure of experiencing in our own neighborhood.

I was a little embarrassed at my restaurant hunt method. Usually we’d walk around a new place, peer in windows and read over menus. I told my hubby that I just wanted to find a decent place for us to have dinner. I wanted to know what was out there…without having to go out there.

Taking a virtual walk down the street with Google Maps, I found it! Four doors down and on the same side of the street as our hotel was Hyperion Public, “Rustic-chic American gastropub & lounge” with only two dollar signs. That is where we’d go for our night on the town. We grabbed our coats and walked briskly down the street.

Becoming temporary inhabitants of the candlelit and fireplace warmed dining room, we finally relaxed. When the food came, there wasn’t enough light to see the details of it so we had to rely solely on our taste buds to report back.

Despite my husband’s blatant tourist “Oceanside” blaring sweatshirt, the Los Angeles swanky diners and waitstaff couldn’t judge us as outsiders because there wasn’t enough light to make out what his shirt said. I knew we had succeeded in posing as Angelenos when our waiter asked if we’d like to take our leftovers home.

Google Maps was a quick way to get familiar with an unfamiliar neighborhood. Maps helped us make an informed decision to the always pressing question, “Where are we going to eat?”

Seal Point Park Rehab, San Mateo, CA: Guest Post at Wild. Here.

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.

Wind Tuba Sculpture, Photo by Eva Barrows
Wind Tuba Sculpture, Photo by Eva Barrows

Reasons to Return: Mesa Lane Steps, Santa Barbara CA

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?”


Pacific Ocean and Santa Cruz Island from The Mesa Steps - Photo by Yvette Keller
Pacific Ocean and Santa Cruz Island from The Mesa Steps – Photo by Yvette Keller

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.

Olieo Dog on Mesa Steps Beach - Photo by Yvette Keller
Olieo Dog on Mesa Steps Beach – Photo by Yvette Keller

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.

Can you spot the away team in this alien vista? Photo by Yvette Keller
Can you spot the away team in this alien vista? Photo by Yvette Keller

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.

Beach glass, agates, and shells, oh my! - Photo by Yvette Keller
Beach glass, agates, and shells, oh my! – Photo by Yvette Keller

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.

Yvette and Olieo at the Top - Photo by Mark Bessey
Yvette and Olieo at the Top – Photo by Mark Bessey

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.

Upper Stairs - Photo by Yvette Keller
Upper Stairs – Photo by Yvette Keller

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.

Yvette at the Bottom – Photo by Mark Bessey

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.

Old Wooden Stairs at Sunset - Photo by David Diamant
Old Wooden Stairs at Sunset – Photo by David Diamant

Olieo dog loves running on the beach more than any other activity.

Dog in the Fog - Photo by Yvette Keller
Dog in the Fog – Photo by Yvette Keller

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?

Sunset Playtime - Photo by Yvette Keller
Sunset Playtime – Photo by Yvette Keller


Enjoy Spring at Ardenwood Historic Farm: Fremont, CA

Train Station, Photo by John Barrows
Train Station, Photo by John Barrows

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.

Free Range Chicken, Photo by John Barrows
Free Range Chicken, Photo by John Barrows

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.

Sheep, Photo by John Barrows
Sheep, Photo by John Barrows

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!

Baby Lambs, Photo by John Barrows
Baby Lambs, Photo by John Barrows

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.

Just Hatched! Photo by John Barrows
Just Hatched! Photo by John Barrows

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.

Patterson House, Photo by John Barrows
Patterson House, Photo by John Barrows

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.

Screenwriters Hook Up With Hollywood at San Jose Cinequest

Hammer Theater Center, San Jose CA, Photo by Eva Barrows
Hammer Theater Center, San Jose CA, Photo by Eva Barrows

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.”

Cinequest Banner, Photo by Eva Barrows
Cinequest Banner, Photo by Eva Barrows

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.

Public Library Indispensable For Career Changer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twice Removed: Lathrop House, Redwood City, CA

Lathrop House, Photo by Eva Barrows
Lathrop House, Photo by Eva Barrows

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.

Imitation Fruit Literary Journal: Guest Post at Yvette Keller’s Aspiration Blog

Come celebrate 10 years of Imitation Fruit Literary Journal with me at Yvette Keller’s Aspirations Blog. Yvette was curious to know the recipe behind the creative juices at Imitation Fruit and I told her all about it.

Cover Art by John Barrows
Cover Art by John Barrows

Allied Arts Guild: Local Secret, Menlo Park CA

Spanish Colonial Building, Photo by Eva Barrows
Spanish Colonial Building, Photo by Eva Barrows

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.

Woodworking Barn, Photo by John Barrows
Woodworking Barn, Photo by John Barrows

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.

Courtyard, Photo by Eva Barrows
Courtyard, Photo by Eva Barrows

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.

Garden Walkway, Photo by Eva Barrows
Garden Walkway, Photo by Eva Barrows

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.