Wrapped in Holiday Magic at Filoli Mansion Woodside, CA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holidays at Filoli is on now through December 30th.

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

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

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Photo-Ready and Social Worthy in Hollywood, CA

OUE Skyspace Live Wall

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

Killer Selfies

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

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

Dream Hotel Rooftop Restaurant

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

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

OUE Skyspace Photo Booth

Social Photo Ops

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

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

OUE Skyspace Fairy Wings

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

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

FitNFabs Pool Party Photo Booth

Many Ways to Social Share

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

Sunset & Vine Apartments, FitNFabs Pool Party

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

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

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Over an Overpass in a Yellow Surrey, Oxnard CA

Surrey on the sidewalk

The sight of the yellow canopied two person surrey parked out front of our hotel lobby brought us relief. All we had to do was rent it at the front desk, hop in, and start roaming around Oxnard, CA via pedal power.
The day before, we left our home in the San Francisco Bay Area excited to start on our weeklong vacation in Southern California. During the first few hours of the drive down we soon discovered mounting traffic delays were holding us hostage from enjoying our vacation.
Our estimated five and a half hour drive became an agonizing eight hours. Our cold-hearted GPS continually announced 15-minute increments being added to our ETA.
So, we weren’t eager to get back in the car upon reaching our destination. A surrey was the perfect mode of transportation for us. The surrey fit two people side by side on a bench seat, four wheels guaranteed our stability, and we each got a steering wheel.
I turned my wheel and tried pedaling, but the surrey seemed just to be listening to John’s steering. I looked at the mechanics behind our wheels and saw that his was hooked up to the steering and mine was decoration only. My right side foot pedal was bent, making it hard for me to keep my foot straight.

Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard CA

After a little parking lot practice, we pedaled to the harbor front path running in front of our hotel and condo complexes lining the harbor. A friendly maintenance man driving a golf cart slowed down so we could pass. A jogger, people walking their dogs, a girl in a stroller, smiled at us as we cheerfully made our way along the shaded waterfront.

Breathing in fresh sea air, jointly propelling our little cart, yachts bobbing in their berths, John finally smiling, we made it, we were finally on vacation.

A quarter of a mile later, we neared a monumental obstacle, Channel Islands Boulevard overpass linking to the other side of the harbor.
We approached the traffic intersection. My first thought was to stay on the sidewalk, but it was too narrow for the surrey. A single bike rider came toward us and could tell from my furrowed brow and hands on my hips that we needed some assistance. He told us that the lane we were in was the bike lane, we wouldn’t have figured it out otherwise because the bike lane signs were on the other side of the overpass.
So we pushed the surrey up over the overpass hump, got back in at the top and rode the brakes down. While on the other side of the harbor we stopped at Channel Islands Maritime Museum. Our surrey dutifully waited for us outside as we explored inside. John was delighted to see that they have an impressive collection of maritime ship paintings depicting dramatic sea voyages and battles going back to the 17th century.
As we pedaled our way back to the hotel, it was high noon in the beach town, with warm beating sun overhead. John was sweating…a lot. He stopped cycling for a moment, and suddenly I was tasked with taking up his slack, which I couldn’t do for long. I think he was trying to show me just how hard he was working to move us both.
Back over the overpass, we went. This time when we reached the top, John wanted to take a selfie from the summit as we were quickly going downhill. I had to remind him that we were on the road, with cars and didn’t want to do something dumb just for a selfie!

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Affordable Southern California Vacation Spot Hides Behind Its Name…Oxnard?

Channel Islands Beach, Oxnard CA

This year my husband and I celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary. Of course we’d have loved to jump in a plane and flown off to some exotic locale. But with time and financial restraints we had to be a little less lavish in our summer vacation planning. I wanted to go somewhere warm, on the ocean and far enough away that we’d feel like we really “went” on vacation.

I pulled up Google Maps and ticked off all the California coastal towns we’d visited together – Mendocino, Bodega Bay, Carmel, Monterey, Morro Bay – until I scanned down to the Santa Barbara area. The hotel prices seemed a little high to sustain us for a full week. I looked around at the nearby towns – Ventura sounded familiar which was next to Oxnard. “Hummm what’s going on in a place called Oxnard?” I thought as I compared hotel prices, beach access and ocean proximity. Between the two towns, I found a nice harbor front hotel for a medium price per night in Oxnard – all requirements met.

When I told my husband John where we were going for our ten year anniversary, he set down the laundry he was folding, looked at me with disgust on his face and asked, “Oxnard?” like I’d lost my mind.

“Hey, it’s really not as bad as it sounds,” I said defending my decision. It’s got to be the words “Ox” and “Nard” together that raise eyebrows. I mean if I said we were going to “Ventura” nobody would screw their face up over that.

Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard CA

So, I have to admit I became a little nervous I’d made the wrong decision after we got off Highway 1 heading into Oxnard. We’d passed up Santa Barbara’s blue ocean views, brown sandy beaches in the foreground, and outline of the distant Channel Islands breaking horizon sight lines. Acres of flat farmland then barren sand dunes surrounded the road as I thought to myself “this can’t be all there is out here.”

Breaking free from the rural and lonely landscape, we arrived at the vibrant Channel Islands Harbor alive with restaurants, yacht clubs and boaters. Our hotel was on the peninsula which divides the harbor into three prongs. It was dinner time when we arrived. The open late Toppers Pizza we’d eat at within the hour was all aglow in red and gold lights like a Broadway show. Checking in to our modern hotel, the evening breeze wafting through the remaining balmy warmth of the day, I felt reassured that Oxnard would provide everything I wanted in a vacation destination.

Enjoying Channel Islands Beach, Oxnard CA

Over the next few weeks read about our Oxnard adventures. I’ll share stories about exploring Southern California right here in this blog. Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen and shades for a fun time under the sun!

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Getting to the Top of Nob Hill Ain’t Easy – San Francisco, CA

Powell Street Cable Car, Photo by Eva Barrows

Nob Hill, a San Francisco neighborhood that rises 376 feet in elevation at a 25 percent grade is not easy to get to. The top of Nob Hill is home to silver baron, James C. Flood’s 1886 mansion and properties of other San Francisco elites past and present. No moat or portcullis needed to keep the riff-raff away, mounting the hill itself is deterrent enough.

The past two years I’ve attended the San Francisco Writers Conference held at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel perched at the top of Nob Hill. Reluctant to drive myself into the heart of the city I’ve experimented with different methods of transportation to the conference. Each method is a strenuous adventure.

Nob Hill Views Down Mason Street, Photo by Eva Barrows

Via MUNI Bus

Surfacing from the Powell Street BART station into a rainy cityscape, I attempted to track down the MUNI bus that would take me to the top of Nob Hill. With a bus number in mind from my review of the online bus schedule, I could not find where it stopped. I stuck my head inside the door of another bus loading passengers and asked that driver where to catch a bus that went up the hill. She directed me back across the street giving me another bus number to find.

Rainy View from Mark Hopkins Hotel, Photo by Eva Barrows

Pouncing through puddles I arrived at a bus shelter where the rain continued to come down. After a ten minute wait, the bus came and I crowded into the back door. I slogged my way to the front to pay not wanting to get in trouble for fare dodging. Before I put my money in, however, I asked the driver if he was going to the top of Nob Hill. He said, nope. He let me off at a corner where another bus that did go up the hill would make its stop. I waited under the canvas awning of a storefront amongst other commuters. The awning became heavy with rainwater and unleashed a wave of water on top of our heads.

Soaked and impatient I decided to walk up the hill myself instead of waiting for the phantom bus. I was running late and needed to get to my post at the conference. One leg lunge after the other I slowly pulled myself up the incline. Huffing and puffing like I did hiking Lower Yosemite Falls, embarrassed by my out-of-shapeness. Claiming victory at a turtle’s pace, I made it to where the sidewalk plateaued. Out of breath, outerwear drenched, shirt soaked in sweat, I arrived at the conference.

Powell Street Cable Car Turn Around, Photo by Eva Barrows

Classic Cable Car

The next day I decided to try catching the cable car up Powell Street which runs directly to my destination. The rain clouds had dispersed to reveal a sunny blue-sky Saturday morning. I bought my seven dollar ticket to ride and got in line with hundreds of tourists. The day before, (when it was raining) nobody was in line to ride the cable car. That was when I should have taken it. I wound up watching ten cars be turned around at the end of the track to take brimming loads of people up the street. As I waited I began to strategize. I was running out of time, I was going to be late for the conference, again. I noticed that people were hopping on the cable car further down the street. But only a few people were being let on at a time. It seemed that I had a greater chance of getting on sooner if I just stayed where I was. Finally, I had my turn to ride the wooden antique cable car clanging up the hill.

Fairmont and Mark Hopkins Hotels, Photo by Eva Barrows

By Car – Hired or Self Drive

Okay, technically I didn’t hire a car to take me to Nob Hill for this year’s conference. I asked my husband to drive me there. Luckily he felt sorry for me and dropped me off across the street from the hotel. I would say by far this is the best way to get to Nob Hill, stress-free (for me) and super direct (no puffing up any hills.) I had some time to watch cars start the descent down Mason Street. Kids in back seats screamed as parents lifted their feet off the break downhill. Remember that? Hands in the air like you’re in a roller coaster, and WEEEEEE, the car goes sharply downhill? Yeah, that was fun.

San Francisco City View from Mark Hopkins Hotel, Photo by Eva Barrows

If you do drive yourself to Nob Hill time-limited street parking and pricy garage parking are available. Also, consider using Uber or taxi to arrive at your swanky destination.

Top of Nob Hill at Sacramento and Mason, Photo by Eva Barrows

Hoofing it aka Walking

I really really really don’t recommend walking to the top of Nob Hill. It can be done but if you’re going up there for a fancy dinner or want to impress anyone with your appearance do – not – walk. I watched as other people struggled to get to the top of the hill. A woman who appeared to live in the area replaced a trip to the gym with a hike up Nob Hill. Wearing workout clothes and clinching a bottle of water, she slowly made it up the street. Her face was pink and sweaty, she gulped for air. An old man plodded up the Mark Hopkins block and paused to hold a trunk of a tree to steady himself. A young woman walked her Labrador up the same block, the dog’s haunches visibly swayed as he climbed.

InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel, Photo by Eva Barrows

My Recommendation

The most comfortable and direct method to surmount Nob Hill is to have someone drop you off. But this can be cost prohibitive if the person taking you isn’t related. The second best way is taking the cable car during an off-peak time. Otherwise, you’ll have to drive yourself mentally prepared to pay for a parking garage.

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3 Historical Peninsula Gardens to Visit

Gazebo at Gamble Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Looking for a quick escape from the daily grind? A local garden may be just the place to breathe deep and collect your thoughts. There’s a number of in bloom historical garden get-a-ways throughout the San Francisco Peninsula. Grab your sun hat and check out these relaxing respites.

Gamble Garden, Palo Alto CA

Gamble House, Photo by John Barrows

Gamble Garden is tucked away in Old Palo Alto, a neighborhood of older homes with architectural variety. The garden surrounds the 1902 home of Elizabeth Frances Gamble descendant of Procter & Gamble’s co-founder. The garden is close to the Stanford Shopping Center and University Avenue, a perfect spot for a mid-day retreat.

Scarecrow at Gamble, Photo by John Barrows

An edible herb garden with sun faded scarecrow greets visitors entering the gardens from the back of the property. Sunshine fills the gravel lined walkways off the central gazebo. A bush trimmed into the Easter Bunny patiently awaits the seasons to change back to spring.

Gamble Garden Sundial, Photo by John Barrows

At the far side of the property a tranquil water fountain trickles, its sound mingles with that of the breeze flowing through the tops of surrounding trees. A circular rose garden, encompassed by a 6-foot tall hedge, offers droopy white blooms shedding petals to the ground.

Rose at Gamble, Photo by John Barrows

Benches dot the property situated under shade trees invite guests to stay awhile. Watch birds, bees and squirrels move about their daily garden life.

Filoli, Woodside CA

The Peninsula is home to an English country estate museum house and extensive gardens. The home at Filoli estate was completed in 1917 with the gardens following soon after. Filoli is a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Filoli Pools, Photo by Eva Barrows

Prepare to meander and contemplate in Filoli’s many gardens. Soak up the sun’s piercing warmth with clear blue sky overhead framed by a variety of swaying tree tops. Eye catching lush green lawns complement red brick footpaths. The fountains and reflecting pools produce the soothing sounds of water.

Garden Passage at Filoli, Photo by Eva Barrows

As the afternoon progresses, watch the fog push over the coastal redwood hills at the foot of the property. The seeping dry ice effect of the cascading fog creates a feeling of magic.

Wonder further back into the gardens, passing through archways in ten-foot tall hedge walls. Discover a variety of vegetation throughout the property: rose garden, herb garden, and squash gardens to name a few.

Filoli Manor, Photo by Eva Barrows

Find activities enjoyed by the inhabitants of the estate placed throughout the garden. A relaxing spa like pool house offers seating for visitors steps away from the sparkling swimming pool. Tennis courts are a short walk from the home and placed at the outskirts of the garden. Walk all of the way to the back of the gardens and find the “High Place” a great place to look out over the estate.

Central Park Rose Garden and Japanese Garden, San Mateo CA

Central Park Rose Garden, Photo by John Barrows

San Mateo’s Central Park was once the site of a mansion estate. The ornate brick and iron fence lining El Camino and the cast iron dog statue guarding the rose garden are remnants from that time. The rose garden with trellis gazebo and the many tree varieties throughout the park are cared for by the San Mateo Arboretum Society.

Central Park Rose, Photo by John Barrows

The rose garden is full of colorful flowers abuzz with honey bee activity. Sniff the buds of pink, yellow, white and red roses. Check the names on the plates next to each rose variety because they can be pretty funny like “Hot Cocoa” or “Barbra Streisand.” A row of benches line the garden under shade trees, a perfect place for visitors to sit and smell the roses.

Central Park Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Don’t miss the Japanese Garden in Central Park. It’s walled off by a traditional Japanese wood wall with a large gated entrance. Step inside to experience a peaceful escape in the middle of downtown San Mateo. The garden is built around a central koi pond with tons of large and playful koi pushing around tree debris at the water’s surface and splashing in water spouts.

Buddha in Japanese Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Walk around the pond on a slim pathway, under dangling trees or cross the water on stone bridges. Several pagoda temples and statues made of stone or bamboo are placed throughout the grounds. Relax on the tea house benches to take in the colorful fish and idyllic scenery.

Japanese Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Visiting the Gardens:

Gamble Garden
1431 Waverley Street, Palo Alto CA 94301
Free admission
Garden open daily during daylight hours
Main House open Monday through Friday 9 am-2 pm

Filoli Estate
86 Cañada Road, Woodside, California 94062
Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 5 pm
General Admission $20 adults

Central Park San Mateo
Rose Garden
Open day light hours

Japanese Garden
Monday through Friday 10 am to 4 pm
Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm

Free admission
50 E 5th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

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Scenic Nature Spots are a Must Do When Visiting Ottawa for the 150th Celebrations

Join me in welcoming guest blogger Katherine Forster as she shows us around her home in Ottawa, Canada! – Eva

Ottawa-Outaouais River Multi Use Paths, Photo by Viliam Glazduri
Ottawa-Outaouais River Multi Use Paths, Photo by Viliam Glazduri

For us Canadians, it feels like the advertising is everywhere. Canada is celebrating 150 years since the signing of the confederation. Our country is sending out an invitation world-wide, extending its hospitality to anyone who wants to visit. There will be special events and activities in most major cities and support for various cultural, scientific, artistic, historic projects that promise to showcase the diversity of this vast land. Canada 150 is a big year for us!

I live in Ottawa and here in the capital of the country, we are finding that the hype is huge. And with this being the last year that the Centre Block of Parliament Hill will be open for up to a decade (a major renovation is planned to start after this special year) and our Canada Day festivities promising to be the biggest in years, there is no doubt that many will flock to visit our lovely city. Ottawa offers so much in terms of history and cultural experiences and now with the extra celebrations, it will be hard to choose among so many things to do and see.

Hog’s Back Falls Winter Scene, Photo by Viliam Glazduri
Hog’s Back Falls Winter Scene, Photo by Viliam Glazduri

My suggestion for those who want to plan a trip to Ottawa this year, is to add a couple of nature stops to your itinerary. Canada is blessed with incredible scenery and that includes the nation’s capital – some of which is not to be missed! And adding a few nature stops to a weekend of sightseeing is a great way to break up hours of indoor museum visits, walking around busy downtown corridors and the crush of crowded line ups. Here are some suggestions:

Hog’s Back Falls Close Up, Photo by Viliam Glazduri
Hog’s Back Falls Close Up, Photo by Viliam Glazduri

Hog’s Back Falls and Rideau Falls – Visitors can walk along paths beside Hog’s Back Falls and see it from different angles (located in Vincent Massey Park by Mooney’s Bay) whereas Rideau Falls can be appreciated from above (on Green Island) or from one of the boat tours that brings visitors to the bottom of the falls as it empties into the Ottawa-Outaouais River.

Rideau Falls, Photo by Viliam Glazduri
Rideau Falls, Photo by Viliam Glazduri

Dominion Arboretum – while a popular tourist spot, the Arboretum is worth braving the crowds on the weekend to appreciate the huge old oaks that can be found along Prince of Wales Drive, a smaller, “wilder” garden, appropriately named Fletcher Wildlife Garden and the ornamental gardens that have perennials blooming for the full summer season.

Dominion Arboretum Winter Reflection, Photo by Viliam Glazduri
Dominion Arboretum Winter Reflection, Photo by Viliam Glazduri

Ottawa-Outaouais River – This large river that designates the border between Ontario and Quebec boasts winding multi-use paths on both sides, which provides scenic views of both city skylines and also some fantastic sunsets. Don’t be discouraged if there are some clouds at twilight as they can reflect and augment the colourful end of day show.

Ottawa-Outaouais River Sunset, Photo by Viliam Glazduri
Ottawa-Outaouais River Sunset, Photo by Viliam Glazduri

South March Highlands – Canada’s Capital is situated in the transition zone between the southern Mixedwood Plains and the Boreal Shield and this becomes very apparent when you visit the South March Highlands. Exposed bedrock, provincially significant wetland and old growth forest provide the conditions for a richly biodiverse area and the opportunity to experience the Canadian shield topography.

Mer Bleue Bog, Photo by Viliam Glazduri
Mer Bleue Bog, Photo by Viliam Glazduri

Mer Bleue – this 7,700 year old bog in the Greenbelt showcases a northern boreal landscape which is a unique habitat for Southern Ontario. It has many regionally rare and significant plants and provides a 1.2 kilometer boardwalk that lets nature lovers experience this habitat in an immersive way in all seasons.

So come on up to visit this great Canadian city this year and take in the festivities, see some sights and enjoy the iconic Canadian nature experience at the same time!

Golden River Silhouette, Photo by Viliam Glazduri
Golden River Silhouette, Photo by Viliam Glazduri

blog-profile-pic-smallGuest Blogger Katherine Forster works in the burgeoning field of urban ecology as an entrepreneur through her business Wild. Here. She lives with her partner Viliam Glazduri, photographer extraordinaire, who shares her passion for nature, and their indoor cat Max in an older central neighborhood of Ottawa close to many natural features including a swimming pond, a small marsh and other green spaces that they can explore.
Wild. Here. provides resources, tools and stories to help those living in cities connect with nature in their neighbourhood. The newest resource is an online social media initiative called 52 Weeks of Nearby Nature.

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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?”

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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.


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.

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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.

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