Holbrook Palmer Park

Once known for dozens of grand country estates, Atherton still provides a rare glimpse back at 19th-century rural life. Most of Atherton’s larger landholdings were sold and subdivided in the 20th century with the exception of the Holbrook Palmer Estate, which was converted into a public park. Originally called “Elmwood,” the property was developed as a summer home for wealthy hardware and mining supply store owner Charles C. Holbrook in the 1880s. Designed and constructed by architect Henry C. Macy, the buildings included a Second Empire-style main house, a similarly styled three-story Water Tower and a Colonial Revival-style Carriage House. Situated approximately 75 feet apart, the Water Tower and Carriage House are recognized today as rare surviving agricultural outbuildings in Atherton—uniquely designed in recognizable architectural styles rather than just for functional utility. Charles Holbrook and his family enjoyed the Elmwood estate for many years. In 1926, Olive Holbrook Palmer inherited the property, which continued to operate as a farm until the mid-1950s. When Holbrook Palmer passed away in 1958, she willed the estate to the city of Atherton for recreational use. In addition to appreciating the still-standing historic structures, Holbrook Palmer Park visitors also enjoy the use of sports fields, playgrounds, gardens, bocce ball courts, fountains, tennis courts and a pavilion. 

Oz, Sherlock & Stanford

The Collecting Legacy of a Father and Son 

Jim Rutter focuses intently from the stands at a Stanford football game, where he’s occupied a seat for nearly every football season of his life. Over the loudspeaker, he hears the call to action: “Let’s verify whether that play is a record with our sports archivist Jim Rutter.

Over decades, Jim has rigorously documented Stanford football, basketball and baseball statistics, along with archiving Stanford sports souvenirs including Big Game programs from the late 1800s. As a fourth-generation Stanford graduate, collecting Stanford memorabilia is practically in his genes but his passion for preserving is a family affair that extends far beyond Stanford.

Jim’s father Dr. Richard Rutter is an avid collector with one of the largest collections of Wizard of Oz literature and memorabilia worldwide. Together, the father and son duo also combine their enthusiasm to compile a substantial array of Sherlock Holmes literature and memorabilia.

“Marie Kondo would want items to spark joy,” acknowledges Jim. “The problem is that everything sparks joy for us. If you bring us some John Grisham novels from 1988 or a book on military history, we are interested. It is a blessing and a curse.” 

Longtime Peninsula residents, the father and son collecting team live near one another in Redwood City, affording them the opportunity to frequently check in and discuss their finds. “Our collecting isn’t as much for value,” clarifies Jim. “It is more the unbridled interest in all things.”

The Wonders of Oz 

Richard’s fondness for the Wizard of Oz began as a child enjoying Frank L. Baum’s 14 stories and later reading them to his own children. “My mother had a first edition and my cousin had another. Together, they were a bit of a collection,” he shares, before offering some additional context. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is only the tip of the iceberg. It is only one book in Baum’s original canon of 14. Then Ruth Plumly Thompson added 19 more Oz novels to the original canon.” Richard is such a committed Oz fan that he occasionally directs mail to be addressed to him at Emerald City, rather than the Emerald Hills neighborhood where he lives. Luckily, the postal carrier plays along with his whimsy.

One summer, nearly 50 years ago, Richard decided to indulge his interest in the Wizard of Oz by attending the Winkies Western Region Wizard of Oz meeting with his young son, Jim, and daughter, Karen. “Despite their cries, I dragged the kids up to Yosemite,” recounts Richard. “It opened a whole new world for me. Here were a bunch of people at the beautiful Wawona Lodge who were madly involved with Oz.”

A retired orthodontist and former professor at University of Pacific Dental School in San Francisco, Richard adopts alter egos to channel his enthusiasm for all things Oz. For over 10 years in a row, he won the costume contest at the annual Oz Convention. “It was the costume contest equivalent of the arms race,” observes Jim wryly. 

Richard’s costumes ranged from the Tin Man made from a silver-painted pool cover to Baum’s fictional elk-like creature the Gump, in which he cocooned himself inside of two sofas tied together with a deer head on wheels. “My father was careening down a pathway at considerable personal peril and crashed at high speed,” recalls Jim with a groan. As Richard is quick to point out, “I crashed, but there were no major injuries.” 

Richard’s zeal for costuming culminated in his impersonation of the “Great and Terrible Oz” himself while soaring over Indiana University in a hot air balloon for the 100th anniversary of the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz publication. “I felt a little bit closer to Oz,” he fondly remembers. Sporting his great-grandfather’s top hat and elaborate tails, Richard was subsequently featured in a New York Times front page story. “He is a bit of a reserved person,” notes Jim. “But when he would go into his costumes, his inner extrovert would emerge in the presence of glory.” 

Richard scours the globe to feed his insatiable Oz enthusiasm, securing copies of the book in 62 languages and nearly 1,700 Oz-related titles. The state library of North Macedonia even donated one of only two books in the country to his collection. At his home, Richard leads guests down a yellow brick road he built himself in his dedicated Oz room, where Oz literature, memorabilia and mint-condition collectibles are housed. Crystal Emerald Cities, rare cut-out Oz Waddle collectibles dating back to 1934 and colorful advertising materials are carefully exhibited amongst the wall-to-wall bookshelves and display cases. In 2019, Richard’s journey with Oz came full circle when he attended a showing of The Wizard of Oz at the Stanford theater 80 years after he first watched the movie in a theater as a child in 1939.

Stanford Superfan

On the fourth floor of the Stanford press box, Jim diligently preserves Stanford sports history by procuring everything from tickets, programs and newspaper clippings to fan buttons and game-winning footballs. He manages much of the collection on behalf of Stanford and works to acquire direct donations. This particular collectible calling is a deep-rooted passion: Jim can trace his great-grandfather back to Stanford’s very first “pioneer” class of 1895. “I have been going to Stanford games since I was four years old and traveling to Bowl games,” he relays. “Watching Jim Plunkett quarterback the team to win the Rose Bowl 50 years ago makes a strong impression on a six-year-old sports fanatic.” 

When he’s not at his day job running his social platform company Vitae (formerly YourSports), Jim has his Stanford archivist hat on, searching for hidden gems. “We have a copy of Stanford’s opening day ceremony program from 1891,” he says with pride. Jim also maintains a personal collection, although he laments that it could take a lifetime to track down certain elusive items. He even has a copy of the first yearbook, The Stanford Quad, from 1894. “I took my father’s collection to a completely different level of obsession,” he admits. “I have so much, you can barely get into the door of my home office.” 

And this begs the question— what is his spouse’s take on his uber-collecting tendencies? “My wife Cindy is clutter-averse,” he confides, “but she has a saint-like tolerance.” 

As for Jim’s favorite Stanford sports memorabilia item, it always comes back to family. Unquestionably, he says, “My great-grandfather’s 1894 fencing medal from a competition against U.C. Berkeley.” 

In Search of Sherlock Holmes 

When it comes to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, the father and son investigators hunt down treasures for their joint collection. Richard and Jim focus on acquiring the body of Sherlock Holmes literature, which consists of 56 stories in the original canon and four novels. Along with the detective’s printed adventures and literary criticisms, their sizable collection includes many of Sherlock’s deerstalker caps, signature pipes and every imaginable kind of Sherlockiana. “It has been one of the great shared experiences we have as father and son,” reveals Jim. 

Richard remembers how the Sherlock obsession first started. “I was given Sherlock Holmes stories by my grandparents,” he says, “and I enjoyed seeing Holmes movies as a child during the war.” Nodding, Jim adds, “There is an international interest in Sherlock Holmes that would surprise most people—he has been named as one of the most recognizable literary figures.”

Richard is a charter member of the Sherlock Holmes Scion Knights of the Gnomon, started in Palo Alto in 1976. As one of 250 Sherlock Holmes groups in the U.S., the Scions adhere to an annual schedule that begins with the first meeting on Sherlock Holmes’ birthday in January. “There are certain groups that forbid suggesting Sherlock Holmes is anything but human,” says Jim. “We always refer to him in the present tense.”

All in the Family   

It won’t be surprising to learn that Richard and Jim are masters at preserving their own family history, referring to themselves as “collectors of life.” As Jim describes the process, “It is more of a bigger story of documenting the journey from the alpha to
the omega.”

As father and son carefully archive the present and what has been passed down to them, their intent is to share and illustrate generational stories through photos, old movies and mementos of family milestones. “Our family has kept virtually every document and diploma with some dating back to the 1800s,” notes Jim. “How many people can show you pictures of their great-great-grandparents?”

By meticulously capturing their family history, they hope to provide a legacy that will live way beyond them. “Your time on earth is a series of brushstrokes,” muses Jim. “We want to capture the life experience that can be shared and passed on—there is no end to the story.”

How Filoli Garden Grows

Jim Salyards’ Magical Green Thumb 

Imagine waking up in a bucolic setting where something new blooms every day, vegetable patches and orchards yield plenty and the surrounding acres teem with wildlife against sweeping vistas of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

And you’re already at the office. 

For Jim Salyards, this is just one of the many perks he has earned after working at the landmark Filoli estate in Woodside for more than a quarter of a century. Living on the property for the past 18 years, the director of horticulture also enjoys the benefit of zero commuting. After growing up in the area, he appreciates what a plus it is to dodge all the traffic.

The one disadvantage to living and working in the same place may be maneuvering through the sellout crowds of people flocking to ooh and ahh over the thousands of picturesque blooming flowers, shrubs and trees in the 16-acre formal garden each spring and summer. Those are the peak seasons at the National Trust for Historic Preservation site, which includes the famous garden and the Willis Polk-designed Georgian Revival mansion completed in 1917 for William Bowers Bourn II and Agnes Moody Bourn, and then owned by William B. Roth and Lurline Matson Roth from 1937 to 1975. 

But after spending so much time at Filoli Historic House and Garden, Jim naturally feels, “For the most part, this is my garden.”

“I  love the scale of the garden; it’s broken up into spaces… designed so each room is revealed as you walk through, go through a gate, turn around a corner,” Jim says of the garden that has components of both English and Italian Renaissance design. “There’s a natural unforced intentionality in the way you move through the garden.”

The approximately 30 rooms—with names like the Sunken Garden, Walled Garden and Knot Garden—take a full-time staff of 15 to maintain, plus a group of interns. And hopefully, as restrictions lighten up this summer, Jim is looking forward to welcoming back hundreds of volunteers, some of whom he considers like aunts and second grandmothers now that his extended family lives in New England.  

Jim’s earliest memories from his boyhood in Sunnyvale include catching butterflies with his younger brother in the fields and orchards before Great America Parkway changed the landscape. Jim’s parents took the family on regular visits to a local dairy farm that kept pigs and ducks, and for a time, young Jim wanted to be a zookeeper. A move to Boulder Creek at age nine led to the exploration of more wooded areas and an interest in raising his own animals: hamsters, snakes, iguanas, a box turtle and bluegill fish. Jim’s thoughts turned to becoming a veterinarian, but when he attended UC Davis, stimulating biology and botany courses changed his mind again. He ended up getting a BA in plant science and a master’s degree in horticulture there. 

“Propagation was my first love in horticulture in school,” he recalls. “I loved it so much, I interned at the Arboretum in Davis and knew that I wanted to work in public gardens.”

Jim had a side business doing yard work for people in Davis when he applied in 1995 to be lead horticulturist at Filoli. Luckily for him, he landed his first real job in one of the grandest public gardens in the U.S. Over the years, he was promoted to greenhouse manager, co-leader of the horticulture department and then director of horticulture in 2014. 

One of Jim’s challenges is balancing Filoli’s rich historical lore with innovative new ways. Photos and oral traditions help recreate and preserve the garden’s past, but an open mind and skilled staff help keep him forward-thinking.

“We’re dealing with historic plants and wanting to preserve what was planted by the Bourn and Roth families,” he explains. “We’re also trying to do things that are more sustainable and to some degree, more feasible, with the team that I have.” Another goal is making the garden appeal to a broader audience by being more exciting and welcoming.

More exemplary, too. In drought years, Jim’s team had to pivot to cut back on watering lawns and woody plants. He sees this as a way Filoli can showcase best practices in conservation for the community. A new master plan is in the works, and there’s talk of building a new education center and a bigger parking lot in the future. He is proud that in the past year, Filoli’s board and staff have focused on diversity and equity, “creating a place that is inclusive and accessible in so many more ways than I feel it was historically.”

Starting with this summer’s theme of “Fruitful Garden,” there’s a new emphasis on pollinator plants with sages, poppies and sunflowers planted along the path to the Sundial to attract insects and birds. Medicinal plants such as white, orange, red and yellow echinacea are laid out like a stained-glass window in the Chartres Cathedral Garden. And the historic vegetable garden that once helped feed the Bourn and Roth families, and was taken over by staff as a cooperative, will soon be converted to a demonstration garden. The renovated garden will be open to the public for events and classes. Before long, Jim envisions the café serving fresh estate-grown vegetables with extras being donated to the food bank Village Harvest.

He also foresees producing new products for the Clock Tower Shop, adding to the apple, pear and peach butters, honey, hard cider and herb collections that carry the estate-grown label.

Jim reads a lot to keep up on the latest gardening trends and says he’s grateful to have a well-educated and fully state-licensed team. “We’re not over-fertilizing,” he adds, “and we’re not over-applying pesticide.” The staff composts and mixes in rice hulls, coconut fiber, redwood sawdust and sand to enrich the soil. “We’re leaning more towards being organic,” Jim says, noting that the estate is a public place, located in a watershed area that spills into the Crystal Springs Reservoir. 

In years past, Filoli relied on volunteers to put in the much-needed elbow hours of weeding by hand. Without the extra help, the staff started experimenting with using corn gluten meal as a natural weed pre-emergent on the lawns. Innovative as he is, Jim continues to be mindful of the historic legacy he stewards. “We still tell the stories of how it originally was,” he affirms. 

Jim describes the plants and flowers in the greenhouse complex as the hardest to grow. They are used to decorate the Main House and to turn the Tea Garden House into a conservatory. That continuity of greenery “makes Filoli come alive, the plants and arrangements are what we do to make it more like it was when the Roths and Bourns were here,” he says.

Also of note are the living vestiges of the two family eras. In the greenhouses, the cycad, the large palm-like plant that the Bourns acquired, continues to thrive, as do the anthurium propagated from the original one the Roths brought back from Hawaii. The estate’s Hinoki false cypress originally came from the Japanese Pavilion at the Pan Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco in 1915, before being gifted to the Bourns. Some of the majestic trees on the 654-acre estate date back even further. The enormous live oak on the north side of the mansion is believed to be more than 300 years old. The big valley oak next to the Garden House also stood its ground there before Filoli was built. 

Pictures from around 1920 show the distinctive allees of Irish Yews in the garden. Grown from cuttings brought over from an estate the Bourns owned, Muckross House in Killarney, Ireland, the trees now number 210 and frame various rooms in the garden and swimming pool area, which was added later. 

Jim’s own favorite tree stands out next to the Bowling Green. He’s drawn to the Camperdown weeping elm because “every season, in a different way, it’s a beautiful tree.” As he describes it, the chartreuse seed heads look showy in the spring until the shade canopy takes over in the summer, and after the fall colors dim, moss covers the wet branches during the winter. 

It makes sense for a man of all seasons to revere such a stately tree given that they have shared the same special place for the last 26 years. 

“It has gone quickly,” Jim acknowledges, before emphasizing the many reasons he stays rooted. “What keeps me engaged and loving the garden is the setting and the views you can’t beat.”

Best of all, after hours, when Filoli’s visitors file out the gates, that splendid scenery is all his to enjoy. 

The Aura of Nature

For over four decades, artist Robert Buelteman has led an enviable life as a working photographer, busily crafting images in his home studio tucked into a pocket of awe-inspiring beauty on the coast. There, he makes subjects of the area’s wondrous blooms, flora often plucked from his own backyard. And when inspiration strikes, he and his fellow artist wife Julie cruise the West in their VW van, ever-immersed in and inspired by its magical scenery.

“I feel that my job is to nurture a public appreciation of the natural world, no more, no less,” says Robert, “to provide artwork that makes people stop in their day-to-day busy-ness, to make the force of nature, the wonder of nature, present, like it is to me.”

His connection to nature began right here, starting with his idyllic childhood in a storybook Woodside before they built Highway 280. Raised by a World War II vet father who became a Pan Am pilot and an artistic mother, Robert reigned as the kindergarten King of the PTA May Day parade, bagged groceries at Roberts Market and wandered the still-gravel roads surrounded by sighing tree groves and unobstructed views of the Bay.

“I rest in the knowledge that the San Francisco Peninsula is my home,” declares Robert. “It’s where I belong.”

Photography Courtesy of Abraham Aranow

Robert’s love of nature followed him to college in the mountains of Boulder, Colorado, where he first picked up a camera in 1972. “The first truly spiritual experience of my life was seeing the world through that old camera,” he recalls. “The question was, how do I learn this craft? And how can I pay my rent with it?” 

He remembers that at the time, in the post flower-child era, the art classes were all full of kids who were bent on self-expression and determined to become Great Artists. The problem was, Robert couldn’t get into any of the classes. So, he studied all of the technology behind photography. He studied physics to learn how light works, he studied chemistry to learn the chemical role in the photographic process and added in poetry and humanities for depth. Still, with a growing itch to get started, he left school and returned to the Bay Area, where he initially planned to finish college but instead secured a full-time position in a San Francisco photography studio and never looked back. 

For years, Robert was successfully employed by Fortune 500 companies while he built his fine art landscape practice. He got married, started a family and worked hard until a turning point changed his life: his pleas to the San Francisco water department were finally answered, allowing him special access to the Crystal Springs Watershed. Ten years and 10,000 snaps later, his breathtaking photographic survey of its hidden wonders, The Unseen Peninsula, was published in 1994, enabling him to quit doing commercial work and focus on his fine art photography full-time.

Reeds and Water (1992): I surveyed this location for years waiting patiently for the right circumstances to make this image for my 1995 book about the Crystal Springs Watershed, The Unseen Peninsula.

For years after that, black and white landscape work was his subject of choice. Robert made photographs that he thought really captured the great elements of living: earth, air, water, life, death, the passage of time, only to have someone look at them and say, “Where did you take that picture?” It really frustrated him because he wanted to make art that forced people into a deeper reflection, a deeper understanding of what he was presenting. He endeavored to create a Rorschach photo, an abstraction, rather than ‘a picture of a something.’ So after three books and feeling thwarted in that regard, Robert circled back to an earlier idea: What if he gave up the tools of photography as they were being used and tried something different?

An analog man in an increasingly digital world, Robert viewed the advent of digital photography as a means to capture ever-increasing levels of faithfulness in the resulting photograph. Yet he believed those same tools had become a hindrance because the images they created were so real. Where was the deeper expression of nature emanating from the soul of the artist?

Helianthus Annuus (2000) This giant sunflower was grown specifically for imaging and was among the very first images I made using my camera-less technique.

“That’s what gave rise to my choosing to give up cameras, lenses, computers and also black and white film, to see how I might wrangle nature in a different way,” relates Robert. “I moved away from the landscape tradition to explore the idea of what is a photo, what is my role as a photographer.”

To answer that question, Robert circled back to a method first shared with him by his friend Sarah Adams, Ansel Adams’ granddaughter, who had introduced him to the work of the late Valentina and Semyon Kirlian. According to Robert, Kirlian and Valentina were devout Russian spiritualists who believed in crystal balls and were convinced that auras surrounded all living things. They’d observed a patient who was receiving medical treatment from a high-frequency electrical generator and noticed that when electrodes were brought near the patient’s skin, there was a glow similar to that of a neon discharge tube. 

The duo began conducting experiments and in 1939 developed Kirlian photography. They found that if photographic film was placed on top of a conducting plate, and a conductor was attached to a hand, a leaf or other plant material and the conductors were energized by a high-frequency, high-voltage power source, the resulting photographs would show a silhouette of the object surrounded by an aura of light. 

Field Flowers (2010) In 2010, disabled from Lyme disease and unable to tend my garden, I collected these field flowers from the area outside my home and studio in the forest on the eastern edge of Montara on the coast side of the Peninsula.

Robert was hooked. In 1999, he began building equipment and doing tests to use electrical charges on living plants illuminated by fiber optics, something he’d used to paint with light in his commercial work. 

“I created this wild, colorful fantasy of the beauty and power of nature,” effuses Robert. And as far as he knows, he is the only one still doing this kind of photography—which he refers to as energetic photograms—creating his photos by hand and making his own prints, with no digital enhancements and no retouching. “They quit making the film I use in 2008,” he laments. “I have a stash I’m working with but I stopped seeing it for sale about three to four years ago.”

With all the twists and turns his career has taken and all his evident energy, it’s a surprise to learn that Robert lives with Lyme disease and at one time was unable to tend his garden muse.

White Clematis II (2004) These delicate white clematis blossoms from my courtyard were hung by electrically conductive copper wire from the ceiling of my darkroom just barely over my imaging easel to make this image.

“Lyme is a structural part of my life. I spend 14-16 hours a day in bed,” he shares. “The reason I am public about it is because the culture diminishes people who are chronically ill and I want to change the stereotypes about disabled people.” Robert points out that one in ten ticks carry Lyme. “And yes, you can catch it here,” he says. “The truth is that everyone has a disability, everybody has something. And my goal is really to stand for my art and to do so as a person who has faced a terrible illness.”

The success of Robert’s art stands for itself. He has 63 pieces of art hanging between 280 and Alameda de Las Pulgas on Sand Hill Road. His current work is focused on cyanotypes and he just wrapped up an exhibition at Art Ventures Gallery in Menlo Park. Next up, Jackson Hole. After that, he says, “I’ll try to figure out what the world wants from me.” 

Livable Luxury

To this day, interior designer Julie Cavanaugh can draft the floorplans of her childhood homes in her head. She remembers how the spaces of her youth floated from one room to the next. “I have always had an innate ability to see things geometrically,” Julie shares. “I have a photographic memory and can 3D encapsulate in my mind how something should come together.”

Growing up, Julie experienced sweeping, nature-filled Midwest landscapes and busy East Coast urban environments before moving to California in 1983. “When I think back on my childhood and the places I’ve lived,” says Julie, “everything had to do with how I would see the spaces of where I lived in those communities.” Since the building styles varied from place to place, Julie’s interest lay in how she could play with proportions. “There isn’t one set style or one set theory of design I practice by,” she explains. “I love it all, and I love designing within every style.”

When deciding whether to study architecture or interior design in college, Julie remembers how her excitement for how buildings come together swayed her choice. “I was more interested in how interior spaces worked and how they work for the people who live in them than the building envelope,” she recalls. “I was looking at spaces and how to design them from the inside out, and not the outside in.” In 1998, Julie graduated with a degree in interior design and went on to obtain her licensure as a certified interior designer in 2002.

As the founder and principal interior designer at Design Matters, Julie specializes in “livable luxury.” Along with its flagship showroom in Los Gatos, the design firm also put down stakes in Redwood City, Morgan Hill and most recently, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “Having design work that matters in all different kinds of communities is what helped me to branch out and boutique our flagship location,” observes Julie. 

To the left of the entry is an open, inviting lounge (study) on one end and the dining room on the other. The guests immediately feel that they are being welcomed into someone’s home, which conveys the opportunity for enjoyment but also contemplative and quiet areas for business.

Recently, Julie and the Design Matters team completed a massive interior design project that brought luxury into every inch of a newly built 15,000-square-foot Los Altos Hills estate. Although constructed as a classic Mediterranean villa, by using a lighter exterior range of colors, Julie created the flexibility to transition into a very different interior experience. Ultimately, the design incorporates high-end finishes and high-tech amenities that capture the essence of the family that lives there. “It is a masterpiece inside on another level that has nothing Mediterranean in it whatsoever,” Julie points out. “We were able to give it tons of youthful style, color pops and vibe, while still respecting the architectural value that needed to be present.”

The homeowner, a Peninsula executive, tasked Julie with creating a family-friendly home that also lends itself to business gatherings. Given the emphasis on enjoying a balanced lifestyle and spending more time with family, Julie transformed spaces to include areas for entertainment options like a wine tasting room, movie theater and an expansive covered pool deck patio for intimate private events. “I had carte blanche to really look at each space and look at the composition of the house and its entirety, allowing me to create something that is one-of-a-kind, special and orchestrated for that client and family,” notes Julie.

My client allowed me to elevate the design by selecting materials that push the envelope including how we balance full tile walls in both the dining room and gathering room, giving a hierarchy to a space that could have simply been paint or wallcovering or wall treatment.

In her design for the villa, rooms organically connect and build upon each other as they are experienced. Julie thinks about her design process this way: “There may be a tiny thread of continuity as far as something that you see in the entry and you don’t know how it’s going to come forward into the rest of the house until you go through the kitchen, the great room spaces and to the outdoors. There are all kinds of things in the house that are tied together in very subtle ways to make that relationship happen.”

From the gathering room’s gold-threaded tile to the resort-style cabinetry and show-stopping chandeliers throughout the home, Julie counts the villa project as one of the most stunning houses she’s ever worked on. She used color, texture and proportion to tie the home’s design together. She also explored the volume of spaces. “I was able to put more punch into the smaller library space,” she cites as an example, “than I did in the gathering room that’s a bit more wide-open and a little quieter in materials.” 

One thing that Bay Area families are really looking for in articulating the interior design of a luxury home is accessibility. And that accessibility encompasses the owners, their parents, their children, their guests and those they want to welcome into their house.

From the homeowner’s perspective, Julie’s final design struck exactly the intended balance—providing all the necessary space for family life with the ability to easily accommodate business engagements. And, Julie’s selection of materials fully captured their desire for color, textures and bold choices. 

When asked, it’s difficult for Julie to choose her favorite room in the house. “Every space is spectacular in its own right,” she says, although she does hold a special affinity for the library. “It’s a combination of what that function is, a contemplative place to lounge and a less energetic area of the house, which we designed in a way that is full of vibe and interest.” Julie especially loves the oversized lounge chairs, dramatic lighting, built-in bookshelves and custom stain color she developed with her team.

As an interior designer, Julie weaves together interior living spaces for her clients and is also entrusted with creating the story of the home for her clients. “We take so much pride and so much happiness in working closely on our clients’ projects with them,” she reflects. “It’s really quite a creative force that happens and it’s why I get up every day to do my job.

The interior design and development of homes now allows for an elaboration of the options for families to have a more elevated formal area, suited for conducting meetings and business, while still being a traditional family home.

The Beat On Your Eats

Two pieces of bread cradling meats and veggies topped in a zesty sauce. If life’s a picnic, why not make it a sandwich? 


San Mateo

 This Sicilian, street-side and square-shaped pizzeria is obviously focused on the pies (after all, their tagline is “Celebrate life with a slice”); however, not to be overlooked is Slices’ primo Italian sub sandos. Each of their five options is served on housemade Roman bread with roasted red pepper, pepperoncini, caramelized onions and a garlic aioli spread. From there, it’s up to you to choose the classic Italian (salami, prosciutto cotto, mortadella and provolone) or the BarBQ, which comes with the choice of either pulled pork or smoked brisket. The San Francisco-born franchise is growing nationally and chose Bay Meadows in San Mateo for its Peninsula premiere. 3035 South Delaware Street, Suite C. Open Sunday through Thursday from 10AM to 9PM; Friday and Saturday from 10AM to 10PM.

Photography Courtesy of Bread Appel

Bread Apeel

Palo Alto

The hordes of eager eaters lining up for bánh mì sandwiches every Sunday at the California Avenue Farmers Market inspired the purveyors of these Vietmanese hoagies to branch out. The bánh mì stand is now offering curbside pickup of their popular sandwiches (along with a new line of salads) during the weekdays. Their classic sandwich includes country ham, pâté and garlic aioli held together inside a demi baguette while the pork belly salad comes topped in caramelized walnuts and a honey mustard vinaigrette. It’s pickup only and you’ll find the stand outside the La Jolie Nail Spa. 364 South California Avenue. Open Monday through Friday from 11AM to 6PM; closed weekends. 

Photography Courtesy of TJ Brodeth

Lou’s Cafe

San Carlos

For the past 10 years, Lou’s Cafe has opened up locations across San Francisco, winning over lunchtime fans with its extensive and creative sandwich menu. And now Lou is putting down stakes on the Peninsula. Unique offerings include the Pomaikai that pays tribute to tropical flavors with ham, pineapple, jalapeno rings and teriyaki sauce on a sourdough roll or the Space Balls, Lou’s take on a classic, which jams meatballs, a housemade marinara sauce and provolone cheese into a soft and sweet roll. Lou’s jockeys for attention in a crowded lunchtime field (the Sandwich Spot and Refuge are only a few blocks away) but the more the merrier when it comes to sandwiches. 902 Laurel Street. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 9AM to 5PM; closed on Sunday and Monday.

Savor the Flavor

Words by Silas Valentino

Lisa Spencer, born and raised in East Palo Alto with an infectious laugh and enterprising spirit, had a unique request for each one of her three children: You need to start your own business.

“I wanted them to experience independence,” she says, “to see what it feels like to make your own money. I told them that I didn’t care what it was and they could decide after three months to quit, but they were going to do it.”

Her youngest child Myles was barely a teenager when he launched Pies in a Jar, selling small fruit pies sealed in mason jars. The label described him as an“entrePIEneur.”

Lisa’s two adult children, Brittanee and Richard, furthered the family’s entrepreneurism in their own ways; her daughter is a pastry chef who sells a specialty pound cake while her son started a beard oil company called Hudson & Young Grooming Co.

“I took him to his first sales event on the Intuit campus in Mountain View and he busted $800 on his first pop-up—I only made $200 that day! I was mad and proud at the same time,” Lisa laughs at the memory.

Lisa herself owned and operated her own milliner business called Millinatrix by Lisa Spencer, where she designed and handcrafted hats from her home office, while working for a variety of big companies such as IDEO, Google and currently for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The entrepreneurial drive is an embedded trait in her family so it came as no surprise when her husband Dulani started using the kitchen to create homemade seasoning blends and rubs to sell around town. In fact, he hatched the idea after Lisa gifted him a copy of the cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, for Christmas in 2015. 

Over the years, the blends and seasoning matured into Savor Seasoning Blends, a handcrafted business they run together out of their home in East Palo Alto.

Dulani’s resume is rich in variety and experience from various local kitchens. He worked at Martha’s Pastries learning how to bake from scratch before moving on to Whole Foods, where he sharpened his skillset across the departments from the deli to the butcher. He continued working with meats when he became a butcher at The Market at Edgewood under the tutelage of a longtime butcher, coincidentally named Butch.

“I was getting a feeling for everything,” Dulani says. “After I got that book from my wife, I started learning about seasonings because I don’t like barbeque sauces. In my opinion, they take away from the true texture of the meat and flavor. Sauce hides it. I wanted to do something that enhances the flavor without masking it. Natural herbs and salt help bring the meat alive—so to speak.”

Through experimentation and community feedback (their UPS driver is a trusted tester), Dulani developed a full stock of zesty blends that live up to his purpose of enhancing meats. He blends using simple ingredients mixed at the right amount; such as the “Honey, It’s BBQ” that gives meat a crispy, caramel crust. Ingredients: a short list of salts, sugar, peppers and powders expertly tossed together.

Lisa is the dreamer and idea generator for the business who doesn’t mind taking on a large order even if it’s a stretch while Dulani keeps them grounded and focused on making sure the rubs keep customers smiling. Their model is effective, as folks travel from all over the Bay Area to stock up on their products.

No rub or seasoning is complete without a clever or amusing name, which Lisa helps devise to match the flavor; some favorites are the Brown Sugar Baby Rub, You Jerk! Rub, Black Tar Heroin Hickory Salt and the Remember the Rosemary Salt, a call-back to her days reading Shakespeare. One of their top sellers is Vampire Butter, earning its name from its liberal use of garlic along with sea salt, parsley and basil. Turns out it’s especially well-suited for potatoes, veggies, pasta and lathering on sourdough bread.

Although Lisa and Dulani both hail from East Palo Alto, they didn’t cross paths until they were adults. Lisa’s father and uncle ran the barber shop on Clark Street where she was introduced to running a business and telling a good story. The couple met in 1995 when Dulani was a youth basketball coach and Lisa was working the door at an East Menlo Park basketball tournament. Their second date was watching the Golden State Warriors play against Michael Jordan’s Bulls.

Last December, Dulani started focusing full-time on Savor Seasoning Blends and he’s currently developing a new line of rice bowls to sell that use his blends. Lisa, however, can’t help herself and is already noodling on the next family goal.

“There’s a vacant lot off University Avenue that’s been there since the 1980s and it’s going to finally be developed into a mixed-use building with retail and office space,” she says. Lisa’s dream? Opening a butcher shop and deli. “Dulani does both and there’s no butcher in East Palo Alto,” she points out. “When I was growing up, there were three! Dulani would be in his flippin’ element.” 

She’s already playing it out in her mind: “We can do it. We just have to get enough capital. I would come after I got off work…”

Amour at First Sight

Words by Silas Valentino

Five minutes into her first time dining at Amour Amour, Barbara Jiang turned to her husband David and gave him a knowing look. 

The couple was at a corner table in the tapas bar near downtown San Mateo soaking in the ambiance, wooded and brick décor, with glasses of red wine. They both had successful day jobs but their passions for hosting and cooking were underfed.

“I had this voice in my head saying, ‘This is it,’” Barbara remembers. “So I asked the waitress if the owner was there and she was in the kitchen. She came out and I said, ‘Hello, my name is Barbara—do you want to sell this restaurant to me?’ She took it nicely and liked the directness.”

At the time, the founder was merely three months in from launching the tapas bar and was determined to see it grow. Equally determined was Barbara. The two exchanged numbers and sprouted a friendship.

“We’d see each other and every time, I’d ask, ‘Are you ready to sell?’ That went on for three years. Then, in September 2017, we were having lunch at Pausa up the street when she said she was ready. She didn’t want to hand it over to just anybody and she knew I’d take good care of it.”

Barbara and her husband are now four years into running the restaurant and their passions are respectively nourished.

David owns the kitchen, hand-making each item from scratch and spending his mornings exploring markets for fresh ingredients. Barbara thrives up front. She’s a matriarchal maître d’, genially welcoming guests with a keen sense for remembering faces and replicating the same spirit that dazzled her during that first visit.

Barbara estimates that 80 percent of customers are returnees and regulars who yuk it up with her and the waitstaff over a menu of excellent bites and hand-picked wines. The restaurant is a popular choice for first dates; the casual atmosphere and flow of drinks calm the nerves, and Barbara has seen her fair share of engagements at the tables.

Amour Amour provides a social environment for settling in, sampling a variety of multicultural bites and uncorking a bottle (or two) as the hours slip by.

“I personally like Napa Cabs but I won’t select too many because it’s too commercial,” Barbara explains. “Customers are local and know the Napa wines. I’ll find wines from Chile and Mendoza because it pairs better with the menu. And I’ll make sure it goes with the season, like from May to October when a lot of people are into white and dessert wines. When it’s winter, I’ll have stronger reds.”

Not to be missed amid the wine is the house sangria, which combines white and red wines with apples and oranges, plus a toss of sake for an extra zing.

Born in China, David spent some time in Latin America where he learned Spanish and enhanced his cooking. He divides Amour Amour’s menu into four categories: meat, seafood, pasta and vegetables, with three or four items each. He mostly cooks using the oven as opposed to stir-fry, meaning less fat and the absence of smoke, which is essential since the kitchen opens to the dining area.  

Some favorites on the menu include the black truffle mushroom crostini and honey-ginger spiced Bali Hai ribs. Barbara notes that nearly everyone orders the roasted Brussels sprouts topped in bacon and truffle salt or the cavatelli: imported Italian pasta with a lobster sauce.

“David is absolutely hands-on and the most important thing to him is the quality and freshness,” notes Barbara. “He’s here every day. He goes out each morning and spends a half-day purchasing fresh ingredients before coming in at 3:30PM to prepare the sauces. He feels recharged every time someone tells him they love their meal.”

Barbara met David through mutual friends some 25 years ago at the Peppermill in Daly City. They’ve lived in San Francisco and Millbrae, where they raised their two daughters, Rachel and Sofia, who are now in their early twenties.

At the time they discovered Amour Amour in 2014, David was working for NASA, focusing on a project to construct and maintain an airborne observatory. He specialized in computer hardware and had previously spent over a decade at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Barbara still maintains her day job running a pharmaceutical company that serves assisted living facilities across the Bay Area.

“Your way of making a living is very different from having a passion,” she says. “To me, the thing that you have to do and need to do is stricter. You have to make money. But the things you want to do can be more flexible. It’s lucky if you’re able to get both.”

The interior of Amour Amour is flush with character and a Where’s Waldo of charming flair. A chalk sign might read, “Take home a little Amour,” while bunches of flowers, wheat and some garlic are suspended from the ceiling. Hung on the wall is a small slab of wood with the words “together is my favorite place to be” imprinted alongside a tandem bicycle.

“David is passionate about cooking and I’m passionate about drinking and entertaining,” Barbara summarizes with a smile. “It pumps you up when you walk into a place and everyone is happy in a comfortable way. It positively affects you.” 

Cycling Supercharged

Words by Sheri Baer

A few dates into our budding relationship, my new beau invited me to venture down from San Francisco to explore his homebase—the Peninsula. In good (but not cycling) shape, I gamely tried to keep sight of Doug’s sleek road bike as we pedaled up Sand Hill Road on a route he referred to as The Loop. Over the course of the next 15 miles, I lost track of how many times I got off to walk my bike. “This guy is never going to want to see me again,” I fretted, between heaving gasps for breath on yet another grinding climb. 

I must have had other redeeming qualities because Doug not only kept seeing me, he married me. And to underscore the man’s intelligence, he never again pushed for a repeat attempt of our disastrous ride. 

As it turns out, 26 years later, it was my suggestion. And this time when we cycled up Sand Hill Road, I passed him. And no, it wasn’t because I had become a hard-core cyclist. 

The game-changer can be captured in a single word: e-bike. 

Packing a built-in motor and battery power, e-bikes look similar to traditional bikes with the added ability of putting some wind into your sails. I’m clearly not the only one to discover the wonders of “pedal assist.” According to the NPD Group, U.S. bicycle sales soared during the pandemic—up 65% between 2019 and 2020—with the electric bike category skyrocketing 145%.  

Longtime Peninsula cyclist Jeff Scanlan watched his wife catch the e-bike bug in early 2020. “She loved it so much, she said to me, ‘Jeff, maybe we should open an e-bike store.’” After a career in financial services and the nonprofit sector, Jeff was ready for a change. He did his research and in November 2020, he opened Pedego Electric Bikes in Menlo Park. “I decided that this is going to be a great wave to catch and jumped in,” he says.

Photography Courtesy of Cognition Cyclery

Most e-bikes rely on pedal assist—meaning that the motor won’t kick in unless you’re pedaling—although the brand Jeff carries also has a throttle/no-pedal option. “The original adage when e-bikes started hitting the market was, ‘Oh, you’re not going to get any exercise on them,’” notes Jeff. As he watches customers in their 50s, 60s and 70s rediscover cycling, he refutes that premise. “What we’re finding is that people are getting more exercise because these e-bikes are allowing them to get back out there—it’s easier for them to ride and to go places that they might otherwise not go.”

At Cognition Cyclery in San Mateo, general manager Ben Jones estimates that e-bikes make up about 25 to 30% of overall sales. “Originally, it was a lot of older people,” he says, “but we’ve watched the age range get lower and lower and lower.” Ben sees customers embracing the exertion flexibility—whether it’s couples “trying to equal things up” or a young parent looking for extra help hauling toddlers. “You still have to put in energy, you still get a workout,” he says. “But you also have the option of choosing what level of workout you’re going to get. At the end of the day, it lowers the bar for more riders to be able to get into the sport.” 

Photography Courtesy of E-Bike Annex

As Doug and I wheel out of our driveway on our second (26 years later) go-round of The Loop, he quickly gets ahead of me on the flats. Fully under my own pedal power, I catch up at stop signs and traffic lights. As we dig into our first long ascent, I shift to lower gears and then begin to experiment. With the push of a button, I switch into Eco mode. My ears hear a light whirring sound, and I feel an extra kick in my speed. When the pedaling begins to feel tougher than I want, I flick into Sport mode and find myself narrowing the distance to my husband up ahead. ‘Do I dare?’ I ponder, even as I trigger Turbo mode. No holding back now, I check for cars and then zip past my husband, feeling a rush of exhilaration and adrenaline. “Go Greased Lightning!” is the soundtrack playing in my head. 

“That feeling of empowerment on a bicycle is universal,” says Ben. “We call it ‘Turbo Face.’ People come back from these rides and they have these massive smiles on their faces because they’re doing something they never thought they could do before—whether it’s a certain distance or a hill they never thought they could climb.” 

If an e-bike is on your radar, Jeff recommends test rides—or even a rental—as a good way to start. “Check out your positioning on the bike and the geometry of the frame,” he advises. “Make sure you’re comfortable with it.” Ben ticks off questions that are helpful to consider: “What are your goals? How far do you want to ride? Do you ride with other people? How much of a workout do you want to get? Do you have any physical limitations? What’s your budget?” 

Depending on the style you select, $3,000-$5,000 is a good ballpark range for wheels that let you zip up the hills. The other price you pay for power is weight with models ranging from the mid-30s to 60-plus pounds. What you get for free is the cycling wonderland known as the Peninsula. “We’re in an epicenter of almost perfect cycling conditions,” boasts Ben.
“We have great weather. We have beautiful scenery. We have hills if you want them and no hills if you don’t.” 

The Loop is now a frequent outing for us. In the category of “never thought I’d do in my lifetime,” Old La Honda Road is a regular ride as well. I’ve developed my own rhythm. Downhill—no assist. For the level stretches, it’s optional—am I feeling a need for speed or to catch up? On the long climbs, I start with the lightest assist and shift gears accordingly. If I’m feeling too much “grit,” I know I can easily tap into my bike’s superpowers. 

“It’s almost this dance that you get with the motor, where you’re giving at your end and the motor is giving at its end,” summarizes Ben, “and at the end of the day, you have a great ride because of it.”

Photography Courtesy of Cognition Cyclery

Finding Eden in Anderson Valley

In western Mendocino County, Anderson Valley is a mere sliver of a place stretching 15 miles along Route 128 from Boonville, the heart of the valley, through Philo and on to Navarro. To me, it’s always been magical, thanks to its tapestry of vineyards and farms that give way to towering redwoods on the hillsides. “A big meadow, like a Garden of Eden,” wrote one of the early settlers.

Getting there does require a bit of resolve. It’s a straight shot up Highway 101 from the Peninsula to the Cloverdale exit, which is not a bad spot to grab some lunch. There’s tasty brisket at the Hamburger Ranch & Bar-B-Que conveniently located at the turn-off.

Photography Courtesy of Tom Liden

Next come 30 miles of twists and hairpin turns that demand a driver’s attention. You finally reach the valley floor at Boonville, known for its now almost defunct dialect, Boontling. Example: horn of zeese is a cup of coffee. 

Closely associated with the fruit of the vine, Anderson Valley can be counted on for splendid scenery. Here, you’ll find Hendy Woods State Park, which contains two ancient redwood forests, 80-acre Big Hendy and 20-acre Little Hendy set along the Navarro River. Some of the trees in the 845-acre park stand more than 300 feet tall and may be 1,000 years old. A hike to the Hermit’s Hut is a popular valley trek, but wine tasting wins as the area’s most notable attraction.  

Photography Courtesy of Pennyroyal

The Many Tastes of Anderson Valley 

Commercial winemaking began in Anderson Valley after World War II but took root in the 1960s with the planting of mostly Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay. Pinot Noir gained a toehold in the 1970s, followed in the 1980s by sparkling wine. Today, some 29 tasting rooms are scattered along the valley floor and perched on the hillsides above. Note: Reservations are required for tastings and tours.

Tony and Gretchen Husch first planted grapes in 1968, and in 1971, Husch Vineyards became the first bonded winery in Anderson Valley. It was purchased by H.A. Oswald, Jr. in 1979, and third-generation Oswalds operate the winery today, producing 22 different wines, a half-dozen of which you’ll find in Peninsula supermarkets. Tasting flights are delivered via a clever six-pack of wine glasses. 

Photography Courtesy of Linda Hubbard

You can’t drive through Boonville without noticing the bright yellow Porsche parked in front of Bee Hunter Wines, just beckoning you to pull over. It’s the brainchild of winemaker and Anderson Valley native Andy DuVigneaud, who founded the winery with his wife, Ali. New this year is the opportunity to enjoy some glamping in one of five tents at Le Chateau DuVigneaud. Fun fact: Bee Hunter is a Boontling term for someone who enjoys the sweet honey of life but is able to avoid the stings that life can present.

A farm tour was the highlight of a visit to Pennyroyal Farm, which has the distinction of not only growing grapes but also overseeing a herd of goats and sheep whose milk is transformed into a variety of delicious cheeses. Pennyroyal’s outdoor tasting area is festooned with gnarled vines from its [literal] parent property, Navarro Vineyards. Pennyroyal’s owner, Sarah Cahn Bennett, is the daughter of Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn, who started farming wine grapes in Anderson Valley in 1973. 

Photography Courtesy of the Brambles

Milla Handley, who passed away last year, became the first woman winemaker in the United States to establish a namesake winery when she founded Handley Cellars in 1982. She was passionate about international folk art and you’ll see examples from several continents. Set above the valley, the winery is a particularly scenic spot for a picnic with its old barn and water tower.

A Toulouse is a massive breed of goose with ganders weighing 26 pounds. Toulouse is also a play on words for Toulouse Vineyards owned by Vern Boltz, a retired captain in the Oakland Fire Department, and his wife, Maxine. When they moved to Anderson Valley, they had nothing “toulouse.” The view from the outdoor tasting area is spectacular.

Photography Courtesy of the Brambles

The 208-acre Lichen Estate, owned by Doug and Ana Lucia Stewart, is all about Pinot—both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Stanford grad Doug is a serial entrepreneur as well as winery owner. The three-bedroom house located on their property is available for rent and just minutes from Boonville.

Surrounded by a pretty garden, Goldeneye Winery offers a special tasting option not available anywhere else in the valley. It includes glasses of the 2016 and 2017 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Brut Rosé paired with Tsar Nicoulai Reserve Caviar. It was the perfect conclusion to our Anderson Valley tasting experience.

Photography Courtesy of Brianna Danner

Elevated Dining & Lodging

Not too long ago, options for fine dining and luxe lodgings were scant in the area. Yes, you could enjoy a hearty chicken pot pie—quite tasty!—at locals’ favorite Lauren’s in Boonville, along with yummy shrimp tacos on Mexican food Mondays.

That changed with the opening of The Madrones, a stylish lodging/restaurant/shops complex in Philo that reflects the personality of owners Jim Roberts and Brian Adkinson, thanks to the stone and metal sculptures scattered around the grounds. 

Jim and Brian became curious about the abandoned property just across Indian Creek from The Madrones—in particular, a redwood grove punctuated by what they call “The Pachyderm,” a redwood that’s 11 feet in diameter and probably close to 700 years old with an elephant-shaped burl.

Photography Courtesy of The Bewildered Pig

In 2017, the two unveiled The Brambles, a cluster of cozy cabins tucked in the woods. We looked out at “The Pachyderm” from our room, The Front Door. Adjoining rooms are The Back Door and The Perch. All three have a bit of a fun lost-in-the-forest feel.

Wickson is the restaurant part of The Madrones complex. Who knew nettles would make such yummy pizza?

There’s also The Bewildered Pig, housed in an old loggers’ bar and general store on the outskirts of Philo, opened in 2016 by chef Janelle Weaver and her partner in life and work, Daniel Townsend. It’s a feast for the senses, which encompasses the food, along with a magical wonderland of Daniel’s creations made from found materials.

The Bewildered Pig offers a seasonally-driven five-course chef’s tasting menu with optional wine pairing. It’s a good bet you’ll also find Janelle’s housemade pâté and rillettes in the larder.  

Cider, Beer & Cannabis

Anderson Valley has long been known for its apples and beer, along with its largely-hidden fields of cannabis. 

Six generations have farmed apples at Gowan Orchards. The family planted the rare Sierra Beauty variety in 1906, which is still used to make wine-style hard apple cider. Sweet (non-alcoholic) cider is produced as well. A new experience is cider tasting in Gowan’s 100-year-old orchard held Friday, Saturday and Sunday; reservations required.

You’re likely to find Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Boont Amber Ale in Peninsula supermarkets. But you’ll need to travel there to enjoy its newly-opened, 30-acre dog- and family-friendly “Beer Park” that includes a disc golf course, bocce courts, cornhole and Adirondack chairs for relaxing. The summer brings live music and a new culinary garden.

A note about that elusive cannabis. We saw nary a field. We were told that no retail stores are allowed in Boonville. Billing itself as an “herbal apothecary,” The Bohemian Chemist located in The Madrones complex sells edibles, topicals and tinctures. Given that Mendocino County’s tagline is “Find Your Happy,” we’re betting that a little hunting will yield even more discoveries.

Perfect Shot: With the Pack

The corner of Sand Hill Road and Portola Road in Woodside is a bustling intersection where groups of cyclists come and go like clockwork. Photographer Dennis Hancock caught a snapshot of the action in this Perfect Shot. “They are part of the story of living here,” he says.

Image by Dennis Hancock

Georgie the Jeweler

Words by Sheri Baer

As Georgie Gleim gestures to a vintage Victorian brooch in a display case, the melodic jangling of her bracelet strikes the ear like a wrist-sized wind chime. One charm in particular catches the eye—a gold circle with five engravings: 11/17/41, 12/7/41, 12/30/41, 2/15/42 and 10/2/45. 

For Georgie, the numbers on that small disc translate into treasured milestones. “The first date is the day my mother went to work in the store, followed by my mother and father’s first date, which was Pearl Harbor Day, and then the date they got engaged, which was shortly after,” she narrates. “February 15 was when they got married and then the final date is when my oldest brother was born.” 

Georgie is referring to her parents—Arthur and Marjorie Gleim—both Paly grads, whose courtship sparked when her mother was working as Christmas help at Gleim the Jeweler in Palo Alto. Founded 90 years ago by her grandfather, Frederick Gleim, the store represented a family’s hope for a brighter future when it opened in 1931. A trained jeweler and watchmaker from the Midwest, Frederick borrowed money to buy a bankrupt inventory in the middle of the Great Depression. Georgie still has the original ledger showing the first day’s earnings of the fledgling business: $.00 

Thankfully, Alfred began to record entries—small jewelry pieces, a watch selling for $5, a lot of repairs. “The fact that he was a craftsman made the difference,” Georgie says. “He was able to do that work himself and he taught my dad how to do a lot of that work as well.” Four months after opening, a ledger notation in all capital letters signaled that Frederick’s gamble was starting to pay off: DIAMOND. The little shop not only survived, it ultimately thrived, and nine decades later, Georgie represents the third generation in the family assisting Gleim the Jeweler customers. 

Photography Courtesy of Georgie Gleim

The Castilleja alumna admits that following in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps wasn’t always her plan. “The jewelry business was just what my dad did,” she says, recollecting that she personally viewed it as short-term work in her early 20s. Until her perspective changed. “My oldest brother was planning to take over the business,” she shares, “and he was killed in Vietnam, so I felt like I needed to give it a try.” 

Like her father before her, Georgie pursued a graduate gemologist degree through the Gemological Institute of America. In her coursework, she learned gem origins, qualities, history, identification and diamond grading. She layered on seminars and conferences and the day-to-day lessons she gleaned working side-by-side with Arthur, a nationally-recognized leader in the jewelry industry. As Georgie gained appreciation for the business, she realized she was a rarity in her own right. “Women wear the jewelry,” she observes, “but it certainly wasn’t what the industry looked like at all, which never quite made sense.” 

Georgie became an industry trailblazer in her own right—as the second female to be president of the American Gem Society and a board chair of Jewelers of America. “I had the advantage of being introduced as Art Gleim’s daughter,” she acknowledges proudly. Georgie became Gleim the Jeweler’s third president in 1985, with her father continuing to have a presence in the store until his passing in 2007. 

It was Arthur who had the vision to open a Stanford Shopping Center location when the brand new mall opened in 1956. Today, Gleim is one of only two original tenants left—the other being See’s Candy. Just as the landmark shopping center has evolved over the years, Georgie has witnessed many dramatic shifts in precious gem trends. “It was opals for a while. Then emeralds. And when Princess Diana had a sapphire engagement ring, everyone wanted sapphires,” notes Georgie. “And fancy colored diamonds have become more popular in the last couple of decades—that’s a huge change, especially the rare colors like pinks and blues.”

In addition to carrying fine gemstone jewelry, including the store’s own collection, Gleim specializes in estate and antique jewelry. “My grandfather used to buy jewelry from private clients, and my dad was always interested in vintage pieces as well,” she recounts. “Jewelry that has survived all those decades tends to be jewelry that is well-made with beautiful workmanship you can appreciate.”

Georgie estimates that about 95% of Gleim’s estate jewelry is bought or consigned from private individuals in the area. Period styles include Art Nouveau (1890-1915), Edwardian (1901-1915), Art Deco (1920-1935) and Retro (1935-1949)—with each day yielding new surprises. “You never know when something fabulous is coming in the door,” Georgie says. “You see some wonderful heirlooms or just pre-owned jewelry that we can sell at a great value.” Given the unique qualities of vintage pieces, Georgie also sees different attributes appealing to customers: “People are drawn by a piece’s story or history or some just like the style.” 

In Georgie’s case, it’s all of the above. On this particular day, she’s sporting Victorian earrings (“They are castles, a classic Victorian design.”), a gold and quartz equestrian-style necklace (“This probably dates back to the Gold Rush—my mom used to wear it to horse shows.”) and a late Victorian butterfly pin (“I’m trying to get people to appreciate brooches again because not enough people wear them these days.”)

And then there’s the added factor of sentimental value. The third-generation jeweler views her livelihood as the perfect tangible expression of a family’s history. “There’s nothing else that connects the generations that you can wear all the time—that every time you look at it, you think of the spouse, parent or grandparent who gave it to you,” she reflects. 

Which harkens back to Georgie’s dangling bracelet, each charm bearing its own rich story. “This is my dad’s cufflinks with his initials. This was my dad’s wedding ring,” she describes, as she lovingly handles each piece in turn. “This was a jade charm of my mother’s. This is a little coin my mom put in her shoe when they got married…”

Diary of a Dog: Troilus

Call me Troilus. I’m a Blenheim (brown and white) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. My illustrious ancestors were found at Blenheim Palace in England and in Titian paintings, but I come from Shasta County, California. Rick and Lynn encountered irresistible me on their way back from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. They had just attended a performance of The Taming of the Shrew, so I was named for Petruchio’s Act 4 Scene 1 line, “Where’s my spaniel Troilus?” Clearly, I was in Anderson, waiting for my family to bring me home to Palo Alto. Given that my head “feathers” rise like a ’60s Troll doll, it’s not surprising that my nickname is Troll. Cavaliers should have a melting expression. Mine would melt steel. I moderate my dyspeptic look with a nonstop helicopter-wagging tail but looks aren’t everything. I excel at agility, rally and am an AKC Canine Good Citizen. My primary profession (and passion) is sleep. My part-time job is air traffic control. We’re on the flight path to SFO, so I scamper across the yard barking at and directing planes. I also have a side gig as a music critic. In the car, I insist on my own tunes and I make my displeasure known if I don’t get what I like. Forget classical or rock—’50s rockabilly is my choice. Lynn’s attempt to convince me I’d enjoy ABBA was her Waterloo. But my sensitive hearing also made me a hero. When I started barking furiously one time, Rick discovered that the basement was flooding. I beat the electronic alarm by half an hour. Although appearance isn’t my lead attribute, I’ve been mistaken for Elizabeth Taylor on University Avenue. It turned out that the lady was talking about the Cavalier star of Sex and the City. Not bad for a little Troll dog like me.

Crossing the Finish Line

Words by Silas Valentino

In the weeks leading up to her husband bicycling across the country to fundraise for cancer research, Jenny Dearborn was uncharacteristically still.

The plan all along was that she would hang at home in Palo Alto as her spouse, John Tarlton, competed in the Race Across America—an ultra-distance road cycling race stretching some 3,000 miles from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland—but Jenny couldn’t resist helping out in her own way.

“John was so focused on raising money and I was thinking, ‘How can I help?’ I thought that if we captured it on video, it could be a way to help raise money to have footage from the race,” she recalls.

“I found this little production company in Redwood City with a couple of 28-year-olds who own cameras and know how to use them. I called them and said, ‘Will you come in a van across the country to get two camera shots of everything John does?’ And we’ll figure out the rest later…”

Photography Courtesy of Team Tarlton

What transpired next was 2,000 hours of footage documenting the grueling adventure spanning deserts, endless cornfields and the Chesapeake Bay. John, backed by a crew trailing him with food, support and the occasional nap opportunity, completed the race on June 23, 2019, after nearly 12 continuous days of pedaling.

The trek, tribulations and triumph are all captured in the documentary Until the Wheels Come Off, which Jenny produced and is currently finalizing before it heads out on the festival circuit with the goal of landing on a streaming service.

The film is an intimate look at John and his crew as they work in tandem to conquer the feat, often referred to as “the Everest of Cycling.” As opposed to the Tour de France, which has multiple stages and daily rests, Race Across America is nonstop. Participants weigh the impact of each of their breaks and rests as they hustle to the next checkpoint to avoid disqualification.

Photography Courtesy of Team Tarlton

John designed his race as a fundraiser for the Stanford Cancer Institute. Both his mother and sister received care from Stanford and his efforts inspired over $350,000 in donations. The funding was seeded into cancer discoveries and research, supporting programs such as genetic tumor testing, liquid biopsy technology and the immunooncology program.

Describing herself as an accidental filmmaker, Jenny is hoping that the documentary helps sustain contributions while she refocuses on her own ambitions. When she answers the door at home on a recent balmy afternoon, her overalls are splattered in paint, residue from her passion project of painting giant traces of superheroes on canvas. (As well as the occasional Bam! or Pow! onomatopoeias.) Nestled against her chest like a kangaroo’s joey is a newborn kitten that she’s gently fostering before adoption.

Superheroes and caring for others extend deep into Jenny’s genes from her experience as a young person who struggled in school due to undiagnosed dyslexia and ADHD.

“I had a hard time learning how to read as a kid but I did read comic books,” she says. “All types of comic books but I really identified with Wonder Woman. I was born in 1969 and in the ’70s, we had Linda Carter and Lindsay Wagner on TV as superheroes. I’m six feet tall and the idea of being strong with a physical presence was super important.”

Photography Courtesy of Drew Altizer

Jenny’s dyslexia was identified when she was in junior college and to aid with her disability, she began receiving government-issued 8-track recordings of books that helped with her visual and auditory processing. Listening to the words while she read allowed her to process on her own time. She quickly excelled, rising from a D student to straight As and earning an academic scholarship to Cal Berkeley.

It was there that she met John, and after three weeks of dating, he asked her to marry him. They both graduated from college in December 1991 and were married five weeks later.

Jenny’s first career was teaching English, drama and public speaking at Woodside High School where her motivation was clear: “I am going to make sure that the pain and struggle I went through doesn’t happen to someone else,” she says. “It was from a place of fear—I wanted to protect all the people who were vulnerable.” 

She later gravitated to the corporate world, initially at Hewlett Packard, where she shifted into a human resources role, translating her passion for protection towards employees.

Photography Courtesy of Drew Altizer

“I love that HR focuses on culture and engagement—how to recognize people and reward them,” she explains. “You spend the best years of your life and the best hours of the day at your job. Why not use that time to find joy and fulfillment? That felt like a real calling.”

 Jenny and John have raised their three children—Jack, Chloe and Cooke (each of whom were part of John’s road crew during the race)—along with a cast of cats and dogs in a Victorian house located not far from downtown Palo Alto. Jenny’s father grew up on the adjacent street and they chose the house in part because of its proximity to the famed Hewlett Packard Garage. 

The home is often full and busy—as Jenny prefers it to be.

“I feel alive just before redlining,” she says. “I seek out situations that are a little bit chaotic. The more cleaning up the better. That’s why I like working at startups; you feel like your hair’s on fire all of the time.”

Jenny is the chief people officer for a startup company called Klaviyo, where she’s currently facing the Silicon Valley version of an endurance race—helping her team cross the finish line to an IPO. 

“This is my Everest,” she notes with a determined smile.  

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Photography Courtesy of Team Tarlton

Coby Time

After almost a year and a half, my son Coby was able to come visit us from his home in Tel Aviv. It was a long period to be apart and our entire family felt it. The lapse in time was especially evident in our newest generation—a new niece and nephew Coby could finally hold in-person and three toddlers who had magically transformed from the infants he had kissed goodbye some 18 months ago.

The collective Citron clan, Coby’s sisters, brother, brothers-in-law, sister-in-law and parents, were so ecstatic about him being home—and aware of how fast a two-week visit passes—that it was almost a brawl to claim
Coby’s attention. All he wanted was some R&R, but all we wanted was some Coby time. He is, after all, the youngest—and, well, the favorite (I think we’d all agree on that)—so wanting to hang with him comes naturally.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this visit was how effortlessly the two-year-olds (born two weeks apart) and the one-year-old bonded with Coby as if their entire experiences with him had not been via FaceTime. Coby’s brother and sisters are conscientious about FaceTiming on a near daily basis and having their children build relationships with their uncle. 

Physical touch is paramount to the human experience, but it was clear to me that you can still come to love and treasure someone without that taking place. The children were all so happy to have their uncle here and, of course, Coby—a warm and loving person—was down on the ground playing and laughing and romping with them. 

Being able to have real-time visual interactions is a wonderful reality of our current existence. My kids and grandkids don’t know any better, so they use this technology with ease and confidence. I frequently forget about the opportunity to use the wonders of our day, whether on my phone or even to deposit a check, but I’m very grateful for it in the case of Coby and his nieces and nephews.

Whenever I could, I grabbed Coby and Josh (his older-by-seven-years brother) and we hit the golf course. The three of us love to play together, creating our own brand of what we call “team golf,” which we play in a scramble format. It’s a lot more fun for us since we are working together instead of against each other. The highlight of the rounds (which we will remember a good while) was when I accidently sprayed sunscreen into my left eye and could hardly open my eye for nine holes. My sons will give me grief about this for the rest of my life!

My daughters Ari and Tali wanted to take Coby shopping with them, since he had not bought any new clothes since the last time he was here. They are expert shoppers and Coby listens to them. They also persuaded him to do “the Stanford Dish” more times than poor Coby cared to, but he was a gracious sport about it.

We planned almost every meal with Coby and visited every restaurant that we are fond of, some of them several times. It was impossible for everyone to always be there, of course, but we managed it on several occasions, from our Shabbat dinners on Friday nights to at least three going-away dinners. And then there was some sort of lunch every day for whomever could make it.

One night was particularly special, as the in-law children good-heartedly stayed home with their sleeping young ones and it was just the six original Citrons together for dinner, and we realized it was probably 10 years ago in Barcelona when that had last happened. We went to Coby’s favorite restaurant, Tamarine in Palo Alto, where we sat inside and had a wonderful night with toasts, laughs and happiness. Whenever Coby is home, we splurge, and this was no exception. Ari ordered just about everything on the menu for us (she is the official “orderer” in our family) and it was truly a cheerful feast. 

Two nights later, on the way to taking Coby to the airport for his 8PM return flight, we stopped at Josh and Adara’s home in San Mateo, where we all gathered for a meal of pizza and children and goodbyes. That period right before he leaves is a tough one emotionally. You can feel the minutes ticking down and I find it difficult to be in the moment. Half the time, tears start streaming down my face, and on this evening I was not alone. But the kids all climbed on Coby, happy to be with him and to feel his love and affection up close, loving their improved physical relationship with their favorite uncle and knowing that he is just a FaceTime video chat away.

ITT Building

Viewed from the hills of Byxbee Park in Palo Alto, the historic ITT building sits in the middle of the Emily Renzel Wetlands, incongruously surrounded by barbed wire and a field of pickleweed. Aside from an explanatory plaque in Byxbee, there is little to indicate the abandoned white Mission Revival-style structure’s significance. Originally built by the Federal Telegraph Company on land acquired in 1921, the building and accompanying antennas were used for Pacific Coast communication. In 1930, the facility was acquired by the International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) company. Most famously, according to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, “On December 7, 1941, an operator for the KFS Marine Radio heard this signal: ‘Submarine sighted.’ The time was 10:50 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. Five minutes later, at 7:55 a.m. Hawaiian time, the attack on Pearl Harbor commenced. The radio message had been the first inkling that the Japanese were attacking.” In 1977, Palo Alto acquired the 152 acres surrounding the site to be dedicated to parkland as fresh and salt water marshes. Through a federal easement, the ITT building and surrounding towers continued to function in shipping communication. In 2016, Palo Alto acquired the remaining land and partially restored the building to its present state. Although there are proposals to convert the building to a museum, the future of the property remains uncertain.

Surf + Rescue

Capturing the action at Mavericks, Frank Quirarte is always ready to save a life

Words by Silas Valentino
Featured Image by Brian Overfelt

Every few years, the Mavericks Volunteer Rescue Team puts on a fundraiser to help service their jet skis, upgrade first aid equipment and educate the public about safety at Mavericks and big wave surfing. This past December, the organization doubled its goal, swiftly raising thousands of dollars; the response was positively enthusiastic:

“Consider this a down payment on a future ride out of the danger zone,” one benefactor scribed on the GoFundMe page.

You don’t surf Mavericks to wipe out but if you go down, and a pulverizing 65-foot wave crashes overhead, the hand that hoists you out of the water would likely belong to the team’s leader, Frank Quirarte.

The hometown rescuer has safeguarded surfers for nearly 30 years from his front-row seat on a WaveRunner jet ski. Frank keeps watch over the extreme athletes as they battle nature’s extreme forces. If a surfer hits the water, he calculates the seconds before the next break to maneuver in for a rescue ride out.

Frank sees it all from his aquatic perch—the agony and the ecstasy of big wave riding. And since he’s the youngest of four brothers, the Pacifica native knows the value in sharing. That’s why, without any professional training, he began heading out on his rescues with a camera in hand to document the turbulent sport.

Over the years, Frank learned from his photographic snafus, modified an approach to the art and started developing some pretty gripping images that surf magazines began to publish. After his shots started appearing on covers, Frank realized that he’d stumbled into professional photography.

Serving a dual purpose on the water—as rescuer and documenter—allows Frank to travel to big waves across the world and support international surfers. For this kind-hearted thrill-seeker, photography is just one of the ways he engages with the world; he’s journeyed to Mount Everest, documented several Burning Mans and volunteered to rescue survivors from the flooded streets of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Frank’s surf photography appears in magazines and on walls across the country—freezing the intimate images that unfold in the midst of chaos. He captures the moment when someone lets go and yields to the elements. When man bows down to nature.

Frank’s extensive years as a guardian mean that you’re never as safe at Mavericks as when he focuses his lens on you.

There’s a garage in the Linda Mar neighborhood in Pacifica where Frank learned the nuts and bolts of engineering. Today, the space has been transformed by his teenage son Aidan into a music and weight room, keeping the legacy of Quirarte passion projects alive.

Frank is raising his son in the same house where he grew up under the guidance of his parents and three older brothers. That garage once hosted an active workbench where BMX bikes came and went with repairs after Frank and his brother raced them in the City. Now Frank’s gear, such as his Pelican photography cases, are stacked off to the side to allow his son sufficient room to explore his hobbies.

Aidan and Frank Quirarte

Frank’s father was a machinist and an adventurer who taught his sons how to ride dirt bikes and planned houseboat vacations on Lake Oroville. When Frank’s older brother Dave bought a jet ski for the lake, it broadened Frank’s lifelong fascination for motor sports and engineering.

“A bicycle back then was an Erector Set,” he says. “I would throw it on the workbench and learned on the fly. Today, people are astonished when they see me change the radiator on my truck.”

Frank graduated from Pacifica’s Terra Nova High School in 1981, but schooling didn’t come naturally to him. “If I look back at it now, I definitely had ADHD,” he says. “I struggled because I wanted to focus but I couldn’t.” He set a goal to one day become a college grad and looked for his own way of achieving it.

After scoring well on the mechanical portion of an aptitude test (“It had to be genetic from my dad,” he jokes. “I was always wrenching on things…”), Frank went into the Air Force with a dream of becoming an airplane mechanic. He fondly recalls going to air shows at Moffett Field and how his father always praised the mechanics of flight.

Frank maximized his military service by taking advantage of the abundant education opportunities. Whenever he had a free weekend, he’d convince buddies to join him for EMT training while chipping away towards a degree in Airframe Mechanics and Aircraft Maintenance. When he completed his degree in 1984, a letter arrived in the mail informing Frank that he had reached his goal. “In basic terms, it said that I was a college grad,” he recalls. “I still have the letter.”

Frank was just about to start his dream job as a line mechanic for Delta Airlines at SFO in 1990 when then-President Bush Sr. initiated Operation Desert Storm. As an Air Force reservist, Frank returned to service to transport troops from a base in Monterey and was stationed in Saudi Arabia. He worked on the largest airlifters such as Lockheed C-141 Starlifter and C-5 Galaxy aircrafts. When the conflict ended, Delta had reserved his job for him and Frank’s career took off.  

One early morning in the ’90s when he lived at a house on the beach, Frank heard a car horn outside and peered out of his window to see a guy with a long surfboard drive away. When it happened again at 6AM the following morning, Frank pieced it together: “Those are dragon slayers,” he remembers thinking.

Around that time the lore of Mavericks was beginning to permeate throughout surfing communities near and far. Frank surfed, but he wasn’t a big wave rider himself. Rumors of goliath swells just outside the point in Half Moon Bay seduced his adventurous spirit. He went to a Radio Shack, purchased a weather cube for real-time reports and began tracking the breaks. From the cliffside, Frank watched as surfers rode waves larger than any building in town. He wanted to get involved—but in his own way.

“I wasn’t ocean-worthy. I went to Jeff Clark’s (the founder of Mavericks) shop and was basically a groupie,” Frank recounts. “But Jeff wasn’t having me at all. I became friends with his girlfriend and talked him into letting me go out in an old Zodiac boat. I proved my worth; I could drive a boat. Once I got the lay of the land, I would board caddy for those guys.”

Mavericks grew in popularity. Surfers arrived from Hawaii and beyond to legitimize the break. Frank saw photographers appearing on jet skis to capture the rides and he was struck by the artistic thrill and challenge. He began asking for advice from local photographers and inherited a full Nikon outfit from a friend. His education came in scraps of advice from established photographers and learning what he did and didn’t like after patiently developing extensive rolls of film.

When the Zodiac boat started to fail, Frank didn’t hesitate to take his older brother up on an offer to buy an old jet ski. Soon his photo gallery expanded. Looking back today, Frank laughs at his novice roots: “When I had my first shot published, I sent the magazine hundreds of pictures over a week’s time… I needed to learn how to become my own editor.”

In December 1994, tragedy struck Mavericks just as it was becoming a cultural landmark when professional surfer Mark Foo drowned while surfing. His passing signaled a newfound push for safety.

“I was always asking, ‘Why isn’t there a rescue team?’” Frank says. “Some Hawaiians came over and gave us some real lessons and we began to train each other. In the beginning, I wasn’t a good rescuer. I raced in and raced out and was overzealous. You’re scared. I developed over time and now it’s more technical. You don’t need to race in, you can pick your line. There’s a level of fear that helps you as well. You cannot be nonchalant about it—you have to be on your toes every time.”

The Mavericks Rescue Team

The Mavericks Rescue Team developed into a fully organized unit that supports every Mavericks season. Frank runs the team using a risk management theory that poses critical questions, among them: “Will you become part of the problem?” and “Who will save the rescuer?”

Frank refined this rescue strategy through his own enterprising efforts. In 2005, after New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Frank joined a friend to launch an impromptu rescue mission on their jet skis through the flooded streets. They were the only private rescue team authorized by FEMA.

“There was an army boat pulled up on a house that couldn’t get in so we skied up to a crawl space,” Frank remembers of New Orleans. “There was an older gentleman there and we got him onto the airboat.” That one rescue turned into multiple as Frank skied from house to house. “Then it was like, ‘Woah, did we just do that?’” he says humbly. 

New Orleans, 2005

Outside the water, Frank keeps his camera with him on his travels, such as a trip to Mount Everest a few years ago that he made to honor a friend who had passed. It’s also been with him for several Labor Day Weekends out on the playa in Nevada. “Burning Man can be anything you want it to be,” he says. “As a photographer, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. There’s so much going on out there.”

Frank has his own personal risk management plan and that’s to lead a more mellow life when he’s not running the rescue team. He’s always played the guitar and Aidan will sometimes join him on vocals for rock covers. Lately, Frank has begun to gather his thoughts and stories for a photobook to showcase his decades on the water.

In June, Frank will work with a rescue team for Dangerous Waters Adventures on a jet ski tour in Alaska. He’ll provide safety for folks as they travel across a thousand miles of wilderness and glaciers. He’s eager to finally explore the Last Frontier and his camera will remain within reach for every moment of the trip.

“Photography became just as exciting as rescuing,” says Frank, who fully comprehends the value of his unique blend of skills and experiences.

“The rescue abilities make me a better surf photographer because I have to stay in the pocket until the last moment to get the right shot,” he explains. 

“I’m way more hands-on than a technical photographer. The digital cameras have so many functions and I’m still learning as I go, but on the water, it’s pretty basic: Keep it in focus and get the exposure correct,” he pauses and grins. “Oh, and don’t get hit by a wave.”

Spring Fling: 18 Great Reasons to Head Outside

1. Visit a Vineyard

Hold off on the two-hour drive to Napa because you can have a bacchanal in our own backyard at the Thomas Fogarty Winery, located off of Skyline Boulevard in the hills of Woodside. Since 1981, the winery has specialized in producing quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the rocky soils of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The winery practices organic and sustainable farming while employing traditional winemaking techniques to remain true to the craft. Check out the Thomas Fogarty website for a blend of offerings ranging from wine tasting flights to vineyard/cellar tours. 

2. Smell the Flowers 

What’s that floral fragrance in the air? It’s spring on the Peninsula, which means a bounty of scents. Home gardeners rejoice as their annuals begin budding and public gardens are blooming with blossoms too. Filoli Historic House & Garden in Woodside and the Japanese Garden in San Mateo open their gates for the full visual/nasal celebration. Gamble Gardens in Palo Alto goes an extra step by offering a creative outdoor class to design a nest centerpiece specifically for Mother’s Day. Visit gamblegarden.org to register for the course on May 8.

3. Farm Frolic 

The website for Harley Farms in Pescadero has a unique tally that fluctuates throughout the year and it currently reads: “Baby goat count: 134.” It’s a preview to the abundance of softness you can expect during a tour or picnic that you book in advance at the lively goat farm. In addition to seeing newborn baby goats, a spring peek at farm life includes the milking herd, guardian llamas, Anatolian shepherds and Rosie the donkey. Tour spots go fast, so consider booking a private tour or just pop by between 11AM and 4PM any day to say hello to the goats and donkeys over the fence.

4. Canvases in Color

To know Mitchell Johnson’s art is to immerse yourself in a reality shaped by color. The Peninsula painter covers his canvases in primary, secondary and tertiary hues, sometimes depicting a New England coastal still life or perhaps a display of abstract blocks to evoke a patchwork of soul. Celebrating three decades of Johnson’s colorful exploration, the Pamela Walsh Gallery in Palo Alto presents Color Continuum: Selected Works 1988-2021. On view from May 15 to June 26, the collection charts Mitchell’s evolution from Parsons to Palo Alto while celebrating his lifetime discussion with color. 

Photography: Paulette Phlipot

5. Fresh Off the Dock

If farm-to-table is the hot option for produce, then nothing beats dock-to-table for seafood. Fortunately, the Peninsula is home to two bustling options for purchasing fresh fish. Pull up to Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay to buy fish directly off the boat, but before you go, check out the Fishline App website, which updates the types of fish you can purchase. On the other side of the Peninsula at the Port of Redwood City is Pioneer Seafood, which provides rockfish, sole, sablefish and more straight from its ship tied up to the F Dock. As the folks at Pioneer like to say, good salty spray and one halibut of a day!

6. Starlight Paddle

Starting an excursion with the setting sun is a solid indicator for unusual fun. The Half Moon Bay Kayak Company offers a three-hour Night Paddle that begins at sunset at Pillar Point Harbor. Take out a double kayak and glide past harbor seals and sea birds in the fading light. If the moon is hidden behind the clouds, chances are enhanced to view bioluminescence, a natural wonder when aquatic species produce and emit glowing underwater light. Visit the outdoor company’s website to schedule a reservation and they will take care of the rest. 

7. Berries Galore 

They grow ’em so you can pick ’em. Providers of fresh veggies, fruits and flowers, Blue House Farm returns with its seasonal strawberry U-Pick in May. The farmstand is located at 950 La Honda Road in San Gregorio and the U-Picks happen on weekends starting at noon. The strawberries are grown on over 70 acres between their farms in Pescadero and San Gregorio, and their red, ripe juiciness tends to attract admirers from all corners of the Bay. The farmstand is an ideal lure to get you over the hill and spend the day exploring the coast with a container of berries within reach. 

8. Get Curious  

Curiosity doesn’t have a height limit. The anatomy of the world’s smallest creatures captured with a digital camera and confocal microscope are on display in CuriOdyssey’s latest outdoor exhibit, Creature
. The San Mateo science museum showcases photography from Dr. Igor Siwanowicz, a biochemist and neurobiologist who specializes in zooming deep into the lives of the tiniest insects. The super-accessible foot-operated exhibit also includes life-sized castings of animal tracks. Creature FEETures is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10AM to 5PM.

9. Climb Peninsula Peaks 

Among the wondrous bounty of hikes and sights on the Penunsula, a hike up Montara Mountain stands out for the unique chance to straddle the peak between the Pacific and the Bay. Park your car near the San Pedro Valley Park Visitor Center located at 600 Oddstad Boulevard in Pacifica and begin your ascent to the mountaintop. Meandering through the coastal oaks and native brush leads to the North Peak Access Road that you can take to the summit where the ocean breeze cools you down.

10. Do Prison Time 

If top tourist attraction Alcatraz is your “I’ve lived here my whole life but never visited” guilty confession, there’s no better time to plan a day trip. After a lengthy closure, the infamous penitentiary is opening its jail cells again. Purchase your tickets through the Alcatraz Cruises website, the official concessionaire to the National Park Service, and then head to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing. A short ferry ride brings you to the former home of some of America’s most notorious criminals like Al “Scarface” Capone and the “Birdman of Alcatraz” Robert Stroud. The award-winning “Doing Time: The Alcatraz Cellhouse Tour” audio takes you back in time as you poke into the Cellhouse, the Recreation Yard and the Sally Port.

Photography: Irene Searles

11. Commune with Sea Critters

Hear ye, hermit crabs, chitons, sea stars and urchins: Get ready for visitors! On May 3, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve officially reopens, bringing back a front-row seat to the Peninsula’s underwater sealife. The Moss Beach tide pooling nirvana is the place to observe marine life up close. Don’t forget to check the tide charts before you go. The lower the tide, the more exposed the reef, which means a better chance to fully explore the spectacular secret world of the intertidal zone. 

12. Soar Above the Bay

The most exciting moment of any flight into or out of SFO is the fleeting glimpse of our Bay Area home from the sky. Stretching this experience out to an hour or more is the flying tour company Epic Aer, which takes off from either San Carlos or Palo Alto airport. The company offers up-close-and-personal perspectives of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Half Moon Bay, Stanford and the City from the seat of a single-engine Cirrus SR22. There’s a variety of tours, so good luck choosing between San Francisco at night or a Half Moon Bay sunrise.

Photography: Paulette Phlipot

13. Make that a Martini  

As eateries ease back into the swing, now is the time to reserve a table. Take the Village Pub in Woodside, for instance. This Michelin Star classic offers a three-course dinner celebrating contemporary Californian cuisine with a tribute to the culinary traditions of France and the Mediterranean. The menu is always changing due to their partnership with a nearby 17-acre farm that supplies their harvest exclusively for use at the restaurant.

14. Get a Grip 

The first lesson of the sport is that we don’t golf—we play golf. The second lesson is that a hole-in-one buys a round at the clubhouse. But for any more insights you’ll have to consult a professional. The Stanford Golf Course hosts a roster of certified pros who teach every level from beginners to scratch players. They’re veterans on the green, such as Herman McKee who has teed up there since 1983. At the Crystal Springs Golf Club, you can enroll at the Greg Coplin Golf School, named after Golf Digest’s top teacher in California. Group lessons are available but a one-on-one is your best chance for working on your swing mechanics and short game. 

Photography: Courtesy of Pedego Electric Bikes

15. e-Bike Exploring

The newest road warriors to appear are the legion of whip-fast and smooth e-bike riders tapping into battery power for longer pedaling across the Peninsula. To get a taste of the latest advancement in two wheels, check out Pedego Electric Bikes in Menlo Park where e-bike rentals are available to take on journeys that reach beyond city limits. Ride up Sand Hill Road into the hills of Woodside to see your community from a fresh perspective. No need to fret the climbs—the e-bike provides that little boost of encouragement along the way.

Photography: Courtesy of Pinstripes

16. Pin Down Fun

It’s a game of precision. Are you a heavy roller who can knock ’em down with clout or a smooth calculator maneuvering the slim alley using a graceful touch? However you spin it, bowling unites us in casual competition and easygoing leisure. San Mateo’s Bel Mateo Bowl offers the classic bowling experience with neon lighting, arcade games and 24 lanes to choose from. The newer Pinstripes at the Hillsdale Mall updates the play with two levels of bowling, bocce and a bistro serving pizzas and flatbreads from a wood-burning oven.

Photography: Courtesy of Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company

17. Beer Fridays

Every Friday at 4PM is the official bell ringer into the weekend at Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company in San Carlos. That’s when the neighborhood block party begins with music in the taproom, food trucks in the back outside and ever-flowing fills of craft beer. The weekly event has become a tradition amongst locals and if you become a member of the brewery, you can rent a locker to store your favorite reusable mug. And the celebration doesn’t have an age limit with their signature DCBC Root Beer Floats made with ice cream from nearby neighbor, Tin Pot Creamery.

18. Movie Magic

Whether you’re a blockbuster buff or an Oscar-winner devotee, movie theaters are reopening their doors to usher in a new season of cinema. Redwood City’s Cinemark and Century 12 San Mateo are showing the latest flicks along with Cinépolis at the Hillsdale Mall, which also offers classic films such as Thelma and Louise and The Iron Giant for only $5 a seat. Each of these theaters has its own protocol for socially-distanced movie-watching or you can also arrange for a private watch party. Cruella and A Quiet Place Part II are a couple of the bigger titles coming out in May to welcome viewers back to the big silver screen. 

Hillsborough Rancher Redo

Words by Sheri Baer

The past year has really driven home the concept of home—which most of us equate with shelter, support and security.

“Home has become so much more important in the pandemic as the place where you are safe and you keep your family safe,” says Sara Furrer, co-president of SolMateo. “If your home is a safe and wonderful place, that’s a real gift to you and your children that a lot of people just don’t have right now.”

It seems appropriate that the all-volunteer nonprofit relies on Peninsula homeowners to assist in its mission to shine a light on mental health. Every May, in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month, SolMateo hosts its annual Signature Kitchen Tour to raise awareness and funds for two local mental health-focused organizations. 

SolMateo’s 40th Signature Kitchen Tour is set to feature five homes in Burlingame, San Mateo Park and Hillsborough, with the self-guided event showcasing stunning architecture and inspiring designs. “Who doesn’t want to visit someone else’s beautiful house?” says Sara. “By asking homeowners to open up their homes, allowing hundreds of guests to come through on a given day, we can make a difference in keeping people safe and safely housed.” 

So many people automatically put decorative lighting over the table and over the island but I don’t think we needed it at all. I kept it really, really open, very fresh and uninterrupted. They have two little boys, so we got them a cool little surfboard table for casual dining and some Palecek woven chairs that are family-friendly with a seat fabric that’s very cleanable and washable. The nook is a fun little space for reading or just hanging out while somebody’s cooking and that’s where we did a little bit of decorative lighting. —Cindy Foti

Originally scheduled for May 2020 and then postponed again this year, the official date for the 40th tour is now May 13, 2022. Despite the delay, the owners of an Upper Hillsborough home remain 100% committed as Signature Kitchen Tour hosts. In addition to offering up a preview for PUNCH, the volunteers want to underscore why community involvement is so vital. 

“When asked if we would participate in the Kitchen Tour to raise money for SolMateo, the answer was automatically, ‘Of course!,’” shares one of the homeowners. “The reality is that at some point, you or someone you know or love will be impacted by mental health, yet it is often overlooked, undersupported and misunderstood. The need for easily accessible, quality mental health care is greater now than ever.”

SolMateo’s co-presidents, Nancy Minnig and Sara, have their own motivations for volunteering. Raised in San Mateo and now living in Hillsborough, Sara aligned with SolMateo about a decade ago, recognizing that mental health doesn’t get the attention it deserves. “It’s what I call the not-fuzzy-puppy charity,” she says. “People don’t like to look at what happens with people who suffer from thoughts of suicide or mental illness or homelessness.”  

Also rooted on the Peninsula, Nancy recently moved from Burlingame to San Mateo. Having lost her sister and niece to drug overdoses, she didn’t have the choice to look away, so she sought out ways to help. About seven years ago, she was introduced to SolMateo by a friend and immediately knew that it was the place for her. “We are a group of dedicated, smart women who have big hearts,” she says. “We’re providing support for our community and trying to educate people so they know that we’re all in it together, especially now.” 

Since 1976, SolMateo has donated over $2.6 million to the Mental Health Association of San Mateo County (MHA) and
StarVista. With programs that date back over 60 years, MHA is dedicated to restoring dignity and reducing homelessness, particularly for those affected by mental illness and HIV/AIDS. Based in San Carlos, StarVista serves over 40,000 individuals and families each year through counseling, crisis prevention, youth housing and outreach programs. SolMateo specifically supports StarVista’s Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center. 

“SolMateo is the largest private donor to both organizations,” explains Sara. “We are funneling money into what’s happening at the ground level for kids dealing with suicide or families dealing with homelessness and mental illness. Both organizations use our money for the most pressing needs and that’s not always possible with other funding sources.” 

This is a conversation space—one big room—that sets the tone for the rest of the house. They’re into beachy things although they don’t live near the beach, so we tried to stay with natural ocean tones and organic sculptural light fixtures. Even though it’s a formal room, I tried to stay really natural with the finishes and not make it too fussy. I wanted to keep it fresh and interesting and more of a curated look so not everything is so matchy. —Cindy Foti

The Signature Kitchen Tour raises money through a combination of ticket sales and business sponsorships. SolMateo points to partners like Don D’Elia, the builder behind the Upper Hillsborough home, as being essential to their efforts. “Don builds great houses, and that’s how he makes his living,” says Sara, “but it’s important for him that a part of what he builds goes back to the community.”

A longtime supporter of SolMateo, as well as other nonprofit organizations, Don says that observing SolMateo’s direct impact is highly motivating. “There are a lot of people who suffer out there quietly, painfully, and they’re right in our front yard, not our backyard,” he says. “These are the types of services that need our support.” 

Based in San Mateo for nearly three decades, the high-end custom home builder and remodeler teamed up with EASA Architecture and Cindy Foti Interiors on the Hilsborough project. Don describes the homeowners as a young couple who bought the home in the Carolands neighborhood with plans to expand their family. “They wanted a very comfortable home,” he says. “They wanted the house to live easily.” 

For the project partners, that meant creating a greater sense of flow in a classic rancher. “Some of the room sizes were fine,” notes Don, “but it didn’t have a great room, big kitchen, sizable master and ensuite bathroom and closets.” To evoke a more modern, spacious look, the remodel involved adding 900 square feet and raising the ceilings as much as possible. As an example, says Don, “the living room was a flat eight-foot ceiling and we vaulted that and changed it dramatically.” 

In addition to adding custom features like architectural beams, cabinetry and outdoor raised garden beds, the remodel included a complete overhaul of the backyard. As the project’s interior designer, Cindy Foti, summarizes, “There are not many old parts left there, but it’s still the original structure.” Cindy emphasizes that a once old classic rancher is now a home that will stand the test of time. “They did this house until it was done,” she says. “They brought it all the way there.”

Look for the Upper Hillsborough home on the 40th Signature Kitchen Tour in 2022, and keep an eye out for news about SolMateo’s Holiday Auction, the nonprofit’s other major fundraising event. In the meantime, SolMateo encourages your continued support of organizations that help keep our Peninsula community safe and secure—so that everyone can have access to a true sense of home. 

We used porcelain and ceramic tile with a chevron pattern on the floor and custom cabinetry throughout. We mixed some brass and black which is a newer thing for people to do but we didn’t do too much of it. We created an accent wall, which mimics the floor, only we introduced a grayish bluish color with a little bit of a coppery undertone coming through. We put in top-down, bottom-up window treatments, Roman shades, to give them light but also give them the option for privacy. —Cindy Foti

A Passion for Fashion

Words by Sheri Baer

As the door to Alys Grace opens, Tiger Bachler looks up and calls out a greeting: “Rosemary, how are you?” Noting another customer eyeing a floral top, she offers, “Molly, did you see that we got the new Nili Lotan in?” The response is a happy nod. 

At boutiques dotted up and down the Peninsula, little interactions like these, once taken for granted, are blissfully happening again. Emerging from an unfathomable year, store owners, intent on recovery, find inspiration in the familiar faces of returning clientele.

In the case of Alys Grace, Tiger and Phil Bachler are the married duo behind the storefront. After opening their first Menlo Park boutique in 2008, the couple expanded to stores in Los Altos, San Francisco and San Ramon. “Now that we’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train,” Phil wryly observes, “it’s like, okay, we’re going to make our way out of this—and it’ll be very satisfying when that does happen.”

A few doors down on Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park, Malika Parker worked in fashion for decades before chasing her dream of running her own boutique. The single mom credits her store Gitane and loyal customers with making the difference. “Being able to raise my daughter here, being able to put her through college—I don’t think I would have been able to do this in my own country, in France,” she says. “I had so much support when I started and it never stops.” 

At JoeyRae in San Carlos, it’s “three sisters and their mama” behind the family-run boutique. And mom Lynne Board is the first to point out that it’s not what you think. “The concept didn’t come from me,” she shares. Back in 2013, it was then 21-year-old daughter Allie who partnered up with her 23-year-old sister Camille to launch the store. “I made them promise that this was their baby,” recalls Lynne, who eventually joined the JoeyRae team, along with youngest daughter Tessa.

For the latest scoop on local fashion and style, PUNCH gets the skinny (which isn’t skinny jeans!) from three on-trend Peninsula stores.

Alys Grace

Tiger and Phil Bachler

It looks like you started out with very different backgrounds. What led to your partnership and the opening of Alys Grace?

Tiger: I grew up in Hawaii on Kauai and then went to college on the East Coast. I’ve always worked in fashion/retail—Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and Gap in San Francisco. And then I was a stay-at-home mom for a while.

Phil: I grew up in Atherton and Portola Valley and got into the financial printing business and then insurance for a little bit. I basically kind of retired and we wanted to find a business to operate and make successful… and instead, we got into retail. 

Tiger (laughing): He was looking at this highway striping company, and I said there’s no way I’m doing that. If I’m going to go back into business, it’s going to be something fun and exciting.

What’s the draw of a neighborhood boutique? 

Tiger: We do a really great job of curating the best lines and narrowing it down. I think customers come to us because they want us to know who they are. They want us to call them when we have things that they might like. 

Phil: We always go the extra mile for them. It’s much more personalized service.

How do you see fashion evolving out of the last year? 

Tiger: The brands that we carry are all getting very Zoom-friendly, very casual, as a result of the pandemic. It’s not just changing the way most of us boutique owners buy—it’s changing the way the brands are presenting themselves. We probably will get back to doing some dressier things but the categories that are doing best are denim, sweaters and tops.

What are some of the trends that you’re seeing? 

Tiger: All of our great brands have prints in them and T-shirts have some interesting detail, whether it’s a puff sleeve or a little ruffle on the neck. With pants, I don’t think skinnies will ever go out of style, but they’re just not the thing. Now it’s more straight or a little flair, a little kick to it. 


Malika Parker 

How did you get your start in fashion?

My mom is French and my father is from North Africa, and I grew up in the suburbs of Paris. I started working in the fashion district when I was 17 years old. I swept and brought coffee to everyone, and little by little, I was given more responsibilities. I worked in retail for boutiques and then I moved to Nice in the South of France. I became a manager for a store there for about six years and then I moved to the Bay Area, where I worked for more boutiques like Cielo and Leaf & Petal.

What led you to opening
Gitane in Menlo Park?

I was looking for a space, and I fell in love with the location. I wanted a store that was welcoming. It’s really an extension of my house. My daughter and I love shopping, and I dreamed of a place where mom and daughter really could shop together, where I could have multiple price points—things that are for mom and other things that are for daughters. 

How do you decide what to carry in your store?

Over the years, I’ve come to know quite a bit about my customers. When I go to markets, I usually have names in my head. I think about who would wear this and who would wear that. I keep in mind what people like and my part is to push them a little bit. When there is something that has them asking, ‘Is this too trendy?’ or ‘Am I too old to wear this?’ I’m there to say, ‘This is fashion. It should be fun.’

What items do you see being most popular right now?

It’s hard to get away from the cozy part. People want to keep that. The heels are kind of gone for a while. They want some kind of uplift through clothing—something whimsical, something colorful. Things that are easy to wear and cute like a pull-on skirt with a white T-shirt and sneakers. Sneakers. Sneakers. Sneakers. I love that trend so much!


Lynne, Camille, Allie & Tessa Board

The first obvious question—what’s the story behind the name JoeyRae?

Allie: We had gone back and forth on names for probably a month.

Lynne: I told them you need a compound word that doesn’t already exist so you can buy the domain. 

Allie: Tessa’s best friend forever and ever is named Joey. And my middle name is Rae. So we’re all sitting around, and Joey says, ‘What about JoeyRae?’ We thought, ‘It’s catchy. It’s perfect.’

Lynne: Of course, we have so many people calling asking, ‘Is Joey there?’

With four of you, how do the roles get divided? Who wears which hat?

Lynne: I’m aesthetics, what things look like—and customers. Camille is customer relations. Allie is logistics, vendor relations, all the business. And Tessa is the computer. She’s our IT. As far as buying, it’s all four of us.

How do you decide what JoeyRae should carry?

Lynne: We have different styles, different bodies and a different financial willingness to spend.  

Allie: We’re all at different life stages, so it melds really well together. We have things for younger people who are just working their first or second job and want to buy something nice but don’t want to break the bank. But then we also have pieces for people who do want to spend a little bit more, who do want that high-quality silk or to throw on a cashmere sweater.

What’s your take on style trends going forward?

Lynne: What I see is that people want to get dressed now but they still want to be comfortable. 

Allie: It’s more like the stylish side of a sweatshirt that you could easily pair with denim. And very flowy, midi-length casual dresses. 

Lynne: Dresses are back! 

Allie:  But more like, ‘I’m going to throw this on with sneakers but also look cute and fashionable.’

How happy are your customers to be able to shop in person again?

Allie: There are so many people who come in and say, ‘Oh, it feels so good just to be in a store.’

Lynne: Tons of happiness.Everyone says it, every time they come in. 

The Beat On Your Eats

Tired of feeling bland? Try spicing things up. 

Indo Restaurant & Lounge

Palo Alto

 Ask the manager at Indo Restaurant for advice about spice on the menu and he won’t hesitate: braised bone-in short ribs topped in a lemongrass tomato chili sambal. The dish is served with the hot relish that’s equal parts flavorful as is peppery. It’s just one of several specialties at this casual-but-stylish restaurant. Another not-to-miss selection: the pan-seared duck breast with a lemongrass kaffir lime chili sauce. The lounge and bar are currently open for inside dining and the popular happy hour runs from from 5PM to 7PM Tuesday through Friday. 3295 El Camino Real. Open Monday through Thursday from 11AM to 2PM for lunch and 5PM to 9PM for dinner; Friday from 11AM to 2PM for lunch and 4PM to 10PM for dinner; Saturday from 11AM to 10PM and Sunday from 11AM to 9PM.

Photography: Courtesy of Fey Restaurant


Menlo Park

Of China’s four major cooking styles, Szechuan cuisine is the one best known for spicy, flavor-packed fire. After first earning Bib Gourmand recognition from Michelin in 2015, FEY in Menlo Park continues to attract loyal fans and zing-seekers. The hot spot offers a relaxed, eye-catching ambiance that includes schools of silver fish decor and a menu packed with over 200 spicy (look for the red chili icon) and non-spicy meat and veggie selections. Can’t decide? Try beef, chicken, shrimp or eggplant served à la Sichuan with a sweet and spicy sauce or twice-cooked tofu or pork with onions, scallions, jalapeno, bell pepper, cabbage and dried chili. 1368 El Camino Real. Open daily from 11:30AM to 2:30PM for lunch and 5PM to 9:30PM for dinner. 

Mingalaba Restaurant


This downtown staple describes itself as your “passage” to the best Southeast Asian cuisine and its claim is legitimized by its reputation of often having a line that snakes out its door onto the sidewalk. Folks keep returning for favorites such as the Burmese-style braised pork marinated with pickled mango and the Nan Gyi Dok, a rice noodle with spiced coconut chicken and fried onion. Add an order of the crispy pancakes called paratha with a curry dipping sauce to round out a meal. It’s no wonder that Mingalaba often finds itself on the Michelin Recommended List year after year. 1213 Burlingame Avenue. Open Monday through Friday from 11:30AM to 2:30PM for lunch and 4:30PM to 9PM for dinner; Saturday and Sunday from 11AM to 9PM. 

Crunchy Bliss

Words by Christina Chahal

In a small town, there is a tiny shop run by little bakers doing great things. The owner is fat.” 

With this irreverent motto, customers are introduced to the humor and passion of Antoine Tang, founder of Antoine’s Cookies in San Mateo and Palo Alto. His shops feature a limited menu curated by Antoine himself, including bestsellers Cookies n’ Cream, Chocolate Chip and Toffee. 

“Around 2012 is when I started making cookies just for fun,” Antoine recalls. “I’d just gotten married and was on a mission to find the best chocolate chip cookie out there, just because I love cookies.”

Antoine’s quest led him up and down the Peninsula, but like Goldilocks, he never tasted a cookie that he thought was ‘just right.’ Worse, many times a craving struck at night, when shops were closed and the grocery store’s options just didn’t cut it with his discerning palate. So, Antoine stopped driving and started searching online for instructions. He figured, why not try making the best cookie himself? 

To that end, Antoine read pages and pages of recipes—including all the comments—which he found very useful. In fact, being a home cook with no formal training or background served him well. With no set idea about what to do or how to do it, he actually enjoyed getting feedback and putting it to use in his baking.

“It takes humility to look at what you made and say it’s not good enough, I can’t serve it,” he explains. “But I have no problem with that.”

Soon Antoine found himself at the center of an official business, thriving under the new 2013 Cottage Food Law allowing certified home businesses to prepare ‘low-risk’ foods that don’t need to be refrigerated like nut mixes, cookies and candy.

Word spread among his network, and new customers popped up exponentially. One friend would buy Antoine’s cookies for their daughter’s graduation party, then the guests at the party would try them and recommend Antoine to their employers for office events, and so on. By Christmas 2015, Antoine had outgrown his home kitchen. He had such high demand that he had to turn off the ordering page on his website. That prompted the opening of his first brick-and-mortar store in San Mateo in 2016, where he took with him all the lessons he’d learned at home.

“There’s so much suffering to open a food business—the loans, the hours, how tired you are,” he notes. “Most owners can take the suffering, but the one suffering they will not take is hearing that their food is not good. I know what a bad cookie tastes like, and we try to stay as far away from that as possible.”

To make his cookies memorable, Antoine uses Guittard chocolate and the very best of everything he can find. And while he didn’t do any baking growing up, he credits his upbringing for his focus on quality ingredients.

“Like a lot of Asian households, we didn’t use the oven, no baking pans in the house,” says Antoine. “What I learned was the value of the ingredients and not to be sloppy. If you messed up and wasted an egg, there wasn’t another one.”

The surprising source of another key lesson? Antoine’s avid poker habit. 

“When I make a bad decision in a poker game, I lose money,” he observes. “I have to be able to look at my decisions and say, ‘I can’t afford to make that mistake again.’ Running a business is the same thing. You have to know what kind of mistakes you’re making; you have to learn how to get better.”

Antoine points to the late chef Anthony Bourdain as a vital source of inspiration. He devoured Bordain’s book Kitchen Confidential and remembers well how Bourdain described the kind of people who romanticize what it takes to open a successful restaurant. “Those people fail,” wrote Bourdain. Instead, Bourdain said it was more important to be practical, which Antoine has taken to heart.

“You’ve got to be someone who is production-minded,” states Antoine matter-of-factly. That’s why he tests all his cookies and pays attention to what sells, adding, “If you make a product that people really want, you don’t need to market it.”

Antoine grew up in San Jose and still lives locally with his wife and two young children. He was a history major in college, but at a certain point, he realized he wasn’t interested in going to grad school. So he went into sales and later worked at the Apple Store, where he was blown away by the management and training. Apple’s workplace culture emphasized the importance of always assuming positive intentions from co-workers and customers.

“It was really impressive what they believed in,” he remembers. “They taught us that their greatest product is their people and I felt it, I felt valuable.”

Antoine took that feeling to heart in his own business, making it a point to value his employees as much as his cookies. “I care about making the process as easy as possible for the employees; it makes for really happy and really efficient workers,” says Antoine. He is also proud to offer his employees a good wage, which he says has improved during the pandemic. He’s noticed that his customers are tipping a lot more, which he believes reflects an increased appreciation for retail food workers.

Now baking several thousand cookies a day, Antoine sees each batch adding more momentum to his success. “When someone comes to the shop, and another baker sent them, that makes me feel really good,” enthuses Antoine, adding, “A couple from San Francisco had been driving all over to find cookies for their wedding, and they picked me. That felt great.”

Escape to Mykonos

Words by Silas Valentino

When you pop into Mykonos Meze House, the new Greek eatery in downtown Burlingame that celebrates shared plates, you’ll likely hear the Greek word ∑’αγαπώ or s’agapó get passed around from host to server to guest. Translated from Greek as “my love,” the expression is sweetly repeated as the small plates of delicious bites circulate around the open-air building adorned in shades of blue and white.

Making its debut in November, Mykonos uproots the Greek experience of meze eating and places it on the Peninsula. Sometimes considered the epitome of Greek-style entertaining, meze (meh-ZEH) translates to taste or a bite, but here it’s used to designate a restaurant conceived for social gatherings over tables of rich cuisine and handcrafted cocktails.

“Our concept is more like a casual neighborhood eatery instead of a fine dining restaurant,” owner and chef Dogan Üstel explains. “And a cool place to grab a drink at nighttime, especially on the weekends.”

Dogan, whose name is pronounced similar to Don, is one of four owners who brought Mykonos to life. He and his partners currently have six concepts across the Bay Area including Roma Atica, which is set to open its third location in San Mateo, and Mediterranean Kitchen, located just a few doors down from Mykonos in Burlingame.

Asked what distinguishes the two concepts, Dogan explains, “Mediterranean Kitchen has everything on the menu.” There’s a mix of Greek and Middle Eastern dishes with a twist of standard American classics. Mykonos, however, “is specifically local Greek,” he says and points to the souvlaki beef skewer.

A menu favorite and a Dogan specialty, the prime tenderloin is cooked perfectly to slide off the skewer and melt in your mouth with imported black sea salt enhancing its flavor. 

In the kitchen, Dogan deploys patience as a necessary ingredient, like when the lamb requires at least six hours to prepare or when he massages the calamari in a beer batter throughout the day. His meatballs involve a two-day process in the fridge and to ensure that the servers are educated about the bites they bring out, he routinely asks that everyone spend at least 30 minutes in the kitchen to learn about what they’re serving.

Dogan even wrote a short recipe book for each menu item and collected them in a binder that’s readily available to flip through.

The Greek spreads and sesame-sprinkled pita bread are drawing admirers. The Láchano (marinated red cabbage with Greek yogurt) receives regular praises online while the Tirokafteri (roasted bell pepper, imported spicy herbs, walnut and feta cheese) is a classic dip. And not to miss as an appetizer are the crispy zucchini cakes topped in a rich yogurt of cucumber and mint. 

A 22-foot bar with shelves of spirits lines the back of the restaurant, serving up the traditional Greek lager Mythos as well as a dozen handcrafted cocktails and more than ten different types of Ouzo, a dry anise-flavoured aperitif widely consumed in Greece. 

The White Shadow is the eatery’s play on a piña colada using Tito’s vodka, coconut cream with pineapple and lime juices while the house favorite is the Mykonos Blue that mixes Hendricks gin, Absolut vodka, cucumbers and blue curacao together for a refreshing tipple.

Off the menu, Dogan stresses the importance of creating a welcoming space that accurately reflects its island namesake.

“All Greek islands are perfect, but Mykonos is an angelic place,” he says. “We want to create a Mykonos vibe and a meze house is a space for sharing.”

Mykonos chef Furkan Malkoc peppers from a distance.

Dogan attributes his emphasis on hospitality to when he was a cook for the Hilton Istanbul Bomonti Hotel & Conference Center back in 2014. He uses the word guest not “customer” and is known to pass out his card freely.  

“I want to hear from them,” he says. “I want to give my guests a good experience. You are coming here to celebrate or for your anniversary; it’s a special day. It’s not just spending money—you are sharing important times here.”

Dogan’s chops in the kitchen were a gift from his mother. Born in Thessaloniki, Greece, she instructed him how to prepare souvlaki as a young boy. Dogan was born in Lüleburgaz, Turkey, and lived in Malta as a teenager to learn English. It was there that he realized how important it was to him to live in a more liberal culture and he spent his formative years studying gastronomy at Beykent Üniversitesi in Istanbul.

Dogan arrived in the United States in 2016 to work as a line chef at Michael Mina Restaurant in San Francisco, where he met his three partners. The four of them broke out to begin their own endeavors using each other’s strengths in design and architecture, with Dogan in the kitchen.

Dogan lives in San Carlos and when he’s not pulling a 17-hour day working between kitchens, he’s a fan of extreme sports and has skydived six times. “I love extremes,” he says, “they make you feel fresh.” He’s also passionate about Deep House music and as restaurants begin opening up to more possibilities, he’s envisioning Mykonos as a cultural hub.

“Burlingame and the Peninsula need a place for young people. We’ll have good, quality music in here and are planning on having DJs,” Dogan says, or, as he summarizes with a smile, “A Burning Man-style party.

Homegrown Harvest

Words by Jennifer Jory

Imagine heirloom tomatoes right off the vine from your garden and fresh squash growing in abundance all summer long. As anyone with a green thumb will tell you, the rich flavor of sun-ripened home produce far exceeds anything bought in the store. What’s more, the Peninsula offers a unique environment where growing year-round vegetables is possible.  

“We are in a Mediterranean climate like Italy,” explains Carol O’Donnell. She gestures toward Swiss chard and lettuce growing in precise rows in raised beds that terrace down her hillside garden in San Mateo. “You don’t have to stop gardening in December and January,” she says. “We are hot enough to grow all the summer crops, and yet we can grow the winter vegetables year-round as well.” Carol’s broad smile underneath her hat exudes the passion of one who has found her calling.

Carol’s gardening devotion started years ago when she was living in Millbrae with farm animals grazing on nearby land. “I got a load of manure from a horse farm up the hill and the pile was as big as a Volkswagen,” she recalls. “It grew amazing vegetables.” The bountiful harvest from the compost also inspired the creation of a prolific gardener who went on to earn her credentials from the UC Master Gardener Program. “I love to prepare the beds,” she says, “and I like to work the soil with my hands.”

To become a Master Gardener, Carol completed extensive training and research in all aspects of growing plants and volunteered throughout the Peninsula in public gardens and schools. 

Currently, she provides her expertise to the public at the Garden Education Center at the San Mateo County Event Center, which features blossoming fruit trees, demonstration beds seeded with vegetables and greenhouses bursting with tomato plants. 

“I love to watch the vegetables grow and I grow them like flowers,” beams Carol. “My mantra is if I can’t eat it, I am not interested.” She also offers her wisdom through online classes at the UC Master Gardener website. In her course on year-round edible gardens, she provides practical advice and dispels the idea that you have to adhere to Midwest frost dates. “You have to eat year-round,” she emphasizes. “I like growing food to eat and giving it away in every season.” 

If you have never grown vegetables and want to start, Carol recommends beginning small and planting a 4×4-foot bed using your native soil as it is richer than purchased soil and will hold nutrients best. 

Another easy approach is to grow vegetables in a large pot. “Grow what your family will eat so that your garden is popular from the get-go,” Carol suggests. “And if you never want to be hungry again, grow summer squash.” 

She also advises planting tomatoes and green beans because they are easy to grow and even children can plant them. “Put in Swiss chard and it just keeps feeding you and feeding you, and it will grow year-round,” she guides. 

Another idea Carol advocates is sowing corn in a 4×4-foot block so that wind pollinates every ear of corn. In the summer, seed lettuces every two weeks for a continuous supply, which prompts another piece of advice: Harvest these leafy greens in the morning to avoid a bitter taste after exposure to afternoon sun.

When it comes to purchasing seeds and seedlings, Carol notes that both work well, with seeds requiring about five weeks to reach transplant size. “All of our local nurseries have amazing seedlings,” she says. 

To prepare your beds, supplement your natural soil with a half-inch of organic compost and a sprinkle of organic alfalfa meal mixed into the top layer of soil. Carol also recommends turkey manure as a valuable organic fertilizer. 

If time allows, get your soil tested by one of the labs listed on the Master Gardener website. It takes about two weeks to find out whether you need to amend it in any way.  

“The gardener’s shadow is the best growing tool you have,” instructs Carol. “Consistency is key. Go out to the garden every day and spend 20 minutes.” 

More guidance: Make sure the garden site receives six to eight hours of full sun a day and follow the instructions on the seed packet or seedling plant label for spacing requirements. And take advantage of local resources. Carol advocates taking a Master Gardener class and digging into the Master Gardener website, which has a treasure trove of tips for aspiring gardeners.

If you don’t have space to grow your own crops, community gardens such as Rinconada Community Garden in Palo Alto, Beresford Recreation Center Garden in San Mateo or the new Los Prados Community Garden in San Mateo make land available for local residents. For over 15 years, Carol planted vegetables at Beresford, where she also taught gardening courses and worked as a garden officer. 

“People are so desperate for gardens,” emphasizes Carol, followed by a lament: “When I take the train through the Peninsula, I see all of these beautiful yards with full sun that are not being used.” Through her efforts, she hopes to inspire other would-be gardeners to get outside—to enjoy nature and connect with the land.

Legendary Pebble Beach

Words by Linda Hubbard

Pebble Beach looms large in my life. My father, a scratch golfer, played there and together with my mother attended the Crosby Clambake—now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am—over the years. Somewhere in the boxes in the garage is a photo of them with Bing Crosby himself. So why did it take so long for me to visit there? But, there I go, getting ahead of the story.

Photography: Linda Hubbard

An Environmentalist and a Crooner 

Pebble Beach’s earliest development began in the late 18th century. But it got going in earnest with the arrival of environmental conservationist Samuel F. B. Morse in 1915. Known as the Duke of Del Monte, he owned and preserved thousands of acres—and also developed golf courses.

Fast forward to the 1930s: Bing Crosby was not only a famous actor and singer, he was also a two-handicap golfer. In 1937, he invited fellow Hollywood stars to play along with golf pros at Rancho Santa Fe in Southern California. He put up the $500 prize money himself and treated participants to a beachside clambake. In 1947, he moved the tournament to Pebble Beach, where it was officially known as the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am.

Bing and his wife Dixie Lee, along with their sons Gary, Dennis, Philip and Lindsay, lived for a time in the late ’40s in a two-
story, modern house overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Pebble Beach’s 13th hole. One of the marshals pointed it out to us, although it evidently looks different now than it did then. Dixie Lee died of cancer in 1952, and in 1956, Bing married Kathryn Grant. They, along with their three boys, eventually settled in Hillsborough.

Begin at the Pebble Beach Visitor Center

We were booked at the Inn at Spanish Bay but followed a tip to stop at the Pebble Beach Visitor Center just north of the Carmel Gate. It’s a tip worth passing on. You’re treated to some eye-catching exhibits explaining the lore of this golfer’s paradise along with a well-known trophy you can pose with. 

Cross the street and head down a few steps and you’re at the over 100-year-old Lodge at Pebble Beach. Hungry after our drive from the Peninsula, we walked down to the beach level and lunched at The Bench. Spouse Dennis chose a BLT salad, which he proclaimed to be one of the best salads he’s ever eaten. It was the start of a succession of excellent meals during our stay, including a tasty prime rib dinner at the Tap Room, now relocated outside at the edge of Pebble’s fairway one.

By entering at the Carmel Gate located at the southern end, you drive the entire length of the famed 17-Mile Drive—which surprisingly first opened in 1881—as the Inn is at the northernmost point. Using the map given out at the Gate as a guide, you can stop at the many famous spots along the Drive. The 250-year-old Lone Cyprus is about midway, and during the spring months, a stop at the Cypress Point Lookout provides a view of the harbor seal pups on the beach below.

Photography: Courtesy of Evan Schiller

Golf, Golf, Golf as Far as the Eye can See

Within the gates of the 5,300-acre Del Monte Forest are seven 18-hole courses and one 9-hole course. Pebble Beach Golf Links, The Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill and Peter Hay Golf Course are owned by Pebble Beach Company and are all public courses. Poppy Hills is also a public course. 

Private courses include Cypress Point Club and the Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s two courses, the Dunes Course and the Shore Course. Pebble Beach Company also owns Del Monte Golf Course, a few miles away in Monterey, which is the oldest continuously operating course in the western United States.

Photography: Courtesy of Tap Room at Fairway One

Dennis, the golfing spouse, enjoyed playing Poppy Hills a year ago but the opportunity to play Spanish Bay and, even more so, Pebble Beach, was particularly enticing.

Spanish Bay is a Scottish-style links course. When golf began there in the 16th century, courses were built on rolling sandy dunes linking the land to the sea.

“The scenery is beautiful with some ocean views,” reports Dennis, who walked the course. “Due to the windy conditions, balls could disappear into areas unknown. If my shots hit the fairway with the wind behind me, the ball rolled nicely, given the short grass.”

Photography: Courtesy of Sherman Chu
Dennis parred just four holes and found these holes challenging:

#5 given that the ball had to carry over the sand dunes and “then avoid three bunkers in the middle of the fairway on the other side.”

#9 because “it’s so, so skinny.”

#12 deemed “toughest on the course with a big creek right before the green.”

The next day came Pebble Beach Golf Links, which opened in 1919 and is consistently ranked among the top public courses in the country. Dennis elected to walk it as well, and I joined him.

“It was like being on hallowed ground,” he says. “That kept my concentration level high as I wanted to respect the course.”

That focus paid off with a birdie on #4. He also found success on #7, thanks to the lack of wind, which allowed the ball to fall perfectly on the green. But then came #8, a long par four with a shot over the ocean where his first ball fell.

Photography: Courtesy of Joann Dost
The back nine provided additional tests:

#14 – “The hardest hole on the course with its 572 yards and elevated green.”

#17 – “It’s short but it felt like more sand than greens.”

#18 – “It’s the most famous, and you want to finish well but I just couldn’t sink the putts.”

Inn At Spanish Bay Even Better Up Close

On hikes around Asilomar State Beach in the past, we’ve glimpsed the Inn at Spanish Bay, which is about a mile inland from the coastline. In person, it’s a fabulous property.

There are garden, forest and ocean view rooms. Our second-floor room with a fireplace was the latter, and its balcony overlooked the fairway of the first hole of the golf course. If you’re going to take this expensive plunge, we recommend springing for the ocean view.

Photography: Courtesy of Joann Dost

We were both struck by the professionalism and friendliness of the mostly young staff and delighted at all the art adorning the walls. Example: Every guest room boasts three paintings at its entrance and more inside.

The outdoor patio features heated fire pits, nice on what were some breezy early spring days, with a menu offering lighter fare. It’s here that the bagpiper plays nightly; people come from outside the property to listen, so tables fill up quickly.

Our room view was so nice, we ordered room service the first night. On the last night, we dined at Roy’s, featuring Hawaiian/Japanese fusion cuisine. Some people may judge a restaurant by its steak. I judge by its octopus. It passed the test, accompanied by delicious crispy Brussels sprouts. My spouse’s chocolate banana cream pie was amazing to look at and tasty to eat.

Photography: Courtesy of The Inn at Spanish Bay

Spanish Bay is a good launching point for walks along 17-Mile Drive. I headed south first along a forested stretch of the Drive that’s actually inland and then out to the coast, passing along the Dunes Course of the Monterey Country Club. The turnaround point was Point Joe. 

Reads the marker: “In the early 1900s, a man named Joe lived in a driftwood hut here, selling trinkets to tourists and tending goats. It is debated whether Joe was named for the point, or the point for Joe.”

Whichever the case, we doubt he’d recognize the place now.

Diary of a Dog: Nellie

When you look at me, what strikes you first? Perhaps it’s my keen eyes, my sporty, dignified beard or most likely, my striking coat. You’re not imagining it. There’s actually a tint of blue in the gray, which makes sense given that I’m a Kerry Blue Terrier. I live with Jourdy and Stuart in Burlingame, and while I’m considered on the mature side for a dog (13 years), I am always humbled by the fact that they’ve been married almost 60 years! Jourdy grew up with Kerry Blue Terriers and always wanted one. Kailey was the name of their first—she was an AKC champion and my great-grandmother. I also earned AKC titles with Jourdy, but when she started slowing down a bit, I was happy to step up my role as family pet and loyal, protective watchdog. It’s a good thing I’m so alert. A while back, Stuart had gotten up early and was working in his home office. After he gave me a few good neck scratches, I went back to the bedroom to wait for Jourdy to wake up. Immediately, I could sense something was wrong. I went back to Stuart’s office and started barking and stomping my feet and then turned around, hoping he would follow, which he did. I heard Jourdy say, “I think I am having a heart attack,” and after that, everything happened quickly. When Stuart returned from wherever they went, he fed me right away and talked to me while I was busy eating. He said that Jourdy had a mild heart attack and getting her to the hospital when they did made a huge difference. “You’re a lifesaver,” he told me. I’m good at expressing my feelings, and I know Stuart could see the joy and relief in my eyes. 

Rebellious Reinvention

Words by Eva Barrows

What happens when high-performing Asian American teenagers of Chinese descent jet off to Taipei, Taiwan, to attend a Mandarin language and cultural immersion program, only to discover that there’s limited adult supervision? “The kids basically just go wild,” says Abigail Hing Wen, author of The New York Times young adult (YA) bestselling novel Loveboat, Taipei. “They’ve been cooped up for all these years, and suddenly the stopper is off and they dance, drink and go clubbing, rebelling in all kinds of ways.”

Just like Abigail herself, Ever Wong, Loveboat, Taipei’s main character, begrudgingly attends the Chien Tan immersion program, nicknamed “Loveboat” after its mischievous possibilities. In the book, Ever feels pressure to live up to her immigrant parents’ dreams. They want her to become a doctor, but she longs to be a dancer. “A lot of people resonate with that idea of your parents wanting you to do something different than what you want to do,” Abigail explains. “The idea definitely came out of my experience being from an immigrant family that was very focused on survival and business, and so things like writing were not necessarily valued.”

Growing up around Cleveland, Ohio, Abigail remembers feeling marginalized as an Asian American. Similar to Ever Wong, Abigail recounts, “I didn’t like people looking at me or making comments about my appearance, or noticing that I was Asian American.” Having a chance to be around other young people with similar backgrounds was a healing experience for Abigail. “By going on Loveboat and to Harvard and meeting a lot of Asian Americans who were really proud of their identity helped me come to a more holistic understanding of who I am and not to lose that part of myself,” she says.

The book follows four Loveboat students presented with their first opportunity to test limits and challenge authority—whether it’s by drinking shots of snake-blood sake or staying out all night clubbing. “Asian culture does not value rebellion,” says Abigail, “but being on Loveboat, we could rebel in a relatively safe environment and find out the consequences of rebellion.” 

Abigail believes that Loveboat alums learned essential leadership skills because they were allowed the space to try, fail and succeed. “Here in Silicon Valley, we understand the importance of disruptive leadership,” she says, “and I think those were skills that Loveboat inadvertently equipped us with.”

Abigail on an October 2020 research trip to Taipei for ‘Loveboat Reunion.’

After the self-affirming experience of attending Loveboat, Abigail attended Harvard University, then Columbia Law School and became a lawyer. She clerked for Judge Judith Rogers on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and found that the position helped her develop as a writer. “I wrote opinions for the court with her,” she recounts. “She would rewrite my draft, and I learned how to revise and became a better writer because she’s such a good writer.”

Later, writing led to Abigail’s professional specialty in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). While working as an attorney for a venture capital company, she wanted to learn about AI for a fantasy novel she dreamt up with an AI-infused world. That fueled her interest in taking on the VC firm’s AI portfolio. “I started doing business development and thought leadership around AI,” she says, “and I became the policy person thinking about policy issues.” 

Abigail’s AI expertise landed her a spot in Silicon Valley’s tech scene upon her move to the Peninsula 12 years ago. She worked her way up to become Intel’s Senior Director of Emerging AI Tech, serves with the Partnership on AI and hosted the Intel on AI podcast.

Abigail credits her supportive husband with helping her realize her writing career. “When I was trying to decide whether to go into legal academia and become a law professor, my husband said, ‘You’re so excited about writing this novel, why don’t you just do that?’” Abigail recalls. With his encouragement, Abigail began to fully explore her creativity and passion for writing.

Abigail landed an agent with her second novel but realized she wasn’t able to take her writing to the next level as she worked through revisions. She decided to enroll in a low-residency MFA writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, which allowed her to continue at Intel during the day and perfect the craft of writing after work and on weekends. Her fifth novel, Loveboat, Taipei, went through 31 drafts before she settled on the characters she’d focus on and whose point of view she would use to tell the story. 

Published by HarperCollins in January 2020, Loveboat, Taipei became an instant New York Times bestseller. Being chosen by Barnes & Noble as a young adult book club selection helped propel Loveboat, Taipei’s popularity. Book club members across the country bought, read and discussed the book together. “It’s wonderful to impact so many people, to have so many people find themselves in my stories,” enthuses Abigail. “That I’m helping people feel seen is so important to me—that people read my book and feel seen.”

Further validating Loveboat, Taipei’s success, the book is already in the works to become a movie. ACE Entertainment, which brought the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before franchise to Netflix, acquired film rights to the story and put Abigail in the role of executive producer. And book two of the Loveboat series, Loveboat Reunion, is slated for release in January 2022. In it, Abigail gets to actively play in both of her worlds as she explores artificial intelligence and women in tech through her fiction writing.

Abigail wrapped up her commitments at Intel and is now a full-time content creator, whether she’s writing articles on AI, novels, movie scripts or a TV pilot. Having worked to create change through the law, she is eagerly discovering the power of her voice as a writer. “I went into law because I care about social justice,” Abigail reflects. “Through writing, I’m also able to address issues that I care about.” 

Perfect Shot: Lotus Garden

Near the intersection of Highway 92 and Skyline Boulevard in San Mateo, Evan Reader captured this Perfect Shot of the Lotus Garden in Skyline Memorial Park. Perched at the top of a gently sloping hill sits the statue of Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva and goddess of mercy and compassion. Water wraps the base of the sculpture and cascades down the hill, feeding into six separate streams that meander through the garden. 

Image by Evan Reader – flickr.com/photos/greatestpaka

Bioblitz Mania

Words by Suzanne Ennis

Jennifer Rycenga is crouched at the edge of a dry stream bed, ears perked and eyes scanning the rocks and scrub. Armed with a smartphone, she’s on the hunt for interesting critters and plants. 

“Hear that? That’s a brown-headed cowbird,” she says, sotto voce. “And that’s a golden-crowned sparrow.” She’s about to photograph a centipede when a crowd starts to gather: It’s officially go-time. 

Jennifer is taking part in a BioBlitz, a community event that aims to record all species within a designated area during a set period of time. Over the next two hours, she and a diverse gaggle of hobbyists and experts will scour Penitencia Creek County Park in San Jose, logging their observations into a nature-identification app called iNaturalist. Jennifer (iNat user name: gyrrlfalcon) aspires to add more than 10,000 observations to the app each year, putting the San Mateo resident among the top “power users” worldwide. Currently, she ranks number 19 for observations and 69th for species. “I want to be in the top 20,” she says with a grin. “I have my goals.”

The white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus, which literally means ‘white tail’) was my ‘spark’ species that piqued my interest in birds. This shot taken at Shoreline captures the moment when an adult kite is transferring a mouse in mid-flight to a juvenile. My knowledge as a birder is one of the strengths I bring to a BioBlitz.

So how does a professor of Religious Studies at San José State University who also holds a master’s degree in music composition become an iNat power user and a prominent advocate for “citizen science” (or, to use the more inclusive term, “community science”)—that is, public participation in scientific research?

Born in Wisconsin and raised in Connecticut, Jennifer traces her passion for nature study back to her PhD program at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, when a trip to Point Reyes piqued her interest in birding. Establishing her academic career took precedence for the following few years, but when she got her job at San José State in the mid-1990s, she began “listing” in earnest—documenting as many bird species as possible—and found herself hooked. 

By 2001, she’d helped to found the Queer Birders of North America, and the following year, Jennifer had a first date—14 hours of birding—with her now-wife, Peggy. In 2006, downloading a newly launched app called eBird took Jennifer’s birding skills to the next level, and her growing passion led her to the board of the Audubon Society’s San Mateo County chapter, the Sequoia Audubon Society. Soon, she was developing its online San Mateo Birding Guide, adding rare birds seen in the county and expanding its coverage to lesser-known parks. 

The watershed moment in Jennifer’s evolution as a citizen scientist, though, was an encounter with a rattlesnake while she was on a hike. Hoping to add the rattler’s photo to an online list of reptiles, she was redirected to a then-new platform, iNaturalist. She joined on August 13, 2012, putting a way to discover and share not just birds, but also other forms of nature, at her fingertips.

It’s important to document humble, everyday plants along with the rarities. We don’t know what will be rare in a century. Pineappleweed is part of the sunflower family and grows nearly everywhere. It smells like the fruit for which it is named. You’ll see it growing by edges of trails or where there’s a lot of foot traffic.

“Almost immediately, my attitude was, ‘This is the best thing ever,’” she recounts as she gently rolls over a log, revealing a California slender salamander. Her adoption of what she describes as a “virtual specimen drawer” was so life-changing, in fact, that she celebrates the anniversary each year by hosting her own BioBlitz. 

Today, Jennifer is president of the Sequoia Audubon Society, and she’s expanded its online birding guide to 100 sites and counting (check it out at birding.sequoia-audubon.org). Thanks to her commitment, the chapter also teams up with iNaturalist, the California Academy of Sciences and San Mateo County Parks to co-facilitate BioBlitzes throughout San Mateo County. 

Not surprisingly, insects are often a lot harder to spot than other lifeforms. It’s a general principle that you can find some interesting things by looking closely in flowers and plants. This ant in San Bruno Park is known as Formica (the Latin word for ant) integroides. Once I became a ‘community scientist,’ the lives of many insects and spiders were spared.

Occasionally, one of the BioBlitzes that Jennifer organizes turns up something utterly unexpected that has a significant scientific impact, such as a 2019 discovery of a pillbug that hadn’t been seen north of San Luis Obispo in 90 years. More importantly, though, Jennifer approaches her citizen scientist activities as a way to build an inclusive community and preserve a resource she loves through a grassroots, participatory process.

“You don’t save something you’re indifferent to,” she says, “and getting people to love the natural world, to be curious about the natural world and to consider it from both a scientific and, for lack of a better word, a spiritual perspective, is part of what all of us can do right now.”

Wouldn’t it be Ploverly? This black-bellied plover is found by the shore. There’s a big difference between a BioBlitz in a forest, a city park or one that’s held by a large body of water. Your focus changes with the habitat—the different ecological zones—and you get different suites of birds and insects.

As the BioBlitz comes to a close, Jennifer tallies up her finds: 39 observations of 26 species, representing eight of the 13 different categories in iNaturalist. (In total, today’s event, which was organized by BioBlitz.club, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful and The Bay Area Ridge Trail, found 124 different species.) For Jennifer, eight categories isn’t bad, but the holy grail is finding all 13 in one day. “Once that’s done,” she acknowledges, “I’ll set a new goal that’s just as crazy.”

With that, Jennifer has to scoot: She’s heard a hot tip about a nearby Cassin’s finch, a rare bird in the Bay Area and a contender for the 299th spot on her Santa Clara County birding list. She can’t wait to snap a photo and share yet another wild find. 

The scarlet pimpernel, which also comes in blue, typically grows out of asphalt and along trail edges. It’s a species that was introduced from Europe and it grows well here. Once this annual wildflower catches your eye, you’ll notice them brightening many a forgotten field or vacant lot.

Fish Foray

A few months ago, I wrote about how I was considering getting a fish tank and/or a small motorcycle, to revisit two of my favorite things from my youth. I figured that these might bring me a touch of happiness during these bleak times. I haven’t given up on the motorcycle, but I did end up with a fish tank.

I lied to myself and others and said that I bought it solely for my grandchildren. If it were not for them, I probably wouldn’t have been able to convince myself to move forward with the fish, but since I’ve got a growing number of little Citrons running around, it was easy to tell myself that I was doing it for them.

Most of the fun of any new project is the planning, learning and buying the things needed for your new idea. This was not lost on me. I watched countless YouTube videos of tanks and fish; I visited three fish stores; and I studied dozens of websites, all in order to learn how to proceed. Finally, I decided on a Fluval Spec V 5-gallon Aquarium, a newer type of set-up where all the aspects (filter, air pump and lighting) are included in one unit.

Five gallons is small, but the tank (the measurements of which I studied and tested a dozen times) would fit neatly in a small space at the bottom of our family room bookcase. The efficient size would allow for a few fish and would lessen the amount of maintenance that would be required. I’m well aware at this point in my life how I come to resent having to take care of my big ideas.

I saw that I could buy the tank a bit cheaper on Amazon, but I’m now in an anti-Amazon mode, believing that the behemoth is destroying many things that  I love, from bookstores to toy stores to locally-owned shops. So, I now make every effort to buy in my neighborhood. That can even mean Petco, which, of course, at one point put out of business many small pet stores but is now the only such place in town. There is one aquarium store in San Mateo, and it is first on my list.

When I went to Petco to buy my tank, to my surprise, they were having a sale, so their price was actually less than at Amazon. I bought the Fluval system and a bag of natural gravel. After this, I went to the San Mateo store (they did not have the fish tank in stock) and bought some rocks, a heater and other items.

Once home, I undertook the happy part of any project, taking out the parts and setting things up. I put the tank together, added the substrate and rocks and filled the tank with water. I also added some plants I had found. And then I had to wait. It takes a while for a tank to get “established” with the bacteria and other microbes that make it hospitable to tropical fish.

After a couple of weeks, my tank was nothing but algae—a total mess, so I researched what to do and after a couple more weeks I was able to get that cleared up. Then, I could not get the water to the correct specs to introduce fish. Another two weeks passed before I decided to just go for it, and I introduced a test fish. Once it lived for a couple of weeks (and after dealing with another algae bloom), I finally had the tank working properly.

Then came the incredibly difficult decisions of what fish to buy. I started my research all over again. Worried that I would make bad decisions, I made no planned choices. Instead, I broke down one soggy Sunday afternoon at Petco and bought some green Tetras and some colorful Endlers. Looking for something colorful and larger, I learned that I could add one male Beta fish and it should work out.

Well, it did work out until I decided to add some beautiful long-tailed guppies into the tank. Within days, they were gone, never to be found. I knew that I had erred and felt a lot of remorse. But I am still learning. Along the way, a snail crawled out of the tank because I accidently left the cover off when filling up the water. Someday we will find this poor little guy. 

The tank looks good now, and the best part of all this meshugas is that the grandchildren really do love it. I lift up the grandkids in turn when they are over at the house, and we sit there on a little stool in front of the tank and together watch the colorful fish swim and dive.  

Now I wonder if I will break down and buy the Honda Monkey that I am eyeing, the yellow one that will remind me of the small motorbike I had as a child. Will I be able to justify it by driving my grandkids around the block? I’m sure that my children will NOT let me do this. So, if I get the bike, I’m on my own.

Sweet Farm Barn

Just south of Half Moon Bay, as you pass the intersection of Highway 1 and Tunitas Creek Road, you’ll catch a sight that captured the eye of famed Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange. In 1938, as part of her government-funded public works project documenting farmers, Lange immortalized what’s now known as the Sweet Farm Barn. At the time, the barn sat in the middle of an artichoke farm, just 1,500 feet from the ocean, and Lange’s historical documentation resides in the Library of Congress. Built in the 1860s, the barn was originally used as a dairy barn that was part of a much larger farm. Later, the land around the barn was split up and divided. In 2015, Nate Salpeter and Anna Sweet purchased the property and created Sweet Farm, a nonprofit sanctuary that rescues farm animals, grows crops and supports startups working to improve the food and agricultural industries. Through the years, Sweet Farm Barn has served multiple purposes—from being a working barn with horses to simply storing hay. Sweet Farm currently uses it to grow mushrooms and store equipment for its nonprofit programs. Or at least it did—
until January 2021, when whipping Santa Ana winds punched out the roof on the west side of the barn, dealing a formidable blow to the already weathered and deteriorating structure. Restoring the barn will be a significant undertaking—requiring a new foundation, the realignment of walls and rafters, along with a new roof. With an eye on the future, Sweet Farm is seeking construction and financial partners to support their efforts to preserve this Peninsula landmark. “This barn saw the California Gold Rush,” says Anna Sweet, “and we want to keep it standing for another 100+ years.”

Courtesy of Dorothea Lange-Library of Congress

A Winemaker’s Spirited Solitude

words by Silas Valentino

Divine intervention brought Benyamin Cantz to a sloped hilltop in the Santa Cruz Mountains and led him on his path, but it was his own impetus that grew wine from it.

The vigneron never fathomed that he’d become a sought-after winemaker who sells out his stock in a matter of minutes every January. Much less that he’d live on this mountaintop farm for the entirety of his adult life. In fact, Benyamin could barely stomach it when he first stepped foot on the 60-acre property. But Benyamin’s queasiness had nothing to do with the serene and verdant landscape he discovered. Instead, it was a consequence of the journey that brought him here.

“Coming up the driveway is a rather sickening experience,” he notes wryly in describing his first venture to this property back when he was a student at UC Santa Cruz. Reaching the sunlit plateau requires maneuvering through a series of sharp, winding switchbacks. 

“I was in the back of a car from the 1940s without back seats holding onto a bowl of tomatoes soaking in vinaigrette,” he remembers of the drive en route to a luncheon. “I was lying on my back looking up at the redwood trees as they passed and becoming increasingly carsick.”

After Benyamin arrived (and regained his equilibrium), he discovered what was to become his life’s work and a true sense of place.

The gradient landscape is about 660 feet from sea level with a couple of structures on the flat peak of the hill to create a home. There’s a grove of dense redwoods, a barn of livestock and on a clear day, the Pacific hovers at almost eye level off in the distance. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is only a 20-minute drive away, but the sense of seclusion here ultimately pervades.

Benyamin arrived here over 50 years ago when the farm was owned by Mary Holmes, an art professor at UC Santa Cruz where Benyamin worked as her teaching assistant. After he graduated in 1971, he returned full-time to trade work for board. A novice at first, Benyamin learned to dig a post, feed the animals and tend to the land before his skill set expanded, allowing him to lay a foundation to build a barn and raise generations of horses and lambs.

Twenty years after cultivating a new life here, Benyamin decided to grow some grapes he bought on a whim after spotting a sign along the side of a road. His experiment started slowly, but over many years it has grown into an unlikely successful winery—dubbed Four Gates—that serves a distinct purpose. Benyamin specializes in wine used for celebrating Jewish holidays and the Sabbath.

As a Sabbath-observant traditional Jew, he conducts each part of the process by himself—planting, harvesting, crushing, pressing, fermenting, barreling, bottling, corking and labeling—which qualifies the wine for kosher status.

“I didn’t come upon this path for myself quickly,” Benyamin reflects, seated outside on a chair with his vineyard in view.

“I just took it on one thing at a time and tried it out. If it rang a bell, I then tried the next thing. I’m a rather stick-to-it kind of guy. But in a spiritual, theological sense, you’re always figuring things out. There may be a moment when you get an insight and feel a little more connected than before. But then life goes on and that becomes the past. If you’re not applying yourself continuously to figure out what God means, then you’ve chosen a fixed life.”

There’s a phrase Benyamin finds himself repeating from time to time when he’s working in the vineyard: L’Kavod Shabbat or “In the honor of the Sabbath.” He repeats this to remember how the product he creates is used in ceremonies that unite humankind with deity—similar to the sliver of space between fingertips that Michelangelo celebrated in his timeless fresco, The Creation of Adam. 

Benyamin clarifies that you don’t have to become a winemaker to observe this transformation of the physical to the spiritual; but on this farm, every year, it’s essentially all in his day’s work.

“It’s nice to work outside, obviously, but also to work at something that is really tangible. It’s not abstract—it’s right there,” he explains of his central motivation.

“There’s an idea—” Benyamin quickly quiets himself. He shifts attention to a pair of red-tail hawks circling the treetops nearby. A moment passes to admire the raptors, gazing towards the sky, before Benyamin calmly returns to his point. “—the idea that we are to elevate the world. Especially the physical world; to use it for a holy purpose. Maybe that’s just a fancy way of saying what God intended it to be used for.

“It’s a beautiful image to think that you can take something like goat manure, put it in the ground as fertilizer, schlep in the vineyard, raise a crop, turn it into wine and then set up for Friday night Shabbat. To go from digging into the dirt, to a silver goblet of wine on a white tablecloth—it’s transforming the physical world into the spiritual world.”

A theme of metamorphosis accompanies Benyamin throughout his life. There’s the altering of grapes into libation that he oversees year after year, but beyond the more practical observation is the tale of a young man who discovered how to become the best version of himself by living on a remote farm above the sea.

Preconceived notions about a man who lives alone atop a hill in the mountains might lean towards nomadic or parochial presumptions, but Benyamin is no crusty hermit. He greets you with a warm smile and a brawny physique earned from days working under the sun. Today, he dons a wide trilby hat but admits he’s more often found with a baseball cap.

Having never owned a cell phone, Benyamin is more connected to the immediate world, allowing him to take a gentle pace as he traverses around the farm.

This was the first year Benyamin used a third-party vendor and distributor to sell his wine, which all occurred within a single hour in January. Four Gates wine has a national appeal (a large portion of his customers live in New York) and regularly earns high praise from wine enthusiasts, but Benyamin is not one to gloat about his runaway success.

Winemaking coincided with his rediscovery of Judaism during the 1980s. His birth name was Bruce before becoming a ba’al teshuvah (returning to Judaism) and assuming his Hebrew name of Benyamin.

Originally from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles and raised in what he describes as a “middle of the road Judaic” household, Benyamin came to UC Santa Cruz to study calligraphy and history in 1966. (The university was established just one year prior and he was part of the inaugural classes to graduate.)

The farm where he lives has a storied history with winemaking dating back to the 19th century. Benyamin once found a small, blue book at the university library that listed all the historic acreages and varieties for wine in the state. He was surprised to read that in 1891, Napa Valley had just two varieties of grapes (Zinfandel and Riesling); however, there were dozens of varieties grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He also learned that during Prohibition, vines on the property had been destroyed.

Sometime during the late 1970s, another resident on the farm attempted to grow Chardonnay on the sunward slopes but an unruly hot year killed the project. Benyamin was beginning to become religiously observant with the help of a Chabad rabbi he met in Santa Cruz around this same time.

While driving by some farms near Gilroy one afternoon, Benyamin spotted a sign selling gleaned grapes. He purchased a couple of boxes and used an antique cider press he found for crushing them. He liked what he made, so he returned the next year for more grapes. He began the trial and error of caring for the vineyard and designing his system. He doesn’t irrigate and instead dry farms, which produces a lower yield but keeps it manageable for a one-man operation.

By 1991, Benyamin had planted 3.5 acres of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Adhering to Jewish law, he had to wait until the fourth harvest to use his fruit. He made his first commercial vintage in 1996 and has continued to branch out.

This past year, he planted eight varieties including Pinot Noir, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet, Négrette, Cabernet Franc and two versions of a Chardonnay. He typically produces about 400 cases a year.

As his hobby grew into a profession, Benyamin spent zero dollars on advertising but attention to Four Gates grew organically from the occasional news article and profile.

“It all happened by word of mouth,” he marvels. “The people who buy my wine are almost all from Jewish communities and the word just spread. There are wine guys in every synagogue. In the intervening years, there wasn’t a huge market for kosher wine originally. But this younger generation appears to drink more than their parents.”

The last decade has been a boon for Four Gates, prompting Benyamin to purchase his first computer and design a website. He doesn’t offer traditional wine tours and his vineyard is not public, but he welcomes phone calls to his landline and is appreciative of the heightened interest.

“Six years ago, all the wine was sold out by Passover. Then, the year after that, all the wine sold out in three weeks,” he says. “I thought, ‘Hmm, word is spreading.’ Two years ago, all the wine sold out in 50 minutes and last year, it was all gone in 20 minutes.”

On the other side of the property lie the remnants of a dream Benyamin once had. It’s abandoned now, but its influence remains. 

A couple of decades ago, he built a cabin back there surrounded by a deer fence with multiple gates: one led to the cabin, one to a cleared hillside for a potential vineyard, one to a garden area and the last one led into the dense and wild forest.

“It was an allegory for my life,” Benyamin says. “Home, work, agriculture and spirituality. I casually called it ‘Four Gates’ and when I went into business, before I knew it, I already had a name.”

Ready, Camera, Action—Treat!

words by Sheri Baer

As she leads the pack of humans and four-legged pets winding up a trail at Menlo Park’s Bedwell Bayfront Park, Andrea Ou carries a hefty backpack of camera equipment, but it’s the accessories around her neck that really catch the eye. Or, more accurately, the ear. 

“I wear as many as six whistles,” she explains, gesturing to the dangling assortment bouncing off the front of her terracotta-colored bib overalls. “This one is a squirrel call,” she says. “This one’s a mouse squeaker, and…” Andrea lifts a whistle to her mouth and blows. ‘Waak!’ a gutteral sound emerges, causing a Labradoodle named Teddi to whip her head in Andrea’s direction. “This one is a duck call.” 

Observing Teddi’s interest, Andrea tucks that piece of valuable intel away. As we walk to a scenic vantage point, she casually studies Teddi’s habits, noting as the dog sniffs blades of grass and when her eyes track a bird in flight.

Understanding what motivates a dog is essential to Andrea’s success. “You have to learn about different breeds of dogs,” she shares. “Some, like sighthounds, don’t respond to noises, so you need to have quick movements with a toy or something to get them to look, to get their ears to come up.” 

Yes, Andrea confirms, many pups can be enticed by tasty tidbits, but if you give them too many, she cautions, they will look tense because they’re so focused on the treats. “You need to learn about the dog and see what gets them going and work with that,” she says. “The key thing is knowing how to make a dog happy and relaxed so the photos will translate to a happy, relaxed dog.”

For Andrea, that’s the point of it all. As a professional dog photographer, her only goal is to capture the spirit of our canine companions—those loyal, devoted gazes, ridiculously goofy grins and tongue-hanging pants—with the rapid click of a shutter. 

Photography: Irene Searles

Andrea doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t thinking about dogs. Originally born in San Francisco, she grew up in Taiwan, where her earliest memories were of the stray dogs in the streets. “I remember the adults telling me, ‘Don’t go near them. They’ll bite you!’ But I was never afraid to approach them; they had very kind eyes.”

To ensure a better education for their children, Andrea’s parents sent Andrea and her brother to live with family on the Peninsula. She arrived in Hillsborough at the age of 10, speaking only Mandarin Chinese. She laughs thinking back on the sign-ups to meet a volunteer requirement in middle school. “I knew the word ‘dog,’ so when I saw ‘Dog Show,’ I thought, ‘Perfect!’ The actual title was ‘pooper scooper,’ but I didn’t know what that meant. When I got there, they handed me a brush and dustbin and all this dry hay.” Despite the ignoble nature of the assignment, Andrea recalls that she still enjoyed the experience “because I got to be next to all these dogs.” 

“My client’s dog had terminal cancer and didn’t have too many days left, so this was an end-of-life session. We met at their favorite park. This makes me cry every time I see it. The connection between the two of them is so intimate and I was so honored to be able to capture that for them.”

After graduating from Burlingame High School, Andrea attended Parsons School of Design in New York, envisioning a career in art and design. She discovered that she loved the storytelling aspect of making movies and followed her first bachelor of fine arts degree with a BFA in film from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.      

While working in documentary film production in Los Angeles, Andrea noticed Zoom Room, a dog training facility, immediately across the street. At the time, she had a West Highland White Terrier (her fourth of five dogs), and she signed up to take classes with her Westie named Don-Don. “I had so much fun,” she says, “and I kept thinking how much the Peninsula would benefit from having a facility like this.” 

As much as Andrea enjoyed filmmaking, her love of dogs prevailed as the stronger calling. After going through extensive training, she opened a Zoom Room franchise in Belmont. Her instincts were right on target—the business flourished. But after three years, the intense physicality and long hours had worn Andrea down. She sold the business and took time off to travel and explore with her husband, Ivano Gaggé: “We took these long-
distance hiking trips to calm the mind, and I was trying to imagine how I could combine my two passions, art and design—storytelling—with dogs.”

“This Golden Retriever wouldn’t respond to anything. He wasn’t into treats or toys. Suddenly, the sprinklers came on during the shoot and he was so excited and happy. He just jumped for joy and I was able to capture this moment. It’s not something you can plan for, so you have to be ready.”

It was her cousin, a fellow dog lover, who identified a profession with the perfect blending of skills: a dog photographer. “She said, ‘This can be an actual career, not just a hobby, if you treat it right,’” recounts Andrea. “So I grabbed my camera again and found I really enjoyed it. I thought, ‘This is amazing. I’m with dogs, and this time, I’m creating art.’” 

Andrea found a photography mentor and signed up for a variety of online classes. Through her training background and volunteer work at shelters, she found a steady supply of practice models to help her perfect her new craft. 

“When I began photographing dogs, I started out standing,” she recalls. “Then I started squatting and realized, ‘Man, it’s still not low enough.’ So now, you’ll see I am lying down on the floor all the time, belly-down—that’s the way to get good angles.” 

“I was advised that these two Dachshunds are normally nervous and reactive when they’re outside their home. It’s a good example of me liking a photo that didn’t have the same appeal for the client. It turns out that I made the dogs a little too relaxed. The owner didn’t pick this image because they looked too happy—it didn’t reflect what she saw in her dogs.”

On the technical side, Andrea also learned how to work fast. “Dogs don’t know how to not move,” she points out. “They’re always moving—they’re looking at a squirrel, they see a bird or they smell something. You have to be really quick with your focus.”

When Andrea officially launched her dog photography business in 2016, the name Paws & Play Studio resonated as the obvious choice. “When we become adults, we don’t really play anymore, and it’s so sad,” she notes. “Dogs love to play, so being around dogs, they remind me to pause (paws) and play because we all need to play more.” 

“The owner wanted a playful, funny shot, so here’s an easy trick. All it takes is a little dab of peanut butter, and the dog will lick away. You can put it on the tip of the nose, but I personally recommend the tongue. Otherwise, you’ll have to Photoshop out any leftover peanut butter.”

Andrea built up her new business through word-of-mouth, along with active Facebook and Instagram accounts. She says clients come to her with a range of motivations. “I now see myself as a family photographer because I’m capturing family life,” she says. That means everything from new puppies to milestone birthdays to senior stages and end of life. “Our dogs just don’t live as long as we do,” she acknowledges, misting up at the thought of her own past pups. “I understand the pain. Clients will come to me when their dogs are ill or getting old, and I’ll break down and cry with them. Even though it’s sad, it’s so rewarding to be able to capture the souls of their dogs, so they can always look back at that sweet moment in time.” 

Making their home in San Mateo, Andrea and Ivano welcomed their daughter, Mina, in 2019, and Andrea now balances a mix of private clients and commercial work—lifestyle images including apparel, collars and harnesses. With year-round good weather, the Peninsula offers the perfect range of backdrops for photo shoots: “It’s a 15- to 20-minute drive to the coast or I can go out to the Bay or up to San Francisco. We also have a wide variety of architecture, from the more classic look of Stanford University to modern high-rises in the City. There are plenty of hiking trails for nature lovers, plus my favorite little gem in Palo Alto: Elizabeth Gamble Garden.” 

“This is at Baker Beach in San Francisco. We had a big group of dogs and owners, so we wanted to go to the most secluded area. I didn’t know it was a nude beach! Here I am photographing and there were all these middle-aged naked men just hanging out next to us. I also didn’t expect this English Bulldog to make a run toward the surf like that. This is an example of working fast because you don’t know what a dog is going to give you.”

Before going into a session, Andrea makes sure to learn everything she can about a dog—and what the client is seeking to get. Action shots, posed or candid? Just the dog (or dogs) or the entire family? Training is helpful but far from essential—Photoshopping out leashes is a primary skill of the profession. It’s also important for Andrea to understand how the client sees their dog. “Oftentimes, the photo I like the most is not what the owners like because they want the dog to look like the dog they know,” she says, “and I like the ones where the dog looks the most visually pleasing to me.” The final deliverable also varies—ranging from wall art and photo albums to desk prints and digital images. 

Andrea appreciates that she’s able to support animal rescue organizations through her work. Specializing in calendar contests, she raised over $13,000 for Copper’s Dream Animal Rescue last year and her current initiative will benefit Love and Second Chances. “I love dogs because they are so pure,” she says, glancing with a smile at her five-year-old Westie Otto. “They don’t hide anything. You can look at them and know how they’re feeling.”  

“All these leaves were covering the ground, and it looked so beautiful. My husband was working as my assistant, and he saw that the leaves were still falling and offered to shake the tree. The falling leaves created this beautiful layer of motion around the dog, and she was so happy. She loved it. She looked like she was dancing in the falling leaves.”

Back at Bedwell Bayfront Park, the photo shoot is underway in a grassy open field overlooking the salt marshes. Andrea has fully bonded with Teddi and delicious beef liver treats are clearly big incentives too. When Andrea shouts, “Teddi come!,” Teddi jets straight toward Andrea’s rapidly-clicking shutter, eager for yummy snacks and cuddles. “I just want to spoil all the dogs,” she laughs, as Teddi enthusiastically licks her face. “When I was a trainer, if a dog jumped on me, I had to turn my back and say, ‘Off!’ and ignore them. But as a photographer, when they jump on me, I don’t care. It’s ok if I spoil them a little.” 

Standing up after facing Teddi eye-to-eye in a flat-out position, Andrea brushes off smudges and grass from her overalls. “I’m always on the ground,” she grins. “When I come back from a shoot with dirt all over me, I’m happy.

Photography: Irene Searles

Andrea’s Top Dog Photography Tips

1. Get low. We want to be at our dog’s eye level or even lower to make them the true heroes of the image. Not ready to lie down on dirt? Then elevate them by having them sit on a rock, a bench or whatever you can find.

2. Work fast. Dogs are always on the move, so you should be too. That said, patience goes a long way when photographing dogs. Just let them admire the birds instead of fighting for their attention. The birds will fly away eventually—and you can admire them too in the meantime.  

3. Have fun! Make the photo session fun by using your dog’s favorite treats (or toys if they’re more motivated by play). Think of the shutter as a reward clicker: Press the shutter and treats will follow. This way they will always be happy to model for you.

4. Set the mood. If your dog is happy and relaxed, she will look happy and relaxed in the photo. I would say this is the most important tip—making sure our dogs are enjoying themselves.

5. Capture attention. Use “keywords” you know your dog will always respond to to get him to look at the camera. For example, my dog always responds to “Hi, Abby!” because Abby is his best friend. I frame my shot and say the keyword when I’m 100% ready to take the photograph. Since we’re tricking our dogs, I would use this tip sparingly.

Living Walls

Words by Silas Valentino

When the wind sweeps through this short and narrow tunnel, it transforms the embedded greenery on a western wall into undulating emerald waves.

There are several species of plants here—some with small green petals, others shaped as spades the color of plums—coalescing to create dimensional depth. Twin chutes of long, grassy brush stretch across the installation like mirroring sequences that pop out to the length of an arm’s reach. The whole piece is roughly the size of a traditional highway billboard but the only promotion here is for tranquility. 

The wall of wild things is washed in darkness and light, with contrasting tones and textures. It’s enough natural splendor to pause reality; after all, this is an open foyer connecting Santa Cruz Avenue and the interior courtyard of a recently constructed mixed-use building in downtown Menlo Park. But such an effect is the power of a living wall.

Gracing homes, businesses and public art spaces across the Peninsula and Bay Area are dazzling walls made of vigorous plant life, capturing the unfailing allure of the outdoors. A local leader in vertical garden creation is San Francisco-based Habitat Horticulture, led by its founding principal and lead designer David Brenner.

Photography: Courtesy of Habitat Horticulture

David approaches each project with dedication—even after the installation is complete. He’s been known to wander the Bay Area to pop by a previously installed wall to see how things are growing. “We have a great maintenance team but it’s always good to learn from the installation,” he says, “and see how you can improve and what not to plant next time.”

On his next visit to Menlo Park, he has a new wall to assess. “That was a challenging spot,” he says of 506 Santa Cruz Avenue. “It was an indoor/outdoor setting and having these big grasses in there gave it a sense of movement.”

It’s essential that every project is positioned to soak up adequate sunlight, meaning that David and his team are sometimes called in when a building or home is still in the blueprint phase. David will then begin sketching an idea for the space, sometimes digitally on an iPad, but he also likes to keep his creativity challenged by occasionally using watercolors.

The sketches allow him to begin feeling a flow or movement for the piece while experimenting with options for his color palette.

“I try to start with some plants I know I’ll use and then depending on what we can grow there, I’ll ask myself, ‘What can I convey with this piece?’” he explains about his creative process. “Should I make it dramatic, something that can stand as a piece of art on its own? Or more subdued, like that you’d find in nature?”

Often, a field trip is required for inspiration, such as the time the SFMOMA selected David to design a 150-foot-long, 25-foot-tall wall at the museum. To get ideas, David hiked up Mount Tamalpais to observe ferns and understory species. “Any excuse to get out into nature, I’ll take,” he grins.

SFMOMA requested that the project celebrate plants native to the area. David sourced 19,422 selections from 37 species. Once chosen, he designed a diagram called a plant palette that divides the wall space into sections using numbers to indicate where each species is sown. In essence, it’s a game of plant by numbers.

Behind the plants is an innovative wall composed of steel, polycarbonates and recycled plastic bottles refashioned into sheets of felt.

“This is something we have manufactured,” David says of the plastic-turned-felt covering. “We were able to create our own growing medium we call Growtex that’s made primarily from recycled material that doesn’t break down. It’s internal wicking material that moves the water extraordinarily well.”

(Habitat Horticulture often hatches innovative ideas for domestic gardening, such as their new line of miniature living wall systems they branded Gromeo that are two feet tall and arrive fully planted, ready to mount and enliven any work-from-home scenario.)

The living wall’s plants are tucked into small pockets where they’re watered through a concealed, internal irrigation system. At the base of the living wall is a draining system that collects the runoff for recycling. An internal system analyzes the pH levels in the water to determine exactly how much fertilizer to add.

The installation at SFMOMA is recognized as the largest living wall in the country and its success attracted further projects to David, including the 25-plant wall in Oakland at the Blue Shield of California Building. It’s the first living wall awarded an artistic designation under Oakland’s Public Art for Private Development municipal code. The miniature, multi-colored plant palette used for the project now hangs in David’s office, framed on his wall near a few Gromeos.

Outside of commercial projects, David and his team installed walls for several residences on the Peninsula including a luxurious interior wall with a fountain and ferns in a Los Alto home and a large exterior wall for an address in Atherton made of creeping figs, two species of ferns and Japanese sweet flag.

Beyond the visual appeal, homeowners and businesses recognize the psychological benefit offered by living walls—which is what initially drew David into the field as a teenager growing up in San Jose.

“My grandfather promised to take my Nona back to Italy every year, so I’d water their plants,” he says. “I knew at that time that there was something therapeutic about watering them and caring for something. That led to my interest in plants. When it came time for college, I decided I’d stick with this plant thing.”

 David focused on horticulture and psychology at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, melding the two through studies that explored the stress-reducing effects from plants and their ability to enhance self-esteem. Attention Restoration Theory, he noted, proposes that mental fatigue and concentration are improved with time spent in or admiring nature.

During an apprenticeship at Kew Gardens Tropical Nursery in London, David explored lithophytes and epiphytes, meaning plants that grow naturally on trees and rock surfaces or that grow from another plant. When he returned to Cal Poly, a botany professor offered him a greenhouse in the middle of campus that served as his living laboratory.

David graduated in 2008 and after a couple of years working at a nursery exchange and landscaping, he established Habitat Horticulture in 2010. His first commercial project was for New Resource Bank in San Francisco and his big break came when the California Academy of Sciences called upon him for help with a languishing living wall in its main hall. He decided to pay homage to the coast by using the native fern, California polypody, and variations of green, pinks, violets and whites.

Sometime later, David attended a talk at the museum given by Patrick Blanc, a French botanist considered the father of vertical gardens and living walls.

“Of course, one of the first things he notices is the living wall I created,” remembers David.

“He had really taken a liking to it because it felt like something you might find in nature. (It was mostly ferns, many native to California.) He has always been an inspiration—I wonder if my work might ever catch his eye again.”

Photography: Courtesy of Habitat Horticulture

The Soul of Design

Think about the pleasure you get from sinking into your favorite cozy couch. That sigh of contentment as you prop your feet up on a well-placed ottoman. Beauty and comfort soothe, restore and energize us but just how much does our environment actually contribute to our emotional and physical health? 

For more than two decades, award-winning designer Lisa Staprans has studied how surroundings can transform our state of being—a philosophy she calls the “soul of design.” The Los Altos native applies those principles to not only create swoon-worthy interiors but also to improve the health and happiness of her clients. In her forthcoming book, The Soul of Design and the Neuroscience of Beauty, Lisa shares her discoveries, insights and observations. In advance of its publication, from her home studio in Portola Valley, Lisa talks to PUNCH about her approach and how to create soul in our own homes.

What is your concept of soul? 

Soul is something that touches and/or opens up a voice deep within us that reveals our truest self. It can happen for people when they are inside a grand cathedral with natural light or in buildings that reach beyond our Earth. It can be in a majestic forest, on a mountain-top, in a simple flower or branch or sitting in a chair that comforts and supports us. 

How did you develop your “Soul of Design” philosophy? 

I had cancer a little over 20 years ago. During my recovery, the head of TED INK India saw a house I designed in Portola Valley, and said, ‘This house just feels, it has a soul, Lisa. … Would you do a talk about this at the conference?’ Writing the talk, I realized that I have a purpose. I have a legacy. I love what I do, but I didn’t want to just do it for the sake of doing, or to fill up a house or place with things. So, getting very sick, wondering if I would survive, and then doing what I do and not wanting to just take up space—that’s where the “soul of design” came into more of a cohesiveness.

The clients of this home love color, especially blue, so we had the mosaics handmade by Artistic Tile. This, along with solid walnut cabinets, shades of blue, one single large slab of natural quartzite on the island and a lava stone perimeter, create a joyful kitchen designed for optimal cooking and gathering. The whole family can come together in this collaborative and happy space that features locally-blown glass lighting above the island. Lots of happy neuro-transmitters here.

So, even before you articulated that connection, you were putting it into practice?

Even on my first trip to Europe, at 17, I marched into the Sistine Chapel and lay down in the middle of the floor, which you’re not supposed to do. I had this desire inside of me that I had to see things a certain way, and I had to see them in a specific alignment. So, I have to say it happened very organically. I didn’t set out to be the interior designer I am today.

Have you dived into the scientific research behind the soul-design connection? 

I collaborate with a neuroscientist from Stanford, a wonderful doctor from Stanford (a monk before he became a renowned doctor), and one of the co-founders of the Greater Good Foundation in Berkeley. They’re helping me with the science articulation and understanding the neuro-transmitters and what’s released from your initial reactions to things into your neurochemistry, into your biophysiology. It is vital that what I talk about, write about and practice has a strong scientific foundation. I also do a lot of reading and research. I study ancient cultures. I do not want people to think I am just a right-brain creative; I do ground my ideas in left-brain thinking. Very yin and yang.

What have you learned?

There have been studies that in a particular environment, you’ll be less afraid. Your pulse and your heart rate will come down. For example, in the Stanford Hospital atrium is a circle of beautiful cast glass by an amazing glass artist, and it just bounces light around. It makes you feel like you’re embraced by an angel or wings or something that just makes you feel safer. It’s very subliminal, as it should be. But if you start to study spaces that make you feel a certain way—and I do study this around the world—there are elements in all those spaces that tie to each other. And thankfully, now we even have more neuroscience realizing how much this impacts human anxiety and health.  

Photography: Courtesy of Bruce Dumonte

What elements lend soul to a home? 

I always feel it’s important to bring colors from the outside inside. And daylight planes, natural light. Even when we do a lot of work with artificial light, there should always be ways to set moods. And the flow: There’s always a sense of path in place. Also, the layering of tactile experiences. 

Are there certain elements or ideas that you always try to pull in for your Peninsula clients? 

I always celebrate local artisans and companies, local colors and the local light and nature. At a house right here in Portola Valley, we created the whole kitchen island out of this just incredible big piece of California walnut that had been a felled tree. The entire family came out to the yard to find the raw wood—the  grandchildren and the grandparents and the clients. It was a local journey to a local place to create the center of their home.

This Hillsborough client loves work by the artist Gail Ragains and the art became the focal point of the dining room. I kept the other colors a bit quieter so that these paintings would be the bright energy in the space. Flooded with natural light, we have walnut barn doors with glass to open or close the space from the family room. I often create very layered spaces where you feel connected but can also have privacy.

How does a home with “soul” look and feel different than a home without it? 

It is a subtle difference. A home without a soul is not as intentional; it does not celebrate daylight, placement on site, colors or objects. The curtains might always be closed. I hate closed curtains. They make me crazy!

How do you stay centered? 

I have a meditation practice. I do extreme sports…

Extreme sports?!

I’ve finished three ultramarathons, 100K each. Out there when you’re in that zone, it’s tough—you have to dig deep. It’s a very, very personal place. Ultras take you to that deep place just by nature of being an ultra. I’m saying, let’s quiet our lives and minds to get to that truth of ourselves without any outside influences. That’s your true self, not the reaction to what the outside world says you are. If we can find that through our environments to be our best, truer selves, whatever that is—that’s what a soul is. 

Photography: Courtesy of Rose Aschbock

The Beat On Your Eats

Cheers to the bold ones… opening their doors to a new day on the Peninsula.

Suavecito Birria & Tacos

San Mateo

The Mexican traditional dish Birria deserves the limelight and that’s why it shines in the name of this new comfort food destination. Suavecito Birria & Tacos specializes in the meat stew that’s marinated in an adobo of chiles, herbs and spices before the tortilla is dipped in beef jus and grilled to a crisp. It’s just one of several specialties you’ll find on the menu alongside a 24K California Burrito that updates the classic by tossing in tater tots. The team behind Suavecito are no strangers to San Mateo (they met years ago at William Jay Corporate Catering and nearby Winner Winner Chicken) and their latest concept is for the on-the-go eater, devised with delivery and pick-up in mind. 1100 South Amphlett Boulevard, Suite B. Open Wednesday through Saturday from 11AM to 8PM; Sunday from 11AM to 7PM; closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Kitchen

Palo Alto

He’s an Internet sensation (and a punching bag, for the grumps) and now Guy Fieri becomes part of downtown Palo Alto. The Mayor of Flavortown expands into the “ghost kitchen” trend by taking over the back of Buca di Beppo to cook up his whimsical fried foods. Guy whips up guilty pleasures like a Cajun-spiced chicken in a white wine and parmesan alfredo and his famous burger topped with mac ‘n’ cheese, bacon, crispy onions and Guy’s signature Donkey sauce on a garlic-buttered brioche bun. He may look like a bleached-blond jester but the Santa Rosa native earns a golden reputation for geniality and raised $21 million for a relief fund with the National Restaurant Association last year. Guy is no small fry. 643 Emerson Street. Open Sunday through Wednesday from 10:30AM to 9:30PM and Thursday through Saturday from 10:30AM to 10PM.

Faith & Spirits 

San Calos

The latest cocktail haven to appear on the San Carlos circuit offers plush velvet green chairs, bowler-hatted bartenders with swagger and a drink menu that runs deep with creativity and celebration for libation. Also serving starters and salads, Faith & Spirits is a lounge spot with a piano tucked in the back for mood-setting, late-night ambiance. F&S prides itself on the martini (stirred to chill with vermouth) while their signature serves include the Castaway (Christian Drouin Calvados, grapefruit, mint and honey) and the Bittersweet Affair, which infuses vodka with chamomile tea, Italicus Bergamot Liqueur and passion fruit rosemary. It opens late and closes when the fun dries up. 765 Laurel Street. Open Monday through Thursday from 4:00PM to close; Fridays from 2:00PM to close; Saturdays and Sundays from 12PM to close.

Ladera Crunch

Words by Silas Valentino

To live in Ladera is to be one with La Mesa Drive, the main arterial road that binds the neighborhood together and connects the woodland community to Alpine Road and Portola Valley. It’s a steep ascent, ideal for daredevil longboarding and, for anyone raised in Ladera, tackling the hellacious hill day in and day out leaves a lifelong impression.

 Brian Tetrud was shaped by La Mesa. As a teenager, he gradually worked up his moxie to longboard the hill and would bike up it after playing tennis at the Ladera Oaks Club nearby. He embraced the slope and attributes the lessons of perseverance for helping him when he started his homegrown, healthy eating and lifestyle company, Ladera.

Formerly called Ladera Granola, Brian recently dropped its flagship product from the brand name as he broadens the company’s scope. Ladera continues to sell its crunchy, low-sugar snack (including the classic Almond Pecan Granola), but the company is branching out into a fresh line of cubed protein bites made of buckwheat and chia seeds. Brian is even venturing into apparel, producing kits for cycling outfits, exemplifying how he is elevating the Ladera brand to new heights.

“It’s an indication that we want to do more,” Brian shares, speaking from his new apartment in Palo Alto. “By being ‘Ladera,’ it enables us to do more than just granola. We want to be sure that our brand doesn’t limit us.”

Brian Tetrud

 Another change for Ladera is the adoption of its new slogan: Climb Higher, a rebrand that hits squarely home for its founder.

 “When I started this company a decade ago, I had no experience and made a lot of mistakes,” Brian admits. “But I learned about myself and it allowed me to persevere as an underdog. The new slogan resonates with me—I did have to work harder—I had to climb up that hill all the time!”

 Brian now lives off Sand Hill Road near Stanford at an apartment he chose for strategic reasons: he’s nestled between Ladera’s warehouse in Redwood City and his day job as the global director of the Food Innovation program at Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale.

 Moreover, he’s within close proximity to several tennis courts, which was a major factor he considered when looking for his new home.

 Brian’s LinkedIn profile includes a short bio: “<3 startups, granola and tennis. Not so big on boats.” (The latter is a reference to a maritime mishap out on the Bay a few years ago that ended with a broken boom.) Brian’s job with Plug and Play is to work with ingredient startups to help them scale and connect with food manufacturers, a process he’s acutely aware of from scaling Ladera out of his mom’s kitchen and onto the shelves of grocery stores and beyond.

Brian is one of three children and the son of two doctors. His mother, Dr. Karen Butterfield, is an internist working in Palo Alto. When the price for her favorite granola went up, Karen decided to create her own recipe. The family started passing granola out to friends as gifts and demand began to grow.

 Brian attended Ithaca College after graduating from Menlo-Atherton High School and while interning at the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington D.C., the idea was hatched to share his mom’s recipe with new households.

“My mom visited me in D.C. and mentioned offhandedly that wouldn’t it be great to make a company out of this,” recounts Brian. “I always wanted to start a company and to create something. I like the quote: ‘The essence of life is creation.’ I get a lot of satisfaction out of building something.”

 Brian decided that the simpler the recipe, the better, and started comparing his family granola to big players such as Kellogg’s and General Mills. He decided to distinguish himself by using straightforward, healthier ingredients that kept sugar low without losing appeal.

“Sugar has benefits,” Brian clarifies, “because it textualizes food. Otherwise, it could become mushy. And the sweetness enhances the natural flavors. It’s all in the balance, once sugar plays a leading role it starts to dominate the other flavors. For us, we have other things to promote rather than sweetness.”

Photography: Courtesy of Ladera

After graduating college, Brian moved back to Ladera where he continued growing his granola brand. He spoke with Kevin Bianchini who owned the local neighborhood market for advice on how to best package his product. “We had a mock-up of a package and Kevin gave me feedback, like where’s the date code, and all the basics we needed in order to sell at a store,” Brian says. “Our opening day was at his market, in July 2011, and we sold everything out.”

Ladera Granola became Brian’s passion project while he tried to launch a career. He was living at his folks’ place following college, applying to whatever job he could find but was beginning to lose steam. To keep motivated, he’d jog up Windy Hill, seldom ever making it to the top before having to stop to walk.

During a run, he was about to reach the point of exhaustion and notch down his pace when he heard a voice.

“There was this guy right behind me saying, ‘Come on—you’re my only hope!’ We ran up the hill together and started talking at the top,” Brian recalls. “It turned out that he had a sister at SolarCity whom he introduced me to, which led to a job there.”

Looking back at the fortuitous connection made up on Windy Hill, Brian surmises that life-changing moments are sometimes just casual occurrences.

“When you’re looking for something, it’s on your mind and it comes out in conversation,” he says. “It coincides with your needs. At that time, my parents were kicking my butt to get a job and I needed to get something going.”

Brian began working for SolarCity while developing his granola into a functioning business. He worked with KitchenTown in San Mateo before establishing a warehouse in Redwood City off of Seaport Boulevard. 

After years of producing granola, Brian started expanding into new snack territory with protein bites. Flavors include salty maple, apple cinnamon and lemon zest, and the goal is to create simple carbs comparable to chips or pretzels that remain good for your health.

The snacks are growing in popularity, joining his granola on shelves in markets across the country; however, there’s one customer Brian has yet to earn.

“My mom still makes her own granola,” Brian grins, “and she never buys mine.”

In a Pizza State of Mind

Lars Smith never planned on making pizza for a living. He likes to say that it was pizza that found him.

State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria, the brainchild of Lars, his brother Andrew, his father Jim, his wife Cristina and his business partner Amy Alcantar, opened in Los Altos three years ago. However, this restaurant was an entire lifetime in the making—Lars, and Andrew’s, specifically.

Lars can’t remember a time when he wasn’t cooking. “You think you have an accurate memory of growing up, but you really remember the things that impacted you the most—everything I remember pretty much revolves around food, eating, parties, entertaining,” says Lars. His memories are closely tied to extended family, most of whom live in Palo Alto, where Lars and his brother grew up, and the greater Peninsula.

By the time Lars was 18, he was making pies at Pizza My Heart with his friends and dreaming of going to culinary school. After a hiatus from the restaurant and graduating from UC Berkeley in 2008, he called his mentor at Pizza My Heart, Allison Fessenden, for advice. The following day, she called back with a job offer. “That is why I say pizza found me,” explains Lars. “Those were two really big moments: just getting that job out of high school because that was where my friends worked, and then Allison calling me back in after college.” This time, Lars worked his way up to corporate management.

Lars also continued to cultivate his love of being in the kitchen. Under the guidance of Leah Scurto, now the owner of PizzaLeah in Windsor, California, he started to learn the logistics of operating a restaurant kitchen. As Lars honed his pizza-making skills, he went on to win the 2017 International Pizza Challenge in the Non-Traditional Division in Las Vegas and has been competing ever since.

Although both of his parents were public school teachers, they met working at the now-closed restaurant, The Gatehouse, in Palo Alto. “There was always this romantic idea that was mostly driven by my dad of having a family restaurant someday,” says Lars. In 2012, the family started seriously discussing the possibility. Then, out of the blue, Lars’ friend and local restaurateur Kasim Syed called, asking Lars and Andrew to help him open The Tap Room in Palo Alto. “He gave us this golden opportunity,” says Lars about the valuable learning experience. 

By the start of 2017, Lars and Andrew were ready. They secured the lease for a restaurant site in Los Altos and chose a name inspired by the rich bounty and diversity of the Golden State. As they saw it, “California is much more than a place on a map; it’s a State of Mind.” Their vision for the restaurant was simple: “We drew inspiration from the places where my dad loved to take us when we were little—the places where we would go after a bike ride or after a kids’ baseball game,” says Lars. “Because of the direction the Bay Area has gone, many of those places are no longer here, which is a huge bummer for me now that I have kids. So we said, ‘Okay, let’s build that place again.’”

After a year of remodeling the space, State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria opened with a bang. “I think it was a Tuesday night and we decided, ‘Everything’s ready, let’s just open and see what happens,’ and that place was full like an hour and a half later. That is how it has been for the last three years; there has been no downtime,” says Lars. “It has been an absolutely incredible ride.”

The State of Mind team (left to right) of Andrew Smith, Amy Alcantar, Lars Smith, Cristina Smith and Jim Smith.

Although State of Mind is currently emphasizing outdoor dining, the usual vibe evokes European beer hall culture. The restaurant’s interior features long communal tables built by Lars’ father and then five-year-old son. “It seems like in Silicon Valley, there are more reasons than ever to not interact with people,” explains Lars. “We wanted to create the one place where you had to interact together if you wanted to sit somewhere.” 

In other words, come prepared to make new friends.

While State of Mind might have the ambiance of a time-honored public house, Lars explains that the fare reflects a true California twist. In addition to creative and seasonal pizza selections made with slow-proofed dough, patrons will find “smashed” burgers and plenty of fresh greens, along with craft beers. On the “Bites” side, offerings are tagged with names like ‘Almost World Famous’ Jalapeño Balls, Chipotle Cola BBQ Wings and Pickled Onion Strings. “People care about where their food comes from,” says Lars, “so we wanted to do the things that we care about but within a familiar concept.” 

In “usual” times, State of Mind’s arcade—with video and pinball action ranging from Mortal Kombat to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—fosters more interaction. And, if you happen to have a rare bobblehead, gift it to State of Mind and you might just get a free beer in return—if they don’t already have the same one on display behind the bar.

In early 2020, the team signed a lease for their second location, State of Mind Slice House, in Palo Alto. Lars and Andrew were always planning on opening multiple locations, but they weren’t sure what a second State of Mind would look like. “We were not interested in building this and picking this up and putting it in 20 other places,” says Lars about their Los Altos eatery. So, they waited until inspiration struck. “I went to New York in the fall of 2019,” says Lars, “and fell back in love with slice culture.” He returned from the trip knowing that the next restaurant would be a slice shop, and they started looking for a location.

When a space opened on El Camino in Palo Alto—the former home of their childhood Taco Bell—the brothers jumped at the opportunity to bring a little taste of New York to their own family’s backyard. “There’s great pizza here and there are some slice shops here,” notes Lars. “But, it’s not like New York, even the ones that say that. We’re trying to do something a little more representative of that.”

State of Mind Slice House entices with names that might make you chuckle—many inspired by the Grateful Dead, Lars’ favorite band. With toppings that rotate with the season, flavors lean heavy on fresh California produce. This spring, look for “The Golden Road,” topped with asparagus, pancetta, mozzarella and drizzled with a lemon aioli, and “Don’t Let Go,” featuring mozzarella and Toma cheese, mustard greens and prosciutto topped with hot honey. “Cuts” (round or square slices) start at $4.25 but the Slice House also bakes up whole pies under the headers Classics and Specials. 

For Lars, everything comes back to family. “Working with family is the best thing in the world,” he says. “I don’t know anybody who has my back more than my brother or my dad or my wife or as we call Amy, ‘our adopted sister.’” Although they each have their respective roles, Lars emphasizes that State of Mind is a collaborative effort, and the new Palo Alto location is a true homecoming for the entire team. 

And it’s vital to the State of Mind family that their customers feel at home too. “There’s never a wrong time to come here and eat and drink,” Lars says. “We really just wanted a place where everybody could come at any time, with whomever they want, dressed however they want, and enjoy a meal.”

Discovering Niles Canyon

Hear “Niles” and you might think “Railway.” Indeed, riding the Niles Canyon Railway is a great reason to take a trip across the San Mateo or Dumbarton Bridge. But it’s not the only reason, as we recently discovered on a day’s excursion. 

Niles, a Fremont neighborhood located between Mission Boulevard and Alvarado Niles Boulevard, is also home to one of the earliest movie studios, a portion of the Alameda Creek Trail, a main street lined with antique shops, one of the best pizza parlors in the Bay Area and fabulous ice cream and coffee.

That said, the Railway is a good place to start, especially in April when the canyon is green and wildflowers are abundant.

Photography: Courtesy of East Bay Regional Park District

Riding Historic Tracks

Riding the Niles Canyon Railway is a chance to experience history as the tracks run along a portion of the first transcontinental railroad constructed by the Central Pacific Railroad. In 1869, four months after the golden spike ceremony at Promontory Summit, Utah, the San Francisco Bay Area was connected to the rest of the country with the completion of this section of tracks.

A freight terminal was built by the Central Pacific at the west end of the canyon and the town of Niles, named for Addison C. Niles, a prominent judge and former railroad attorney, sprung up around it. The Central Pacific became part of the Southern Pacific, which operated trains through the canyon for 12 decades until 1984.

In May 1988,  the all-volunteer, nonprofit Pacific Locomotive Association brought railroad passenger operations back to Niles Canyon. The organization continues its work to extend and maintain the track along the line, restore its collection of railroad equipment and operate historic demonstration trains. The enthusiasm of these volunteers adds to the experience of riding the train.

We rode the railway accompanied by a “this-is-kind-of-fun” six-year-old girl and her very enthusiastic three-year-old brother, who beamed from ear to ear. We recommend opting for the steam engine-led train, all the better to hear the clickety-clack of the tracks. And there’s something about the smell of the steam along with the huffing and puffing that adds to the enjoyment—especially in the open-air cars. 

Good to know

Niles Canyon Railway ncry.org

+ Limited-capacity trains powered by the Robert Dollar #3 steam loco-
motive or the Southern Pacific #1423 diesel locomotive depart from
Sunol Depot at 10:30AM and 1PM on Saturdays and Sundays
in April and May.

+ Tickets must be purchased in advance.

Photography: Courtesy of East Bay Regional Park District

Ambling the Banks of Alameda Creek

What has prompted trips to the Niles area in the past is nearby hikes, some that require a good deal of climbing. This time we opted to stay at sea level, more specifically creek level, walking the Alameda Creek Trail.

Parking at the Niles Staging Area, we purposely walked in the “wrong” direction. The pavement ended and soon we felt like Niles Canyon was cradling us in its warmth and beauty.

We retraced our steps walking westward along the paved path towards the town of Niles accompanied by our leashed dog. On the south side of the Creek, the trail extends 11 miles all the way to Coyote Hills Regional Park along San Francisco Bay. This is a great 22-mile out-and-back ride for cyclists. 

At various historical markers along the way, we learned that the Ohlone-speaking Tuibun tribe thrived for many generations along the Creek. And that the area was visited and explored by members of five Spanish expeditions between 1769 and 1795. 

Photography: Courtesy of Christopher R. Hauf

Alameda Creek was the boundary of the 30,000-acre Mission San Jose de Guadalupe and the 17,000-acre Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda, which was granted to Jose de Jesus Vallejo. Construction of a flour mill near the mouth of Niles Canyon by Vallejo, plus the importance of the canyon as a passage through the hills, led to the growth of Niles in the 1850s.

Walking along the Creek is a very pleasant amble, uncrowded on a weekday. It’s just 1.4 miles to Kaiser Ponds, which hosts the Model Mariners boat club, and two miles to Shinn Pond, the first gravel pit in California, which provided gravel to build the UC Berkeley stadium—75 carloads in just the first order!

Good to know

Alameda Creek Trail ebparks.org

+ Trail is paved on the south side; the north side is unpaved.

+ Bicycles yield to horses and hikers; hikers yield to horses.

+ Swimming in Alameda Creek is not allowed.

Photography: Linda Hubbard

Great Pizza and More

We don’t remember how we first stumbled upon Bronco Billy’s Pizza Palace, which serves up some of the best pizza in the entire Bay Area. But a stop there is now mandatory on any visit to the area. My husband is a fan of the Bull Durham (salami, pepperoni, linguica, sausage and beef). My preference is the Stage Coach (chicken, fresh garlic, ranch dressing, mushrooms and red bell peppers). The various pizza combinations are available by the slice and in four sizes; given the size of the small, the extra-large must feed an army.

On this visit, before ordering “to go,” we took time to walk around the town of Niles. And to our amazement, we discovered that Bronco Billy was a real person. Gilbert “Bronco Billy” Anderson was the first Western movie star cowboy. In 1958, he was awarded an honorary Oscar, which is now on display at the town’s Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

Photography: Courtesy of Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

It was Bronco Billy who lured Charlie Chaplin to Niles, where he made five films for the Essanay Film Manufacturing Co., including The Tramp. The scene where Chaplin waddles away from the camera was shot in Niles Canyon. Filmmaking continued in the area until talkies became popular, and the studio’s proximity to train tracks became problematic.

The Silent Film Museum is home to 400 silent feature films and over 600 silent short films, along with a collection of 10,000 film prints. Museum programs are currently available for viewing at nilesfilmmuseum.org, and the website says they’ll “re-open sometime down the road when the stars are right.” At that time, film enthusiasts will once again be able to watch silent movies in the museum’s Edison Theater built in 1913.

Knowing that we were ordering pizza to take back to the Peninsula, we didn’t buy ice cream at Nature’s Organic but can recommend the parlor known for its exotic flavors. Black Sesame, anyone? Or how about Cardamom Pistachio Kulfi? 

The walk around town led to a new discovery, Devout Coffee. Its interior is sparkly modern, and its coffees come from unique places. We brought home Flora de Selva from Peru. Other choices include beans from Ethiopia, Honduras and Rwanda, along with mainstay Columbia.

What better way to end a visit to the Niles area than a stop at the Niles Depot Museum located at the Niles Town Plaza? Open on Sundays, its focus is on the Southern Pacific and Western Pacific Railroads but it also has memorabilia from Union Pacific and Amtrak, which actually passed through town just as we approached the museum.

Photography: Courtesy of Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

Our Wild Side: Petals & Wings

One of the joys of nature photography is exploring the dazzling palette of living colors. This is particularly true in spring. Following the rains, the golden tones of winter give way to a burst of color as flowers and butterflies re-emerge. This free show is on display in the gardens, parks and open spaces of the Peninsula.

(Photo above)

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) have always been a personal favorite as much for their epic migration as for their striking colors.  In the case of monarchs, this color is an example of aposematism or warning coloration. Like a delicate tiger, these colors say, “Beware!”  In short, monarchs are poisonous to would-be predators.

In the case of this vibrant mariposa lily (Calochortus luteus) at Edgewood Park, the color is sending a very different message.  It says to the acmon blue (Icaricia acmon), “Come taste my nectar.” The butterfly gets a meal and the flower is using the butterfly as a pollinator.  

The pallid swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) is common throughout western North America.  Its genus name means “butterfly” in Latin and is reminiscent of the French word for butterfly.  Befitting the name, the members of this charismatic genus can be found across the globe, including this cooperative individual at Jasper Ridge.

Beyond the camera, the internet provides valuable tools for the nature photographer. Particularly useful is the citizen science program, iNaturalist, which combines artificial intelligence with an online community to help identify organisms large and small.  Though camouflaged among the grass at the Stanford Dish, this large marble butterfly (Euchloe ausonides) is easily identified online.

The appropriately named variable checkerspot (Euphydyas chalcedona) is feeding on yerba santa at Jasper Ridge. The variable checkerspot has managed to thrive in the Bay Area. Meanwhile, the populations of its close relative, the bay checkerspot (Euphydryas editha bayensis) have been in serious decline due to factors related to climate change.  

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui) is a widespread species (on five continents) whose behavior and physiology have been studied in great detail for over 100 years. Painted ladies live about two weeks and undertake a long migration. Adult butterflies feed on a large number of plants and adults can be found year-round. The undersides of the wings show a series of ocelli or eye spots. 

Water Woman

Words by Sheri Baer

It’s a little after 7AM when Bird Levy rises to her feet on her standup paddleboard at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay. Taking a confident stance, her knees slightly bent, she digs the paddle blade into the water and firmly pulls back. One stroke, then the next, then another, setting an almost meditative rhythm. 

“It’s a spiritual experience to see that sun rising up over the mountain,” she says. “When the sun starts to shine on the water, it makes this huge beam and I just get on my board and paddle that sunbeam.” 

But for the barking of harbor seals and the gentle squawking of seabirds, the air feels soft and quiet. For Bird, this is the magic hour, the time to release any unsettled thoughts, worries or fears. “I call this pono padding,” she says. “Back home, pono means to make things right, to balance your life. For me, it means to put your troubles in the water, to let the tide just take them away.”

‘Back home’ is Hawaii, where Bird was born and raised on and off throughout her childhood. Half-native Hawaiian, her life has always been oriented around the ocean. “My mother and all the women, the wahine, in my family, they were all waterwomen,” she says. “We were just born on the water. I actually call the ocean Mama Moana because she is like my mother.” 

As an instructor at Mavericks PaddleSports, Bird strives to share that connection with her students, to help them find that same healing, that same comfort from her beloved ocean. It’s an inclusive invitation that she extends to anyone. Bird herself discovered standup paddleboarding, or SUP, when she was 54. She is now edging 70. 

Originally from the west side of Oahu, Bird still refers to herself as a Nanakuli girl after her hometown. Like many in Hawaii, Bird’s first water sport was outrigger paddling. “As a kid in Hawaii, everybody paddles canoes,” she says, “whether it’s for fun or competitive.” Bird’s parents ventured back and forth between Hawaii and the mainland, and Bird lived in Southern California before moving up to the Bay Area, where she attended high school. The one constant was living coastal. “There was always the ocean,” she says. “It was always there for us.” 

As life unfolded, Bird maintained close proximity to the ocean, but work and family responsibilities constrained her time on the water. After starting out in the wholesale garment business, she married attorney Terry Strain and gravitated into the law field as an administrative assistant. It was while she was working at a San Francisco firm that Bird finally returned to her cultural sport of canoe paddling. She joined the San Francisco Outrigger Canoe Club. The year was 2002 and Bird had just turned 50. “That started a wonderful six-year growth period when I participated in many regattas,” she recounts. “Many medals followed and I made lifelong friends, but by 2007, my body was feeling the aches and pains of the sport.”

Around that time, Bird made a trip home to Oahu where she met up with her dear friend and mentor, Hawaiian legendary waterman Joe Momoa. At Pokai Bay on Oahu’s west side, Bird spotted Momoa paddling on what looked like a big surfboard. “He was just gliding on the water, and he looked like a king,” she recalls. “He said, ‘Try it, Bird! Get on the board. You can do it!’” 

Bird Levy with her mentor and friend, legendary Hawaiian waterman Joe Momoa, who is also from Nanakuli, in 2017.

Bird found herself paddling way out in the ocean: “I stood up right away and didn’t fall in. It was so beautiful. I looked back at my childhood place, the beautiful green Waianae mountain range and the clear, clear blue ocean. And then dolphins jumped up and put on a spectacular show, doing hula for us. I knew that this was my sport for my kupuna, my elder, years. I was overwhelmed with joy knowing I would not have to separate myself from Mama Moana.” 

For the next two weeks, Bird paddled up and down Oahu’s Waianae coast. She returned to the Bay Area determined to buy herself a board and get out on the water. Having heard about Jeff Clark’s Mavericks Surf Shop in Half Moon Bay, she went over to check it out. “Jeff lent me his personal board and asked me, ‘Are you going to be all right?’” she recounts with a chuckle. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be fine.’ Jeff said he watched me and was like, ‘Oh, this chick has got it down!’”

By the time Jeff and Cassandra Clark opened Mavericks Paddle-Sports in 2015, Bird had mastered SUP and was ready to be an instructor. “I felt really confident that I could teach other people,” she says, “and also that I could impart my ocean manao, my ocean knowledge, what I’ve learned throughout my life.”

On a recent Sunday morning, Bird, at 5’2”, appears to effortlessly lift down paddleboards from racks at Mavericks PaddleSports. “Grab it by the handle in the middle,” she instructs her haumana, or students, as they carry their boards and paddles down to the water’s edge. The median age in this particular class looks to be 50ish but according to Bird, SUP has no age, gender or ability restrictions. “It’s very accessible,” she notes. “I’ve taken out so many families; kids get their own little boards and paddles. I’ve taken out people who are afraid of the water and ones who think they’re not in shape or too old.”

After Bird relays initial instructions and safety guidance, the paddlers enter the water, starting out on their knees, until they’re ready to stand. Bird glides by, offering encouraging words and practical tips. How to breathe. Where to look. What to do if there’s a wake from a boat. “If you can propel yourself forward using the technique I teach people, it also propels your life, your inner spirit,” observes Bird. “When they first get on the water, they are all hunched over, their knees are shaking. But when they get off the board, they’re standing up straight, walking taller and they’re proud of what they did.” 

Among the morning paddlers out on the water is Georgina Fox, a self-proclaimed SUP convert. A former gym rat and runner, she found herself searching for a new outlet in 2020. On a visit to Half Moon Bay, she caught sight of Bird teaching a class and booked a lesson. “I was on a natural high the rest of the day,” she recounts. “I started coming every weekend.” Before long, Georgina bought her own board so that she can paddle anytime she wants. “I thought Bird was crazy to come out here so early in the morning, but now I’m doing it too,” she says. “It’s just so peaceful. It’s like my church. It’s where I get my serenity.”

Teaching SUP classes keeps Bird busy, along with her three children and six grandchildren. “I truly believe that it’s our kuleana, our responsibility, to teach whatever we can in our lives to others,” she says. “I believe we have a spiritual connection with the ocean, and it’s such a wonderful thing for me when I can help people discover it.” 

Bird instinctively knew when it was time to relinquish her canoe paddling days. How long does she see herself doing SUP? “I plan to paddle until I can’t paddle anymore,” she responds. “I honor my body and so when that time comes…” Bird stops and considers what she’s saying. “Actually,” she amends, “I don’t think it will.”

Auntie Bird’s Paddling Tips

+ Your breathing calms you down. Everything comes from your core in this sport. We call it na’au in Hawaiian, your gut. If you can get your core calm, the rest of your body will follow. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. It helps calm your na’au. 

+ The whole object of this sport is to propel yourself forward. Bending your knees will give you leverage and help you balance. Use your upper body strength and core to grip that paddle, dig the blade into the water and pull it back. Propel. Propel. Propel. 

+ I always encourage people to not look at the water when they are out there. Focus on a spot in the distance, something you can visualize and paddle towards. The moving water sends a message to the brain and your body tends to go with that gravitational pull. If you keep looking at the water, the next thing you know, you’re in it! 

+ If you fall in, you don’t need to worry. Your body is attached to the board by a leash. All you need to do is float over to the board, get right in the middle of it and hoist yourself up. It’s a metaphor for life. We all fall, but we get back up.

Diary of a Dog: Jane

Forget Bette Davis. My name is Jane, and my eyes have been praised as mesmerizing, almost human even. In fact, my family has a hard time looking away from my soulful gaze. I think that’s one of the reasons they took me home from Pet Express in Burlingame, where I was brought for adoption after being rescued in Stockton. I’m a Terrier and Dachshund mix, and it’s a good bet that my Dachshund DNA can take credit for my long torso that stretches out like a Slinky toy. I live in San Mateo with Marcus, Yvonne, Emily and Lizzy, and my one goal in life is to make them happy. They love to watch me dance, and I love that I get rewarded with a treat just for showing off. Given that I’m not that tall, I’ve discovered that if I stand up on my hind legs like a prairie dog, I can see a lot more. It’s a handy trick that I use a lot. I’m also a good watchdog and I earn my keep chasing the squirrels out of our backyard. My favorite activities include running on the beach, long walks through my neighborhood, investigating gopher holes and burrowing under Marcus and Yvonne’s comforter in bed. “Janey Jane (that’s their nickname for me) just wants to please,” my family is always saying. I’m glad that they notice. I am so grateful for my wonderful life and I make a point to show it every day.

Superfan to Superstar

Emotions are running high on a remote island in Fiji where CBS hit reality show Survivor contestant Adam Klein is visibly getting thinner. A tropical downpour hits the island hard and there is nowhere to hide from the deluge of water. 

It’s game-on for Adam. 

“If anything, when it starts to rain or people get hungry, it is an advantage for me,” explains Adam. ”They are miserable, but I am thankful because although it’s raining on Survivor, I am happy doing what I have always dreamed of.”

A Burlingame native, Adam’s combination of passion and determination propelled him at just 25 years old to clinch the title of Sole Survivor of “Millennials vs. Gen X” in 2016. In addition to winning $1 million dollars, he proved to viewers worldwide that he could outwit, outplay and outlast. “You have to be strong mentally, emotionally and physically. There’s no food, no sleep, no blanket or pillow,” he says of the 39-day ordeal. “You have to be likable but then you have to backstab people and then they sit on a jury and decide your fate.” In Adam’s case, a unanimous vote of 10 made him the winner. 

Reflecting on his success and windfall at a young age, Adam contemplates things many people don’t consider until midlife. “When your dream comes true at 25, you don’t say, ‘Okay I’m done,’” he notes. “You have to dream even bigger.” And Adam has done just that, pursuing new projects around the globe including his own reality show.

Photography: Courtesy of CBS

Growing up on the Peninsula, Adam dreamt of someday winning his favorite show, Survivor. Watching the reality show became a family passion and a weekly event in Adam’s home with his parents and brother sharing equal enthusiasm. The superfan even prophetically chose his first email address at the age of 10 to be SoleSurvivorAdam@aol.com. “I remember watching the show and I was transfixed,” recounts Adam. “By the time I was 11, I was playing online Survivor games with adults.” 

Adam auditioned with his mother Susie and almost made it on the show as a team. At the time, Susie passed every health check, but two years later, the family received sobering news: Susie was diagnosed with lung cancer. She encouraged Adam to keep pursuing his dream, so Adam auditioned again. Seven months after her diagnosis, Susie watched with pride as Adam set off for Survivor in Fiji. “The whole time I was on Survivor, she was sending me energy,” shares Adam. “On the days that I found an immunity idol, I could feel her guiding me. It was incredibly spiritual being out there and I feel that she lived it with me.”  

Survivor contestants require a unique fortitude that Adam honed throughout his young life. A self-described ‘annoying’ kid, Adam had an over-abundance of energy. “My mom always told me I needed an off-button,” he laughs. One summer, Adam attended a youth camp that would be a turning point for him. “It was the worst two weeks of my life. I was overweight and I was terrified of heights and I couldn’t get up the ropes course ladder,” Adam recalls. “When I came back from camp, I decided I wanted to lose weight. I also started paying attention to how people reacted to me and decided to change how I was perceived.” 

These formative experiences bolstered Adam’s ability to set a goal and achieve it. “By the time I got to Burlingame High School, I knew who I was,” reflects Adam, who graduated as student body president and head of the school’s largest fundraiser, Relay for Life. Adam went on to attend Stanford University and graduated at the top of his class. Charting a different route than many of his classmates, he pursued a career in the nonprofit sector. He recalls, “I was asking myself, ‘How do I do good?’ There must be more ways than the traditional paths laid out in front of me.” 

Following his passion to make a difference, Adam started his first job on the Peninsula at LifeMoves, formerly InnVision Shelter Network, a nonprofit providing transitional housing for the homeless. Adam helped the nonprofit become more cost-efficient, saving tens of thousands of dollars and streamlining their donation program.

Fast-forward to the present and Adam is now harnessing his talents as a motivational and keynote speaker at corporate and nonprofit events. In his first professional engagement, he spoke to an audience of 2,000 Bristol Myers employees in Las Vegas in 2017. ”I taught myself to read people’s reactions to me and adjust how I speak in front of large groups,” he explains. “I can feel the collective breath of the audience.” More recent keynote addresses—including one in Dubai—moved to virtual in 2020, but Adam’s message of achieving your goals remains a constant. “If you want to push the limit and make your ultimate dream come true,” he asserts, “you have to commit yourself 100 percent to the belief that you can.”

Adam with his mother Susie in December 2013.

In May 2019, Adam returned to Fiji to compete in Survivor: Winners at War, the show’s 40th season, which aired in 2020. After going shoulder-to-shoulder with Survivor legends like Boston Rob Mariano, Ethan Zohn and Parvati Shallow, he says his new ultimate fantasy is to host Survivor someday. “You have to have those pipe dreams,” he affirms. In the shorter term, Adam hopes to secure a position behind the camera as a producer. He recently tried his hand at producing on the reality TV show Coin Flip Trip. The travel show entailed flipping a coin to determine whether Adam and his co-host had $25 or $500 a day to spend in a country ranging from Peru to Switzerland. “It was unscripted and I was in control of the storyline,” he explains. “Whether we flipped high or low, there was a story.” 

While Adam experienced significant success at an early age, he also endured his share of heartbreak. When he returned to Burlingame after taping his first season finale of Survivor in Fiji, he immediately went to his mother’s side. “I had fulfilled this shared family dream that we had worked toward together and then the very next day my greatest nightmare happened,” he recounts. “Just an hour after I got home, nearly seconds after I told her I won Survivor, she died.” In the years that have followed, Adam has never ceased to feel Susie with him. “She was my best friend,” he says. “My mom and I still have an unbreakable connection.” 

Photography: Courtesy of Robert Voets and Timothy Kuratek – CBS Entertainment

Adam relied on his brother’s and father’s support to move forward and they continue to be close. And he brightens as he talks about how he marked the milestone of his mother’s birthday—attending a light show at the Los Angeles Zoo with his now girlfriend Kailey Maurer. “We were standing next to this dark pond and I asked Kailey to be my girlfriend,” he narrates. “The moment she said ‘yes,’ the music came on suddenly, the fountain came on and a light show began with no one else around. I felt like my mom gave me a sign that I was on the right track.” 

For Adam, it was never only about winning. His passions for community service and cancer advocacy are evident in his donation of $100,000 of his Survivor prize money to lung cancer research, inspiring Bristol Myers and thousands of viewers to contribute as well. And Adam continues to support lung cancer research with his #LivelikeSusie campaign. Now 30, he remains determined to inspire people to live passionately, fully and authentically, just like his mom. “When you want something badly enough,” he points out, “it makes all the difficulties worth it.”

Photography: Courtesy of Robert Voets and Timothy Kuratek – CBS Entertainment

Perfect Shot: Celebrating Spring

The famous Asha Stanford Holi celebration is traditionally held in early April to welcome the brilliance of spring. The Indian festival of colors is accented by the joyful mixing and splattering of colored powder and water. In tribute to this memorable event, PUNCH photographer Irene Searles pulled out this Perfect Shot from a few years back. “Everyone was full of smiles and gleefully playing,” she recalls. “There were sprays of powdered paint everywhere, and I was so glad I had put a plastic rain guard over my camera because I was completely covered with colors.”

Cocofloss Sisters

In her San Mateo dental practice, Dr. Chrystle Cu heard every possible explanation. Time and time again, before patients flashed their teeth for exams, they opened their mouths to make excuses: “I know I should be flossing more, but…” 

Fill in the blank: “I ran out of floss,” “I went on a trip and forgot to bring it,” “I’m too tired at night.”

Whatever the reason, the result was the same. Even as she counseled that toothbrushes alone can’t reach 35% of the teeth’s surfaces, Chrystle found herself filling cavities that could have been prevented—with regular flossing. No matter the tutorials, no matter the guidance, the behavior didn’t seem to change. “For a culture that cares deeply about having a big, bright, white smile,” Chrystle says, “it’s amazing how few people actually floss daily.” 

To get to the root of the problem, she began to ask questions. She discovered a genuine disdain for the dull task of flossing. And even her patients who did floss weren’t getting great results. “Slippery flosses can dislodge some food particles but they don’t remove the stinky, sticky plaque,” observes Chrystle. “They don’t really work.”

Photography: Gino De Grandis

That’s when Chrystle had her lightbulb moment. Rather than blaming her patients, maybe the real culprit was uninspired, underperforming floss. She became obsessed with figuring out how she could design a dental floss that was both effective and more enjoyable to use.

Enter Chrystle’s younger sister, Catherine “Cat” Cu. Cat had worked in investment banking after college, before joining a startup and eventually setting out on her own. Cat had always dreamed of starting her own business, and when her sister started tossing around disruptive floss ideas, she agreed to pivot into dental mode. “I’ve always been most excited about building a fun and positive brand, and we’re doing that with Cocofloss,” notes Cat. “I’m so glad that Chrystle convinced me to help her make oral care a lifestyle—not a chore.”

After tireless marketing and manufacturing research, the sisters self-financed their idea and launched Cocofloss in 2015. Since then, they’ve grown from 2 to 15 employees. “Our floss is really scrubby, like taking a shower with a loofah; it can work in tight spaces,” says Chrystle. “It’s very satisfying to remove all that plaque.”

The secret to their growth? “In the oral care space there really wasn’t a brand that people could relate to,” relays Cat. “Our mission is to help people keep their teeth for life by making oral care fun.”

And the two have had fun in the process. The sisters’ research took them to Northern Italy—not just to taste wine and eat pasta—but to find the family-owned factory where Cocofloss is manufactured. With strands made of 500+ loosely-woven polyester fibers, their product is infused with coconut oil, which puts the ‘coco’ in the floss. They chose the ingredient for its antimicrobial properties as well as its growing popularity with consumers.

To further incentivize regular use, Chrystle reflected on the high points of visiting the dentist. “In my dental practice, one of the most delightful moments for patients is when they choose what flavor of polishing toothpaste we use to finish their professional teeth cleaning,” she says. “I have so many flavor choices that I had to create a menu for my patients to use as a reference.” 

With that inspiration, the pair connected with a fragrance supplier, also Italian, to create ‘flavors’ (aka fragrance) that you won’t find in mainstream brands. Like Fresh Coconut, Cara Cara Orange and Pure Strawberries. “Our flosses are scented with aromas that make flossing a fun, refreshing treat,” says Cat. Their hottest seller? Delicious Mint. Cat and Chrystle justify the $9-10 retail price with a savvy calculation. “Your time is better used with Cocofloss,” reasons Chrystle. “One roll is enough for one adult to use daily for two months.”

Photography: Gino De Grandis

Now sold on Amazon, Sephora and through the (ahem), word-of-mouth of a growing network of dental professionals, Cocofloss is also attracting attention from the media and celebrity world. Touted by the likes of Ellen Degeneres and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, the eco-friendly product has been featured in publications like Vogue, Fast Company, Real Simple and Forbes. 

If a woman-owned startup with a social conscience taking aim at a traditional market sector sounds like a very Silicon Valley concept, that’s because it is. The co-founders grew up in Foster City and Hillsborough, attended the Nueva School and graduated from Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough. “Growing up on the Peninsula, entrepreneurship is like second nature for us,” says Cat. “It’s in the water here.” 

Big sister Chrystle went on to Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and Cat stayed here, graduating from Stanford University. Chrystle now lives in Burlingame with her husband and new baby, and Cat recently moved from San Francisco to Huntington Beach for a change of pace. 

The sisters already had a close relationship before they started the company and working together has only enhanced it. “We’re having a blast,” says Cat. “You can be open with each other in a way that you couldn’t with someone else. The founder relationship is one of the hardest pieces of the puzzle and we’ve learned how to communicate with one another professionally. It’s an evolution.”

Evolving with the Cu sisters means more big plans ahead. Even as Chrystle maintains her practice with Young Dental Group, the business partners are launching the company’s first toothbrush, Cocobrush, in May. “Like Cocofloss, it’s super soft and ultra-cleansing, with over 6,000 scrubby filaments,” says Chrystle. 

“We’re committed to making Cocofloss a household name,” adds Cat. “Right now we’re riding a wave, and our goal is to make sure we are prepared and equipped to get there.”

Dr. Cu’s Pro Flossing Tips

+ The best time to floss is at night before bedtime.
Flossing additional times throughout the day is great too!

+ To start, unspool about 18 inches of your favorite floss. Take a deep breath—this is your time to relax and kindly care for your smile. Twirl the floss one to two times around your middle finger on one hand. Twirl the floss one to two times around your middle finger on the other hand.

+ Hold the floss with your pointer fingers and thumbs close together, no more than one inch apart.

+ Gently slide the floss between your teeth. Give each side of each tooth a “C”-shaped hug with the floss. Shimmy the floss up and down the sides of the teeth, scrubbing away plaque. 

+ Move to a clean new section of floss for each tooth space. (Reusing the same section of floss could spread plaque from one space to another and make the floss more likely to shred.)

+ Floss behind the back molars! Tucked all the way in the back of your mouth, that last space is easy to forget and is hard to reach with a toothbrush.

Photography: Gino De Grandis

Uncle Rabbi

When we bought our first home on the Peninsula in a new, planned development in Redwood City, we were surprised and delighted when the Rabbi of the synagogue we had just joined became our neighbor, three houses down. After our first child, Josh, was born, Rabbi David Teitelbaum and his wife Robin helped with the bris and the celebration. It only took a few months before we were best of friends.    

Their oldest son—also named Josh—had moved to Israel and we filled a certain void in their lives. Since we had no parents here, they filled a role for us too. They soon became Uncle Rabbi and Aunt Robin to our four children—names that would forever stick—with their door always open for the kids to get popsicles or just hang out. We regularly had Shabbat and holiday dinners together and our bonds grew stronger over time.

Uncle Rabbi (also known to me as David) brilliantly led our synagogue, always with empathy, kindness and wisdom. Robin had been an actress and her personality was filled with humor, cleverness and theatrics. I loved our Friday nights, when David and I would find some issue to analyze, and we would debate it until one of us was walking out the door to go home. He always displayed conviction and brilliance on the topics we discussed.

After about 10 years, we moved a few miles away to Menlo Park; with our family of six, we needed more room. While this was somewhat traumatic for us all, it did not affect our relationship and we continued to share our lives. We had become family without the angst. They were the grandparents I would have chosen for my children, my own parents included, and I felt deeply lucky to have them as such loving surrogates in our lives.

When it came time for the children’s b’nai mitzvah, though David had retired from the synagogue, he devotedly taught all four children their trop, Torah portions and their Haftorahs—all important aspects of the service. Because of Uncle Rabbi’s generous tutoring, our children led services that filled us with pride. 

About a decade ago, David and Robin decided that it was time to move again, this time to Moldaw retirement residences in Palo Alto. The stairs to their second story and the burden of home care made this a wise decision, though a sad one again, since we would terribly miss going to their home where Robin hosted her wonderful Shabbat dinners. But families soldier on, and that’s what we did.

As one might expect, there was a shift to our home for the holidays and Shabbat dinners, and we would pick them up and take them to their favorite Chinese restaurant. We would come for visits at the Moldaw and have dinners there as well. 

In 2016, with David approaching 90 years old, my son Josh and his fiancé Adara were the first to get married and, of course, it would only do for Uncle Rabbi to officiate the wedding, which he did with grace and humor, having seen Josh from birth to this special day.

Then, quickly, three months later, Uncle Rabbi once again pulled together his strength to lead the ceremony of daughter Talia and her Sam. Although it was one of those blazing hot July days, despite the challenging conditions, Uncle Rabbi, almost passing out at one point, led the lovely and heartfelt ceremony.

A year later—though he had slowed down quite a bit at age 91—nothing would impede Uncle Rabbi, unstoppable as he was, his fierce determination on show for all to see, from marrying my daughter Arielle and her Danny. Indeed, he and Robin ventured all the way to upper Sonoma County on another steaming hot day, to marry the couple among the glowing grape vines. 

Quickly, the newlyweds went into baby production and it was a warmhearted, beautiful sight to see Uncle Rabbi welcome each new arrival into the world. L’dor v’dor. From generation to generation. As each grandchild was born, we quickly shuttled them up to their apartment so that he and Robin could hold and delight in them and say a blessing.

Recently, our wonderful, kind and loving Uncle Rabbi passed away. To all of us who treasured this man, we are grateful that he was with us for almost 95 years. Though we yearned for more time with him, I think he would have said “dayenu”—it was enough. He was ready and God was waiting. Upon death, we Jews say, “May his memory be a blessing.” But in the case of this incredible man, all I can think to say is, “His memory is a blessing.”

Sam McDonald’s Redwood Sanctuary

words by Sheri Baer

The route to Sam McDonald Park is a winding one, twisting and turning from Portola Road in Woodside with a sharp left onto La Honda Road (Highway 84) to Pescadero Creek Road. The sheer act of navigating the tight curves causes one to slow down and absorb the passing scenery. Sunlight streaks down through endless groves of majestic trees, and on this particular morning, steam from recent rains rises from the pavement, creating a mystical, otherworldly effect.

Gently braking to execute a 15 MPH switchback turn triggers musings about making this passage in the early to mid-1900s. That’s when Sam McDonald motored this same stretch of road (under significantly rougher conditions) in a Model B Ford roadster, journeying to his sanctuary in the redwoods nearly every weekend for 40 years. 

For many, ‘Sam McDonald’ only resonates as the namesake of a San Mateo County park or ‘Sam McDonald Mall’  and ‘Sam McDonald Track House’ on the Stanford campus. But there’s a reason Sam’s name endures in perpetuity on the Peninsula. 

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

In the years he lived on this earth, between 1884 and 1957, this 6’4” man with a commanding presence earned the status of local legend. The grandchild of Louisiana slaves, Sam forged the way as the first Black person to own property in the redwoods and hold a major administrative position at an American university. 

Known for his warm heart, generosity and benevolent spirit, Sam helped shape the future of a world-renowned academic institution and secure the future of his beloved forest—which continues to inspire awe and wonder to this day. 

“See my surroundings. Living waters flow, vegetation grows, creatures walk, fly and creep about. Gaze upon these ‘lords of the redwoods’ in their heavenly ascent. You become possessed to feel as majestic as they when your vision rests upon their lofty pinnacles.”  

 — Sam McDonald – Sam McDonald’s Farm

Sam’s Start in Life 

In his autobiography, Sam McDonald’s Farm (a nod to Stanford University’s nickname), Emanuel “Sam” McDonald recounts his humble beginnings in this world—his surname McDonald was taken from the Scottish family that owned the Monroe, Louisiana, plantation where he was born. In 1890, when Sam was six, his family ventured west to Southern California where his father farmed sugar beets and continued to preach. It was here that Sam suffered the tragic loss of his mother. Sam was 13 when the McDonalds made the three-week trek north to the sugar beet fields of Santa Clara County. The first Black family in Gilroy, the McDonalds found employment on the Gubser farm, and Sam quit school in the 7th grade to bring in more money, milking as many as 20 cows a day. 

Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

At the age of 16, Sam dramatically altered the course of his life. The McDonalds joined a caravan of families en route to the Pacific Northwest, and Sam found himself back on the trail with his father and brother, Jesse. But as he approached the Oregon state border, Sam had tremendous misgivings about leaving his treasured home. “I became grievously homesick; my mind was definitely made up to return to heavenly California,” writes Sam in his autobiography. “In October 1900, I was off to begin my journey, retracing the route so recently traveled by Father, Brother Jesse and myself. The very thought that I was about to touch the soil and breathe the air of the Paradise that I had resolved never again to desert created within me a spirit of great joy.” Sam’s father and brother continued on to Washington State, and Sam never saw them again.

“I was born in Monroe, Louisiana, on January 1, 1884, the fifth of seven children. My father, Reverend Peter Bird McDonald, was a Methodist minister before coming to California. His father was granted freedom by his young master, who inherited him with a number of other slaves. His father also purchased his wife for $500. My mother was two years younger than father, too young to remember conditions of servitude. She too was born under serfdom; her parents were slaves in Louisiana until the conclusion of the Civil War.”   

—Sam McDonald

Arriving on the Farm

On his own at the age of 16, Sam picked up odd jobs and work where he could—as a horse trainer for a while, and then as a river boat chore boy and galley hand. In 1901, he took a horse-drawn bus to San Jose, thinking he’d return to Gilroy, when he heard talk of Senator Stanford’s horse farm. Confident that he could find work there, he walked 18 miles north to Mayfield (later incorporated into Palo Alto), where he would soon become a teamster and a deputy marshal, rising quickly to become a prominent local figure. 

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

Founded in 1885, a year after Sam’s birth, Stanford University was also a fledgling youth at the time, and Sam and the school came of age together. In what would lead to a 51-year career, Sam’s first job at Stanford was working with a mule and plough to excavate land for the Museum. He hauled gravel to build campus roads and kept an eye out as night watchman on Senator Stanford’s stock farm. Sam helped construct Palm Drive in 1904 and watched Mrs. Stanford’s funeral procession in 1905. After the San Francisco Earthquake struck in 1906, he supervised student crews cleaning up and salvaging bricks. In 1907, Sam was officially hired as Stanford’s caretaker of athletic property and then promoted to the title he would hold until his retirement in 1954: Superintendent of Athletic Buildings and Grounds.

Creating a Stanford Legacy

For Stanford students, Sam became synonymous with the campus—and he made Stanford his home in every regard. At first, he created living quarters in the training house under the school’s original 12,000-seat stadium. Then, in 1909, he converted the Track House attic into his permanent Stanford address, and three generations of students knew they could always find him at the corner of Galvez and Campus Drive.

Sam shepherded a herd of sheep to keep the campus grounds neatly mowed and planted a campus garden that drew the attention of Mrs. Herbert Hoover. In his role as superintendent, he became a national authority on athletic fields and tracks, earning accolades for the replacement of Stanford’s Angell Field track and his signature method of mowing crisscross patterns onto football fields. In 1919, Stanford’s Convalescent Home for Children (the antecedent of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital) was established in the old Stanford mansion on campus. Stanford became “the only campus with its own charity,” and Sam stepped up to adopt “Con Home” as his personal and philanthropic cause. A lifelong bachelor, he became a frequent visitor and “godfather” to the wards and referred to the children of the hospital as “my family.”

Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

Already known for his barbecues and mass feedings of Stanford students and athletes, Sam was tapped in 1922 to head up the barbecue party and cleanup crew for “Con Home Day,” Stanford’s annual student fundraiser for the Convalescent Home. In 1950, Stanford officially changed Con Home Day to Sam McDonald Day to honor his tireless contributions over the years. This was just one of many tributes he received during his long tenure at the University. When Stanford dedicated Sam McDonald Road in 1939, President Ray Lyman Wilbur remarked, “If I had to run against Sam for president of the University, I’d be mighty afraid of the outcome.” 

“Mr. McDonald has been a fixed personage on the Stanford campus, particularly around the athletic fields and the Convalescent Home, for nearly a life span. Thousands have been cheered and helped by him. His pleasing personality, added to his devotion to his work, has given him an enviable place in the roster of Stanford personages. His friends are legion, for his service has been great.”  

  — Tully C. Knoles, Chancellor
College of the Pacific, Preface of
Sam McDonald’s Farm

Living Amongst the Redwoods

As Sam’s career took off, he saved his money and invested carefully. He bought property at California Avenue and El Camino Real and ventured into the backcountry with his horse and wagon. A deeply religious man, he discovered respite among the giant redwoods, which he called the “lords of the forest.” 

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

In 1919, Sam made his first purchase of land in La Honda. His grandmother was half Choctaw, and when he built a cabin overlooking Alpine Creek, he named it Chee-Chee-Wa-Wa, Native American for “Little Squirrel.” Sam posted his favorite sayings on the cabin’s walls, including “He who has 1,000 friends has not one to spare” and “May your blessings be as numerous as the sands in the sea.” He built a small beach and dammed up the creek, creating a pool he named Lake Moqui, after a Hopi princess. Although he maintained his apartment over the Track House, he began to divide his time between the Stanford campus and his cabin. As the years passed, Sam’s horse and wagon evolved into a 1931 roadster, and he became a familiar sight coming through the town of La Honda. 

“I have spoken now and again of my lodge Chee-Chee-Wa-Wa in the redwood forests of La Honda. This has been my home away from the campus for the past thirty-four years, and, the season permitting, I have journeyed there after a day’s work that I might rest and work and meditate and pray in the seclusion of nature’s sanctuary.”

—Sam McDonald  

Sam’s Final Years and Legacy

Described by friends as “happy, benevolent and generous,” Sam turned his home in the woods into a weekend and holiday retreat, hosting countless barbecues for Stanford faculty and sports teams. As he describes in his autobiography, which he completed in 1953, “Many are the friends who have honored this rustic dwelling with their presence, and likewise many are the days I have enjoyed my solitude embued with the peace and serenity of these surroundings.” 

By the time Sam retired from Stanford in 1954, he owned 450 acres and established the La Honda-Alpine-Ytaioa Reserve, which prohibited logging and hunting and provided “asylum to all wild creatures.” He also owned and operated the local water company and rented out a half dozen cabins on his land.

Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

A Stanford University Hall of Fame inductee, Sam died at the age of 73 just before the 1957 “Big Game.” Having attended the Stanford & CAL Berkeley rivalry game for 50 straight years, his presence still enveloped the stadium. When the Stanford Band performed at halftime, it formed the letters S-A-M on the field. 

Upon his death, Sam bequeathed his property to the Stanford Convalescent Home for Children, requesting that the land be used as a park for the benefit of young people. With that intent in mind, San Mateo County acquired the land in 1958 and dedicated it as a park for public use in 1970.

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

Visiting Sam McDonald Park

Following Sam’s same curvy route up Highway 84, the entrance to Sam McDonald Park appears approximately three miles west of La Honda on Pescadero Road. Now an 850-acre facility, Sam’s namesake park expanded over the years, adding 37 acres of old-growth redwoods saved from logging by a citizen’s group and San Mateo County and an additional 450 acres acquired from Kendall B. Towne. From the parking lot (vehicle entry fee $6) and Visitors Center, you’ll see trailheads leading in all directions. Set your course—whether it’s Heritage Grove, Big Tree Trail, Ridge Loop or Towne Fire Road—and you’ll find towering redwoods, breathtaking panoramic views and verdant meadows. Also tucked amongst the miles of trails to honor Sam’s legacy: three hike-in Youth Camps, which are available for day or overnight use by nonprofit youth groups. 

Courtesy of Robb Most

Near the Visitors Center, we catch up with San Mateo County Park ranger Katherine Wright, who describes the unique nature of the park’s experiences. “There’s the giant redwoods, the old-growth forest, and then you walk up through some oak woodland and get up onto the highest part of the park where there’s grassland habitat and chaparral with amazing views of the ridgelines around you,” she tells us. “Sam McDonald features a lot of the different habitats that are in San Mateo County, and you can experience them all in one place.” 

A San Mateo native, Katherine spent a good part of her childhood camping in nearby forests. And like Sam McDonald, she now makes her home in La Honda. “I grew up hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains,” she says, “and I feel like we have that similarity between the two of us, that appreciation for the redwoods.” As a ranger, Katherine works on interpretive programming, which includes helping visitors feel a deeper connection with Sam McDonald. “I knew I wanted to create a hike all about Sam McDonald,” she says, “because I was so inspired by his remarkable story. When he purchased the property, his only purpose was wanting to keep it just as it was. He wanted to create this preserve where he could attain the sense of peace and beauty that you wouldn’t normally get to experience anywhere else.” 

Courtesy of Irene Searles

Katherine leads Sam McDonald-themed hikes for groups of visitors and has made key highlights accessible anytime through the Outer Spatial app. Guided by her directions, we embark on a three-mile (there and back) walk from the parking lot starting on Youth Camp Trail, which unfolds like a woodsy narrow path through the forest. We wind our way onto Old Uncle Road and note the Youth Camp sites with picnic tables tucked into the groves below us. As we maneuver a series of elevations and descents, we begin to hear the tantalizing sound of trickling creek water. Passing behind a few private residences, we catch a glimpse of red paint through the trees. 

Chee-Chee-Wa-Wa. Sam’s cabin. Still there, tucked along the bank of Alpine Creek. Damaged by flood waters, the house is worn down and weathered by time but instantly evokes images from another era. It’s easy to imagine Sam hunkered inside on a cold spring night, jotting down his “chronicles” on a yellow pad, handwritten pages that would become Sam McDonald’s Farm.

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

There, behind the cabin, out back by the creek, Sam’s presence can be felt grilling up a barbecue to celebrate the Stanford football team after an exhilarating win. When Sam looked skyward, he found replenishment in the very same towering redwoods—as high as 280 feet, as old as 1,500 years. And while Sam only dwelled in these woods for a matter of decades, a fleeting blink of time to “the lords of the forest,” this man of noble heart and stature created a sanctuary where they could live forever.  

“It is wisdom itself to find happiness with one’s fellow man; equally so with nature, the bounties of mother earth, and the creatures that walk, fly, and creep, all begetting inspiration.”

— Sam McDonald 

Turning Time with Tom

words by Silas Valentino

The Greenmeadow neighborhood in south Palo Alto is a swath of homogeneous Eichler homes, but on a quiet court in the middle of the subdivision is a garage unlike any other on the block.

 Hoisting his garage door open, Tom Haines welcomes you inside his world. Neatly arranged without a square foot to spare are the machines he uses every day to breathe life into wood. There’s a belt sander, bandsaw, thickness sander, table saw and the focal point of his shop: a custom lathe.

 This machine tool is crucial to Tom’s craft: woodturning, or the action of shaping wood with a lathe. The lathe rotates a piece of wood about an axis to cut, sand, knurl, drill and ultimately, turn a log of wood into a work of art. Tom picked up the lathe from the San Jose Union School District some 15 years ago and being the habitual tinkerer that he is, he upgraded the tool to include a monitor screen that allows for precise cutting. It’s Tom’s own way of peering behind the solid walls of wood.

 The son of a carpenter and the father of a blacksmith, Tom has craftsmanship ingrained into his soul. He built his own furniture and sailed in boats made by hand all the while working a career in sales for Texas Instruments. Tom focused his attention to woodturning after a surprise gift from his children 20 years ago. Bowls of various sizes, chalices and even urns have swiftly emerged, each one turned and gorgeously designed in his home shop.

 As the conversation turns, Tom pauses to consider how his artistry contrasts with his craft. He rarely creates the same design twice—always leaning in deeper and challenging himself to carve more intricate lines or celestial, engrossing patterns. One bowl might look like an abstract rib cage forming a basin while another evokes a sombrero hat with a smooth finish. He’s created original analog clocks and ornaments reminiscent of Muscovite Russian architecture—so why not identify as an artist?

“Is this art or is this craft—that’s the big question,” Tom muses. “I like to think that I want to be an artist but what I probably provide best is a craft. People want salad bowls and that’s something I can do for them. But on the other hand, I always want to do something different. And that’s where I think I become an artist.”

On a recent afternoon, as the winds of winter blew through the neighborhood of Eichlers, Tom was in his backyard and attempted to switch on his propane patio heater. However, the pilot flame would not light.

Although nestled in his 80s, Tom didn’t hesitate to take the heater apart and examine the device himself. Piece by piece. He discovered a plugged hole, possible gunk from accumulated gas, and attempted to coax it out. When it didn’t budge, he retreated to his shop to produce a drill set. Cutting into the detritus and ultimately clearing it out produced a warmer patio, but it also led Tom to reflect on the changing world he’s borne witness to over the years.

“This heater was made to sell, not to be maintained. Can you imagine spending $150 and then throwing it away after a season—that’s ridiculous,” he declares.

“I’m old enough to have lived through World War II, where you couldn’t buy new stuff. You had to use everything that you had. If you had an automobile with dents in it, you still drove it. You couldn’t buy new tires so there was a tire recap business in my hometown of Minneapolis. We now live in a throw-away society.”

Tom’s talk isn’t grouchy or irritable; rather it’s plainly optimistic. He speaks less to what our culture has become and more to the untapped opportunities to be crafty if only we decide to get our hands a little dirty or swing a hammer around.

Although given that Tom is essentially the product of an artist and a craftsman, he clearly had no choice in the matter.

Born during the Depression, Tom had an innate sense for imagination. His mother had a creative eye and designed the interior of their home while also painting in oils. His father worked as an executive for the building engineering company Honeywell with a midnight passion for woodworking. 

In the basement of their Minneapolis home, Tom stood adjacent to his father as he hammered out furniture and cabinetry. Soon, Tom had his own miniature workbench outfitted with saws and his own hammer. (“I was pounding nails by age five,” he quips.) Together, the father and son duo built a desk of maple wood and Tom hasn’t stopped working with wood ever since. 

When he was 11, he attended a summer camp on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota where he met his first love: sailing. Tom built his first boat at age 16: a little rowboat dinghy made of Douglas fir plywood to allow him to paddle out to his sailboat.

Courtesy of Tom Haines

He attended Cornell University to study mechanical engineering and finished his education as the captain of the sailing team. His first job was in thermal engineering in Syracuse, New York, where he designed air conditioners. During his free time, he made two sailing boats by the age of 24.

A career shift into sales took Tom to Dallas to work for Texas Instruments, just as the company launched its debut silicon transistors. In 1969, Tom arrived on the Peninsula after taking a sales position within the company in San Francisco. He remembers observing the psychedelic Sixties from afar; instead, Tom could be found at the Palo Alto Yacht Club. “I was focused on work and family,” he says of the time, raising a son and daughter. “I did buy a new boat called Faster Now, and then later another one named Titanic.” He laughs about the ominous boat name but becomes more serious when he divulges that he had to relinquish the Titanic two years ago.

“My first love was sailing but I had to let it go because of age,” he says. “It’s sad but I can always do woodwork.” 

Tom retired around 2000 and his son and daughter surprised him with a one-day class for learning woodturning from an accomplished turner in Sebastopol. “He no longer turns wood,” Tom says of his teacher, “and retired to get out of woodturning—I retired to get into woodturning.”

His first creation was a madrone bowl that often slipped out of his hands as he was turning it. “That bowl was on the ground more than on the lathe!” Tom admits. “If you don’t hold the tool right, it’ll dig into the wood and pull it off.”

After a couple of decades in turning, Tom recognizes the qualities in a log, branch or stump that make for an alluring piece of wood. He looks for burls, a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. He prefers interesting patterns in the burls, how the curling grain is exposed, and he always keeps his eye on the base of redwood trees where burls are often discovered.

 “I also have several boxes of flooring, which is a special hardwood. It’s thin pieces,” he says. “There’s a means of woodturning where you glue the segments together and stack them in rings to make a bowl or vase. That’s my plan for that.”

Tom’s phone is readily available for patrons curious about his turnings (His voicemail message begins with: “Hi, this is Tom. I’m out turning wood and I can’t take your call.”) and his work is exhibited in art studios such as the Main Gallery in Menlo Park and the Gualala Arts Center. He’s also a longtime member of the local West Bay Woodturners and runs the club’s website and newsletter while exchanging ideas with like-minded turners.

There’s an undeniable magic exposed in wood that Tom reveres as he’s turning. Wood doesn’t preserve forever and its ephemeral nature encourages admiration. He relishes in the smell as he cuts in, but once, while slicing into some juniper, the wafting vapors that were released caused him to feel sick. He now uses a face mask—living a full step ahead of society with his stock of N95 masks—to protect from harmful vapor and dust.

In the backyard of his Eichler, as the heat from his fully-functioning furnace keeps him warm, Tom expounds on the joys of woodturning. When he is read back a quote from a biography for one of his art exhibits, Tom smiles. Bashful, he says he couldn’t have described it better:

“Nature is a better engineer than any of us. Those tiny wood fibers are manufactured as if by magic from water, CO2 and sunlight. They are assembled with magic nature glue and presented to us in over 100,000 forms we call trees. I cannot do what nature does, but I can take joy in enjoying the product.”    

Methuselah Tree

If you’re venturing up to Skyline Boulevard in Woodside or catching a bite at Alice’s Restaurant, be sure to check out the Methuselah Tree, located across the road from El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve. The Methuselah Tree isn’t just any old tree. The gigantic redwood is estimated to be around 1,800 years old, which, according to Peninsula Open Space Trust, makes it “the oldest and largest living tree in the Santa Cruz Mountains,” outside of the trees in Big Basin State Park. Methuselah is instantly noticeable due to its enormous size. With a diameter of 14 feet and a circumference of 44 feet, it’s uniquely positioned on a ridgetop on Cal Water land and is accessible to the public. Methuselah is believed to have sprouted in 217 AD when the Ohlone were the only human inhabitants in the area. The massive old-growth tree survived centuries of earthquakes, intense storms and devastating fires—with fierce, lashing winds blowing off the tree’s crown and flames hollowing out a cave at its base. You can catch sight of Methuselah from Skyline Boulevard. Just walk down a short path to peer in wonder at this local majestic landmark.

Wire Weaver

Light reflects off twisted bronze and stainless steel, while shadows cast by the airy forms dance on the wall. Elegantly fluid wire sculptures, whether ceiling-suspended, wall-mounted or free-standing, command attention and instill wonder. Lace Four: No Loose Ends floats overhead, slowly turning with the room’s air currents. Curving ribbons connect in a voluminous spray of wire ends glittering under a spotlight while projecting an outsized shadow on the wall.

This is just one imagining of Peninsula sculptor Barbara M. Berk, who is currently in the final stages of executing a project for the Burlingame Public Main Library—her largest installation to date. Invited to create a sculpture to suspend from the atrium’s chandelier, high above the library’s central staircase, Barbara crafted a series of open spiral elements in three sizes.  

“Initially, it was quite daunting,” she shares. “The space is huge, the chandelier is only 55 inches in diameter and the total weight of the elements cannot exceed 15 pounds.” Given the project’s physical parameters, Barbara realized a single piece would either be too heavy or dwarfed in the setting. “Ultimately, I came up with the solution of suspending multiple elements at different heights, visually filling the space,” she says. 

Photography: Irene Searles

Looking back, Barbara originally ventured down a very different path. After earning her graduate degree in Russian history, she spent her early career working in advertising space sales for magazines in New York. “Then I discovered antique jewelry,” she recalls, “and while I didn’t know what I was looking at, the pieces spoke to me.” She learned more about antique jewelry and how to evaluate it, thinking she could become an appraiser, and enrolled in jewelry making classes to better understand how pieces are made.  

Relocating to San Diego for her husband’s biotech career in 1991 changed everything. A chance encounter with professor Arline Fisch, founder of the metalsmithing program at San Diego State University, prompted an invitation to attend Fisch’s graduate-level “Textile Techniques in Metal” class. “And that’s where the magic happened,” recounts Barbara. “I had been sewing since I was a young girl, making stuffed animals and my own clothes. But with Arline, I learned how to weave, knit, crochet, braid, twine and make lace with silver, copper, brass and titanium. And I learned that I loved working directly with metal—my fingers particularly liked weaving and lace-making.”

As she explored the possibilities of this new artform, Barbara wore her attention-grabbing silver and copper brooches at trade shows. “They really popped against my navy blue blazer,” she says. “I walked up and down the aisles, marveling at incredible gems, and the dealers only wanted to talk about my brooches.” Even facing sparkly competition, Barbara could see her creations were showstoppers—and she began to envision a future in metal.

Barbara founded Barbara Berk Designs in 1992 to create small, wearable sculpture in precious metals. A few years after starting her business, she moved with her husband to Foster City where they settled into a waterfront home. By 2013, in search of new challenges, she toyed with the idea of working in a larger scale, off the body. Needing more space, she rented a studio at the Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingame. 

“I spent the first 18 months or so figuring out what direction I wanted to take,” says Barbara. “Since the metals I was most familiar with were too soft to sustain large work, I experimented with a variety of industrial metals, looking for the right combination of physical properties and working characteristics that would balance and reinforce the integrity of the textile structures.” She discovered that stainless steel and phosphor bronze were best for weaving and for implementing the 16th-century lace techniques she had explored 20 years before.

Barbara’s process entails creating a lace pattern on graph paper and securing it to a cork board resting on an easel. She then twists wires to the specific length she needs for the individual piece, attaches them with T-pins through the paper pattern into the cork and begins making stitches, one at a time, proceeding in diagonal lines to the bottom of the pattern. Barbara then curves, loops, twists, interweaves, sews and embroiders the flat lace “fabric” into a three-dimensional form.

Photography: Irene Searles

“I love working larger-scale,” she confides. “I’m no longer constrained by requirements of fit and comfort. I’m free to experiment, free to follow where my fingers and the metal want to go.” Other advantages: mistakes are no longer costly and she doesn’t have to map everything out in advance. “I don’t have to know precisely where I’m going before I start,” she says with relish. “The work is still meditative but it’s also liberating and fun.”

Barbara’s sculpture is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and has been exhibited in museums and galleries both locally and across the country. Most recently, her stainless steel pedestal-piece Lace Twelve: Oskar Schlemmer’s Dancer was selected for On the Edge: The de Young Open, a juried exhibition of Bay Area artists celebrating the 125th anniversary of the de Young Museum. “It was a phenomenal boost at a time when I didn’t realize just how much I needed one,” reflects Barbara. “It was recognition, reinforcement, validation—something wonderfully positive during the depths of the pandemic last year.”

Barbara has since moved into a private studio complete with gallery space in an industrial section of San Carlos. Scheduling viewings by appointment, she is enjoying the additional square footage, the natural light, the high ceilings and the ability to fully display her work. That includes setting up a framework that mimics the outside rim of the Burlingame library’s chandelier, from which she suspends the lace elements.
  “It’s a very exciting time,” shares Barbara. “One-third of the open spirals are complete and hanging in the studio, and I can see the piece coming together; the spirals interact with each other—they shine and cast these mesmerizing shadows on the studio walls.”

Courtesy of Morgan Murphy