Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rediscover El Cerrito - Stockton Avenue

I spend most of my free time hanging out in Berkeley for its large selection of bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants. A few years ago, I noticed a few shops popping up on Stockton Avenue in El Cerrito. I didn't think they would last.  I thought there simply wouldn't be enough foot traffic to support the business. A few days ago I got a coupon for a small cup of coffee at Well Grounded Tea & Coffee Bar on Stockton Avenue, one of the shops that I saw a few years ago. I normally walk Kelsey just a block short from Stockton, so I thought I'd walk over and check out the shop while getting a free small cup of coffee.

This morning I went in the small coffee shop for the first time at 8:30 a.m.  To my surprise, it was full of patrons, and there were 3 friendly staff behind the counter taking people's orders. The coffee was surprisingly good and strong.  The customers were all friendly and asked me about the very well behaved dog, Kelsey, who was tied to a tree outside of the shop.

While I enjoyed my coffee, I walked across the street to check out other shops. They are Hibiscus Boutique Spa and The Glenn Custom Framing among a few others. Outside of the framing shop, there is a little cute free library full of books.  I couldn't resist not to take The Dog Park Club by Cynthia Robinson. I read its introduction, and the story takes place in Berkeley. I can't wait to read a mystery novel that's about a dog park and takes place right in my neighborhood!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Butchart Gardens

I took a 10-day trip to British Columbia a couple weeks ago. I booked a round trip flight to Seattle. From Seattle I took a 3-hour train to Vancouver.  After spending 4 days in Vancouver, I took Pacific Couch to reach Victoria.  While I had fun in Vancouver, I was blown away by Victoria. While touring the Parliament Buildings, another tourist highly recommended The Butchart Gardens. The older gentleman emphasized that he had seen many gardens and The Butchart Gardens was just amazing.

Sunken Garden

The following morning, I took a bus to the gardens. The admission fee is a bit pricy, and they don't offer student or senior discount. Once I entered it, I could see why. It is quite an amazing garden, which obviously takes a lot of people to care for it. I was also surprised that they allowed dogs in these meticulous manicured gardens.

On Saturday evenings during summer months, the admission fee also includes concert and fireworks. Unfortunately I was only staying for 4 days and leaving on Saturday morning. I had a nice lunch at The Blue Poppy Restaurant, but I certainly could have packed a nice picnic.

The bears

I would love to visit The Butchart Gardens again during a different season. The gardens look very differently during each season. Next time I will travel straight to Victoria from Seattle.  I still want to stop by Seattle so that I can pay a visit at Jack's Fish Spot in Pike Place Market.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

What I Learned at Million Dog March

A few days ago I found out that Million Dog March was going to take place today in San Francisco at McLaren Park. I thought it would be fun to participate, so this morning I got up at 6 a.m. and arrived at the park around 8:30. It was nice to get up early and drive over to San Francisco without its usual traffic.  McLaren Park is the second largest park in San Francisco (Golden Gate Park is the largest), but many people who came for the March today had no idea this place existed including myself! 

Once the March started at 9 A.M., it took quite a while for the crowd to get moving. A few dogs got snippy with each other. Fortunately I never have to worry about Kelsey even when other dogs snap at her sometimes. She would just back off and not let anything bother her. Most of the sponsors for the event had booths setup at the parking lot. Kelsey got a red Yelp bandana that says "The Original Yelper" on it. As usual, many people commented Kelsey for carrying her own stuff.

While marching along the route, we came upon a large oak tree that has a few interesting displays on it including the one shown below. I am not sure whether it's a joke of some sort as you can clearly see the "squirrels" in the clear box are not real preserved squirrels.  The text reads "Sammy & Shirley 1926-1932 died from starvation during the great depression. Preservation performed by taxidermist July 1932". Everyone was amused by the displays on the tree.  

After the March, there was a post-march festival with the event sponsors and other vendors. There was a live band as well. Everyone was checking out everyone's dogs. A young woman was quite taken by Kelsey. She told me that Kelsey looks just like her dog who recent passed away, and she told me her dog was a Hovawart. I told her everyone thought Kelsey was a mixed breed of Rottweiler and something else. She spelled out Hovawart and told me to look it up because that's what Kelsey looks like. I was surprised as I look at pictures of Hovawart, which means "an estate guard dog" and read its characteristics. Kelsey definitely matches most of the descriptions including getting along with non-canine pets in the household. It's an ancient German breed that's rare in the States, so people usually assume it's a mixed breed. I have seen many dogs including working at UC Davis Vet Med Hospital, but I had never heard of or seen a Hovawart before.  

Hovawart or Rottweiler mix?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Teach Kids Where Food Comes From

Zucchini on the left and beans and tomatoes on the right

In April 2012, I started working for a public charter elementary school as the manager. In February 2013, the school moved into a new site with an abandoned vegetable garden. Many parents volunteered to clear up all the weeds and prepared the vegetable beds for spring planting. We also took soil samples for testing to make sure it was safe for planting edibles.  

mint, sunflower, tomato, and other herbs

One of the grandparents spent hours everyday to plant seeds and seedlings of tomatoes, kale, green onion, strawberries, corn, zucchini, beans, peas, cape gooseberries, and various herbs. He even came to the school during spring break to water the plants. In the beginning, some naughty kids would pull out or stump on the seedlings. As a class project, the teachers instructed the kids to make sign of "Look But Don't Touch" signs to place all over the garden.   


We also got a compost bin to turn all the left over lunch items into rich nutrients for the edible plants. Last month the students released many ladybugs in the garden as a natural way to reduce aphids. In 3 short months, we have already harvested zucchini, strawberries, snow peas, green onion, and lots of cilantro (which is the only herb I fear). We have been handing out organic produce to all the staff, students, and parents.

Green onions

The demanding nature of my position in the school has greatly reduced the time I am able to spend on my own garden; however, I am now able to enjoy fresh produce from the school garden. There is barely any shade in the school garden, so everything seems to grow faster and bigger. Of course, the devoted grandpa is extremely knowledgeable in growing vegetables. Since he speaks no English, I often help him with English translation. I feel fortunate that my own experience in growing has helped me in translating and explaining the process of growing edibles to the kids and other parents. Even though I don't have much time to spend in growing, I can still educate others especially the young generation.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

42nd Annual Stanford Powwow

Hopi Hoop Dance

I went to my first powwow while I was attending UC Davis. Ever since then I have actively looked for powwows around the bay area to attend. I enjoy the costumes, the drumming, the chanting, the dancing, and fry bread a.k.a. Indian taco.

Drum Circle

Stanford Powwow is one of the biggest powwows in the area. It always takes place during Mother's Day weekend starting from Friday evening and lasts until Sunday evening. It's free to attend and everyone is welcome. Most participants of the powwow camp on the campus during the weekend. A few traditional teepees can be seen although they are usually for display only.

I personally feel that as an American, I should be familiar with indigenous peoples' traditions and culture to an extend just like I should be familiar with Mexican culture as a California. I am fortunate that the Bay Area has many culture events all year round.

This year I brought Kelsey with me. There were many other dogs at the powwow and some greeted Kelsey. Kelsey was particularly interested in the parrot. You never know what you'd encounter at a powwow. There was a wolf conservation booth that brought 2 wolves with them to educate the public. I was particularly excited to see the wolves.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Earth Day in San Francisco

Monday, April 22, is Earth Day.  On Saturday, April 20, many Earth Day celebrations took place through out the Bay Area.  I took BART to Civic Center to enjoy a day of Earth Day festivities.  Many  green merchants of the Bay Area had booths at the festival promoting their products and services. Rainbow Grocery had fresh bananas for everyone.  I ate 3 bananas yesterday while having a great time soaking up the sun and participated in some group art projects.

Holistic Hooping provided many colorful hoops of various sizes for anyone who wanted some twirling exercise. I was never good at hula hooping so I just watched others laughing and giggling with hoops around them. Chinook Books were being given away for free, which usually costs $20 each. It's a book of sustainable local coupons. I flipped through the book and immediately found a free pet wash coupon which normally costs $12.

In addition to free bananas, I also enjoyed many samples of Naked Juice and Odwalla while checking out some organic clothing merchants.

My friend who loves to dance ended up dancing on the grassy area with others wearing solar powered wireless headphones. I, on the other hand, sat on the grass carefully read through the entire Chinook Book and bookmarked all the useful coupons in the area.

As the festival ended at 6 p.m., we headed to the food court at Westfield San Francisco Centre for dinner. We were pleasantly surprised to find Loving Hut Vegan Cuisine in the food court and were able to use one of the coupons from Chinook Book. Neither of us are vegetarians, but we can't deny how delicious Loving Hut's dishes are.

Earth Day festivities were filled with live music, free food samples, money saving coupons to take home, and feeling of peace. It's one of the many free local festivals I highly recommend.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Spring is Here

Orchids are blooming again

Last weekend when I walked into the farm, I suddenly noticed all the colorful flowers. Unlike other gardens, most of my flowers will turn into food. Many years ago, a family friend gave us a pot of orchid. We have since then separated that one pot of orchids into 3 pots. I even transplanted one pot into the ground.  For a couple years, they did not bloom. Last weekend I was surprised to see the flowers in one pot and buds in the other pot that was transplanted into the garden.  That was a big happy surprise for me!

Mizuna blossom

All the mizuna plants are almost as tall as I am, and they are in full bloom. This is what happens since I didn't eat them all. I love seeing a sea of yellow flowers with a lot of bees buzzing around them. Even though I didn't eat all the greens, the bees now can collect the pollens and make honey.  Later on the flowers will produce seeds, and next year I will have mizuna again without doing any work.

Asian pear blossom

Both the pear and peach trees are blooming. A bunch of bumble bees have joined the honey bees. Thank to their efforts, I will have a tree full of peaches again in the summer. I am really looking forward to it!

Bumble bee busy at work

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Streets San Francisco

Kelsey inside of Embarcadero BART Station

Daylight saving time started this morning, so we lost an hour.  I could be working in the garden, but the weather was nice so I decided to take another day trip instead. Today was also the first Sunday of San Francisco Sunday Streets 2013. According to its website, "Sunday Streets are events that encourage recreation, community activities and fun in San Francisco. Sunday Streets closes stretches of city streets to automobile traffic, and opens them to people for several hours on a various Sundays throughout the year, so participants can enjoy a large, temporary, public space where they can bike, walk, run, dance, do yoga, or do any other physical activity. Non-profit and health organizations offer free activities and share information about their services during the event."

Roller Skater girls on Embarcadero Ave.

I have heard of these events in past years but have never checked it out.  Since I woke up early this morning, I decided to put Kelsey's backpacks, a.k.a. service dog costume, on her again and take her for a BART ride.  After taking Kelsey on the ferry last October, I was sure Kelsey would do just fine on BART. Kelsey entered and exited BART gates with me, got on and off the escalators and elevators with little confusion.  I could see that she just watched my feet and followed.

Embarcadeo was quite nice without the usual weekend traffic. We took a long walk down the pier. Normally I would go shopping in the Ferry Building, but I didn't want to push my luck and drag Kelsey in there, too.

On Sunday, January 6, 2013, San Francisco began charging for Sunday parking. Ever since that took place, I have stopped driving to the city on Sundays. Some people have been upset with getting parking tickets on Sunday. I hope with Sunday Streets, people can just leave their cars at home for at least a day.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Best Dog Park in Napa

The weather has finally warmed up. I decided that I had to get out of town and go explore while I had Martin Luther King Jr. Day off even though I am still recovering from this latest sinus infection and agonizing coughs. I did a quick overview of surrounding counties and thought Napa would be a nice day trip. I Googled for dog parks in Napa, and sure enough there is a highly rated one called Alston Park. It's being compared to Point Isabel without the ocean. I could certainly enjoy a change of scenery and away from the cold ocean breeze. I packed up all the essentials and Kelsey and got on the road around 10 a.m. heading over to Napa, which is less an hour away from El Cerrito.

There are two enclosure for dogs to roam around and play with each other. One for small and/or shy dogs. The other one for large dogs. Kelsey is friendly with all dogs but she really isn't a run-around and play-catch kind of dog. The other dogs can charge at Kelsey at top speed hoping to get Kelsey to run with them, but they only get a dog who stays at the same spot and looks them with a wagging docked tail. After Kelsey sniffed around the enclosure and greeted other excitable dogs, I took her on a trial walk. The trails were beautiful and surrounded by rows of grape plants, a signature scenery of Napa.

After we walked around Aston Park, I took Kelsey to Downtown Napa. Many people are out at the riverfront enjoying the sun and the view. I was surprised how friendly and well mannered the kids were as they came up to me asking for permission to pet Kelsey. Kelsey absolutely loved the girls and just leaned herself on them. The younger girl told me that their 3-year-old lab ran away that morning, and they haven't been able to find her. I sure hope they get their dog back.  

Napa is now one of my favorite neighboring cities for a day trip for sure.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Time to Harvest Potatoes

Before weeds are removed

It has been about 10 months since I started working for a public school as the manager. I have learned that I simply had to give up on a significant amount of gardening time. Overseeing 159 kindergartener through second graders is no easy task, and I never know exactly what can happen each day. I have hired a small crew of gardeners to help me maintain the farm every other weekend.  However, I am responsible for all the vegetable beds and fertilization.

We have been experiencing very cold temperature that fell below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the past couple of weeks. I covered up my passion fruit vines a few times and could only hope for the best as the temperature kept dropping. Today, the weather seems to be back to normal. The sun is out and it feels warm. The passion fruit vines have all survived. 

After weeds are removed

I have unfortunately caught another cold or flu as another outbreak took place in the school. Illness tends to spread like wild fire in the school. As the students become sick, the teachers and administrative staff often all get hit one after another. I was never into taking dietary supplements, but after being sick about every other month, I finally went out and got every immune boosting supplement that I could get my hands on - vitamin C in 1000 mg tablets, zinc, garlic tablets, plus a few others. Fortunately, it's Martin Luther King Jr. weekend so I get to rest for 3 days before going back to the viral incubator.

I took the opportunity today to clear out most weeds in my vegetable beds. The last bell peppers all  died from the frost. The mizuna I planted last year have now self germinated and just grow on their own without any effort on my part. I have been collecting them for salad. The potatoes are now ready for harvesting as all the potato plants are wilted and dying off. They also self propagate year after year with very little effort on my part.

Mizuna and potatoes

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Point Cabrillo Light Station

Point Cabrillo Light Station

Last night I noticed a deli called Mendocino Market just a few doors down from my hotel room on Ukiah Street. This morning I headed over there with Kelsey and got a grilled chicken and Swiss sandwich before heading over to The Ford House Visitor Center to get some maps.  The Ford House Visitor Center is right on Main Street. I passed by it on my way to the hotel yesterday. It's a beautiful house that was built in 1854.

I wanted to go to Point Cabrillo Light Station first. From the light house, whales can be sighted. The Light Station is now a State Historic Park. On the way to the light house, we passed by 3 beautifully rehabilitated lightkeepers' homes. I could only dream of living in one of those houses looking over the ocean everyday. 

Point Cabrillo Light Station

After spending a couple hours walking through the trails in the Light Station Park, we headed over to Russian Gulch State Park. Self registration of $8 per vehicle is required for entering the park. After I entered the park, I realized that the main trail, Fern Canyon trail, does not allow dogs. That was quite disappointing. I was only able to drive up to the picnic area and take a short walk around it. The view was beautiful, and I had a snack break at one of the picnic tables overlooking the ocean. 

Russian Gulch State Park

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Day in Mendocino

The main building

I have wanted to go back to Mendocino ever since I attended the 3-day Mushroom Camp back in 2010. A couple months ago I happened to see a great deal on Travel Zoo for 2-night stay at Mendocino Hotel & Garden Suites, which allows dogs for a small extra charge. I purchased a voucher for it and made my reservation for January 1st through 3rd, 2013. I wanted to start the new year by taking a relaxing trip in a small town next to the coast, where time seems to stand still.

The Victorian style hotel was established in 1878 and located on the Main Street of Mendocino facing the coast.

The ocean view from the main building

For people traveling with their dogs, they get to stay in the garden suites behind the main building. I was delighted to see a little garden outside of my room. Inside of the room, there's a fire place, a walking closet, and Victorian style furniture and decor. It's like stepping back in time.

Garden suites behind the main building

The hotel also has a Victorian style dining room, which is beautiful and romantic. Since I was only traveling with Kelsey, I didn't want to leave her by herself. I also didn't see the point of having an expensive fancy dinner all by myself even though the menu looks quite delicious.

My room

After settling in, I took Kelsey for a walk around town.  According to 2010 census, Mendocino had a population of 894. The town is very small. I walked around the corner and found Harvest Market which was open on New Year's Day. I bought some clam chowder, dinner rolls, and pasta salad back to my room for dinner. Tomorrow I will go explore some of the state parks in the area.

Kelsey immediately made herself home