Friday, December 14, 2012

Carmel: Memories Of My Father

Carmel, CA -- A haunting musical sound drifted on the wind from the luxurious Spanish Bay Golf Links at Pebble Beach.  A Scottish bagpipe player emerged, playing a soulful rendition of Amazing Grace in full regalia—a kilt, knee-high stockings and a wedge-shaped cap with a trailing ribbon. The last time I heard that song was at my father’s grave site.  He was a simple, old-world man who insisted our family emigrate from Brazil to the land of opportunity—California.  The memory of my beloved father, his simple life, and love of the bagpipe made me smile, and then I wept.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Heart of Ireland Beats In Davis

Davis, CA -- The day I went to visit my son Jordan at his university in Davis, it was overcast and rainy.  Our first stop was a one-hour philosophy class deconstructing the skepticism associated with the writings of 16th century philosopher René Descartes.  I don’t believe the professor understood when he wrote Cartesian Demon on the blackboard, it meant the demon Facebook because that’s what students were viewing on their laptops instead of listening to his lecture. 

After class, Jordan and I wanted some comfort food so we walked in a gentle rain from his frat house to de Vere’s Irish Pub in downtown Davis.   We sat in the library room on a plush red leather couch surrounded by antique fixtures, stained glass windows, polished wood, and yes, books.  If American Free Bird wasn’t blasting from the speakers, I would have sworn I was in Ireland. 

Our order of Bangers and Mash was clearly the comfort food we were seeking, wanting to sink deeper into Irish culture within this jewelry box of a restaurant.  The creamy mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy were worth the price of admission alone.  I asked our waiter Josh to bring us some gnarly mustard and he laughed.  A few moments later with the gnarly addition, the meal took on new heights as I dipped the housemade sausage into a zesty brew of brown seed mustard with a horseradish kick—my whole mouth zigging and zagging resounding with Zing!  My only regret was not ordering a pint of Guinness to balance the zig and zag.

Sadly, our time together was coming to an end.  Jordan and I walked back to his frat house and hugged goodbye.  He would pull an all-nighter to complete a term paper.  My heart was heavy for the parting once again, but made lighter by the memory of our precious time together.  I got in my car, turned on  the XM satellite radio to the 70s station hoping that Free Bird would float through the speakers, sending me back to the happy place once again, at de Vere's, with Jordan by my side. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A New Yorker In San Francisco

San Francisco, CA -- “Drink it.  Enjoy it.  What could be simpler than that?” 

Eric Asimov, author of How To Love
Wine talks with Virginia Miller of the
San Francisco Bay Guardian.
New York Times chief wine critic Eric Asimov shared this insightful tip with an audience of 150 eager oenophiles, or wine lovers, at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club.  Asimov was in town to promote his memoir and manifesto: How To Love Wine.   I admit, the talk was a little high-brow for me, but I did learn that Asimov thinks tasting notes, or wine descriptions such as tastes like black current with a hint of a rare leather-bond book, are a total waste of time. “Do they convey anything relevant at all?” asked Asimov. 

I hit the jackpot at the end of the conversation, led by Virginia Miller, San Francisco Bay Guardian head food and wine writer, when my question was selected from a pile of handwritten queries.  “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done under the influence of an awesome bottle of wine?” Bingo.  Seriously Asimov, I’m handing you my Carte Blanche card to go wild.  His answer: “I’d open up another bottle of wine.”  Really? That's your wild story?

After that response, I was ready to bolt out the door toward the wine tasting reception—the challenge was so were 150 of my closest oenophile friends.  Given that there were only two people pouring wine, the lines were very, very long and I was growing very, very desperate.  Still, I waited. 

In line I met vintner Christopher Buchanan owner of Redwood Country Wines.  His operation is in Humboldt County along a mountaintop ridge in Miranda near old-growth redwoods, the Mattole and Eel rivers, and the Pacific Ocean.  His terroir—the combination of geography, geology and climate might just be the recipe for an award winning bottle of wine that I will be eager to try.

After waiting in line for 20 minutes, I sampled a flight of pinot noir, made by Bravium winemaker Derek Rohlffs.  My favorite was a Jackpot Black 2011.  I didn’t even bother with making up silly tasting notes to impress the winemaker.  I’m actually quite good at saying stuff like tastes like crushed blackberries and cassis with a hint of black pepper aged at the Bancroft Library in John Fremont’s journal from his 1843 expedition over the Sierra Nevada.

Taking the advice I’d heard earlier from New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov, I drank it and enjoyed it.  What could be simpler than that? 
Derek Rohlffs, winemaker at
Bravium with a bottle of Pinot
Noir "Jackpot Black 2011."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Noe Valley: Rin’s Thai Restaurant

San Francisco, CA – Noe Valley’s 24th Street is a sweet spot in the city with charm to spare—Victorian row houses, flower shops, antique stores and an overlooked Thai restaurant: Rin’s.  This Zen themed eatery is a sanctuary of grace and relaxation tucked away at the corner of 24th and Douglass.  Low-lighting, soft terra cotta-colored walls, and photographs of Buddhist monks add to the serenity of this fairly priced restaurant. 

Kim, my friend from Humboldt State and I marveled at the diversity of their hand-picked wine selection—she chose a 2008 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and I stayed true to California, selecting a 2007 Taz Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara which was soft and silky with a floral undertone and a red-fruit finish. 

            “Tonight I want it to be about you,” Kim said to me, “you’ve been through a lot and I want to listen.”  She was right.  My mom suffered a stroke in early September and I’d been away from Basecamp for over five weeks.  Still, I was grateful for the gift of a true friend, and a flavorful meal in a lemon-grass, ginger-scented restaurant with low-key jazz playing in the background.

            Over a green papaya salad with egg, grilled pork, mint and peanuts I told her about hiring two caregivers to support my mom around the clock.  Soothing my frazzled nerves was an aromatic dose of chicken soup and mushrooms in coconut broth.  A healthy serving of chicken satay with cucumber salad, peanut sauce and brown rice strengthened my resolve to continue caring for an aging parent. 

            The evening ended too quickly, but the memory of a loving friend and a gentle meal at Rin’s remained in my heart. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Newport Beach: A U-Turn To Re-Turn

Newport Beach, CA – Sometimes on the road of life there are U-Turns, a chance to return on the same path where we came from.  For me that place is at the end of 32nd Street in Newport Beach at the Pacific Ocean.  This U-Turn began more than a week ago when I received the dreaded phone call that my mom suffered a stroke.  I left Basecamp near San Francisco and went straight to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach to visit my mom.  Luckily, since my brother was with her at the time of the stroke, she came through with minimal injuries—mostly spaghetti legs and left-side weakness.  Still, we’ll have to step up her care to round-the-clock vigilance for the next month.  Now I am eye-ball deep in strategic planning for her estate, retrofitting her home to accommodate a wheelchair and walker, and interviewing full-time caregivers.  One Southern California evening when it had been a 100-degree day I gave in to the endless task of caring for an aging parent and gifted myself with a beach trip to watch the sunset.  I went back to my childhood place—32nd Street, and stood knee-deep in the warm ocean water and melted into the watercolor painting that was my life.  As the sun drifted down on the water, my spirits began to soar and take flight like the seagulls on the horizon.  Suddenly, there it was—the gift of grace, the U-Turn, the sunset on the water enveloped in air so light and warm that if I was a feather, I would have floated on the breeze to Catalina Island which on this day I could see the outline with clarity.  I began to twirl and dance in the water, on the sand, with immense gratitude at the gift of life without regard to how it presents itself—in sickness and in health.  There is only one time and it is now.  Carpe diem—seize the day.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Two Years Later: Every Step of the Journey is Still the Journey

The things I carried with me on a
one-year journey of California.
Basecamp, CA – Two years ago I packed up six suitcases, put them into my car and launched on a one-year pilgrimage across California.  I lived in one California city per month for a year.  My desire was to discover the meaning of my life—the overarching goal was to write a book about this experience. 

            On the journey, I learned so many lessons—the most important was to release attachment to outcome.   Allow things to be what they are, rather than what I think they should be.  All suffering comes from holding on to a certain way of being in the world.  This holding on creates a rigidity that can often break a person in half.  There are many broken people in the world.

            After the journey—which was one long daytrip, is when I learned more about the meaning of my life, which is to help others through their process of transformation.  Visit my new website and you’ll see that I am now a “personal project manager” – helping make my client’s dreams come true. 

            Now, about that book…I’m happy to report that the first draft of the manuscript is complete.  Since I embody the lesson learned about releasing attachment to outcome, it has been made very clear to me that the book will not be just about the one-year pilgrimage through California, but rather about my own process of transformation from ages 48 – 52.  I release attachment to what I once thought the book should be, and accept what it will reveal itself to be. 

            This gentle release creates a sense of well-being because it’s based on faith and trust that all is as it should be.  We are all on a journey and I believe if we treat this journey as one-long daytrip, we would discover that it can be joyful.  Further, if we release attachment to outcome and allow it to be what it is, we would once again be made whole.

Tahoe City: the first place I lived on
the journey.  Everything was bright, shiny
and grateful.
            Here’s to wherever you are on your journey, may it be divine.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

In A Daze at Pinot Days

Pinot Days in San Francisco
San Francisco, CA – When it comes to drinking I have the heart of an alcoholic, but sadly not the stomach for it—after two drinks, I’m quickly done-in.  Luckily, wine is meant for sipping and Pinot, the delightful thin-skinned grape is one to savor, so my heart and stomach were in communion for Pinot Days, a wine festival held at Fort Mason on June 16.   
This event calls itself the largest gathering of Pinot Noir producers in the world and I believe it—the place was packed.  My college roommate from 30 years ago invited me to go with her and our goal was to find the best wine of the event, a huge challenge considering there were over 140 exhibitors there.  Still, we were up to the task and here’s our unscientific strategy.  First: we only tasted California wines; second: we isolated two geographic areas including the Central Coast and the Napa Valley; and third: we asked random people, mostly cute single guys, whom they recommended. 

Next, we conjured a strategy.  One of us would sit at a table and take notes, while the other would go to a booth and ask the winemaker to “pour me the best stuff you have—you’re in a contest to win winemaker of Pinot Days.”  We’d taste the wine at the table and use the Robert Parker 100 point rating system. 

Bob Wait, Grand Prize Winner
Luckily for our grand prize winner, I immediately violated our unscientific strategy and asked a big, burly, bearded guy who had a camera around his neck and a spiral notepad in his hand what his favorite wine was and he told me to try Wait Cellars and he was right. Owner and winemaker Bob Wait’s 2009 Green Valley Pinot Noir is made from 100 percent hand-picked and hand-sorted fruit from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County.  Plus, he melted our heart by pouring his prize-winning wine from his grandmother’s decanter. At $36 a bottle, it’s a steal.  We gave him 99 points. 

Kevin Deschamp (l) and winemaker
Gary Brookman (r) First Place Winner
Our first place winner was Miner Family Winery, the very first wine that my roommate tried at the event, even before we devised our scheme to run the unofficial event contest.  I was busy eating French bread and Kerrygold white cheddar cheese at the time—starving as usual.  Winemaker Gary Brookman’s 2010 Rosella’s 777 is made from grapes grown along the southwest facing slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range on the Central Coast.  At $75 a bottle, it’s an investment that will last until 2018—if you can wait that long!  We gave him 97 points.   

Honorable mention goes to Manzoni EstateVineyard, mostly because my roommate is good friends with the owner, Mark Manzoni.  But we do recommend their 2010 Manzoni Home Vineyard Pinot Noir.  

At the conclusion of the event, both of us had a good buzz going, but we were ready to pay the piper.  We went to the volunteer booth, put on our day-glo orange vests, and began our jobs as closing logistic technicians.  This was the price to pay for a free entrance to the event—picking up used wine glasses, breaking down tables and collecting garbage.  Still, we had a blast and look forward to doing it again next year. Cheers.

Friday, June 15, 2012

California Legend: David Brower

Berkeley, CA – One of the best parts about living in the East Bay is the access to the intellectual capitol of California—Berkeley. It’s always such a treat to be among the mature radicals of the 60s, men and women who once held the lantern lighting the way into our future.  One of these pioneers was the late David Brower, father of the environmental movement.  His son Ken Brower has penned a new book The Wildness Within:Remembering David Brower—written about his legendary father.  I was on-hand and at the edge of my seat listening to my favorite publisher Malcolm Margolin pepper Ken Brower with questions about the book.

            My favorite story was about the dam at Glen Canyon along the Colorado River, the one that broke the heart of David Brower, who on behalf of the Sierra Club fought a protracted battle against the Bureau of Reclamation and in the end lost.  Its reservoir is called Lake Powell or Lake “Foul” as Ken called it and is the second largest artificial lake in the country. The dam, finished in 1966 inundated a natural cathedral of gorges, sheer-cliff sculptured walls of Navajo sandstone that once radiated warm earth tones of tangerine reflecting a rosy golden light. 

            In 2005, five years after the death of his father, Ken finally had the courage to visit Glen Canyon bringing along his own beloved son.  As Ken tells it, he was dismayed at the destruction of the dam especially since the water level was so low and the tell-tale bathtub ring veiled the once exquisite integrity of the canyon walls.  I’m sure there was a lot of head-shaking going on as Ken reflected on the lost beauty of this once magnificent canyon.  His son piped up and told his dad, “It’s still beautiful to me,” affirming that while things get taken away from us, every generation still finds beauty.

Much to my surprise, Ken’s son was in the audience along with his own child who appeared less than a year old, a baby still.  What began as sweet cooing soon turned to fussing and then frustrating squawks.   The audience was patient.   Eventually the baby was escorted out of the venue by a considerate mother.  It dawned on me that this was the great grandchild of David Brower, who this year would have been 100-years-old.   That his generational legacy would continue to have a impact because in our midst was a future environmentalist who had his great-grandfather's gift of making a lot of noise and getting attention, just what the movement needs in an ever-changing world. 

On the cusp of Father's Day, I honor the late, great David Brower and the loving tribute of his son Ken.  Thanks to you both for making the world a better place. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Earth Angels Alive at Earth House

Oakland, CA -- Hope abounds for healthy, just, and sustainable communities through education—the mission of Earth House, spearheaded by Harvard grad Dr. Margaret Paloma Pavel and resident Zeus Carl Anthony.  My friend Steve Blackwell who just received his Master’s degree from Holy Names University invited me to a celebration of his internship completion at Earth House.  I was delighted to be part of this special event heavy on ceremony and accolades including a certificate of completion and a medal with a green and white ribbon.  This reverence for the whole person—both private and public renewed my faith in building a healthy community, one person at a time.  Congratulations Steve, you’re officially an Earth House Earth Angel. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mill Valley Fundraiser: The Fourth Messenger

Mill Valley, CA -- What if the Buddha were a woman and she was alive today? How would the world view her life and teachings differently? The Fourth Messenger is a new musical that asks these questions.  Playwright Tanya Shaffer held a fundraiser to promote her upcoming production on a spring afternoon at Hillside Gardens, a sweet spot in über-hip Mill Valley.  I joined about 80 people, most of whom were wearing wide-brim hats for this joyful outdoor event celebrating music, great food catered by Savory Thymes and the life of Buddha—who was both enlightened and flawed.  Tanya’s a pillar of dedication—she’s been working on this production for almost 13 years.  When I asked what kept her inspired she said, “It’s like raising your children, you don’t have a choice.”   Awe shucks Tanya, we all have a choice...right?   Still, I salute your unwavering dedication to following your dream.  We are the lucky ones.  Namaste.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Heyday Books: It's An Ohlone Thing

San Francisco, CA -- Heyday Books held their second annual New California Writing 2012 event at the California Historical Society headquarters.  It was a true gift to hear California writers read from their published stories that appear in the 2012 anthology.  But, I was there on a mission: to shake the hand of Malcolm Margolin, founder and owner of Heyday Books who wrote my favorite book on the California Indian The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco–Monterey Bay Area published over 25 years ago and still relevant today.  There were plenty of people in line to say hello to Malcolm and when I got my turn, I babbled on about how much the book meant to me and that the view from my apartment at Basecamp overlooks the Emeryville Shell Mound and before I got a chance to tell him that sometimes I pretend that I am an Ohlone Indian wearing a deer skin coat, and grind acorns with the other women while singing songs someone else swooped Malcolm away, which was probably a good thing for him.  I raise my glass to a man who’s made a huge difference in California literature.  Here's to you Malcolm!

San Francisco: Ghirardelli Square

San Francisco, CA -- The history of Ghirardelli chocolate goes together with the City of San Francisco--both were founded at about the same time.  I went to Ghirardelli Square and discovered a hidden treasure: musican Kevin Toqe.  He plays a lush, melodic guitar and his songs lifted my already high spirits with words of encouragement and hope.  The combination of live music and chocolate was the perfect recipe for a great afternoon.   Thank you Kevin.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mother's Day 2012: Kissed By Two Angels

Davis, CA -- The original plan for Mother's Day was to go swimming at U.C. Davis' "rec" pool with my two children now 21 and 22.  The forecast was for a 90 degree day.  When we got to Davis from Basecamp, it was overcast and windy, not a good day for lounging poolside.  Jordan said he had a surprise for me. "Let's go to the Whole Earth Festival, there's a bunch of hippies there, you'll love it." He was right, I did love it...what's not to like?  Live music, great food, interesting vendors, all in one cool place.  The highlight of the event was when Haley said, "let's give mom a kiss," and they each went on one side of me and held the kiss while someone snapped the picture.   Sigh.  Why can't everyday be Mother's Day?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Humboldt State: It's A Cosmic Journey

Arcata, CA -- If you're looking to deepen your relationship with nature and are open to using both your left and right brain hemisphere, I recommend you attend the Cosmic Vision Workshop at Humboldt State University.  Not only is this the best deal in town at $15 for 15 hours of lecture by ridiculously energetic and uber-intelligent Professor Stone Brusca, it's downright entertaining.  The photographic images of galaxies, atoms and Gaia he shows cosmicians are worth the price of admission, alone.  Be prepared to have your mind blown open.  Me and my twin, who lives in a parallel universe, both loved the class.  It's a cosmic journey.

Arcata: Holly Yashi Jewelry

Arcata, CA -- My favorite jewelry in the world is made in Arcata—the company is called Holly Yashi. Their signature metal is a lightweight material called niobium like titanium but much rarer.  When niobium is dipped in an electrically-charged bath, the refractory metal turns into a rich rainbow color, resulting in one-of-a-kind necklaces and earrings.  

            The story of how owners Holly Hosterman and Paul “Yashi” Lubitz began their company goes back to 1981, when they were searching for creative ways to use their degrees. Holly, who majored in studio art with an emphasis in jewelry-making, and Paul, who graduated with a double degree in industrial technology and music, knew they wanted to work together. Combining their talents to lay the foundation for what would quickly become a successful jewelry business they transformed their one-car garage into a design studio and started their lifelong career with Holly Yashi.  They just celebrated 30 years in business. 

            If you’re looking for a Mother’s Day gift that will wow your mom, I recommend Holly Yashi.  Tell them the Humboldt Honey sent you. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

El Portal: Rafting the Merced River

El Portal, CA --  The Merced River picks up at the West Entrance to Yosemite in mid-spring alongside  Highway 140, five miles from El Portal.  The snow melt is only a few hours old—low 40’s and ready to give Class III and Class IV rafters the ride of a lifetime.  If you're looking for adventure and appreciate a tremendous landscape, I recommend you explore the Merced River with the Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions.  Tell them Operation Goldfish sent you.

Mariposa: Gold Rush Town

Mariposa, CA --  If you were near the small Gold Rush town of Mariposa in 1849, you would have seen over 3,000 gold seekers from around the world, peering at every pebble in Mariposa Creek.   Mariposa was the southernmost mine during the Gold Rush.  The first gold was mined near where it was found—the American River.  Mythical stories of picking up gold nuggets while walking near the water’s edge are epic.  Here, the operation wasn’t placer, but rather subterranean—deep shafts tunneled into the Earth to depths of 200 feet.   On display at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum a few miles out of town near the Fairgrounds is the Fricot “Nugget,” a rare and beautiful specimen of crystallized gold discovered in the American River in 1864 weighing almost 14 pounds. This specimen is the largest remaining intact mass of crystalline gold from the 19th century.  The value? Two million dollars.  Go west young man, go west.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pessagno Winery: Salinas Valley Gem

Salinas, CA -- I’m always enchanted when I discover a new part of California.  So when my college roommate whom I’ve known for 30 years said, “I’m taking you on the River Road Wine Trail in the Salinas Valley—John Steinbeck country,” I happily agreed to go.  The spring day was 68 degrees as we drove by agricultural fields that stretched for miles.  Farmworkers were harvesting broccoli and cauliflower in front of a stunning backdrop of the low-lying Santa Lucia Mountains. It looked like our fairy godmother had sprinkled ice plant blooms with a wand, just in time for us to gasp at the display of vibrant pink and purple blossoms.

We spent the afternoon at PessagnoWinery where owner Steve Pessagno joined us for a glass of wine, engaging us in conversation ranging from the benefits of owning a winery, “great lifestyle, good friends, wonderful wines,” to the downside of abundance, “it’s a challenge to maintain a slim waistline,” to the way of the universe. 

I said we were made of the same stuff as the stars—carbon atoms.  He of course knew better.  After all, to be a winemaker of his caliber he understood chemistry.  He corrected me with some gobbledygook about the alchemical process of transformation that involved helium, hydrogen and free neutrons that even now I can’t recall.  Still, we were in agreement.  We are the universe and the universe is us.  Cheers!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Yogananda: Self-Realization Center

Pacific Palisades, CA -- Before I left the grounds at the Self-Realization Center, I saw a sign cast amidst a clump of orange daylilies.  It was a quote by the Yogananda that captured the essence of his spirit. “Everything else can wait, but our search for God cannot wait.” -- Paramahansa Yogananda.
Thank you dear Yogananda for sharing your divine wisdom with this spiritual seeker.  Namaste.

Rodeo Drive: Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills, CA -- When I was little, I loved watching the Beverly Hillbillies, falling in love with the Clampetts who struck oil, calling it black gold, Texas tea.  Since now they were rich, they moved to Beverly Hills—swimming pools and movies stars.  It was a natural for me to visit the shopping capital of the world, Rodeo Drive, a three-block district of high-end stores with designer names like Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Tiffany & Co. and Chanel.  But I never did run into the Clampetts, only tourists.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Time of Wisteria: So Long

Basecamp, CA -- My heart is breaking.  The time of wisteria will soon be gone.  Wisteria—the pretty groups of light purple flowers that hang on a vine much like a cluster of grapes, are sprinkled throughout my neighborhood.   These flowers smell like Lily of the Valley and last for only a few weeks—too short, that's for sure.   I love this quote:  "Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened."  So long wiseria.

Keep On Truckin: Venice Food On The Go

Venice, CA --  The new way to eat in Venice is from the mobile lunch trucks. These cheap and hip, controversial trucks line trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard offering nouvelle cuisine twist to old favorites like hot dogs, tacos, and cheese steaks. Much to the chagrin of brick and mortar business owners, there’s only one regulation in place that controls the trucks—they must have an agreement with a permanent business to provide a bathroom. Locals claim these trucks take away precious business and leave a lot of trash behind.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fort Rosencrans National Cemetery

San Diego, CA -- Watching the sunset at the only place on the peninsula that allows people to stay after 5 p.m.—Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, a West Coast version of Arlington National Cemetery.  Admittedly it is a creepy place to watch the sun go down, what with all the identical white marble tombstones and randomly distributed carnations, but my son and I were undaunted. Since it was still so cold we waited for sunset in the car, facing due west.  Jordan took a little snooze and I looked out over the horizon and saw distant ships sailing into the mist, imagining early explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo peering through his scope aboard his vessel the San Salvador to the shore and I wondered if he could see me, snuggled in the car wearing a big warm jacket, set among the tombstones, gently touching the sleeve of my sleeping son’s arm. “Wake up…it’s almost time for the sun to set.”

Cabrillo National Monument: San Diego Treasure

San Diego, CA -- Cabrillo National Monument is at the tip of the Point Loma peninsula.  It offers a panoramic view of San Diego, the naval shipyard to north and the Coronado Bridge and Island to the south.  I took my son Jordan, who was visiting from Davis for the weekend, to see the place where Spanish conquistador Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, became the first European to set foot on what would later become the state of California.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Follow Your Passion: Inspirational TED Talk

Basecamp, CA -- If you've never heard of TED talks, you're in for a treat.  Go online at and see for yourself the myriad educational opportunities for learning.  This morning I listened to contrarian Larry Smith, an economist who helped launch the Blackberry.   His topic? Why you will fail to have a great career.  If you are as passionate about transformation as I am, take fifteen minutes and be inspired.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Indian Canyon: Heart of Palm Springs

Palm Springs, CA -- Indian Canyon is the resilient, yet fragile heart of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. This holy oasis of canyons and streams is home to the world’s largest grove of Washingtona filifera, known as the California Fan Palm. These skirted, stately guards grow to 60 feet and are over 200 years old. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Endless Summer: Classic 60s Surf Sound

Carmel, CA -- Brothers Gaston and Walter Georis were founding members of the Sandals, who wrote and performed the soundtrack to Bruce Brown’s 1966 surf documentary Endless Summer—Gaston on keyboards and Walter on rhythm guitar.  The Sandals broke up soon after the movie. In the early 70s, the Georis brothers moved to Carmel and opened up wildly successful Casanova restaurant.  They also own precious real estate and a winery.  They sound as good now as back then.  Watch, listen and groove:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Carmel Bohemians: Romantic Thinkers

Carmel, CA -- Carmel’s abundant natural beauty has always inspired artists and writers to live in its village by the sea.  At the turn of the century, there were many artistic colonies around the country calling themselves Bohemians.  San Francisco was home to a large community of these high thinkers.  The cataclysmic earthquake and ensuing fires that ravaged the city in 1906 threw San Francisco's Bohemian community into disarray, and the refugees fled south to Carmel.

George Sterling, a charismatic poet was the central character in this utopian society, having arrived in Carmel in 1905 and setting up a cottage with enough room to entertain guests.  He convinced friends to abandon the city and forge a rustic community among the cypress trees and white sand beaches.  Among them were writers Jack London, Mary Austin, and Sinclair Lewis.   

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ohlone Indians: California's Lost Treasure

San Franciso Bay, CA--The Ohlone Way, a book by Malcolm Margolin tells us there were about 10,000 California Indians consisting of 40 groups who lived in the coastal area between Point Sur and the San Francisco Bay each controlling enough land to feed its population.  The Coast Miwok in Marin County; Patwin around Suisun Marsh; and Plains Miwok, Bay Miwok, and Yokuts in the delta.  While each of these groups varied from one another in language and customs, today they are collectively known as the Ohlone Indians.

Back then, the ecological diversity of the Bay Area was enormous.  Over many centuries totaling four or five thousand years, the Ohlone Indians around the estuary lived meaningful, complex lives that were self-sustaining.  They were not apart from the natural world, and never considered themselves to be the top of the food chain, simply a part of it.

The Ohlones were hunters and gatherers—they fished, painted their bodies and danced.  They married, raised children, buried their dead and prayed to their gods—in short not so different from you and me.  They shared joy, laughter, suffering and sorrow. 

They did not value freedom or individualism.  This is so vastly different from the pioneer spirit and the California way that exists today.  Every Ohlone from birth to death, was bound to family and clan. To break these bonds and achieve freedom was to be weakened, damaged, and dangerously vulnerable.  Strength, joy, fulfillment, a person’s very identity were to be found in belonging.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge: Tourist Rite of Passage

San Francisco, CA -- Last year, I went on a pilgrimage of California and lived for one month in 12 cities.  In each city I took a picture in front of their official city limits sign.  In San Francisco, their sign was in the center of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I walked the 1.7 miles north toward Marin County across the entire span searching for the San Francisco city limits sign only to discover that it was across the bridge on the bicycles-only side, where no foot-traffic was allowed.  I dodged angry spandex-clad bicyclists to arrive at my destination.  I had to take the photo myself.  The goal was to place the entire sign in the picture frame, with at least some part of me in the photograph.  I was a bundle of nerves—my hands were shaking and my fingers were thumbs.  It took me 63 times to get it right.

Monday, February 6, 2012

San Francisco Bay Discovery Site: Sweeney Ridge

Pacifica, CA -- Captain Gaspar de Portolá and his expedition, consisting of 64 people, set out from San Diego, made their way to Monterey, and then arrived at Sweeney Ridge near the San Francisco International Airport.  On that hilltop, they discovered the largest estuary on the Western Coast of the United States.
Expedition engineer Miguel Costansó wrote in his journal:

“From the summit of this range we saw the magnificent estuary, which stretched toward the southeast.  The country was pleasant.  The hills west of the canyon were crowned with low live oaks, smaller trees.  There was sufficient pasture.  We halted on the bank of a stream of good water.  Some…natives…invite us to go to their villages, and offered us present of seeds and fruits.”

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Palace of Fine Arts: San Francisco Treasure

San Francisco, CA -- The Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition or what’s known as the World’s Fair.  It was part of a massive undertaking to show the world that after the 1906 earthquake and resulting fire, San Francisco was back in business. 

Architect Bernard Maybeck designed the Palace of Fine Arts to evoke the same emotional response of sadness and beauty one might feel while looking at a Roman ruin, yet still in California.  The circular paved walkway offers views of a pond filled with ducks and geese, surrounded by camellia and rhododendron trees creating an ethereal landscape. The fact that this haunting structure of immense proportion remains standing is a testament to the esteem San Franciscans hold for their beloved landmark. Gavin Newsom, the city's former mayor is quoted as saying “The Palace is part of San Francisco's soul, a beautiful link to our past and a gateway to the future.”

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Intellectual Icon: Berkeley's Campinele

Berkeley, CA – Every time I look out my living room window I am greeted with a vision of Berkeley's Sather Tower, known as the Campanile.  It stands 307 feet tall and is the third tallest bell and clock tower in the world.  To me, it represents intellectual stability. Writing the book A Year In California is both exhilarating and debilitating.  Feeling stuck in the writing process yesterday, I walked the two miles from my Oakland home to the Campinele and placed both hands on the cement structure, hoping to gain strength to continue on my path.  I was not disappointed.  The energy of 22 Nobel laureates passed through me, their undaunted courage inspiring me to continue.  I stepped back from this intellectual edifice in time to gain a whiff of some pungent cannabis coming from a man in his late 30s.  I took him to be a student of life, inhaled deeply, and made my way to the Bancroft Library. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bristlecone Pine: World's Oldest Living Tree

White Mountains, CA -- Ted and I went up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains searching in vain for the world’s oldest living tree at 4,600-years-old called Methuselah which we thought was pictured on the guide cover. We eventually gave up and made our way back to the visitor’s center where park ranger Dave Hardin, a man I had met once before at a stargazing party near the miniscule town of Ravana at the end of Round Valley Road, told us that Methuselah was unmarked to protect it from vandalism—it made sense.

At the visitor’s center I was captured by an ethereal nighttime photograph taken of a weathered ancient bristlecone pine tree in the foreground and in the background was the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. This stunning image was taken with a Nikon D700 camera with a 300mm f/2.8 lens, set at f/4, ISO 5000, for a three-minute exposure. It went on to win photograph of the day at the website The photographer’s name: Tony Rowell.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Inyo County: Land of Extremes

Bishop, CA -- It’s mind-boggling to grasp the extremes in this unusual part of California.  If there were a contest for bragging rights Inyo County would win in the "wonders of the natural world" department.  To start, Inyo is the second largest county in the United States, with 10,142 square miles, yet only two percent of this land is populated by people. It has the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney at 14,497 feet; the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level; the largest National Park in the continental Unites States, again Death Valley; the oldest living tree on earth, Methuselah at over 4,000 years old; and the southernmost glacier in North America, at Palisade Glacier. 

California: Voice of An Angel

Watch this live performance of Joni Mitchell's hit, California taken on October 9, 1970.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

French Laundry: Holy Experience

Yountville, CA --  Dining at the Laundry was like being in the center of the most exquisite stained glass chapel in the world, Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, all refracted light—a holy experience. The angels were singing songs of exhalation transporting me to a higher realm of existence. I wanted to stay there forever.

Maître d'Hôtel Larry Nadeau came by to say hello. He was suave, sophisticated and charming. “You look wonderful tonight,” he said in a semi-whisper. Swoon. He then asked if there was anything more he could do for us. I couldn’t resist. I asked him if they had any ketchup in the back. His eyes grew big, and then they crinkled at the creases, revealing a soft spot in a reserved exterior. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” he said.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

V. Sattui Winery: Napa Valley Treasure

St. Helena, CA -- Dario Sattui is the great-grandson of Vittorio who single-handedly took up the torch in 1975 and revived V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena along Highway 29. His rag to riches story is one of youthful drive and unwavering dedication to a vision. For six or seven years, he worked long hours, seven days a week. To save money he slept in a sleeping bag on the tasting room floor, taking cold showers from the winery hose, rolling up the bag in the daytime, hiding it behind the wine barrels and telling no one about his dire straits. His goal was to craft fine wines to make his great-grandfather Vittorio proud. The result of Dario’s effort is a winery that’s able to sell 70,000 cases per year of wine direct to the consumer, a successful, against-the-grain business model that eliminates distribution through stores or restaurants

I was introduced to Dario who at six foot four is a commanding presence. He is in his 70s—tall, rugged, handsome and still virile. We were at V. Sattui’s annual Crush Party, an event that allowed the public to step behind the scenes of a working winery to watch grapes being crushed; meet the winemakers; measure acid, sugar, pH and sulfurs; see the bottle line in operation; dip Madeira bottles in hot sealing wax; and of course eat and drink to our heart’s delight.

“This is Ingrid, she’s writing a book on California,” said Claudette Shatto, the public relations woman for the winery. I brought along my 19-year-old son Jordan, who attends nearby U.C. Davis, world-renown for its viticulture school that has produced some of the best vintners in the Napa Valley.

“You don’t look old enough to have a son this age,” he said with a twinkle in his eye—a charmer. “I have a little place up the road called Castilo di Amaraso, if you want to tour it, let me know.” He reached into his wallet and pulled out an odd-sized business card and handed it to me. “Have a great time at the Crush party.”

Later I would learn that Dario’s “little place up the road” was a recreation of a medieval castle with 200 acres of prime real estate in St. Helena that Dario completed in 2007 after fourteen years of laborious construction.