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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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.

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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.

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The History and Beauty of Water: Pulgas Water Temple, Redwood City, CA

Pulgas Water Temple, Photo by Eva Barrows
Pulgas Water Temple, Photo by Eva Barrows

The Pulgas Water Temple is a celebration of man’s ingenuity, a reminder of a long controversial process that brought water from Yosemite to the people of the San Francisco Bay Area. I was curious about how a replica of an ancient Greek structure came to be nestled in the rolling hills of Redwood City, CA. So I read the educational signs along the walking path. I found that the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct was created based on Roman and Greek engineering methods, and ends at this spot with the water finally flowing into the adjoining Crystal Springs reservoir.

Rushing Water, Photo by Eva Barrows
Rushing Water, Photo by Eva Barrows

As I walked around I could hear the rushing of water like a great river making its way to a waterfall or the flow of water at a waterslide park, yet I could see no evidence for what I was hearing. I walked around the Temple itself admiring the columns and listening as the noise grew louder. I looked toward the reservoir in the distance and saw the source of the rushing water. The outlet of the aqueduct is hidden below the Pulgas Water Temple parkland and steers the water in open air beyond the park to the reservoir.

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

The surrounding landscape of moist coastal forest, sparkling water of the reservoir and crisp bright blue sky was simply stunning on this winter day. The beauty of the setting is so much appreciated, that at least two bridal groups were planning their upcoming weddings at the Temple during the time I was there. The Temple is an ideal place to have a romantic picnic or just sit and relax for a while. I soaked up some much needed warm sun and fresh air on my visit.

Author at Temple, Selfie by Eva Barrows
Author at Temple, Selfie by Eva Barrows

Visit the park Monday through Friday 9am to 4pm at 56 Cañada Road, Redwood City, CA 94062.

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Little Free Library: Neighborhood Destination, Belmont CA

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?

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