Mindful Creations

The door into Neil Murphy’s art studio is often open for visitors to come inside and have a look.

The lifelong mixed-media artist in his early 70s is more accustomed to working out of a home studio where guests were uncommon but he’s challenging his self-described introverted tendencies by inviting Peninsula visitors to observe his renderings of shape-shifting subjects at the Museum Studios in Burlingame.

His artistic explorations tackle abstract maps of neurological messaging or visuals that reflect patterns found in the natural world, such as the pristine spiderweb he discovered inside a black bucket in his backyard garden.

The most recent exhibit, shown earlier this year, You Can’t Hide the Sun with One Finger, featured a piece focused on mountain ranges (Or were those ridges splintering across the shell of the cerebrum?) sketched against an amber backdrop. He suspended several puzzle pieces outside the image’s rectangular border to form a swarm of figments buzzing about the canvas, followed by black lines to trace them back to the heart of the painting.

Neil will tell you with openness and vulnerability, in a manner that’s been stretched by grief, how this art piece is a commentary on psychological confusion, a human condition that touches all of us, either personally or through someone we know. However common, mental illness is often ineffable to discuss and shrouded in shame.

The puzzle pieces Neil deployed, after all, were forging new pathways and ideas, even if deemed outside of what’s normal.

Courtesy of Neil Murphy

His art is his way to add a voice to the struggle of destigmatizing mental illness, dissolving discomfiture through the disinfectant of shining a light and opening a dialogue. The intensity of the subject is disarmed by Neil’s calm affability and ability to approach heavier concerns with grace—a technique he deploys in conversation as well as on canvas.

“I’m fascinated by how the brain works,” Neil says. “When people come into my studio, I’ll mention how my son had a mental illness before he died and how our culture doesn’t make room for such people. Every single time, the person I’m talking to will say they have an uncle, or neighbor or some family member experiencing the same thing. One out of four of us has a mental illness. It opens the conversation, and then, all of a sudden, I have a new friend.”

Neil’s studio is located in the upstairs east wing of the Museum Studios, under the umbrella of the Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingame. Cinder blocks and wood, in the likeness of a college dorm room, connect to make shelves stocked with brushes, aerosol spray paints, art books, a half-used roll of paper towels and a wooden human mannequin posed in a courteous bow.

The white walls compete for space between Neil’s rectangular mixed-media art pieces he creates through a process that blends the digital with the physical.

Neil begins by painting an image that springs to mind—from ships at a distance to cranes before flight to geometric masses of color—before scanning it for a digital metamorphosis through Photoshop.

Then, he repeats, adding layers and textures in cycles before concluding with an image composed of relatable shapes or creatures that have been completely rendered by his imagination. The unusual images of such an otherworldly perspective may feel jarring or confrontational at first glance, although are quickly softened by the warm colors and whimsical details.

Courtesy of Neil Murphy

There are about 200 pieces currently in his studio and Neil makes both private and commercial sales, often after someone visits his space. His art appears on walls of local biotech companies and even local coffee shops but a majority of his art is located in private residences.

Not long ago, Neil welcomed a visitor into his studio from the local Kids & Art program, which pairs artists with children who have cancer to use art as therapy. His visitor was initially hesitant, telling Neil he didn’t know how to draw. But Neil knew the fundamental rule in art.

“He said he liked red, so we started by putting a blotch of red on a piece of cloth,” Neil remembers, excitement growing. “Then I asked him what color his best friend likes, which was blue, so then we made a blue door. Next, he drew a line. Now we’re starting to make a map and he doesn’t even know it. This thing evolves and we keep making lines and graphs. In the end it had airplanes dropping candy over the candy store,” Neil pauses.

“There are no rules in art,” he states.

Neil’s artwork has reached across continents to offer joy and comfort in hallways otherwise devoid of such emotions. He’s installed a three-panel display of birds circling in flight at the Kaiser Permanente in Redwood City and his collection of Bad Beasts was selected to appear on the walls of a new pediatric cancer hospital in São Paulo, Brazil. None of his little beasts appear happy or comfortable—an aspect drawn with purpose.

“It’s not Donald Duck,” he says. “These creatures look miserable and children undergoing treatment for cancer can identify with that.”

Courtesy of Neil Murphy

As a child growing up on the Hawaiian island of O‘ahu, Neil spent much of his youth in solitude, exploring tidepools just down the block from his house. He’s the youngest of four boys with over a decade separating him from the brother closest in age, so spending time alone was constant and became comforting. Neil identified with it. He’d fish the tidepools where his tolerance for being alone embedded itself in his personality.

Following a year at the University of Hawaii, where he majored in “body surfing and Eastern philosophy,” Neil arrived at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1967. He saw the school as an opportunity for studio space but appreciated his lessons in stone lithography. “The rest of art, you teach yourself,” he says.

In 1974, Neil was part of a group drawing exhibition at the SFMOMA, where he showed a series of works depicting streams and water flow using architectural blueprints as his media. His first solo show was at the bygone Wenger Gallery the same year and following positive reviews, he began showing in galleries in Arizona and New York. He often experimented with audio in his art, inspiring a career composing musical effects for clients like Levi Strauss & Co. and even the Mitchell Brothers, for their notorious film Behind the Green Door.

By 27, Neil was living near the ocean by the San Francisco Zoo where he set up a sound studio in his garage, later leading to a six-year stint as production manager of National Semiconductor’s computer speech lab.

He met his wife, Juliana Fuerbringer, while playing on opposite sides of a tennis net and they welcomed their first-born, Brian, in 1988, followed by their daughter Morgan. Neil’s work at National Semiconductor in Santa Clara brought the family to Burlingame, where their home has featured numerous generations of dogs and cats over the years. Their most recent addition is a black feline with sharp teeth they’ve named Fang.

Some nights Neil can’t sleep and will find himself alone in his studio just a short drive away. He cherishes how the space has exposed him to the public; however, in the middle of the night, he readjusts to being alone surrounded by an idea, some paints and a computerized scanner.

He’ll begin working out his latest thought, toggling between the digital and analog to bring abstract interpretations into the light. When the Museum Studios opens to the public the following day, Neil will unlock his door and greet them.

Planting Annuals

I’m not sure I actually enjoy planting things. I think it is more that I enjoy the satisfaction of having planted things. Dirty hands, an aching back and tired knees are far less enjoyable than—after everything is planted and the area cleaned—gazing out at the beautiful green symmetry of freshly potted annuals, neatly in their places, their roots enmeshed in new soil, a water sprinkling soon to happen.

When I came to the Peninsula to go to Stanford, it didn’t take me long to realize that there are two seasons here: fall and spring. We have no true winter here, though the beginning and ending calendar dates do come and go. There is no snow, no icy roads, no freezing days. The most we can hope for is a good rainstorm, perhaps a bit of hail and nighttime temperatures in the upper 30s.

As for the other half of the year, we only get a few hot summer days. Indeed, whenever I try to have an outdoor summer dinner, everyone wants to move inside, the temperature quickly dipping into the cool 60s as the sun goes down.

Twice a year, I change the annuals that give our landscaping some color and movement.

In front, we have two rather large gray pots on either side of our front door. And nearby is our annuals planting bed that is 20 feet long and three feet wide. The pots get little sun and so they require shade annuals. And the planting area is more difficult because half of it is mostly in the shade and the other half takes a good deal of afternoon sun.

In the fall, I have come to understand the brilliance of cyclamens. White ones. I almost exclusively use white flowering plants, though rich purple ones have rather recently caught my eye. In the past, I didn’t use cyclamens, since you can only get them in four-inch containers and not in the more economical six-packs, but they bloom and they last. And if I am lucky, I will happen upon them at Costco where they are about half their non-Costco price.

The front pots each get three of them and the planting area needs exactly 36. In the backyard, we have three medium gray pots, two larger ones and one still larger again. Each of the medium ones gets one cyclamen, the next size gets two and the bigger one, three. There is also another planting bed for some annuals, and I put in another five or six there. If you add it all up, I need around 60 of them.

For spring, I have again tried to simplify my planting. In front, I’m trying African impatiens in the planting area, since they are colorful and do better in the heat than regular impatiens. For the two pots in front and all the pots in back, I plant white impatiens. But there have been fungus issues with them the last few years and it’s not uncommon for them to crumble into nothingness about halfway through the season and then I am scrambling to find some to replace those lost.

Each season, when the day comes and it is time to plant, I gather the plants and a bag of fertilizer. Then I first attend to the tedious chore of pulling out all of the past annuals, their roots now firmly in the soil and begging to stay planted. I pull each one out and preserve as much soil as possible. Then I mix in a bit of fertilizer before starting to place the new plants. It is slow, tiring work, my jeans dirty, my fingernails encrusted with mud and my back hurting. But I go at it and eventually it all gets done. Then I throw away all the plastic pots, broom sweep the areas and water everything.

Finally, after coming inside to relax for a while, I go back outside and view my work. And seeing everything so happily in its place, a few flowers taking shape, the rows so neat and the pots so handsome, I smile with a bit of pride and self-worth, enjoying the beauty of the annuals, though pleased that we have but two times a year to rotate them and not four.

Lightning, Camera, Action!

A red light suddenly flashed on the dashboard of Gino De Grandis’s pickup truck. Racing along a narrow Oklahoma road at 90 miles an hour, Gino and his fellow storm chasers knew their escape was compromised.

The tornado was barrelling down on them. And then the car battery failed. The crew abandoned the truck on the side of the road and sprinted to a nearby gas station. With no cellar or basement available for shelter, they huddled with the gas station employees in the bathroom, awaiting their fate. The tornado had the gas station in its sights, until about 100 yards away where it abruptly changed direction and spared them.

Another fortuitous break for the daring photographer.

While most human lives follow a steady linear stream of events, Gino’s is quite different. Originally from Venice, Italy, Gino hopped around the world, from one escapade to another. Now a successful Bay Area photographer and storm chaser, he describes his life in anecdotes and often speaks in metaphors—emblematic of his teeming creativity.

“Photography is a train running, and you can’t say, ‘Go back!’” he says, of capitalizing on chances to photograph fleeting moments. “There is no opportunity to get it back. If you miss it, you’ve got to wait for the next opportunity.”

Ever since joining the NATO Navy as a 19-year-old, Gino made a habit of saying “yes” to every professional opportunity that came his way. He has photographed everything from Coast Guard and SWAT team drills to San Francisco State University commencement ceremonies. He even photographed the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday party in Los Angeles.

“I’ve become the Dalai Lama’s photographer when he is in California,” Gino says. “He invited me to go to his house in Dharamsala, India.”

Gino spent six years traveling through Europe making a living as a street artist. He eventually moved to the U.S., first to New York City and then eventually settling in the Bay Area to work as a chef.

While he had always flirted with photography, Gino took a while to commit to the relationship. The turning point was a class taught by Lyle Gomes, the head of College of San Mateo’s school of photography. The inspiration from Gomes, combined with a pivotal, highly-publicized photo that Gino captured of a lightning strike in downtown San Mateo, gave him the confidence to launch his career as an independent photographer.

“Some people don’t care about getting the unique shot,” Gino says, elaborating on his photographic philosophy. “Capture the moment. Most of my best photos are about the moment.”

All exploits considered, Gino is perhaps best known for his work as a storm chaser photographer. His poetic shots of fearsome storms have appeared in a host of national publications and news broadcasts. He also photographed for the VORTEX-2 project in 2009 and 2010; at the time, it was the most comprehensive tornado data collection project in history.

During the documentary Tornado Alley, Gino can be seen in several scenes documenting storms. He was one of the few photographers allowed to venture into the evacuated Florida coastline area during Hurricane Irma in 2017.

His characteristic “by any means necessary” attitude is what put Gino on the map as a storm chaser. In 2004, he was assigned by San Francisco State University to collect some photos of storm chasers in the field for the university magazine. Given his lack of chasing experience, Gino was turned down by every storm chaser for a seat in their vehicles. So instead, he rented a car of his own and followed the chasers wherever they went.

“They said, ‘You are so stubborn,’” Gino chuckles. He promised the storm chasers he would give them his photos at the end of the trip for free. When they saw Gino’s work, they were immediately convinced that he had what it takes. “‘Nobody photographs like you,’ they told me. ‘You are unique.’”

Since 2004, at the beginning of every U.S. tornado season, Gino awaits the call to his San Mateo home for storm chasers to assemble in the Great Plains for the first twister of the season. According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory website, about 1,200 tornadoes touch down in the U.S. each year. The largest, most destructive tornadoes typically form from isolated thunderstorms called supercells. Billowing, dense, imposing clouds blot out the sky, and the rotating mesocyclone of the storm can produce severe wind, baseball-sized hail and     occasional tornadoes.

“I don’t even think about it,” Gino says, of his mental preparation for tornado hunting. “If I have to go, I go.” He likens it to firefighters charging into a burning building: They have a job to do; no point in overthinking it.

It’s easier said than done.

“Sometimes you can’t go out even if you want to because the wind is so strong you can’t open the door,” Gino says. He holds one hand flat over the other, slightly quivering, to demonstrate the sensation of his car being lifted off the ground from the supercell winds.

Once, while photographing in front of an impending supercell, Gino was told by the crew monitoring the radar that he had about a minute before hail began bombarding him and his equipment. Desperate to capture a unique perspective of the storm, Gino stayed outside adjusting his camera settings until he snapped the frame he wanted.

“I got the shot,” he recalls, but it came at the price of a nosebleed. “The same time I clicked, I got hit with a piece of hail.” Gino says that the crew usually wears helmets and bulletproof vests to protect themselves from the potentially lethal hail.

Storm chasers are usually scientists attempting to gather data in order to quantify the immediate danger of a storm to the general public. This proximate information also adds to the overall understanding of supercells, which informs future predictions. Aside from the beneficial data collection, Gino says that storm chasers are also in the position to save lives, as they encounter people and tell them to take shelter.

“We do it for a reason,” Gino says. “We don’t do it because we are on TV.”

Gino has seen a tornado peel asphalt off a road like a cheese grater. He has seen a tornado toss a metal garbage dumpster around like a hammer-thrower. Many are fascinated by the cataclysmic power of tornadoes, but Gino sees the artistic, almost romantic qualities in the storms.

“I don’t care about tornadoes,” he says. “I care about the supercell—the magnificent formation of the clouds.”

Scrolling through Gino’s image library, the strange beauty of these storms is apparent. In one of Gino’s shots, a foreboding, jet-black cloud front creeps across the right side of the frame. Yet on the left: Tranquil, powder-blue sky. Gino says he is drawn to these spectacular displays of contrasting colors.

At this point, storm chasing sounds like the exhilarating experience portrayed in popular culture: A chance to throw caution to the wind—literally—and confront the full wrath of nature. But Gino is quick to point out that the job is far more monotonous than it seems.

“Try doing it for a few weeks,” he says, before describing the emotionally grueling day-to-day grind. Gino says that the majority of time is spent driving from location to location, including days when the team never even gets out of the car. He estimates that his group of chasers drove 5,000 miles during one 10-day stretch last season.

“You stop for everyone to go to the bathroom, that’s five minutes,” he says. For storm chasers, five minutes is a long time, considering how quickly and sporadically storms move and how short-lived some tornadoes can be. “We’ve lost tornadoes because of people going to the bathroom,” he laments.

Last season, Gino considered stepping away from chasing for the first time. Many of his storm chasing contemporaries have struggled with their mental health as a result of the job’s extreme emotional highs and lows.

“When you come back home you are so damn tired,” he says. “You are exhausted. I saw people crying because they cannot do it anymore.”

Despite his ever-increasing collection of show-worthy photographs, Gino refuses to hang a single print in his house. The interior color palette ranges from cream to beige, including some of his paintings. He wants to avoid any preconceived ideas of what he should shoot. To Gino, hanging a photo would signify contentedness, which leads to complacency.

“I’m never satisfied with my photos,” Gino states. “I can do better all the time.”

As he continues to reflect, Gino flips through the diary he has kept since his naval service. “This is a power tool,” he says of his life logs. “It’s an umbrella opening the opposite way, catching all the energies.”

He never runs out of metaphors and turns another page.

follow the storm chaser

Ripe for the Picking

Back in 2008, award-winning food writer Cheryl Sternman Rule and award-winning food photographer (and PUNCH photography director) Paulette Phlipot met at a culinary conference in New Orleans. They immediately hit it off and began brainstorming ways to work together in the months that followed. They envisioned an eye-popping and mouthwatering cookbook arranged by color, not season—such as RED (beets, cherries, radicchio, raspberries), YELLOW (bananas, corn, lemons, pineapples) and GREEN (apples, artichokes, asparagus, avocados).

To produce the content for the book, Cheryl traveled to Paulette’s then-home in Sun Valley (she now lives in Half Moon Bay), and Paulette traveled to Cheryl’s home in San Jose. In addition to cooking and photographing when together, emails flew, and frequent phone calls kept the pair in sync. The result? Ripe: A Fresh Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables.

In recent weeks, Paulette found herself reflecting back on this positive collaboration that fueled her creative spirit: “With extra time at home giving us a chance to get back into our kitchens, it’s an opportunity to revisit the cookbooks we’ve enthusiastically collected over the years, yet struggled to find the time to really cook from. Nutritious food has never been more essential for our bodies, and surrounding ourselves with color can be calming and uplifting. Vibrant hues are popping up everywhere on the Peninsula right now in the form of flowers, fruits and vegetables—in our gardens, on local farms and at the markets. We need to remind ourselves to embrace, nourish and be grateful!”

For inspiration, Paulette and Cheryl offer up recipes and photographs from their book, Ripe: A Fresh Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables.

Carrot Soup with Garam Masala Cream

Here’s a creamy soup with a gentle kick from the spice mix garam masala, a warming combo of coriander, cumin, cinnamon, clove, pepper, bay and several other spices. You’ll find it in any Indian market.

Serves 6

¼ cup olive oil

¾ cup yellow onion, diced

4 to 6 medium carrots (about 1½ pounds), peeled, quartered lengthwise and roughly chopped

1 small yam (about 7 ounces), peeled and diced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

¾ teaspoon garam masala, divided

3 cups vegetable stock

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, or to taste

2 tablespoons sour cream, plus additional for garnish

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, yam, 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and ½ teaspoon garam masala. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the stock and 1 cup cold water and raise the heat to high. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.

If you have an immersion blender, use it to purée the soup. (Otherwise, allow it to cool slightly and then purée it in batches using a traditional blender. Return the soup to the pot.) Season with the lime juice, to taste, and adjust the salt and pepper.

Mix the sour cream and the remaining ¼ teaspoon garam masala in a small bowl. Swirl into the soup. Serve hot, garnished with additional sour cream, if desired.

Green Beans with Smoky Pistachio Dust

This dish has it all: beauty, flavor and a unique texture from the pistachio dust. In our family, we eat them like French fries, not stopping until we’ve cleaned the bowl. Sprinkle the extra dust over boiled potatoes, steamed cauliflower or grilled asparagus.

Serves 4, with extra pistachio dust left over

1 pound green beans, rinsed, stem ends snapped

2 teaspoons olive oil

¾ cup dry-roasted,

unsalted pistachios, toasted

and cooled completely

½ teaspoon smoked paprika,

or to taste

Kosher salt and freshly

ground black pepper

Fill a bowl with ice water.

Bring a medium pot of generously salted water to a boil. Drop in the green beans and boil until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain. Transfer the beans immediately to the ice bath to set their color and stop the cooking process. Drain again, pat dry and transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil.

Combine the pistachios, smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon salt and ¹⁄₈ teaspoon pepper in a food processor fitted with the metal blade.
Process for 30 seconds, or until finely ground and reduced to “dust.” Sprinkle ½ cup dust (reserve the rest for future use) over the green beans, adjust seasonings and serve at room temperature.

Tip: When grinding the pistachios, use a full-size food processor if you have one, as it will give you the finest, “dustiest” consistency. A mini chop is fine in a pinch but won’t break the nuts down quite as much.

Corn with Cilantro-Lime Salt

Fresh, bright and summery, this simple side dish perks up sweet corn with classic Mexican flavors. Be sure your cilantro leaves are completely dry before mincing them with the lime and salt. You don’t want them to clump up.

Serves 4

4 ears corn, husks and silks stripped and discarded

¾ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves (no stems), rinsed and completely dry

1 lime

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Boil the corn until tender, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on its freshness. Drain.

Mound the cilantro leaves on a cutting board. Zest the lime so that fine shreds fall directly on the cilantro. Sprinkle the salt on top. Using a heavy knife, mince the cilantro, zest and salt together. Scrape into a small bowl.

When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels from the cobs using a downward motion. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Drizzle the butter over the corn. Sprinkle with the cilantro-lime salt, and squeeze with lime juice to taste. Toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Tip: When fresh corn is not in season, substitute 3 cups of frozen, cooked corn.

Radish Olive Crostini

Serve these fresh, colorful hors d’oeuvres at any outdoor gathering. Or serve them indoors. Or start serving them outdoors, then move indoors if it rains. I’ve given a range for the toppings as baguettes can vary wildly in thickness.

Makes about 18 toasts  (if using a half baguette or 25 if using a full baguette)

½-inch-thick slices of French baguette

Softened butter

¼ to ½ cup pitted Kalamata    olives, drained and minced

1 to 2 bunches radishes (French “breakfast” radishes preferred), scrubbed, trimmed and   thinly sliced

1 bunch fresh thyme, leaves only

Zest of 1 lemon

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Set the broiler rack 4 inches from the heating element.

Lay the bread slices on an ungreased baking sheet. Broil until the edges just turn golden, 1 to 2 minutes, watching carefully. Flip and broil the other side for 30 seconds to 1 minute longer. Cool to room temperature.

Spread each crostini with butter and top with olives and radishes. Sprinkle with thyme leaves, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Finish with a thin drizzle of olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

Gremolata Fingerlings

Potatoes are so often mashed and fried that it’s easy to forget that they can be quite elegant, as they are here with a simple topping of lemon, garlic and parsley. Of course, some will eat these like French fries, but I’m not naming names.

Serves 4

12 pounds small fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and

halved lengthwise

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 garlic cloves, divided

1 lemon, zest finely shredded, juice squeezed into a small bowl

2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, minced

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Lay the potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Mince 3 of the garlic cloves and sprinkle on the potatoes. Use clean hands to rub in all the seasonings. Spread in a single layer.

Roast until the potatoes are browned and crisp, with tender insides, about 30 to 35 minutes total, flipping with a spatula every 10 minutes. (Cook time may vary as fingerling potatoes can diverge in size, so check them frequently.) The potatoes should face cut side down during the final few minutes of roasting.

To make the gremolata, mince the remaining clove of garlic. Add it to a small bowl with the lemon zest and parsley. Stir to combine.

To assemble, drizzle the roasted potatoes with lemon juice to taste, and transfer them to a serving platter. Sprinkle with the gremolata. Serve.

Fresh and Flavorful

Stanford’s Arizona Garden

In the early 1880s, Leland and Jane Stanford were actively making plans for a new mansion they were going to build on their 8,900-acre estate in Santa Clara County known as ‘Palo Alto.’ They hired Rudolph Ulrich, a noted 19th-century landscape gardener, to design the grounds, which included a 30,000-square-foot plot of land set aside for an elaborate, formally laid-out collection of desert and subtropical plants. Between 1881 and 1883, thanks to Leland Stanford’s offer to provide unlimited access to labor and boxcars, Ulrich collected specimens from the Sonoran desert—saguaros, barrel cacti, opuntia and yucca—and planted the “Arizona Garden,” adjacent to the intended building site. But in 1884, when Leland Stanford Jr. died unexpectedly of typhoid fever, Leland and Jane Stanford scrapped the plans for their new country house, deciding to build a university in their son’s memory instead. Today, the Arizona Garden is one of the only vestiges of the grand estate the Stanfords had originally envisioned. When Stanford University opened in 1891, the Arizona Garden became a popular destination, and students considered it a favorite “courting” spot and place to bring dates. Maintained regularly until the 1920s, the Arizona Garden later fell into decades of neglect. Starting in 1997, restoration efforts brought the garden back to life, and now over 500 species of succulents and cacti can be found here, of which 10 to 15% are considered Arizona Garden originals. Located on the south side of the Stanford Mausoleum, off of Quarry Road, this hidden enclave welcomes Stanford visitors with its vibrant colors, bristling textures and rock-lined meandering paths.

Photography: Courtesy of Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Library

Kitchens with a Cause

“Who doesn’t love going into other people’s houses?” is how Hillsborough-based designer Colleen Dowd Saglimbeni captures the appeal of SolMateo’s Signature Kitchen Tour. “Especially in your own neighborhood!” she adds, to further punctuate the point.

SolMateo’s self-guided tour is renowned for showcasing inspiring design talent and stunning homes in Hillsborough, San Mateo Park and Burlingame. Before Colleen began contributing as a designer, she always enjoyed attending the annual fundraiser as a guest.

“You get a group of friends together—some people will even get a limo—and then it’s just very social,” she recounts. “You run into people you know as you’re walking through beautifully decorated homes. Each home has a unique vendor, maybe it’s a local coffee bistro or cheesecake purveyor. It’s just a really fun event for an important cause.”

Photography: Courtesy of Sol Mateo

That cause is mental health. SolMateo traces its origins to the Belles of Mental Health, which was founded in 1976 as an auxiliary of the Mental Health Association. Its mission, supporting those in our community who face the challenges of living with mental illness and thoughts of suicide, carried through as the organization evolved into the Community Service League and then, in 2018, into Sol of San Mateo County (SolMateo). With the tagline “Shining Light on Mental Health,” SolMateo raises awareness and funds for two local mental health-focused organizations: StarVista and the Mental Health Association of San Mateo County (MHA).

Dating back to 1976, the Signature Kitchen Tour plays a vital role in that effort. As the largest private funder, SolMateo donates 100% of the proceeds from its annual kitchen tour and holiday auction fundraising events to StarVista’s Crisis Intervention & Suicide Prevention Center and MHA’s mental illness and housing assistance programs. Accumulatively, that’s $2.4 million since its inception—$183,000 in just 2019—helping to sustain and enhance mental health programs. Timed to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month in May, SolMateo’s 40th tour was scheduled for May 15. As designers planned out finishing touches, volunteers were preparing for as many as 1,000 guests to take part in this popular community fundraiser.

Photography: Courtesy of Heidi Lancaster Photography

However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, as with so many other Peninsula spring events, the 40th Signature Kitchen Tour is now officially postponed. And, the new date, May 14, 2021, feels like a distant and daunting stretch of time. “MHA and StarVista rely on our funding and the need to support mental health is more critical than ever,” says SolMateo’s co-president Sara Furrer. “Social distancing and isolation have a profound effect on people who are already struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses.”

MHA’s community involvement dates back over 60 years. Originally created as a volunteer organization providing services to children, MHA increased in scale and scope over the years, supporting quality of life, restoring dignity and developing affordable housing for those affected by mental illness. StarVista traces its San Mateo County roots back to 1966, initially offering services under the name of “Peninsula Suicide Prevention, Inc.” In the last 50+ years, that small agency expanded its range of services, adopting the name StarVista in 2011. The non-profit now serves more than 41,000 individuals and families each year through counseling, crisis prevention, youth housing and outreach programs.

SolMateo is a 100% volunteer organization and is always looking for new members. “It’s such a meaningful way to give back to the community,” remarks Colleen, who in recent years transitioned from Signature Kitchen Tour guest to a featured designer. As the founder of CDS Interiors, drawing from over 25 years of design experience, Colleen especially enjoys “decking out the home”—making each space shine with artwork, flowers and accessories. “Over the last couple of years, Kern’s Jewelers in Burlingame loaned me Hermès dinnerware and Baccarat crystal, so I was able to create a beautiful tablescape with all these magnificent pieces. I set one table like it was a party with over-the-top flowers, champagne and beautiful china; I even had a birthday cake made and each place setting had a Tiffany box.”

Photography: Courtesy of Heidi Lancaster Photography

For the 40th Signature Kitchen Tour, Colleen was set to showcase a Hillsborough home, a CDS Interiors full re-construction project: “It’s so wonderful to be a part of such a big transformation. I was able to be a true visionary, taking the house from the late 1980s to 2020.” While guests will have to wait a year to tour the stunning collection (all five homes committed to the new date), it seems particularly fitting that Colleen’s recent project directly maps to that 40-year time span.

“The kitchen used to be all about functionality—that’s why it was in that U-shape. Everyone had the peninsula versus an island. It was where you did your cooking and then you served it in other places,” she notes. “Now the kitchen is central to the home—it has become the heart of the home.”

Colleen soaked up fresh insights at the 2020 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Las Vegas this past January. From smart ranges (preheat using your phone) to hydroponic refrigerators (think indoor gardening appliance), she took note of the latest innovations and advances. “That’s what I love about design—it’s always changing; there’s always something new,” she says. In tribute to what should have been the Signature Kitchen Tour’s 40th year, Colleen collaborated with PUNCH to capture some of the major trends of the past four decades—along with a preview of what’s ahead.

At the same time, SolMateo’s co-president emphasizes how important it is to continue supporting local organizations—and community members—who need our help. “We are encouraging donations to help maintain critical mental health services in our county,” Sara says. “We are proud to be able to bring people together to help these underfunded services when they are needed most.”

Show Your Support

Atherton Color Accents

If the interiors of an Atherton home that Fannie Allen recently decorated for a Silicon Valley couple seem playful, there’s a reason. Fannie’s design career effectively began with dressing up dollhouses.

“My mother and I built dollhouses as I was growing up, including all the furniture to go inside them,” she says. “I was always making and arranging new furniture, wallpaper, staircases, rugs. I sewed. I even made flowers for a garden.”

Since there never was a doll inside, she had no “client” and was free to let her imagination wander.

Fannie’s parents also exposed her to travel at an early age and, because her mother was an art historian, their excursions inevitably led to European museums and to Romanesque cathedrals filled with heraldic color and art. Such experiences, along with her mother’s collection of handwoven, embroidered fabrics from around the globe, are still sources of inspiration for her.

Influenced by her mother, Fannie also got a B.A. in art history at Stanford and that has helped to transform her vivid formative memories into a creative life. True, an M.B.A. from Harvard briefly steered her into marketing and project management in the tech world, but Fannie has returned to her true calling.

When she decided to stay home after the birth of her third child, Fannie began to decorate her house and was soon encouraged by friends and Silicon Valley neighbors to work on their homes and second homes, near and far.

Twenty years have whizzed by doing just that. Fannie’s clients clearly like what she describes as her “active use of color.” Working from her Atherton home, she designs two or three interiors each year that often sport bold color combinations inspired by European, Indian, Chinese and African fabrics and lace she collects. Think purple and red, orange, raspberry and pink or regal blue, purple and gold. “I love grey and white too,” she says coyly. “But I wouldn’t do only that!”

For an Atherton 11,307-square-foot home—composed of three separate structures—designed by San Francisco architect Ken Linsteadt, Fannie, the self-styled provocateur, decided to create art ‘masquerading’ as furniture.

Bespoke furnishings made locally and in Maine (where Fannie spends her summers) fill the modern, U-shaped three-story, 7,000-square-foot main house, an adjacent two-story guest house/garage and a stand-alone gym beside the pool on the north end of the compound.

Fannie’s artful furniture helps to bridge the owners’ divergent tastes. The wife’s former house “was definitely a color explosion,” Fannie says. She should know, because she decorated it 15 years ago. “When I first met her she was an operations and marketing guru living in an all-brown, white and very neutral apartment and I believed that’s what she liked,” Fannie recalls. But then Fannie looked inside the closet and discovered clothing in shades of shocking pink, rich blues and other colors that nobody told her client she could use in her home. Fannie did.

Now that she was working with the husband, a product engineer who had also only lived in muted interiors before meeting his wife a decade ago, Fannie offered him a rainbow of choices as well and eventually delivered colorful, individualized ‘toys’ amid new spaces with wood, stone and white plaster-clad walls.

“They picked everything collaboratively—even each other’s office colors,” the designer says.

Some of the home’s seating is voluptuous and curved, echoing the prominent spiral staircase that leads up to the wife’s loft office in the main house where Fannie installed a Roche Bobois Mah Jong chaise covered in six colorful Moroso fabrics. For the office, Fannie also commissioned a curvaceous red desk from Maine, and familiar Eames chairs covered with multicolored fabric and a recliner with pink suede. For his office, she got a blue desk and in the upstairs ‘green room’ (it opens to a living roof garden above the dining room), which they both share, his slate-and-felt pool table assembled by a team flown in from Spain “is a work of art in itself,” Fannie says.

During planning sessions, “everybody was present: the clients, builders and the architecture team including project designer Molly Layshock. The lighting consultant would come and then me. I was there soaking up the architect’s vision,” Fannie says, adding, “I would listen to what functions they all wanted and return with proposals.”

The clients got involved not just in aesthetic decisions but, given their interest in technology, they also weighed in on the electronics, radiant heating and cooling systems and filtration for a floor-to-ceiling aquarium, for reflecting pools in the central courtyard that abut the foundation and the lap pool. All that took close to six years and Fannie, who knew the couple well, provided valuable input from start to finish.

“In the beginning, I was just weighing in loosely on textures and colors,” Fannie says, but before long her incisive insights grew to include cabinetry, plumbing and lighting fixtures and hardware.

Instead of white see-through shades for the house’s many large windows, Fannie pushed for dark ones because “I know that black shades let you see out more easily,” she explains. She then suggested that the open-plan master closets should have enclosed cabinets because her client has dust allergies; the fridge, initially located outside the kitchen, was brought inside because Fannie knew that the wife loves to cook for friends. And, for white concrete kitchen counters, Fannie favored a “bullet-proof” sealant because she knows her clients hate patinas and stains. While she was at it, Fannie snuck in a bright-orange commercial-style Bluestar cooking range in the grey and white kitchen and, all around the house, six clear and colored blown-glass chandeliers and pendant lights by Berkeley glass artist Jess Wainer.

“The goal was to get away from the predictable,” Fannie says. “For me, art is always three-dimensional, and you should be able to walk around it, touch it, stand on it and even sit on it,” she says.

Although the couple moved into the house in 2016 with their old furniture, Fannie continued until mid-2019 to have Bay Area makers create artful yet functional pieces for them. “I also mixed in a few antiques, including vintage Hepplewhite dining chairs, which I stained white to pair with the modern white Italian dining table,” Fannie says. Their mismatched seats are covered with green and aubergine fabrics that resemble the aubergine velvet of an upholstered serpentine Coup d’Etat sofa in the living room. The sofa floats above a rich blue and coffee-colored wool and silk custom rug from Stark.

In the master bedroom, an antique wing chair upholstered with embroidered fabric from Bhutan sits next to a custom turquoise-green lacquer cabinet inlaid with stainless steel made in Los Angeles. “I love the intricate embroidery juxtaposed against the cabinet’s large organic stainless-steel inlays,” Fannie says. Some of Fannie’s mother’s Molas or reverse appliqué fabrics from Panama were made into pillows for the bed and they provide geometric “canyons of colors.”

“My job was to absorb what the architect was doing so I could furnish the dynamic open space and help my clients to ‘play’ in it,” Fannie says. After all, for her, despite its large scale, this project was just another dollhouse. But, unlike the ones she worked on with her mother, this one came with appreciative and real ‘dolls’ inside.

design playtime

Master Distiller

It would be easy to miss Tripp Distillery, tucked off Palmetto Avenue in an area of Pacifica dominated by garages and warehouses. But once past the nondescript exterior, you enter an emporium of bottles of alcohol in bright jewel tones. A curvy copper still the size of a small car dominates the space.

Jason Tripp, who owns and runs the distillery, taps the surface with gentle affection. “This is Big Butt Sally,” he says, smiling. “She was custom-made in Arkansas and it took the craftsman a year to make her. I had to pay 50 percent up front and the rest when she was delivered. It was an act of faith.”

Jason creates award-winning alcohol filled with magic tricks. Take, for example, his Pacifica Gin, which glistens like an emerald in the glass. Add a bit of acidity in the form of tonic water and watch it turn Easter egg lavender.

“It’s a chemical reaction caused by the botanicals used; in this case, butterfly chickpea flower and orange peel,” he says, before gesturing to rows of jarred herbs stacked on a shelf hung over his barrel-bellied stainless-steel fermenter.

Another favorite is his dark-pink vodka that’s aged in French oak casks formerly used for Zinfandel. “It has a viscous quality, causing it to stick to the glass,” Jason says. “In that way, it’s more like wine than a traditional vodka.” The unique consistency comes from the fact that Jason ages it uncovered, allowing five percent of the volume to evaporate.

It’s his dedication to the details that sets his hand-crafted alcohol apart from the crowd.

Jason refers to the way he produces alcohol as “retro-tech.” In a fast-paced world addicted to the latest gadgetry, he proudly uses technology from 17th-century Europe. All of his alcohol begins as a combination of organic sugar cane juice and molasses, which ferments in a stainless-steel barrel before being fed into the copper still. The rough-at-the-edges alcohol is casked to create aged rum. However, vodka and gin require another round of distilling to reach the necessary 60 proof to qualify. The alcohol is then distilled again through slender copper pipes containing coconut shells and mixed with botanicals.

Presenting the stages in his production line, Jason opens a side door to reveal the beautiful rows of copper pipes. “A factory vodka takes about 14 days to make—ours takes three months while our aged rum takes a year,” he explains. Patience and expense are required to use old-school fermentation techniques, multiple rounds of distilling and high-quality organic ingredients. But it’s all worth it at first taste. A sip of his emerald Pacifica Gin turns to purple in your glass and hits your tongue with a bright note before mellowing to a light, floral sweetness that’s unusual for a strong spirit.

Jason didn’t know he’d grow up to make craft liquors, but he always knew he was an entrepreneur at heart. “As a kid growing up in the Ozarks, I’d go out with a gunny sack and collect walnuts,” he recalls of an early enterprise. “There was a guy in town who would totally rip us off, giving us eight dollars for a 15-pound bag of them. But I didn’t care. I was happy to get the money.”

At the University of Arizona where he studied engineering, Jason’s savvy business tendencies led him to start his own car wash and waxing operations but he also developed an interest in alcohol. “I remember when SKYY vodka came out in the bright-blue bottle,” he says. “I liked how different it was from anything else available.” A trip to a tequila distillery in Mexico furthered his fascination with how alcohol was made. He loved the machines, their knobs and gadgets and the control you could command to make a product that was entirely unique.

With a busy family, an engineering degree and a solid career in statistics working in the tech industry, Jason began by illegally distilling alcohol in his backyard. He continued his libation education with internships, a course of study in Colorado and years of reading up on his impassioned hobby. Soon, Jason started to feel like he was ready to launch his own distillery and he placed an order for his Big Butt Sally.

Even after she arrived, it would take four long years before Jason was actually labeling and selling his own brand of gin, vodka and rum. First, there was the difficulty of getting a landlord willing to let him run his still. Then there was the challenge of negotiating fire codes and installing fireproof wood and steel doors to ensure that his space was safe for containing large quantities of flammable material. For the first few years, Jason continued to work at his job in statistics while running the still on the weekends.

This past year, he was able to make Tripp Distillery his full-time job.

Jason is a level-headed entrepreneur who is dedicated to growing his business, but he has a touch of the mad scientist to fuel the creative aspect of his endeavor. Early on, he learned to distill the oils that cause hangovers from his rum but was left with high-proof alcohol unfit for human consumption. Rather than discard this hard-edged waste alcohol, Jason found a way to repurpose it.

“All alcohol has oil in it. Fusel oils are mostly what’s responsible for giving you hangovers but with a still, you can take them out. We remove it and mix it with other waste alcohols and create our own lighter fluid,” he says, explaining how it adds an extra sweetness when cooking meat. “Regular lighter fluid smells like petroleum—ours smells like cookies.”

With some assistance from a skeleton crew of interns and bartenders, Jason now works about 60 hours a week crafting alcohol and running a lively local bar—all in the same room.

Assisted by his loyal rescue dog, Ali, Jason entices customers with free food, such as chili dogs, Dungeness crab and the occasional donut spread. He also hosts events like sports nights and live music. His award-winning Pacifica Gin, Vodka and Rum are now sold at Total Wine stores throughout the Bay Area and can be ordered anywhere in the country with next-day delivery online. All of Tripp Distillery’s products are available during San Jose Sharks games and at select bars and restaurants around the Bay Area.

Jason is working overtime, all of the time, to help his business grow and plans to have alcohol from Pacifica available in bars and stores throughout the country.

Nevertheless, Jason is still heavily involved in all of the grunt work involved in running every aspect of his business, from labeling bottles with an image of winged figures taken from a 1920s lighter fluid to melting down wax in crock pots to seal his bottles. He looks forward to a time when his business is more lucrative and he has more space in his schedule, so he’ll be freed up to invent new products.

“I like to tinker,” he says with a grin. “You can distill anything. I’d like to try Frosted Flakes or Jolly Ranchers.” The same curiosity that led Jason to start Tripp Distillery in the first place is the same spirit that will continue to drive its creativity.

How did he get the nerve, you might wonder, to dive into the liquor business with such a fresh take? “I’m an optimist,” he says plainly. “I just always believe things will work out.”

When COVID-19 struck, Jason Tripp came out fighting—against the pandemic and to save his business. As local bars closed and the NHL put a pause on hockey (and the San Jose Sharks), he knew he had to do something. “We were taking a huge hit,” he says. The idea came to him in the middle of the night: “I decided to take my equipment apart and retool it to make hand sanitizer.”

After consulting the Centers for Disease Control website, Jason configured a germ-killing recipe of alcohol and distilled water and started running his still 24/7 to max out production. He turned down offers from large entities wanting to buy out his supply and settled on an eight-ounce per customer per day approach—to ensure the broadest access and availability. With a direct line to wholesale supplies, Jason further upped Tripp Distillery’s local hero status by offering free toilet paper rolls to anyone in need.

Take a Tripp

Tee Up a Trip

Fresh air. Acres and acres of immense open space. Greenery as far as the eye can see. Many couples might deem this the perfect escape—until you add in 18 holes, clubs, a ball and a tee. Mixed relationships (golfer and non-golfer) are common these days, so when it comes to vacation planning, how do you play through conflicting definitions of fun? Whether you aspire to make that par putt or relax in a spa, here are three getaways within hours of the Peninsula that earn winning scores.

Photography: Courtesy of Rosewood CordeValle

Golf Nirvana—and More—at Rosewood Cordevalle

When your destination is a Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed golf course, one that is consistently ranked among the “10 Best” in California by Golf Digest, it’s a challenge to think about anything other than how the greens will play and what factor the slope is—or so my golfer spouse insists. (Thankfully, I have a decent understanding of the game, thanks to my one-time scratch golfer father.)

Heading to Rosewood CordeValle, just an hour from the mid-Peninsula in San Martin, we make what feels like a quick zip down 101, passing Morgan Hill before taking the E. San Martin Avenue exit. From there, it’s just three miles to our destination. The final mile-long approach to the private CordeValle course—open only to club members and resort guests—instantly transports you to an oasis of calm.

When it comes to beauty, CordeValle is a “wow.” Located in the Hayes Valley, the gorgeous, rolling golf course is set against a backdrop of low hills, all viewable from the two rows of guest rooms that feel more like cottages. They are all extremely well-appointed but without a hint of over-the-top opulence.

Photography: Courtesy of Rosewood CordeValle

First opened for play in 1999 as a members-only men’s club, the course is best suited for bogey- and-better golfers, especially those who can hit the ball straight given the bunkers that dot the course. The golfer spouse (with a handicap of 20—not quite a bogey golfer) describes the course as in “perfect condition—no divots, no ball marks, meticulously maintained.”

As a first-time golfer at CordeValle, my husband was required to have a caddy who proved helpful in reading the greens. If you’re interested in learning about the course in advance of your visit, the CordeValle Golf website has a hole-by-hole description.

A tour of the property reveals much more than golf, making it the near-perfect “golf getaway” for non-golfers. The main building includes the Sense Spa, where I indulged in a HydraFacial, a medical-grade resurfacing treatment to clear out pores while hydrating the skin. It was unlike any facial I’d had previously, as it employs a “HydraPeel Tip,” not just the esthetician’s hands.

Two of the property’s restaurants, the very casual One Iron Bar and the somewhat dressier Il Vigneto, are also in the main building. A third restaurant is adjacent to the pro shop. It was at the One Iron Bar where I experienced a “best ever,” the Eggs Bernard served at breakfast. It’s a perfect combination of poached eggs, smoked salmon, avocado, sprouts and cilantro salsa verde—the killer ingredient, in my opinion.

While the golfer spouse played 18 holes—walking the course, a distance of about nine miles—I headed for the hills, literally. A trail takes off near the golf clubhouse. The first two miles is a series of steep ups and downs, punctuated by a half-dozen or so look-out spots to view the resort and course below. The last mile is easier, running adjacent to a vineyard before looping back to the clubhouse.

Photography: Courtesy of Rosewood CordeValle

The grapes were planted by Clos LaChance Wines, located on the CordeValle property. Its tasting room is open 11AM to 4:30PM “most days of the year;” tasting is $15 or $30 depending on the flight chosen. During the summer, the winery hosts “Time for Wine” concerts on Thursday evenings.

Now factor in a tennis center, fully-equipped fitness facility and outdoor heated pool. In sum, both golfer and non-golfer agree that Rosewood CordeValle is a “no need to leave the property” experience.  cordevallegolf.com

Photography: Courtesy of Alisal Guest Ranch

Birdies and Horses at Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort

Golf is what lures people to Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in the Santa Ynez Valley near Solvang, but it’s the horses, not to mention the myriad of activities, that keep families coming back generation after generation.

Alisal has been a working ranch since the days of the Spanish land grants (early 1800s), with a portion of its 10,000 acres opening as a guest ranch shortly after World War II.

Like Rosewood CordeValle, Alisal’s Ranch Course is a private course, open only to members and guests of the resort. Built in the ’50s, there are shorter tees next to the greens, and there aren’t a lot of fairway bunkers. But my golfer spouse did note that there are a fair number of green-side bunkers, along with “big old oak and sycamores all over the place.”

Photography: Courtesy of Alisal Guest Ranch

By contrast, the River Course is friendlier with flatter, broader greens. That said, there are more bunkers, sometimes four per hole. A links-style course, it runs along the Santa Ynez River.

Both courses are extremely walkable, a fact that the golfer spouse applauds. Caddies aren’t allowed on either course. You play it, and figure it out on your own.

So, what’s in it for the non-golfer? Alisal offers an extensive activity guidebook, with full agendas outlined for each day. Read carefully to see what’s included in the various packages and what costs extra.

While you’ll find the usual resort amenities including a massive pool and plenty of restaurant/bar options (ranging from casual meals on the golf course or poolside to fine dining), there’s also a private fishing/boating lake, tennis (and pickleball) courts, a dazzling array of arts and crafts and spa facilities with a vibe best described as “laid-back California.” Grab-and-go bikes are available at no charge, and for hikers, the surrounding hills turn a dazzling green with the spring rains.

Photography: Courtesy of Alisal Guest Ranch

Given that horseback riding is something I did regularly decades ago, it was at the top of my list. Being partial to Bays, I found Charger to my liking, perfectly sized for this long-legged rider. We also enjoyed visiting the barnyard animals—clean and friendly goats, calves, rabbits, chickens and pigs. Egg gathering is a popular activity. We passed on the hog washing, though.

Rooms and suites are more ranch rustic than luxurious, but they are well-appointed with wood-burning fireplaces. Plus, the range of accommodations offer up plenty of options for extended family gatherings.

Since Alisal is a ranch, first-time guests may be surprised to learn that gentlemen 16 years and older are required to wear a collared shirt and sport coat to dinner with ladies dressing accordingly. It’s “part of the Alisal tradition,” according to staff. The “country formal” attire makes dining memorable—along with the delicious blend of hearty Western ranch cooking and California cuisine.

Alisal is a magical retreat—or as my golfer spouse might say, the equivalent of sinking a birdie on the 18th hole. alisal.com

Photography: Courtesy of Allegretto Vineyard Resort

Golf (and Wine) at Allegretto Vineyard Resort

A visit to Allegretto Vineyard Resort turns the golf getaway a bit sideways—so to speak. Located in Paso Robles, which is included in The New York Times “2020 Places to Visit,” Allegretto is a place to sip some wine, take a tour of the extensive art collection on its grounds and play a little golf at the nearby—and separate—six-hole “player development” course.

Opened in 2004, the River Oaks Golf Course is laid out on rolling terrain dotted with old oaks and little lakes. It has five par 3s and one par 4 with three sets of tees offering different angles of approach and distances to the greens. Play it three times and the golfer will get a full 18-hole experience. Play it once and you’ll have more time for wine tasting, as was the choice of the golfer spouse.

Photography: Courtesy of Allegretto Vineyard Resort

While he played golf, I explored the Resort, which is spread out over 20 acres surrounded by vineyards and orchards. There’s a decidedly Tuscan feel to the property both in architecture and grounds, a bit like staying at an Italian villa. Douglas Ayres, who developed the property, planted eight acres of Viognier, Vermentino, Malbec, Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon adjacent to what is now the hotel. Ambling among the many grape varieties makes for a nice leg-stretcher.

Golf and walk complete, we rendezvoused at the well-appointed tasting room, open daily except Tuesday, where our dog was welcome (the property is pet-friendly). We discovered that Cab is king but also enjoyed a unique blend of Viognier, Vermentino and Roussanne aptly called Trio. A perfect picnic wine, we decreed. Also on-site is the Cello Ristorante & Bar, where we enjoyed a very tasty dinner and satisfying breakfast.

Photography: Courtesy of Allegretto Vineyard Resort

From our very spacious corner room on the second floor, we could see some of Allegretto’s noteworthy art collection—covering multiple cultures and faith traditions—and wandered downstairs for a closer look. In the East Garden, we gazed at an obelisk, and while walking the Via Verona, we saw several sculptures including Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha, a Hindu goddess from the Vedic tradition and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Art tours take place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There is also a first-of-its-kind-in-the-world Sonic Labyrinth. Walking its path, we heard melodic sounds made by wind instruments activated by motion sensors.

Allegretto is a place of peace and quiet. Yes, swing a club, but also relax, sip wines and be transported to life in the Italian countryside.

Pointed Practice

Sharp, radiating pains spurred by sciatica shot through Stewart Leber’s right leg and after five years of trying ineffective remedies, the Foster City resident in his mid-70s was ready to experiment with an alternative form of medicine.

He was on a hike in Lake Tahoe with his niece, pausing for breaks to calm the nerve firings, when she recommended that he check out an acupuncturist. That really made him take pause.

“You’re talking to a salt-of-the-Earth type,” Stewart says of himself. “You have to prove it to me and if it’s off the norm, I’m not going to be the guy to jump right in.”

Stewart scheduled an appointment at the San Mateo Acupuncture Center with Angela Galatierra-Ganding and began by detailing his problem and answering a few lifestyle questions. She didn’t promise him immediate relief but said she could help with the pain by administering thin needles into certain areas of the body. Angela explained how this would help increase blood circulation to the areas of pain.

A dozen or so needles and a few hours later, Stewart was shopping at a Home Depot when he realized that he wasn’t feeling any discomfort in his leg anymore. His sciatica wasn’t eliminated but with a steady regimen of acupuncture, Stewart says he’s keeping the pain under control. He’s returned to Angela (whom he affectionately calls “Dr. GG” due to her last names) every 10 days since April 2019 and his belief in acupuncture rises as the pain from his sciatica subsides.

“It’s much, much better. It’s not completely gone but I’ll go days and nights without even thinking about it,” Stewart says. “Dr. GG has proven to me that acupuncture works. If you had asked me before if someone putting needles in your body could make you feel better, I’d have laughed. But it really works. And the fact that it’s been around for 2,000 years—I’d say it’s doing something right.”

Acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese therapy, has long piqued the interests of bodies in the West, with steady gains in popularity since the 1960s and ’70s. Although the science is sometimes questioned and it’s not without skeptics, acupuncture has proven to be a helpful form of medicine for countless people, the mystique surrounding its function notwithstanding.

While acupuncture is still finding its place in the modern medicine conversation—Medicare, for instance, doesn’t cover acupuncture for any condition other than chronic low-back pain—it’s always being studied. In March, The British Medical Journal published research that showed how acupuncture is an effective treatment for episodic migraines.

On the Peninsula, no other community has embraced acupuncture quite like San Mateo. Peering over a map of the city, individual acupuncture clinics stick out like needles running along the back of its downtown.

While working for a nearby chiropractor, Angela grew a client base solid enough to strike out on her own. In 2013, she established San Mateo Acupuncture Center, where she serves a variety of ages, from children to clients in their 90s, for conditions ranging from the neurological to cardiovascular. Her cases tend to be mostly pain management (often from folks who work at computers or have desk jobs), but she’s noticed a recent boost in fertility patients.

“That’s why acupuncture is so great,” Angela notes. “We treat each case differently. There’s not one standard protocol for a specific condition. When someone comes in, we do an expanded health history and from there we figure out what systems are out of balance that need to be put back.”

First-time users might be surprised by some of the intake questions asked during an inaugural visit but the purpose is to develop a well-rounded picture of the problem. Someone coming in with pain in the arm will receive questions about their diet and sleep schedule.

“I always say acupuncture is the last straw because the person may have exhausted Western medicine and feels like nothing is providing relief—so now what?” Angela says. “I’ll tell my clients that the mind has such a powerful effect on the body. If you come in for a treatment and are open, it will allow the medicine to work as opposed to someone who comes in and feels closed off. Not to say I don’t see the skeptics. The more we educate our clients about how acupuncture works, the more they can visualize in their minds what’s happening in their bodies when they’re lying down for a treatment.”

Perhaps the image that comes to mind for first-timers is that of needles being stuck into the body in a seemingly tortuous ceremony, but in fact, the needles’ tips are so fine and placed with such delicate care that it feels like nothing more than a calculated poke.

Angela likens the body to a network of freeways, bridges and sidewalks that transfer blood. When an accident on the freeway occurs, so to speak, and a person feels pain caused by blockage or stagnation, the purpose of the needle is to unblock the pathway to allow blood to better transfer nutrients to organs.

“If someone has shoulder pains, I’ll go directly to the injured site but will also figure out what freeway was affected so I can open other areas so that blood can flow naturally,” Angela explains. “People will come in for shoulder pain and ask, ‘Why is there a needle in my leg?’ It’s because we treat the body as a whole.”

Angela can relate to a patient’s sense of doubt during the first visit because she felt the same uncertainty when trying out acupuncture for her first time in 2006. Her parents used it for pain relief during her childhood years in Manitoba in central Canada. After graduating from the University of Winnipeg with a B.S. degree in chemistry, Angela worked in a biopharmaceutical lab, but had ambitions to work in the healthcare field.

“Seeing acupuncture through my parents, I went in for treatment myself. I remember being totally skeptical and anxious, but after talking to the practitioner and learning about it, I felt more open,” she recalls. “When he inserted the needles, I ended up falling asleep. I walked out feeling amazing. How cool would it be to be that person on the other end?”

Angela relocated to the Bay Area and started acupuncture school in 2007. She received her Master of Science degree in Oriental Medicine at the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley in 2010 and acquired her license the following year.

Surrounded by numerous acupuncture clinics, Angela distinguishes herself by having a dependable practice with glowing YELP reviews and an easy-to-Google name. She also credits her mom, a cake shop owner in Canada, who bestowed upon Angela a simple approach to customer service.

“Seeing how my mom interacted with her customers, it was all about building relationships with clients. When clients trust you, they refer other people to you,” she says. “All the relationships I have with my clients are mutually beneficial—not only do they provide business but they also meet my need for fulfillment.”

pain, pain, go away

Diary of a Dog: Jaijai

Life can deal out some tough cards. That was certainly my case. Although I have some light perception, I was born about 90% blind in Tijuana, Mexico. I was living in a holding facility there and would get bullied by the other dogs. (My ears still look a bit funny because they used to get nipped at.) I tried hard to keep my spirits up, and sure enough, I found my way to where I was meant to be. Andrea was looking for a dog and every time she checked on PetFinder, she’d see my face. She was initially nervous about taking care of a special needs dog but here’s what’s really awesome… Andrea works at Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Palo Alto. She knows the blind or visually impaired can do anything a sighted person can do, just differently—and that gave her the confidence to have me flown up to the Bay Area. Now I live with Andrea, Tim, Denise and Amy and our amazing rescue pet family that includes two other dogs, a rabbit, two desert leopard tortoises and a leopard gecko. My favorite thing is chasing my jingle ball in the yard, and if I can’t find it, Andrea is happy to fetch it and toss it for me again. Every morning, I get to go to work with Andrea, and she says I’m the perfect office dog. You’ll usually find me near her desk, but I get lifted up onto a lot of laps, too. I never bark or whine, and I’ve heard Andrea’s co-workers refer to me as “inspiring.” I do have one embarrassing confession: It’s hard to stay awake during business meetings! Sometimes, I fall asleep… and snore!

Eye for Exploration

From the time Frances Freyberg was in kindergarten, she wanted to be an explorer.

“I was leading ‘expeditions’ across Willow Oaks Park, around the duck pond by the Menlo Park Library or along the dry creek bed of San Francisquito Creek,” she recalls.

Explorer she’s become, having traveled across six continents with cameras in hand. The result is thousands of images of people and landscapes, some of which can be seen at any given time at the Portola Art Gallery in Menlo Park.

“My goal as a photographer has always been to encourage a greater appreciation for our planet and its people,” she says. My hope is that my images will motivate and influence personal journeys for other people.”

Frances’ photographic journey began during her senior year at Brown University, where students were able to cross-register for classes at the Rhode Island School of Design. She chose a photography class. “The irony is that I had to drop it because it was taking away too much time from my required classes to complete my major in biology at Brown,” she says.

While she dabbled in photography after college, Frances didn’t begin to pursue it seriously until 2008 when she took a year off to travel around the world. “My goal was to learn and experience as much as I could, and to use my own photographs and writing to inspire others to do the same,” she says. “While traveling, I built an extensive weblog with weekly photos, as well as historical and cultural information, about the places I visited.”

When Frances returned to the Bay Area, several art mentors and friends encouraged her to exhibit her photographs, and she participated in Silicon Valley
Open Studios in 2009. In 2010, she became a member of Portola Art Gallery at the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park, where she will
be showcased as an upcoming featured artist.

Through 2016, Frances continued traveling and exhibiting while beginning to explore event, portrait and assignment photography for a number of local non-profits and publications. That changed when her son Dylan was born four years ago. “I found my photographic energy focused on documenting his growth—and my new and cherished role as a mother,” she says. “Now certain friends—who love Dylan dearly—are nudging me to return to other subject matters, in addition to the many photos I continue to take of him.”

Most of Frances’s recently exhibited photos have been of local explorations—hikes, gardens and solo day-trip adventures to places like Big Sur, Point Reyes and Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe.

Frances is also thinking of tackling a bigger project focused on her extensive library of images from around the world. “The more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve been struck by not only the beautiful contrasts that make a place and its people unique, but also the surprising visual similarities in landscape, architecture, design and culture that bind us together and make the world feel smaller,” she observes.

Frances recalls walking through a souq (market) in Damascus, Syria, and how a young boy caught her eye. He was selling cups that looked identical to ones she had used previously in Uruguay. “At that moment, in a land so different and far from home, I felt a sudden and unexpected sense of belonging—not just to Syria, but also to Uruguay,” she says. “I’ve since experienced that same bond between very disparate locations. For example, the domes of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia, or the brilliantly green, sheep-dotted hills of Ireland and New Zealand, both overlooking the sea.”

By highlighting visual similarities through her photography, Frances seeks to inspire a greater sense of compassion and connection: “In today’s world, our attention is often directed to our differences in a negative and polarizing way. When we can find some common ground with people of different backgrounds or cultures, it becomes easier to appreciate those differences in a life-giving way.”

As a photographic explorer, many of the trips Frances has taken to different countries—Egypt, China, Austria, Peru, to cite a few—have been inspired by photographs she’s seen—the ancient pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, the jungles of the Amazon. “I’d feel a strong pull to see these places in person,” she says. “I always try to take my own photo of the view that inspired my trip, but I’ve never been 100% happy with the image I get. However, the experience has always exceeded my expectations, and I’ve always walked away with another photo that I want to share with others.”

Frances hopes that her photographs can help educate people about the world and interest them in the surrounding natural beauty. “Of course, a photograph could never convey the entirety of an experience, a location or a culture,” she says. “But if my photographs inspire others to explore and learn, or to simply pause and reflect, I consider that success. And it’s a joy when people see my photographs and are inspired to take a trip to see a place for themselves.”

Her photographic journeys now sometimes include her son Dylan—and she’s looking forward to those increasing. “We read a book called The Last King of Angkor Wat and I told him that I visited that temple complex in the past and will take him there one day if he’d like,” she says. “We went recently to the Water Temple on Cañada Road, and when he saw it, his first question was, ‘Where are all the vines?’ When I explained that there are many different temples, and not all have vines and tree roots growing over them, he promptly exclaimed, ‘But I want to go to Angkor Wat!’”

As Frances has expanded her photographic pursuits beyond travel, the resulting photographs have been displayed on the walls of local organizations and institutions. These include Mission Hospice in San Mateo, where she is the communications director, and also Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

“It’s a very humbling experience to be told that an image I’ve shared brought someone peace during a time of uncertainty or fear,” she says. “I’ve taken photos of patients and families at the VA hospice so that they have something special to remind them of their final weeks together. I know how much I value the good photos that I have with my family and friends, and I feel honored to be able to provide that for others.”

Frances says she’s benefited greatly over the years from the encouragement of artists and photographers along with friends and even childhood teachers growing up in Menlo Park. The best compliment she has ever received? She responds without hesitation: “‘When I look at your photograph of Purisima Creek Redwoods, I see God.’ That will inspire me for many years to come.”

visual adventures

Perfect Shot: Tracking the Sun on Pillar Point

Congruent with the setting sun, the Air Force Station’s large radome encloses a 44-foot telemetry dish receiving signals from aircraft. However, the dome received special attention from Jennifer Townhill, a professional photographer from Los Altos, who captured this Perfect Shot while dining with her family on the deck outside Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay. “Luckily, I had my camera ready for the capture when I noticed the vivid red sky,” she says. “I particularly like this one because of the symmetry between the sun and the Pillar Point Tracking Station above Mavericks.” 

Courtesy of Jennifer Townhill Photography / townhillphotography.com

Midnight Rounds

The drummer and bassist are in suits but their collars are relaxed with no ties. The fiddler is in khakis, the lead guitarist wears blue jeans while one of the co-singers dons a chic pair of pale knee-high suede boots. The other singer is still in his blue scrubs.

This isn’t an ordinary band and this isn’t an ordinary gig.

Following a routine workday, the six members converged at 5PM in a sound studio called Sophie’s Place on the ground floor of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. This on-camera show will soon appear in rooms throughout the hospital to broadcast a little rock ‘n’ roll to the patients on the floors above. Some might recognize a few faces in the band as the very same pediatricians and surgeons who have been helping them recover.

Similar to The Beatles returning to Liverpool or The Grateful Dead popping up in Menlo Park, the Midnight Rounds are about to play a hometown concert unlike any other. The band of nurses, doctors, educators and one full-time musician are stage regulars at the ol’ Pioneer Saloon in Woodside and Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company in San Carlos. But today’s performance hits particularly close to home. They’re playing exclusively for their patients.

Photography: Gino De Grandis

“I just hope I’m better with surgical tools than I am with these,” Yasser El-Sayed jokes, with his drumsticks in hand. He’s a specialist in Maternal-Fetal Medicine and Obstetrics as well as a professor at Stanford’s medical school but in this setting, he’s the keeper of time and the chief of beat.

“Your medical title gets you nothing here,” says bassist James Wall, who’s an MD and pediatric general surgeon at the children’s hospital when he’s on the floors upstairs.

Furthering the point, Matias Bruzoni, the band’s co-founder
and a fellow MD and pediatric surgeon, acknowledges how doctors can sometimes seem intimidating to people.

“But music and sports bring everyone to the same level,” he says, before calling out the first song to practice before the cameras start to digitally roll. It’s the contemporary bluegrass favorite “Wagon Wheel” and the band has it locked down.

Just before they start, James conveys a simple reminder to his bandmates. “Stupid phones and pagers are off, right?” he calls out to resounding nods. They lock eyes, silently bow to the count-in beat and soon the studio and hospital are elevated in timeless melody.

The group performs covers of mostly rock classics that often have a touch of country twang, thanks to Jonathan Palma’s bow strokes on the violin. Jonathan, the youngest band member, has a newborn at home and is both an MD as well as the medical director for Lucile Packard’s clinical informatics program. He’s played the violin since his teenage years and his current instrument used to belong to his grandfather, who nicknamed it “Frenchie.”

Photography: Courtesy of Rachel Baker, Stanford Medicine

Lead guitarist and the band’s resident musicologist David Scheibner is the only member not in medicine (he jokes that he’s an “ND” as in “non doctor”) but he offers his crucial musical understanding to the group, helping with instrument tunings and sometimes explaining the organs within a song from a musician’s point of view. David is a career musician, writing and producing music for television shows such as Entertainment Tonight and The Bachelor/Bachelorette series. He’s written songs for Disneyland and has performed with the Green River Band.

“But I reached the pinnacle right here,” he says, surrounded by the Midnight Rounds.

Their song book has grown to 50 cuts ranging from Fleetwood Mac, the folkie standard “Dixie” and most recently, “Walk of Life” by the Dire Straits. The band aims to include new songs for every gig and since they’ll play almost monthly, the Midnight Rounds have their practice cut out for them.

Photography: Courtesy of Rachel Baker, Stanford Medicine

Since they approach music from a unique background, the band is known for innovative covers that blend unsuspecting songs into one. They were fiddling around with “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes and realized the chord progression blurs well with “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)” by the Eurythmics. During their performance in Sophie’s Place, their rendition of “Lodi” by Creedence Clearwater Revival soon delicately morphs into “Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys before ending back where it began. It’s a warm surprise to the ears, made even more impressive considering that these folks are more trained for surgery than surgically fusing rock melodies together.

Although it’s a band of leaders without a front person, the Midnight Rounds agree that the lead belongs to the vocal harmonies between Matias and Raji Koppolu, a nurse practitioner at the children’s hospital when she’s not singing, playing acoustic guitar or keeping rhythm with a tambourine by her side. Raji and Matias harmoniously blend their voices together to elevate the garage rock ensemble into a performing act that can play banquet halls and holiday parties alike.

Since the band is run democratically, any member can suggest a song to perform as long as it fits within the vocal range of the singers.

“When I joined the band, if I had to learn another Simon and Garfunkel song…” Yasser says, warmly razzing his bandmates. “And look at what we’re playing now—you got out of your comfort zone.”

Since joining the band a few years ago, the drummer has successfully lobbied for a few songs to join the repertoire, such as “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley. “Three years in the band and I got two songs in,” Yasser says with a grin.

Matias blushes. “I’m guilty! I know I’m hard to please with song choices. Singing while playing is already hard and my range is limited. But those were good picks,” he tells the drummer, affectionately nicknamed “The Professor” for his work at the medical school. “And in another three years, you’ll get two more!”

Photography: Courtesy of Rachel Baker, Stanford Medicine

When Raji and Matias founded the band in the summer of 2009, Raji was part of the pediatric fellowship program at Stanford and like most bands, they came together over a shared love of music. (Unlike most bands, they were in scrubs or doctors’ coats.)

Raji sang in an acapella group while in college and Matias, who is Argentinian, used to play weekly bar gigs while attending medical school in Buenos Aires. They began with a James Taylor cover and were soon performing yearly at the hospital’s annual holiday party.

The Midnight Rounds casually grew in numbers over the years as colleagues with musical backgrounds asked to play along. James used to focus on music in high school but tapered off in his 20s when his attention switched to medicine. “It was in there and needed to come out,” he says, of the bass.

The band practices at James’s home in Woodside where they expanded from the garage into the guest house after adding Yasser on the drums. Years ago, when Yasser was a resident, his first paycheck went to purchasing his original drum set. He also coined the band’s name, playing off the late-night doctor routine and how the band sometimes practices well into the evening.

The band plays quarterly at the Pioneer Saloon in Woodside and are favorites for retirement or work parties. It’s an outlet for a group of people who have challenging day jobs and are most in need of a late-night expression to blow off steam.

“It’s a way to decompress,” James says. “We deal with some serious stuff here and music is a way to step away from that.”

Photography: Gino De Grandis / (left to right) David Sceibner, Yasser El-Sayed, James Wall, Raji Koppolu, Matias Bruzoni and Jonathan Palma.

And as Yasser points out, being in the band doesn’t stop once they step off stage and return to their practices. The Midnight Rounds last long into the following day.

“We operate together and will be in the OR together on cases,” he says. “It’s an interesting thing for us and it’s a connection to our practice. In some ways this coordination outside of medicine really feeds into how we work together at the hospital.”

Photography: Irene Searles

A Good Walk

Over the past few years, with more time unoccupied and available, I’ve started doing a fair amount of walking. As someone who prefers the comfort of consistency, instead of exploring new routes and places, I tend to walk the same path over and over again. I walk not to explore outwardly, only inwardly.

Walking is cathartic; I hear, smell, see, embrace nature, but mostly it gives me a chance to think, or, when I so desire, to not think. I prefer to walk late in the day, when darkness is creeping in on me, and if it is raining and cold, that is better still. I like the dark because within it I feel more invisible, more within myself. The solitude does me good and brings me peace. Being exposed to the elements is beneficial; bad weather calms my brain and eliminates its need for stimulation.

I drive a short distance from my home since I don’t want to walk through my neighborhood to start off, as running into friendly neighbors where I have lived for many years means discussions of children or the weather or of a new home going up that no one likes. I drive about six blocks and park on the side of the street. I pull out my earbuds that I keep in the glove box, run the cable under my sweatshirt and plug them into my phone. I find my SIRIUS XM app and turn on the Sinatra channel, the perfect music to accompany my walks.

As I said, I value consistency and pattern as opposed to exploration and adventure. It’s certainly not something to be proud about, but neither is my desire to be alone at home as opposed to attending a large party. That’s all part of being an introvert. I walk many blocks to and around Burgess Park, which is less a park really, when I think about it, than a home to many Menlo Park places: the library, the city services center, the police department, a soccer field, a Little League field, some tennis courts, a swimming center and more. But it is a good place to walk around and I can do so unfettered and without running into anyone I know.

From there, I track backward until I hit Oak Grove Avenue. One of my favorite things about going north on Oak Grove used to be that one side of the street remained in its natural state, with dirt and broken tree limbs and leaves—lots of leaves in the fall. I liked walking along there as if I were in the countryside, kicking up the brown debris and hearing the rustle of the leaves. But now they are paving it, reminding me of the Joni Mitchell song about paving paradise.

My path takes me down Oak Grove to the most beautiful little church and grounds: Church of the Nativity. Though I have not been inside, it is a sweet, small white church with a gleaming tall steeple. I read that it was constructed in 1872 and was moved on log rollers twice before arriving at its current location in 1877. On the grounds is a home—I suppose for the pastor—that is similar in style to the homes in the neighborhood where I grew up, and there is a bubbling fountain and brick walkways. I long ago decided that if I were a Christian, I would be a Catholic, specifically for the churches. Walking into giant European cathedrals—with their towering heights, slight echoes and gleaming stained-glass windows—always makes me think that there must be a God to inspire such brilliance, especially when I consider that they were built long before modern machinery.

So I walk around the little church and stop and watch the fountain as the water splashes and sprays. There is a nice bench there where I sometimes sit and think. Sometimes there is a mass (I guess that’s what it is) and people come and go from the church. I try to stay out of their way. Then I start heading back, formerly through the leaves and dust, circling around a bit—depending on my schedule—before heading back to my car.

I’m always refreshed and can take a good, deep breath after my walk. I slide my earbuds out from under my sweatshirt and roll them up and place them back in the glove box. Someone once said that golf is a good walk spoiled. Though I love golf, I would agree. On my walks I can let my imagination go, my heart wander and my brain relax, and I never have to wonder if I can find my lost golf ball

Home on the Ranch

The magic hour starts just after 5PM, as the sun begins to slide over the shoulder of the eucalyptus grove at the mouth of the property to cast a faint golden glow upon the south side of the Long Branch Saloon & Farms.

This is when the miniature Western town on the outskirts of Half Moon Bay appears to come alive. Situated on a 46-acre lot not far from where the Lobitos Creek feeds into the Pacific, Long Branch could be mistaken for the backdrop of a Western TV show—if it weren’t for the palm trees and mechanical bull ride.

The main thoroughfare is lined by a dozen rustic structures including a two-story saloon, jail cell, hotel, dressmaker’s shop and barbershop. Their façades suggest they were plucked out of the past because for most of them, they were; the ice cream parlor features a rusty and weathered sign for the bygone Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel that was donated by the original owner.

When the phone line isn’t ringing with folks looking to set up private events or wedding receptions, the Palmer family, who established and operate Long Branch, has become the recipient of Peninsula historical treasures. Their ranch is a living museum where rusted signs and 19th-century bar mirrors—even a single-story church—find a home for endless appreciation.

“People want their stuff to live in infamy,” Kevin Palmer, the family’s patriarch says. “So that’s why it comes down here.”

Wedding season for the Palmers auspiciously began on Leap Year Day, and February 29 marked just the first of many receptions they’ll host in 2020. Kevin and his eldest daughter, Cassidy, manage Long Branch’s operation while Jill, the family’s matriarch, offers horse boarding on the premises. Kimmy, the middle child and owner of Granola’s Coffee House in Half Moon Bay, takes care of cuisine including full Texas barbeque offerings. In their “spare” time, Cassidy and Kimmy are world-class competitors in equestrian vaulting. Also a world-class equestrian vaulter, Colton, the youngest, is finishing up his engineering degree at Arizona State University. The family is so tightly knit that they haven’t had the need to set up a text message group chat.

With two weeks to go before the arrival of the bride and groom, the family was applying the final touches to their latest project: a complete remodel and upgrade to the barn. It can now host a reception for hundreds under the enchanting glow of numerous vintage chandeliers, which Kevin has acquired and stored under the house for years.

“We’re thinking ten years from now,” he says, of Long Branch Ranch’s management plan. The chandeliers are just some of the antiquated gems Kevin has picked up over the years through his other businesses.

Kevin is also the head of Premier Construction, a construction firm in Half Moon Bay, and years ago, he expanded his enterprise by acquiring a termite removal operation. That led to owning a flooring company. With his hand in several stages of home repair and remodel, Kevin found himself on the receiving end of a windfall of resources.

“We hated throwing away the stuff we were tearing apart and taking it to the dump,” he says, adding that much of the ranch has roots in homes from Hillsborough and San Mateo. “It was ridiculous, so I started storing it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I started a town.”

When Kevin purchased the Long Branch property in 1998, it was a raggedy ranch that had been on the market for some time. Jill remembers boarding horses there with her family after they moved to Half Moon Bay when she was in grade school. She met Kevin at Half Moon Bay High School as he was passing out candy to everyone in their class. The high school sweethearts bonded over their passion for never-ending projects, so they started a family and bought a ranch.

It was during a family vacation in the Bahamas, after Kevin spent a considerable amount of money on marked-up Coca Colas at the beach, that the idea of commerce struck him like a scorching-hot branding iron. He realized that people want fun, novel experiences and if you can provide it, they’re willing to pay for it. The idea coincided with goals Kevin had as he began envisioning how to always take care of his family.

“I got cancer and was super sick. I needed to create a revenue stream that wasn’t termite- and construction-related,” he says. “I was really looking for a revenue stream just for these folks—”

“These ‘folks’—you mean us, Dad?” Cassidy teases her father.

Cassidy was 10 years old when the ranch began to take form and remembers how her dad would gather his friends around in the morning for construction projects with country music playing and doughnuts at the ready. “He just started building and never said, ‘This is what I’m doing,’” she says.

Kevin is fast on the draw to defend his methods. “I think I was afraid and I wasn’t going to tell Jill what I was doing until I started rolling,” he reasons.

Jill brushes off any presumed apprehension. “Do I ever poo-poo anything?” she smiles. “I never do.”

Long Branch has grown into a backdrop for weddings, the spot for half a dozen fundraisers throughout the year and an outlet for companies looking for distinctive team-building exercises. Kevin and Cassidy work with each client individually to map out the perfect afternoon. 

“We start by having a big chili cook-off. Or a guacamole cook-off, if vegetarians are coming,” he says. “How do you pull together all that food and have fun for four hours? You have an ingredients scavenger hunt and then they have to help make their food.”

Following the feast is an array of side-activities and contests including a slingshot range, dodgeball court, casino roulette and a high striker. Guests can roam the premises to admire the countless trinkets and historical novelties—such as a display depicting actual hair strands attributed to President Abraham Lincoln.

The robust wooden bar inside the saloon is from the 1995 Western film The Quick and the Dead starring Sharon Stone and Leonardo DiCaprio and inside the dance hall is a 19th-century German-made bar that had previously been at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel and reportedly arrived in San Francisco bearing the largest mirror this side of the Mississippi.

Out near the mini-golf course is a completely restored church originally situated on 42nd Avenue in San Francisco and erected in 1913. It was demolished in 2009 but Kevin was there to repossess and has opened up the church for one-of-a-kind Easter Sunday services.

Asked what he would do if devastation ever struck and burned down the ranch, Kevin dismisses everything except his family as replaceable. “Everything else is materialistic crap,” he says. “It doesn’t matter. Everything you can buy again and then start the treasure hunt all over again.”

Long Branch is the Palmer family’s private home and they are keen on maintaining their personal privacy; however, that doesn’t mean they don’t welcome friends over once a week for a poker night or are gleeful after hosting an event with a few hundred new friends. The ranch is a shrine and a celebration of the past presented by a family that encourages their guests to explore, play—and please, do touch the displays.

“What gets me is that people will go antique shopping just to stick it in the garage until they die—and then it goes back into the antique shop,” Kevin says. “Here, people experience it. It brings back good memories and people will often say, ‘My grandmother had one of these.’ That’s what we’re hoping for, to have them think about the past.”

Landmark: Burlingame Cupola

Incongruously perched on a pedestal behind Burlingame’s Apple Store and next to Pet Food Express is a small, white, dome-shaped cupola. What is this ornamental structure and why does it reside in the middle of a parking lot? In 1914, prominent architect Charles Peter Weeks (San Francisco’s Mark Hopkins hotel, Redwood City’s Fox Theatre) designed a city hall building worthy of the community’s pride and ambitions. The two-story red brick structure was located on Park Road, crowned with the white cupola. Today, only the cupola stands in its original location—due to the activism of local residents to save it. By the late 1960s, Burlingame had plans to build the new, modern structure that serves as city hall today. A 1970 community effort to try to preserve the old city hall, or at least repurpose it, was strongly supported by famed Burlingame architect and city planning commissioner Col. E. L. Norberg (Burlingame Public Library, San Mateo High School). Although unsuccessful in saving the building, the community salvaged the cupola (restored by the Burlingame Historical Society in 2012), as well as a large painting, Living in Burlingame is a Special Privilege, that now resides in the Burlingame main library’s reference room. Concern for loss of Burlingame’s and Hillsborough’s tangible history led to the formation of the Burlingame Historical Society in 1975. The non-profit, all-volunteer organization has an archive of over 200,000 items, as well as a museum inside the historic Burlingame Avenue Railroad Station. Some of the Society’s first donations were items saved from City Hall—its key, light fixtures, doors and plaster reliefs help to connect Burlingame’s present with its past. For more information, visit burlingamehistory.org

Photography Courtesy of the Burlingame Historical Society

A Constructive Eye

If retirement allows you to become who you were always meant to be, then Barry Fleisher was bound for photography—specifically, he was destined for construction sites where institutions are built from the dirt up and fleeting moments of brilliant minutiae find the circle of his lens.

His subjects appear the same as they would if observed in broad daylight, from the sidewalk, viewed between the checkered breaks in a chain-link fence. However, through Barry’s retina, these workers are celebrated. Their laborious efforts are championed in the black and white. In lieu of color, Barry’s photography is flush with light, shadow and composition.

At a construction site at the new Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford a few years ago, a hard-hatted duo peer over blueprints inside the bowels of a dark basement using just a sliver of silvery light showering from above, elevated in the dust to create an angelic spotlight. Another monochrome from Barry shows a welder forming a constellation of sparks that tumble out of frame into a seemingly infinite freefall.

These are the subtle details only a father approaching 80 could observe. How each moment can be momentous. It’s an appreciation borne through time that recognizes the cursory conditions of life sneaking past us. For some, the cranes that hover over the Peninsula are emblems of change, but for Barry, they become new angles to fit within his compositions. Since development on the Peninsula will outlast us all, Barry’s photography offers a refreshing perspective on an overlooked aspect of our daily lives.

Why does it appeal to me so much?” Barry rhetorically asks himself about his series on construction workers. He pauses between sips of tea inside his pristine apartment that was recently developed along the southern rim of San Mateo’s Central Park.

On a summer-like February afternoon, Barry’s home is sunny and inviting, with a spacious floor plan, walls adorned in his captivating photography and a fourth floor balcony overlooking (and overhearing) the joyous Central Park playground below.

Sometimes when Barry looks down following a laugh, his celebrity lookalike is Robert Redford (an observation that makes Barry blush). Dressed in his usual garb of a safari shirt with plenty of pockets tucked into a pair of jeans, Barry has an affable demeanor that recalls a winsome family pediatrician—a practical comparison considering that Barry worked in a children’s hospital for most of his career.

But before his career in medicine, Barry began on the ground floor of a family enterprise, one that has continued to fascinate him well past his retirement.

“My family was in construction and my summer jobs were sweeping up after people on the job site. That had been in the background for my whole life,” he says. “I started college as an engineering student—I was going to build things. I have an appreciation for the work. It’s in my blood.”

Barry comes from a deep construction lineage. His father, brother and uncle were in the business. Louis Gordon Meltzer, his mother’s brother, established LG Meltzer in Washington, D.C., during the post-war boom where every two-car garage first needed to be built. Barry was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1940 and his father eventually relocated the family to the nation’s capital to join the family business. This was in the mid-1950s as tract houses permeated past the Beltway to give the new middle class a place to call home. Barry’s family was one of them.

Although an invitation was ultimately extended to join the family business, the scholarly and curious Barry chose to build his life elsewhere. He enrolled at Cornell University, first in pursuit of automotive engineering (he appreciates the tactile and technical), but would graduate with a degree in philosophy in 1962, around the same time he purchased his first Nikkormat camera, which he used to focus on landscape photography.

Furthering his education, Barry recalibrated for medicine, a field that fused two of his passions. “It seemed like a good combination of the technical part of things and the humanitarian part of things,” he says. “At least that’s how I constructed it in my mind.” He came out West in 1964 and received his medical degree from Stanford University School of Medicine in 1971.

However, it would still be another decade before Barry discovered his medical calling. “It took a long time to settle into what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up,’” he says, accompanied by a heartfelt pair of air quotes. “I didn’t start my newborn intensive care fellowship until I was 40.”

One of his detours was spent as a commissioned officer with the Indian Health Service, a branch of the U.S. Public Health Service. Civic service is important to Barry, who spent his years at Cornell untangling ethics. “I think everybody should put in a year or two early on in their lives to help people in this country who would not otherwise get help,” he says. “It’s got to do with ethics and being a citizen. The problems we have, we can work on.”

He would go on to join the faculty at Stanford in 1988 where he became the medical director of the Intermediate Intensive Care Nursery. Barry finished his 15-year career as a neonatologist specializing in newborn intensive care at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. He established or expanded several programs including a community outreach program, the High-Risk Infant Follow-Up Program and the Intermediate Intensive Care Nursery, which he grew from seven beds into 21 beds after his first year through strategic economics.

“My career is building things,” he says with a smile.

He fathered two children, Lisa and Ben, who were raised on the Peninsula and both followed their parents into medicine; Lisa works with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C., where her area of expertise is international health policy and Ben is an EMT, paramedic and RN in Denver. He too has a penchant for photography.

Not long after his retirement in 2003, Barry began taking digital photography courses primarily at College of San Mateo, where he started exploring his interests in street and building photography.

However, six years ago, Barry stumbled onto the unique field that ultimately seized his focus. Parking his car near the SF MOMA one morning before a spell of street photography, he paused to admire the expansion project underway at the museum. He watched as gigantic “building-eating machines” tore into the walls but struggled to find a good vantage point to capture the carnage.

Returning to his then-home in Menlo Park, he found himself retracing his old commute back to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, which itself was undergoing a massive expansion project.

He started small, photographing the perimeters, but his desire to document the entire development process forced his hand to email the contractor and hospital to request permission to properly shoot the scenes. An agreement was hatched: He must always wear safety equipment and have a constant spotter from DPR Construction, the Redwood City-based construction management firm behind the project.

Barry shot the insides and outs of the hospital’s expansion for years until the ribbon-cutting ceremony in November 2017.

“I realized that how I wanted to think about photographs was in the progress of the structure. Here’s what it looked like as a piece of dirt and here it is now. It’s a documentary,” he says. “The second thing that caught my eye was the detail of construction. And the third big piece is the workers. Watching them and realizing, even with machines and robots, how much physical, hard labor goes into this.”

Barry’s photos were turned into a photo essay book that was created in part with his frequent DPR spotter-turned-friend Albert Lee. The two still get together for dinner long after the hospital’s opening and their friendship reflects the respect Barry has for the construction workers and DPR; he continues to work with them, currently documenting a job site at the UCSF Mission Bay Campus.

“I see construction workers as salt-of-the-earth people. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever heard stern words exchanged. What I see are guys (and I say ‘guys’ because it’s mostly guys) having a good time. They’re laughing with each other. They’re working their asses off and it’s difficult and dangerous work. They like that somebody is interested. They appreciate it,” Barry says.

He pauses again, sips from his tea while scanning his memory of the hard hats who’ve become his models and friends.

“One guy named Isiah served as my spotter one morning and he told me how he started out as a cement worker, which is back-breaking work, and worked his way up to safety officer,” Barry says. “I took a photograph of Isiah, who is one of the most dignified persons I’ve ever seen. And that’s not uncommon. There’s a dignity around these guys and the way they work together.”

Haute Hardware

Every year, when cooler winter days brighten into the warm, sunnier days of spring, homeowners crack open their windows and doors and begin looking for fresh inspiration. From tending to bulbs to changing up front door paint, design lovers welcome the opportunity to make things feel crisp and new.    

It’s no surprise that cities across the country plan their annual home showcases for spring. Showcase homes are meticulously redesigned, room by room, by the area’s most talented, innovative designers who compete for the opportunity to design a space in the home, transforming previously bare rooms into stunning works of art.

One local designer pushing the boundaries of design is Krista Hoffman of Menlo Park-based Hoffman Hardware. For a third year, Krista’s luxe, handcrafted hardware will be featured from April 25-May 25 in the San Francisco Decorator Showcase, one of the most prestigious showcase homes in the country.

Photography Courtesy of Nicole Scarborough

“In January, I walked through this year’s venue, a beautiful Mediterranean-style home located in the West Clay Park neighborhood near Seacliff and the Presidio. It has it all—great bones, great views, great layout—a beautiful canvas for Bay Area’s designers to work their magic,” says Krista.

While the rigorous timeline leaves little time for reflection, the San Francisco Decorator Showcase will always hold special significance for Krista because it serendipitously launched her design career in a new direction.

Back in 2017, despite it being her first time applying to the Showcase, Krista was selected to design a small space that she transformed into one of the home’s biggest hits. “I imagined this space where a homeowner would display all of the unique, one-of-a-kind objects they’ve curated while traveling,” Krista recounts. “The room itself would be a conversation piece where friends could enjoy a nightcap while sharing stories. I called it the Curio Closet.”

The process required Krista to capture the room’s essence and specific details. “Part of the creative process is displaying all of the elements of your design. I was getting to the end of the whole project and pulling all of the materials together,” she says, “but the hardware was just a big missing link. I couldn’t find anything substantial or chic enough for the cabinet pulls—and the cabinets were the most prominent element of my design. Without the right hardware, they were just flat cabinets.”

Photography Courtesy of Aubrie Pick

Inspiration struck when Krista placed handcrafted, perforated metal light fixtures by Robert Long Lighting in the space. “It occurred to me that the perforated brass could be made into pulls by rolling the metal into a cuff shape,” she says. “I started working with a metal artisan to create shapes that we could touch and feel, to see how they worked as cabinetry hardware. I had to be sure that in addition to being beautiful, they were useful, practical, and ‘felt right.’ The prototypes were made on a whim—we focused on creativity and tested the limits of the metal, but those first pieces turned out to be among the best we created.”

Krista installed four of her custom creations on the cabinets in the Decorator Showcase. “I stood back and thought, ‘That looks really cool. I’m really happy with that!’ And then I didn’t really think much more about it. I was more excited about the whole room and how it came together. I felt like the hardware was the jewelry of the cabinetry.”

Then came Opening Night.

“The first night is a big gala, with everyone celebrating their hard work and getting their first looks at the final spaces,” Krista recalls. “Within 24 hours, dozens of designers were asking, ‘Where did you find those pulls?’ Who makes those? Where can I get them?’ After a while, I began thinking, ‘This is something special.’ I started answering, ‘You can buy them from me.’”

Photography Courtesy of Brad Knipstein

For Krista, it was a timely idea that made sense: “There is so much new and exciting with lighting right now. Artists are creating new shapes, pushing boundaries of what can be done and using LEDs, but there was really nothing new coming out in hardware.”

In response to the many inquiries, Krista quickly launched her first product in September 2017. In a fortuitous twist of fate, she already had a metals expert in the family. Krista’s father-in-law owned a manufacturing company in Michigan that produced brass parts for home, garden and construction. “I’ve always been fascinated by his business and was already familiar with the machinery, materials and tools he used,” she says.

The first thing Krista did to expand the collection was recreate the cuff shape in different sizes and finishes: blackened brass, nickel, satin nickel, copper and hand-rubbed bronze. She then began experimenting with new shapes and materials, eventually offering squares and rectangular pieces in perforated and hammered metals.

“I’ve been lucky to know the metal artisans well enough to spend time learning exactly how the hardware is made,” she says. “I’m always thinking about the engineering behind the designs—how is this going to be made and what pieces are we going to need?”

Krista’s career in interior design isn’t her first. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a math education degree, she was a computer programmer with Accenture for five years and a project manager for a smaller consulting firm for a few more after that. Then she fully switched gears—and decided to attend design school. “I never went back into math or tech,” she says, “but it is the foundation of my business.”

Krista credits that foundation for the unique perspective she brings to each project. “I approach design based on numbers, proportions and scale first, like a puzzle,” she explains. “I always look at things geometrically and spatially, and I think that’s one of my strengths: walking through a space and visualizing how things are going to work and feel. Once I get that spatial sense, I can apply the fine art skills to the fabrics and textures and finishes that make it timeless and beautiful.”

Photography Courtesy of Aubrie Pick

Hoffman Hardware will launch new designs this spring, including a tab pull shaped from a new decorative metal, leathered brass. “The brass takes on the texture of a beautiful pebbled leather, which we shaped into minimal tab pulls,” says Krista. In addition to the new designs, she is working on introducing leather to her hardware and creating custom pulls for high-end appliances. As with all of her designs, Krista finds inspiration in vintage jewelry and antique metal work.

“I like to study things that have stood the test of time, whether in a museum, a gallery or antique market, so I spend a lot of time in those places,” she notes. “I recently visited The Met and saw a set of 8th-century gold drinking bowls with really beautifully shaped handles that I can’t stop thinking about. There was also a pair of gold earrings with round studs that got me thinking about brass rivets.”

Other influences include mid-century female designers like Ray Eames, Charlotte Perriand and Greta Magnusson. “They were incredible pioneers in design,” Krista says. “A more contemporary favorite is Ruth Asawa, and her fluid organic metal sculptures. They are absolutely stunning.”

Hoffman Hardware can be ordered through hoffmanhardware.com. Pricing varies from $150 to $210 per piece. Her target customer? Someone who wants something they haven’t seen before.

“Everyone is always looking for something special and new,” Krista says. “Why not make it the hardware?”

Renew and Refresh

Like a country doctor of yesteryear, Lisa Sten makes house calls to better understand what’s causing the pain. “You need to find out how bad it is for them,” she says. To aid in the diagnosis, she asks a series of questions: How long has it been a problem? What have you done to fix it? How did that work for you? Are you committed to change?

In the same way a doctor evaluates a patient, Lisa examines Peninsula houses with an eye out for sturdy, quality parts. “It’s a lot of waste to tear a house down and throw it away,” she responds, when asked to address the “scrape vs remodel” dilemma. “For me, if the house has good bones, you’re actually being a green builder by saving what you’ve got.”

As CEO of Harrell Remodeling, a design+build firm based in Palo Alto, Lisa emphasizes that new construction isn’t the only option: “We hear it all the time, ‘Help! What do I do with my home that isn’t bad enough to tear down?’” That’s where the site evaluation and client interview come in—frequently resulting in a positive prognosis. “There’s good housing stock here,” Lisa notes. “The houses were built pretty substantially in the ’50s and ’60s with solid wood and the rooms tend to be bigger.” That bodes well if the plan is to “revive the patient.”

Photography: Annie Barnett

At the risk of exhausting the metaphor, “Space planning is the backbone of everything,” Lisa says. “Maybe you don’t need the big, formal dining room. Maybe you don’t need the four or five bedrooms. It’s really looking at a floor plan and determining how the client wants to live—and reworking the existing spaces. We bring a fresh perspective and knowledge of what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.”

The namesake of Harrell Remodeling is Iris Harrell, a female trailblazer in the remodeling business. With a background in teaching, Iris found herself with time on her hands, while living with her future wife, Ann Benson, in Texas. “Ann said, ‘Here’s an electric screwdriver. Why don’t you try to hang some things up on the walls?’” is how Lisa recounts the firm’s origin story. “She was instantly hooked on creating things and working with tools.”

Iris found a mentor to teach her about carpentry and building and started doing small home improvement projects. After moving to the Bay Area in 1985, she launched Harrell Remodeling in Menlo Park—in a garage, of course. She later went back to school for her kitchen and bath specialty degree and the firm evolved into its design+build approach. “Her clients would ask, ‘Why can’t you just do it all for me?’ so she hired her first designer and estimator and found a way to do it all,” says Lisa.

Thirty-five years later, Harrell remains committed to the firm’s streamlined approach. “The benefit of design+build is that you have your design staff and your construction staff within the same company,” Lisa points out. “Buildability is considered from the get-go.”

Photography Courtesy of Bernard Andre Photography

ISSUE: I want my kids to love their space. How do I involve them in the design?
SOLUTION: Have your designer speak with your kids and interview them as they do the adults in the house. Do they have a favorite book or image in mind that brings them joy? Have them peruse the materials you are considering using (pare it down so as to not overwhelm them), and see what they’re drawn to.

Back in 2001, Iris and Ann started an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) for Harrell Remodeling, and over the years, the employee-owners purchased shares of the company. “Iris and Ann decided early on that they wanted to reward and acknowledge the people who helped them build their business,” Lisa says. By the time Iris retired fully in 2014, the company was deemed 100% employee-owned. “It definitely fosters team spirit and collaboration. We just dig in and help each other,” she adds.

Originally from Minneapolis, Lisa moved to the Peninsula in 2000 and joined Harrell that same year. Having previously co-owned an interior design firm with her mother, Lisa says construction and remodeling felt like a natural calling. “What I like the most is space planning and that’s what remodeling is all about: You’re figuring out the puzzle. You’re taking existing space—and whether you’re doing an addition or leaving this window or not moving the toilet, you have to figure out the best way to use that space. For me, remodeling is just the best puzzle.”

Photography Courtesy of Bernard Andre Photography

ISSUE: I love color—but where should I put it?
SOLUTION: If you’re color courageous, there are many areas where you can apply color! If you aren’t totally committed to color on something that “stays with the house,” like an appliance, artistic backsplash or cabinets, start slowly with wall paint colors, upholstery and accessories. Check your closet for the clothes you feel most comfortable in—those are “your” colors!

Having worked her way up from designer to CEO during her 20 years with the firm, Lisa is encouraged about current housing trends and Harrell’s prospects for the future. “Homeowners are staying in their homes longer,” she says, “so that’s great for remodelers. We do a lot of whole-house remodels but also a fair number of smaller projects—a bathroom or one side of the house or the kitchen-living-family room or a bedroom wing. We are developing our small projects division even more because we want to serve a wide variety of clientele.”    Harrell’s motto is, “We never forget it’s your home,” which Lisa says plays to two meanings. “A lot of times people stay in the home when we’re remodeling, so we want to make it a nice place for them to live during construction but we are also designing for them—it’s their home. If you look at our body of work, it doesn’t all look the same and that’s very intentional because we are designing for individuals.”

When it comes to nailing down priorities, Lisa cautions that resale shouldn’t be top of mind because you never know what the next owner is going to do. “If you’re planning on staying in the house for a while, you should design it for yourself. There’s ROI, return on your investment, and there’s ROE, return on your enjoyment. Make it nice for you,” she advises. “The classic is that people get ready to sell their house, and they say, ‘I never knew it could look this nice now that we did this and we did that.’ The thought that always pops into Lisa’s head? “Don’t you wish you had done that 10 years ago so you could have enjoyed it?”

Photography Courtesy of Bernard Andre Photography

BATHROOM: A lot of our clients travel a fair amount and they will send photos from their hotels: ‘I want a bathroom like this!’ They want it to be nice and they want it to be functional. Medicine cabinets are really great these days with illuminated mirrors and integrated lighting. Instead of a typical shower curtain on a rod, we’ll install a ceiling track that is embedded in the ceiling drywall, and the curtain hangs from the ceiling—a super clean look! We are seeing a lot of demand for performance showering; there are a lot of new shower systems with digital control boxes. Whether it’s for kids, visiting parents or aging-in-place, Universal Design ideas include wall-hung toilets, stylish grab bars and curbless or low-curb showers.

Donato Doubles Down

I’ve always been very hungry,” Chef Donato Scotti says, laughing. “And not because my mother didn’t feed me!”

The chef-owner of Donato Restaurant Group—which includes Redwood City’s Donato Enoteca and CRU Wine Bar, Berkeley’s Donato & Co. and San Francisco’s CENTO Osteria—has had a love affair with food for as long as he can remember. Born and raised in a small town outside Bergamo, Italy, Donato decided in middle school that he wanted a career in the hospitality industry.

He started modestly, taking a summer job with a bakery shortly before his 13th birthday, delivering bread by bicycle. “I wanted to work in a bakery because I loved bread,” he says. But he also loved the work, arriving at 4AM—two hours before his shift started. A perk of the job was the mid-morning snack that included a piece of chocolate and a half-dozen rosetta bread rolls.

At home, family meals weren’t fancy, he recalls, “But we always ate well. We would eat rabbit on Sundays; we raised them. We would butcher a pig once a year to have our own salami, and my grandpa used to have chickens.” Fresh produce came from the family’s orchard.

After completing culinary school and several years of hands-on education at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bergamo, Donato left Italy to work in New York City. He arrived in 1989 and embarked on building a dynamic career that included six years at the iconic Los Angeles restaurant Valentino, eventually becoming head chef, followed by earning his chops opening three restaurants in Fresno. He moved on to Il Fornaio in 2000 and landed at the Palo Alto location in 2002 as head chef. Donato and his wife settled in Mountain View to raise their family.

While working at Il Fornaio, Donato was offered the opportunity to open La Strada Ristorante Italiano on Palo Alto’s University Avenue. It was a pivotal career move. Working with the owners, he developed the concept and menu and ran the kitchen, emphasizing the Northern Italian food he had grown up with. “I put a lot of effort and time into La Strada. It was a learning experience, and it allowed me to become who I am now,” he says.

After four years with La Strada, he was ready to open his own restaurant. He had a very specific plan: “Serve the kind of food you would find in a restaurant in Italy, while keeping the place as Italian as possible—owned and run by an Italian chef. A place where you could go out with friends to have a quiet dinner without spending a lot of money.”

Through a business associate, he found the perfect space in Redwood City, just as the city was beginning a major revitalization. Donato purchased the space in early 2009 and got to work. Donato Enoteca opened that June.

Now a three-time Michelin Bib Gourmand winner, Donato Enoteca is family-friendly, comfortable and Italian to the core. The main dining room evokes a typical restaurant in the Tuscan countryside, with exposed-beam ceilings, white walls, concrete floors, open kitchen and simple wooden tables and chairs. A small private space opposite the restaurant’s entrance accommodates business meetings and dinners. The rear dining room, also available for private events, is plush with a carpeted floor, upholstered high-back chairs and floor-to-ceiling curtains. Connecting the two dining spaces is the well-lit bar area with access to the restaurant’s patio.

The food menu highlights a cross-section of Italian dishes using seasonal local ingredients, housemade items and specialty ingredients imported from Italy. The decision to use local organic produce was made early on; it was a must-do in Donato’s opinion.

Fresh pasta has also been an essential component of Donato Enoteca’s dishes. Agnolotti del Plin (sausage, veal and rabbit ravioli with a tomato sauce) and Bigoli e Coda (thick spaghetti with oxtail) are two mainstays of the menu.

Although many components are made in-house, the restaurant lacks the space to produce dried pasta and smoked and cured meats, something Donato hoped to change. Opening Donato & Co. in 2017 with friend and chef Gianluca Guglielmi solved the problem. The Berkeley restaurant’s large basement was turned into a commissary space for creating dried pasta and Italian charcuterie, such as bresaola, coppa, and pancetta, which are now distributed to Donato’s other properties.

In 2013, the developers of the Crossing 900 building in Redwood City came calling, offering Donato a ground-floor retail space. He decided on something different from previous ventures—a European-style wine bar with retail. While Donato Enoteca hosts monthly wine dinners, a wine bar would offer customers a more casual wine and food experience.

“I wanted to provide a very European experience but not break the bank,” he says.

CRU would be a modern enoteca: part wine bar, part tapas bar and part retail business. With Box, Inc. right next door, Donato anticipated drawing a younger clientele, along with his Donato Enoteca regulars. Customers could grab a beer after work, purchase a bottle of wine before jumping on the train to head home or enjoy a snack before taking in a movie at nearby Century 20.

Donato worked with Ken Hayes of Hayes Group Architects to create a plan for the space, taking inspiration from the Caltrain tracks that run next to the building. Donato also collaborated with artist and designer Anné Klint on interior details that incorporated train station and railroad track elements throughout, resulting in a warm, comfortable feel without adding kitsch. CRU opened in November 2016.

The interior’s centerpiece is a Klint-designed wood and metal sculpture that doubles as a lighting fixture above the bar. The bar, tables and chairs are made of reclaimed wood and iron, evoking railroad ties and tracks. Built-in shelves lining CRU’s walls were created with wood reclaimed from a barn in San Jose. Small tiles behind the bar are reminiscent of rail spikes. On the bar sits a vintage Berkel meat slicer and a rebuilt Faema E61 coffee machine. A big-screen television hangs on the wall behind the bar, perfect for viewing sporting events. A large front patio provides seating for al fresco sipping and snacking.

The wine list offers approximately 25 selections of mainly Californian, Italian and French wines, available by the glass and bottle. Beer drinkers can choose from an assorted dozen of craft beers, half on tap. And if you’re a coffee nerd, CRU has you covered with coffee drinks made with the exquisite Giamaica Caffè. Customers can also purchase bags of Giamaica Caffè beans directly from CRU.

Service is fast-casual, and the menu is an order form- style page that you fill out and hand off to your server. In addition to the housemade charcuterie options, shareable plates include Roman-style pizza and what Donato calls a “mini paella.”

The retail side of CRU offers a selection of more than 100 wines to suit almost any palate. The focus is on lesser-known wineries in California and around the world.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Donato wants to take CRU to a different level. “What we do is unique; we’re not your common wine bar,” he explains. “We’re better equipped to provide a different experience food-wise, and we do this well.”

All About EVOO

Olive oil should never be oily—if it is, that’s a sign it’s gone bad. Olive oil is really just olive juice. It shouldn’t coat your mouth,” Eddie Sohirad, owner of Del’Oliva, says, handing me a small plastic tasting cup of the Cuvee variety. I take a cautious sip of the oil, trying to notice its nuances on my palate. “Right about now, you’re going to get a spicy feeling in the back of your mouth, don’t panic,” he says.

Eddie was right. The smooth, crisp-tasting olive oil tickles the back of my throat on its way down. “I’m going to need some water,” I say, between coughs.

“We rate olive oil by how many times it makes us cough. We say that’s a one cougher, that’s a two cougher, that’s a three cougher,” Eddie says, only half-jokingly. My question then was, why use an olive oil that’s going to make you cough?

Eddie tells me about some of the beneficial naturally occurring chemicals found in extra virgin olive oil—EVOO, for short. Polyphenols, for example, are responsible for triggering a few coughs but are the source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties in olive oil. Each variety of EVOO contains different levels of polyphenols, and the tickling in the back of your throat is only passing, Eddie assures me.

Del’Oliva, a fine oil and vinegar shop in Burlingame, has a storybook red-brick storefront with a green shutter window and Spanish tile roof ornamentation. The spacious-feeling interior, set off by its high ceiling, two aisles full of specialty food items and handpicked wines, welcomes visitors with its Mediterranean vibe. The flow of the store funnels into a semi-private back room used for wine tastings and private parties. The centerpiece of the space is the wall of stainless steel tanks full of extra virgin olive oil, olive oil infusions and balsamic vinegars. This is Eddie’s unofficial classroom, where he walks customers through the process of discerning which variety of olive oil is right for them.

“Naturally, people have a lot of questions when it comes to what they should look for when choosing virgin olive oil, olive oil infusions and balsamic vinegars. This is Eddie’s unofficial classroom, where he walks customers through the process of discerning which variety of olive oil is right for them.

“Naturally, people have a lot of questions when it comes to what they should look for when choosing olive oil. What we try to do is bring it to a level that we can all understand—what’s a good olive oil and how we should use it,” says Eddie.

Eddie and his wife, Homa, opened Del’Oliva in 2011 with the mission to demystify shopping for olive oil by educating the consumer. “I really wanted to make sure people get their money’s worth and get a really good product that’s healthy for them,” says Eddie. Previously, Eddie had owned other stores selling products he wasn’t passionate about. When he connected with an olive oil distributor, they evolved the concept of bringing high-quality olive oil to the public while providing education about the benefits of fresh olive oil.

Eddie’s educational efforts have inspired a base of loyal returning customers, who talk about Del’Oliva and give hostess gifts from the shop to friends. This word of mouth brings in new customers who stop in to learn more. Fresh olive oil and on-the-spot taste testing are a winning combination.

“In my opinion, extra virgin olive oil is when the olive is in the perfect condition, ripe for the picking; you would pick it and you would run to the press. The sooner you press, the more attributes you will preserve. You don’t add anything, and you don’t take away anything. What comes out is olive juice, which we call olive oil,” says Eddie.

Terms you might hear in conjunction with extra virgin olive oil like “cold-pressed” or “first-pressed” are redundant because extra virgin olive oil is already those things. If you don’t see the words “extra virgin olive oil” on your bottle, that could mean the olives were picked before they were ripe or that the oil went through additional processing, thereby losing some of its healing properties.

The benefits of EVOO start to dissipate the moment the oil is pressed. Eddie advises his customers to use their oil up within nine months. Most grocery store-bought olive oil brands don’t give you the press date, but Del’Oliva does. “In this store, every six months we switch between the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere. My mission is to get the freshest olive oil I can get my hands on,” Eddie says. Right now, Del’Oliva is carrying olive oil from the Northern Hemisphere: California, Spain, Portugal and Greece, with some arriving soon from Italy and Tunisia.

Once you’ve tasted the difference between a mild and fruity Cuvee and an intense and grassy Hojiblanca at the other end of the extra virgin olive oil spectrum, you can start to figure out your preference. Eddie comes alive with excitement as he mixes sweet balsamic vinegar with savory infused olive oil like Gravenstein Apple white balsamic vinegar and olive oil infused with basil for tasting. He suggests drizzling the mixture over a salad. He also shares culinary possibilities like leaving a splash of Dark Espresso balsamic out on a plate for a few days to allow the vinegar to evaporate, leaving behind thick syrup that could become the perfect ice cream topping or pork chop glaze.

“Everyone should have a good bottle of extra virgin olive oil and a good traditional balsamic vinegar in their home,” Eddie advises. “This is what we all need; everything else is just for fun, for different occasions.” At any given time, Del’Oliva offers between five and eight extra virgin olive oils from all over the world and about 20 infused oil flavors. Customers can also find about 30 to 40 infused balsamic vinegars ranging from Sicilian Lemon to Tangerine Pomegranate.

The endless flavor combinations and profiles available at Del’Oliva  make it difficult to choose which ones you’ll bring home. “When you have fresh olive oil, and you start using it, it will make such an amazing difference in your cooking and your health,” Eddie says. “But don’t buy it if you’re going to store it. Your olive oil is better today than tomorrow. You want to buy it as fresh as possible, use it and then buy it fresh again.”

The Beat On Your Eats

Ramen Nagi

Palo Alto

If you’re a ramen lover looking for a more intense noodle experience, meet your new favorite place. Ramen Nagi offers bold flavors and customizable combinations in a setting that’s far from subtle. From the spicy “Red King” with garlic, chili oil, cayenne pepper and miso minced pork to the “Green King” that has basil, olive oil and pork broth, Ramen Nagi’s dishes are inventive and burst with flavor. While Ramen Nagi is popular in Japan, Palo Alto is the site of the restaurant’s first U.S. location, which has Bay Area ramen fanatics cheering Ramen Nagi as some of the most authentic outside of The Land of the Rising Sun. 541 Bryant Street, open daily for lunch from 11AM to 3PM; for dinner from 5:30PM to 9:30PM.

Orenchi Ramen

Redwood City

Folks who know their Japanese food often say Orenchi is the place to go for a great bowl of classic ramen. But aside from their excellent tonkatsu (pork), soy sauce and salt-based noodle soups, Orenchi also has an extensive list of creative and delicious appetizers and small plates. Standouts include the spicy bamboo shoots, wasabi-marinated octopus, garlic butter scallops and tonkatsu sticks, which may appear like french fries but are actually breaded and fried pork chop strips served with a spicy sauce. This bustling, no-frills restaurant is one of three Orenchi locations in the Bay Area, allowing foodies to explore how the kitchens distinguish themselves. 2432 Broadway, open for lunch daily from 11:30AM to 1:30PM; for dinner Monday through Thursday from 6PM to 9PM; Friday and Saturday from 5:30PM; Sunday from 5PM to 8:30PM.


San Mateo

As of late, this is arguably the most popular noodle spot in the Bay Area. Taishoken serves a popular variation of a noodle dish invented 60 years ago in Japan called “tsukemen,” which involves dipping house-made and cold buckwheat noodles into a hot soup rich in umami flavors. It’s harder to find an authentic version of this style of noodles on the Peninsula, which explains the long lines that form daily outside the restaurant well before it even opens. Luckily for us, this highly-regarded Japanese import decided to open its first American outpost right here in San Mateo. Various ramen and soupless soba options further enrich the menu. 47 East Fourth Avenue, open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30AM to 2PM and Saturday and Sunday from 11AM to 3PM; for dinner every day from 5PM to 9:30PM.

Getting a Foothold

It’s a Monday morning but the level of socializing and buoyant camaraderie suggests a Friday happy hour.

Inside the cavernous Planet Granite in Belmont, a building that had previously been home to a movie theater, folks from throughout the north and mid-Peninsula assemble to lift one another up. Climbers of all ages join this climbing gym franchise, which recently opened a facility in Santa Clara near its popular Sunnyvale location, because wall climbing has essentially become the new golf.

“I’ve used the same analogy before because my dad is a golfer,” says Max Stuart, assistant director of instruction for Planet Granite.

“I think U.S. culture has been waiting for something like this. Not to say that climbing is a new sport by any means, but it really has it all: It’s a sexy sport in the way that surfing is cool and to climbing’s advantage, the barrier of entry is low. It’s one of the most inclusive sports out there. In terms of competition, look at football and how you’re fighting against the other team while fans get aggressive and fanatic. Our sport puts that to the side. You’re cheering on your comrade.”

Strapped together in ropes and harnesses, climbers rely on each other to scale the manufactured rock walls encrusted with colorful handholds and footholds. Indoor climbing is split between wall climbs and bouldering, performed on smaller formations without the use of ropes or harnesses.

On a climbing wall, courses follow a monochromatic setting: one color per climb with a variance of difficulties distinguished by numbers scrawled on duct tape near the base of the wall (it uses the Yosemite Decimal Scale where a 5.0 is akin to walking on a sidewalk and it increases from there). Gyms use setters who build climbs by positioning the holds in patterns that emphasize specific movements and techniques. Every two months the holds are shifted at Planet Granite to allow members a chance to grow.

Wall climbs begin with a traditional call and response for safety confirmation: “On belay?” asks the climber, to which the belayer confirms: “Belay on—climb on!” From there, tradition breaks; it’s anyone’s climb because while the sport is rooted in custom, the action is entirely personalized.

“As a coach, I’m not going to say that this is the only way to climb a wall,” Max explains. “I’ll make recommendations for breathing or foot placement, but if you want to go right hand, left hand, right hand, then that’s your prerogative. You can do the climb in any sequence you like.”

It’s this customization aspect, immersed within a lively social atmosphere, that’s helped usher in a climbing boom—particularly in the Bay Area.

Touchstone Climbing is currently constructing a 60,000-square-foot climbing gym in West Oakland, set to become the largest climbing gym in the country. In 2017, Planet Granite merged with Earth Treks Climbing Centers to expand their presence in the key regions of Denver, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Portland and the Bay Area. In announcing the merger, the climbing gyms noted how there were about 20 commercial climbing gyms in the country when they launched in the early 1990s. Today, that number has soared to over 420.

Climbing becomes an official sport for the first time in the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, further validating the sport and expanding its appeal to a world audience. Back on the Peninsula, Max sees climbing as an endless resource for releasing stress and engaging with your limits.

“If you’re in Silicon Valley, we have a population that is overworked and at the end of the day they need to move. They’ve been sitting all day and climbing is that perfect medium. There is an intensity level for any body,” he observes.

“I always say, ‘Never stop moving.’ This sport is perfect for moving. And in the same way as golf, you’re competitive for yourself but ultimately the wall always wins. It’s pointless to get too serious about it. Everybody has their glass ceiling and you’re never going to beat climbing.”

Besides the lure of breaking a solid sweat, climbing gyms have become social hubs where people build a community. Mike Huhn of San Mateo was climbing outdoor walls well before the advent of climbing gyms and has been a member of Planet Granite Belmont for a decade. He even met his girlfriend at the gym.

“When I moved, all my friends were climbers,” Mike says, after a Monday morning spent mounting walls. “Now, it’s like everybody and their brother climbs. It seems to have gotten crowded but maybe I’m just being old and cranky.”

Courtesy of Max Stuart

Max’s path up the climbing wall began 11 years ago when a friend took him to a train bridge over water in Santa Barbara for a makeshift outdoor climb. He soon became an outdoor guide for UC Santa Barbara’s Adventure Programs where he led canyoneering expeditions in Montecito. Following graduation, he started working for Planet Granite in 2012, ascending through the ranks, first at the front desk, then coaching and now a role as an assistant director.

He loves mentoring, especially for the youth, and some of his early students are becoming instructors themselves. He’s carved out a community at the gym, exchanging head nods with fellow employees and members alike, and met his now-wife Debbie on a wall in Sunnyvale four years ago. They live in Sunnyvale but by the time this magazine reaches his mother’s doorstep in Washington State, Max and Debbie will be long gone. Perhaps suspended in rope alongside the jagged surface of a North American rock as he and his partner take a year off to travel by van to climb the walls of their dreams.

Traversing the country and Canada in a Ford Transit 250 they’ve nicknamed Loventure (a cross between love and adventure), Max and Debbie will first head to the Eastern Sierra to go bouldering near Yosemite before winding around Utah, Washington, British Columbia, Colorado and even Kentucky. “I’ve never climbed there so it’s on the list,” he gleams.

Courtesy of Max Stuart

They’re packing light, hauling the essentials for extended climbing: two large crash pads for bouldering, ropes, harnesses, chalk and climbing shoes. “It’s like pulling out your nine iron,” Max jokes. “If I’m climbing on granite, I’m going to have on my TC Pros because they’re really good for small footholds. But if I’m in the gym, I’ll need something soft and more conducive for climbing on plastic.”

In some ways, the journey echoes the zigzag nature of climbing, how one hand placement leads to the next and as long as you keep moving, your path will present itself.

“Somebody dropped off a stack of old climbing books a few years ago at the Sunnyvale Planet Granite and I found this biography on [climbing pioneer] Royal Robbins,” Max says. “He happened to sign the inside page and it said, ‘Follow your dreams and everything will fall into place around that centralized principle.’ I got goosebumps. What more could you ask for? I guess I’m on the right path.”

Unwinding Time

Running late. What do I need to bring? Workout clothes. Hiking shoes. It’ll cool down at night. Leggings. Throw in a fleece jacket. Pool. Spa. Steam room! Bring a swimsuit. Oh yeah, chargers. Grab the (unread) book on my nightstand. Get out the door. Go! Go! Go!

Breathless, my mind racing, I throw a duffel bag into the trunk and jump in the car. Pulling up Google Maps on my phone, I plug in Canyon Ranch Woodside. And blink at the drive time. Suddenly, I’m not so late. Less than 30 minutes door to door. The visual depiction of my route also prompts a double take—starting in the familiar grey grid of the Peninsula and evolving into vast, enticing shades of green.

As I cross over 280, the trees start to multiply with each curvy turn. Reaching Skyline Boulevard, I pass Alice’s Restaurant and glance at the map. I’m again astounded at the Peninsula’s proximity to our forested backyard. Just 1.5 miles later, I’m turning into the gated entrance: Canyon Ranch Woodside.

The Canyon Ranch brand is certainly a familiar one, evoking images of luxury spa vacations in Tucson, Arizona, and Lenox, Massachusetts, along with day spa and even cruise ship offerings. After re-envisioning and remodeling what was formerly Skylonda Lodge and the Stillheart Institute, Canyon Ranch is venturing into new territory. With its November 2019 debut, Woodside marks Canyon Ranch’s first California property and foray into a more intimate and immersive retreat experience.

Walking down the entrance pathway, a series of carved words on consecutive rocks pose a question: HOW – FAR – DOWN – THE – RABBIT – HOLE – ARE  – YOU – WILLING – TO – GO?

I’m about to spend three days exploring the answer.


I take a seat in a cozy nook known as The Hideaway for a “Welcome Reception and Orientation.” I’m handed a mug of hot cider and my eyes wander to the dense canopy outside. Jeanine Conforti, director of sales and marketing, notices my shift in attention. “When you come to the forest, you’re cradled by the trees,” she observes. “It’s a time for being more introspective, to look inwardly to who you truly are.”

Woodside should not be thought of as a luxury resort, Jeanine emphasizes. It’s a wellness retreat, which she defines by five F’s. “The first F is forest,” she says. “You’re in the middle of 16 beautiful acres of redwood forest.” The second F is fitness, which Woodside presents in a holistic way. “What we do is something called functional fitness, so you’re able to utilize your body the way it naturally moves,” says Jeanine. Food comes next, a plant-forward menu sourced from within a 50-mile radius. As she explains,“We know all of the people who supply our food.” Friendship is the fourth F: “What we find is that people come here with similar intent, so you generally are meeting like-minded people.” And the fifth F is… fun. “Think of it like an adult summer camp,” counsels Jeanine. “Do whatever it is that you want to do. Go out and play in nature or sit in front of a fire pit with a blanket and read. We give you the tools to make a lot of choices, and you decide how to spend your day.”


Woodside’s daily schedule is packed with a rotating mix of some 20 activities, with personal downtime always an option. The body’s circadian rhythm is honored here. Senses come alive at first light, so even the 6:30AM Sun Salutation finds its share of downward-dog aspiring guests. I show up in the lobby for a 45-minute Pole Hike, offering a tour of the property’s trail networks, flora and fauna. I’m met by Tim Murray, Canyon Ranch Woodside’s senior outdoor sports guide. As Tim sizes up fit and makes pole adjustments, he notes the value of two extra points of stability and the 20% increase in cardiovascular (upper body) workout. “I like to go at a good clip,” I respond, when asked about pace.

As we navigate wooden steps, forest paths and creek-traversing bridges, I find myself looking down at my feet and missing the views around me. Accustomed to forging ahead, I become grateful for the way we pause and chat along the way. Tim talks about the mixed evergreen forest, comprised of redwood, Douglas fir and Pacific madrone. We pass an outdoor fitness course, prayer flags, meditation benches and a melodic waterfall. I learn about the health value of phytoncides, a chemical emitted by trees and plants—and why time in the forest helps boost the immune system, possibly lowering blood pressure and enhancing quality sleep. But, as Tim says, “To get the effects from nature, you have to be in its presence.”

With that inspiration, I choose my next activity: Forest Walking Meditation. With Gianna Vani, a mind body practitioner, guiding us, our small group slows the roll, way, way down—to the point where I’m not watching my feet because I’m so in tune with the ground. “Exhale and shift your weight, coming onto your back toes. Inhale. Lift the foot and then ground down, heel to toe,” instructs Gianna, as she demonstrates the technique. Trying not to feel straight out of Monty Python’s Bureau of Funny Walks, I deliberately and mindfully execute each and every step. Sensory supercharge. I hear a woodpecker in the distance, feel the sun beaming down on my head, pick up the scents of lavender, rosemary and honeysuckle in the light breeze and become enraptured by the mini-fern-like moss blanketing a tree.

Indeed, like a kid at summer camp, I peruse, choose and partake. What shall it be? Power Flow Yoga or Core + More? HIIT IT! or Fitness for Your Feet? Qi Gong in the Forest. Evening Breath and Meditation. Roll and Release. Panoramic trails abound all around, and every morning and afternoon bring offerings of more rigorous hikes. I join a small group exploring Whittemore Gulch Trail at Purisima Creek and wish I had more time to take in Russian Ridge, Tafoni Reserve Trail and Windy Hill.

Over a three-day stay, my usual cacophony of mind chatter begins to quiet. Insights arrive at unexpected moments. When I show up for a Labyrinth Walk, Jennifer Clarke, a mind body practitioner, reflects, “We all enter and leave life the same way. We all know the beginning and the end. But how do you walk the path? How do you handle the turns?” Taking slow steps through an elaborate stone design in the property’s fire lane becomes a meditative exercise in the most practical of spaces.


Three times a day, I gleefully head for The Hearth, Canyon Ranch Woodside’s inviting indoor and outdoor dining area. When Jeanine was reviewing the fourth F of Friendship, she specifically called out The Hearth. “You signal to people,” she told me. “If you’re sitting at a two-top or a four-top, you’d like to sit alone or have your own experience. If you sit at the communal seating, you’re open to talking and meeting other people.”

I’ve come alone, but there’s never a shortage of company. I meet a couple from Los Angeles, who share that they’re “happy to have found escape time without a long flight.” I swap travel tips with a financial attorney who has flown in from Chicago. Two sisters—one living in Monterey and another in Oklahoma—chose Woodside for a reunion. I recognize two women from my Hatha yoga class. They live on opposite coasts and are here to get mother-daughter time. I meet plenty of locals too—taking overdue breaks from high-pressure jobs in Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Francisco and San Jose.

One of the days I have lunch with Isabelle Jackson Nunes, executive chef at Canyon Ranch Woodside. Chef Isabelle grew up in San Jose and trained in Bay Area Michelin restaurants before moving into the corporate sector of food. Motivated by the mission of “sourcing food from people I believe in,” Isabelle joined the team at Skylonda Lodge and embraced the transition to Canyon Ranch. “We’re so busy,” Isabelle points out. “We eat and we don’t think, so we want the food experience here to be educational, memorable and nourishing.”

Chef Isabelle aspires to source all of her ingredients from within 50 miles—citing vendors like Fifth Crow Farm, Markegard Ranch and Blue House Farm. Every meal reveals new tastes and discoveries: Carrot Cake Pancakes with Currant Syrup. Markegard Beef Chorizo Flatbread. Jackfruit and Poblano Rajas. Braised Rancho Gordo Beans. Roast Freedom Ranger Chicken. The “plant-forward menu” means a higher ratio of greens to protein. “We encourage a vegetable-heavy diet, a Mediterranean approach to nutrition,” Chef Isabelle explains. “We don’t have to deprive ourselves of flavor. You can eat healthy and still indulge.”


After dinner one night, I head up to The Loft for Drumming Circle, which lures me with the description, “No musical training necessary.” Graced by a vaulted beamed ceiling and glorious views, the expansive Loft serves as an all-purpose space with comfy curl-up couches, tables and chairs. Ben Dineen, another mind body practitioner, gives a short tutorial and then starts up a rhythm. Intimidated at first, I let my eyes close and find myself interjecting my own thumps and taps. Sensing no judgment, I begin to get more playful, until collectively, we start to slow the pace. And then… silence, as we seem to intuitively know when to stop. Heading back to my room, I realize the Drumming Circle effectively drummed out any last mind chatter inside my head.

Canyon Ranch is an intimate retreat. There are just 38 rooms here, divided between retreat rooms in the main lodge and glass-clad “treehouses” lofted into the redwood canopy. The spacious accommodations provide soothing, restful sanctuaries, albeit equipped with Wi-Fi, TVs, large soaking tubs and in-room iPads. Designed to bring the outdoors in, rooms are accented in earth tones, most with private balconies.

My Treehouse Deluxe King has floor-to-ceiling views. Looking out to secluded acres of forest, no privacy shades are needed—allowing the body to fully tune in to nature. Falling asleep almost instantly, I wake by habit the first night, but I feel a sense of peace, rather than the usual insomnia-inducing stress. I inhale and exhale contentedly and before drifting under again, I notice how the central stars in Orion’s Belt are framed perfectly by my room’s upper window panes.


Nightly room rates, which are scaled per person, include all meals, daily activities and full run of property amenities. Optional enhancements are always available—ranging from guided group mountain biking and winery tours to Equus Coaching sessions at nearby Ciara West Equestrian ranch. Specialty treatments—including restorative facials, custom massages and bodywork—are offered in the spa. Canyon Ranch Woodside also provides personalized training opportunities, along with private health coaching and consultations.

On my third day, the grey grid of the Peninsula beckons me back. I see Jeanine in the lobby as I’m preparing to depart, and she nods in satisfaction at my notably refreshed disposition. “I wish we could take before and after photos,” she tells me. “When guests arrive, we see what their lives are like in full gear; they haven’t completely detached yet. By that second or third day, we look at them again and there is just a transformation—they’re able to release so much and just experience deep relaxation.”

Starting up the car, my now half-read book tucked in my backpack, I reflect back on a yoga session in The Loft with Gianna. Before the final Namaste, as a gentle breeze bathes the room, Gianna reminds us to remember what we have cultivated inside of ourselves. “Revisit your inner smile and allow it to bring a sense of calmness, a sense of peace,” she tells us. Driving out of the gate and turning onto Skyline Boulevard, I consciously make an effort to crystalize that memory.

Inhale. Exhale.

Dancing Duo

What started as a professional collaboration led to romance and then marriage for Sarah-Jane Measor and Michael Lowe, whose leadership at the Menlo Park Academy of Dance and Menlowe Ballet brings classical, contemporary and cultural dance to Peninsula audiences.

Not surprising, it was dance that led to their first meeting at a fundraiser for Peninsula Ballet featuring a Nutcracker performance. “One of my students in the ballet was Clara, and her mother suggested that I ask Michael to guest teach,” Sarah-Jane recalls. “I did think he was very handsome—and very talented—and I was a little in awe of him. We got along professionally right from the start.”

At the time, Michael was with the Oakland Ballet while also teaching at a number of different schools. “She was so British—and so fun,” recollects Michael. “We would have in-depth discussions about classical music and art in general that continue to this day. Plus, we both had Royal Academy of Dance training.”

After a few years apart when Michael was performing abroad, love bloomed when he returned to the States in 2009. They married in 2011, the same year they co-founded Menlowe Ballet, along with Lisa Shively, who serves as the company’s executive director, and Ballet Master Julie Lowe.

One could say Michael tumbled his way into dance. Born in Oakland’s Chinatown and raised in Alameda, he was athletically inclined and involved in sports, and, as he says, “a decent tumbler.”

“My mom used to take my sister Florence to the San Francisco Ballet, and I tagged along,” he says. “After high school, I became serious about dance and was a scholarship student at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York City.”

Michael was just 19 when he went on his first tour. “My parents were against it at first. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go to college,” he recalls. “But I ended up dancing around the world, seeing all the places I would have read about in books.”

Michael has both a classical and modern dance background. “In this country, a lot of dance is fused together,” he says. “Even when I’m watching Dancing with the Stars, the foundation is ballet.”

Michael danced professionally for three decades before retiring in 2000. Continuing to teach and expand his choreographic pursuits, he has journeyed to out-of-the-way places. His ballet Legend of the Seven Suns was the result of a trip to Mongolia. The ballet’s characters include gods, mortals and a menagerie of engaging animals.

“Mongolia has a rich heritage of tales related to humans and their relationship to the natural world,” he says. “Those stories gave me the fuel I needed to tell a great fable through dance.”

Michael’s contribution to Interlude, the Menlowe Ballet’s spring production taking place May 8-10 at the Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, is Upstream, which honors his Chinese-Korean roots. It’s set to a score by Wang Dong and Liu Xing and evokes a watercolor landscape brought to life.

If Michael brings an across-the-globe perspective to Menlowe Ballet, Sarah-Jane launches dancers to positions in dance companies across the country. And while Michael merged his athleticism with dance, Sarah-Jane overcame extreme shyness thanks to dance.

Growing up in England, her parents enrolled her in a ballet class in the hopes of bringing her out of her shell. “I was in heaven because you can’t talk in class or during a performance!” she recalls. “And I loved it so much, creating and acting out stories—without talking!  I just naturally went in that direction from a very young age. My parents supported me all the way.”

While in England, she was trained in the Royal Academy of Dance & Imperial Society Techniques and holds the Royal Academy of Dance Teaching Certificate with distinction. She danced professionally in Hong Kong before coming to the U.S. in 1990 and began teaching at the Menlo Park Academy of Dance in 1992. She became co-owner in 2005 and sole owner in 2015.

The Menlo Park Academy of Dance was founded in 1947 by RoseAnn Sayler, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 96. “RoseAnn was the first to bring the Royal Academy syllabus to the school,” Sarah-Jane says. “I’m carrying on that tradition.”

Sarah-Jane credits her English heritage for developing her love of history. “There’s history all around, and I loved going to historical places and finding out what happened there,” she says. “I was particularly drawn to strong women in history.”

That interest led her to choreograph her first ballet, Portraits, which debuted in 2016 and is one of the Interlude ballets this spring. It profiles seven courageous women who went—or were forced down—unexpected paths. They include English martyr Lady Jane Grey; English authors Emily, Anne and Charlotte Brontë; American swimmer Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel; and English suffragists Emily Wilding Davison and Emmeline Pankhurst.

“They all faced obstacles but prevailed,” she says. “In my ballet, they are shown individually, and, in the last piece, they interact as kindred spirits.”

In addition to Upstream and Portraits, the spring program includes two other ballets. Intervalo, a choreographic collaboration between Michael, Sarah-Jane and Julie Lowe, showcases Nicola Benedetti’s arrangement of tango composer Carlos Gardel’s Por Una Cabeza. Reginald Ray-Savage’s The Kiss features guest artists Alison Hurley and Evan Kharazzi, principal dancers with Savage Jazz Dance Company.

Together, Sarah-Jane and Michael thrive in their roles as teachers. “For me, fulfillment comes from the students, watching them go through the process of becoming dancers,” Michael says. “Plus, Sarah-Jane has sent off so many students—that’s as memorable as actually dancing.”

Those students now include multiple generations, as Sarah-Jane observes with a smile: “Parents whom I taught bring their children to classes; I can see the little child’s face in their adult face.”

Woodside Original

Jim Caldwell’s Fox Hollow Road property epitomizes seclusion. Towering, majestic redwood trees and the soothing, trickling sounds of Bear Gulch Creek provide him with total serenity. The cedar-shingled house and adjoining art studio and pool are nestled seamlessly into the natural geometry of the area. Since Jim has lived in Woodside more or less continuously for 70 years, his property is as much a reflection of the peaceful town as it is of himself.

“Very few architects get to live in a house that they designed,” he says, of the house he envisioned and built some 47 years ago. “That is very unusual.”

While Jim has enjoyed a career in residential architecture design, he admits that he always pictured himself becoming a full-time artist. Jim, now 77 years old, says he’s started to consider whether the project he is currently working on will be the last house he ever designs. He notes how most design projects these days end up being three- to four-year commitments.

“Do I still want to be designing houses when I’m 83?” Jim ponders. “If the phone rang tomorrow and someone offered me a big house commission, I’d be torn.”

Recently, Jim started devoting more of his time to his artistic inclinations. He diligently paints every morning and has already sold more paintings this year than he sold in 2019. He also expanded his lecture and teaching circuit to over 20 venues.

“I’m transitioning into being a full-time artist, which I fantasized about for 35 years,” he says.

Jim completed his first self-portrait when he was 13 years old and it was the first tangible step in his journey to becoming an artist. His attraction to painting only grew from there. He continued painting at the Cate School in Southern California and took a Stanford art class the summer following his graduation in 1959. That year, his mother helped him organize his first art show. Jim then went to Williams College and spent a year after graduation at École des Beaux Arts in Paris.

But in order to support himself, Jim says he felt he needed to pivot to architecture—a more structured but lucrative field. In a dramatic gesture, “I threw all my paints away,” he recalls. After leaving Paris, he enrolled in graduate architecture school at Yale and went on to work for several large firms in San Francisco before going solo. Over the course of his career, he has designed houses up and down the Peninsula.

“The number-one thing for me in the house is the site plan,” Jim says, when asked about how he prioritizes his design work. “How does it relate to the view, the sun, the road, parking. Number two is the floor plan; I find there are a lot of famous architects out there where the houses have a terrible floor plan—and the floor plan affects your life every day. Whether or not a house has stucco or shingles or vertical boards is secondary.”

Still, the artistic bug kept gnawing at him. Finally in 1981, Jim took a class from Richard Heidsiek at Cañada College. Jim said that was the spark that got him fired up to paint again. Layered on top of his architectural design practice, he has painted nearly every day since. “I feel so lucky, incredibly lucky, that I get to do the two things I love doing,” he reflects.

Jim had mostly painted still lifes up until that class at Cañada College; afterwards, he fully embraced the world of landscape painting. He describes his style as “realistic impressionism,” similar in a purely technical point of view to the American portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

“Sargent, he’s my hero,” Jim says. “Sargent had the ability to do incredible detail when he needed it and then be very loose.”

Jim points to Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw as an example. He notes how detailed the woman’s facial features are, yet how relaxed some secondary elements of the portrait are, like her dress and chair. That technique is apparent in Jim’s landscapes, as the intricacies of certain animals and structures are clear but other parts of the landscape like rolling hills or clouds are more abstract.

“When I get back from a trip and I haven’t been painting for two or three weeks, it’s still difficult for me to get back into it,” he says. “There is always an excuse for not doing it.”

Something Jim is always wary of while painting is not allowing himself to become bored with a piece—especially for larger paintings, so he measures out his creativity in chunks of time. “I can’t get bored if I’m only painting for an hour and a half,” he explains.

Jim’s paintings are now in over 450 collections, and his studio is filled with colorful landscapes from all over the world. A painting of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice hangs alongside a piece depicting the Sacramento River Delta. Ultimately, Jim says his appreciation for the natural world grew from his Woodside roots.

He fondly remembers when his family first moved to Woodside from Pennsylvania when he was in third grade. Woodside Elementary still used Quonset huts, and he took art lessons in a barn that used to be located behind the Pioneer Hotel. Jim’s father owned Caldwell’s General Store from 1950 to 1960. He sold the store to George Roberts, who changed the name to Roberts Market. “People are nostalgic for the old days, but in my opinion Woodside is better now than ever,” Jim says.

Jim is undoubtedly a fixture in Woodside. As he enters a new stage of his career as an artist and teacher, he hopes he can pass along some of his creative insights to the rest of the community.

“I was lucky I did have the talent,” he reflects. “And for the people who take my classes, my hope is that their artistic side will be awakened.”

Diary of a Dog: Florence

“Spot your head in the pirouette!” “More demi-plié!” “Higher grand jeté!” I can hear the instructions in my head even before Sarah-Jane calls them out. While I understand the language of “woof,” the world of dance speaks to my soul. I am Menlowe Ballet’s beloved company canine and the studio dog of Menlo Park Academy of Dance. I’m named after Florence Nightingale, from Menlowe Ballet’s The Lady with the Lamp, which premiered in the spring of 2018. However, there’s a bit of mystery surrounding my own debut. I was found in the streets, alas, with no tag or chip. I’m ever so grateful that I was brought to Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (arflife.org), where Sarah-Jane and Michael “discovered” me in September 2018. My exact age isn’t known, and the best guess is that I’m a Maltese, Coton de Tuléar and Terrier mix. Whatever the blend, my family and dance friends say I’m 12 pounds of sweet, loving, playful perfection. I sit on a special mat at the front of class (it even has my name on it!), but I also get to share the spotlight too. My resume includes more than a dozen Nutcracker performances, and I always get rave reviews from my fans. Wait, did you hear what Sarah-Jane just said? “Grand allegro!” The big jumps! That means class is almost over and dinner will come soon.

The Thrill is Back

I’m thinking about getting a fish tank. Nothing major, just five or ten gallons, enough for a few guppies, maybe a quiet blue gourami, perhaps some cardinal tetras. Oh, and of course, a small catfish and a loveable kuhli loach. And a couple of snails. Lots of live plants with a good substrate base and some interesting rocks. And now there is LED lighting. I’ve seen some YouTube videos where people have created really beautiful tanks, far more interesting than anything I’m used to seeing.

I’m also thinking about getting myself a Honda Monkey mini motorcycle. I want the yellow one. It looks like a lot of fun, though I worry that I will buy it, bring it home, and it will just sit in my garage, along with the convertible that I rarely drive. But I can almost smell the bike, its gasoline mixed with oil and the distinctive odor of new rubber tires.

I’ve read that this happens. You get some years on you, the kids grow up and create their own families, and suddenly you want to revert back to the stuff of your youth, the stuff that brings back sweet memories and reminds you of what it was like to have your whole life ahead of you.

As a child, after one of our after-school football games, my neighbor Dick Smith brought me into his home and showed me his three aquariums. I was immediately hooked by the activity of the fish and the noise and smells of his setup. Dick was breeding several of his fish and showed me a school of guppies that had just been born. He promised me some of them.

Within six months, my basement was a hotbed of aquarium action. I had seven tanks filled with everything from angry cichlids to angel fish to gouramis to guppies. Since it was a time when my parents were getting a divorce and my mom was leaving for another city, the workload of caring for all of those fish kept me preoccupied and distracted. I would go down to our basement, put on the latest Beatles album, and take care of my fish. My weekends were spent cleaning out aquariums, a task that took a lot of time and energy and left no time for wallowing.

Dick and I would go to fish stores to look for new fish and visit other collectors to trade, buy and sell fish. Though my variety was large, my favorites were always the guppies. My hobby had started with them, and I had strong memories of my first live birth of babies. Guppies have a sweetness to them: they don’t fight; they are colorful and happy; and they are easy to breed.

When my father started dating a woman who would become my stepmother, he knew he needed to curry favor with me. And so he did the unimaginable for an orthopedic surgeon who swore such a thing would never happen: He bought me a Honda 50 minibike, in yellow, that was all the rage among my friends. With a full tool kit and a bit of experimenting, I was able to take care of that bike and loved tinkering with it, cleaning it and making sure it was always in perfect shape.

There was an alley and open lot behind my home, and I cherished riding there in the rocks and weeds, shifting the gears and running over potholes and tree limbs, the slight taste of danger giving me an adrenaline rush. My friends and I would illegally ride all over town, on sidewalks, the alleys and the streets. The small motorcycles made us feel mature and powerful and gave us a taste of manhood.

And so now, it is no wonder that my mind drifts back to those heady times, fueled by endless YouTube videos of people creating incredible fish tanks and of men riding the new adult version of the Honda 50, called the Honda Monkey. At night, bored and wondering what is next, I think of having a sweet little fish tank with maybe just a few colorful guppies, and I dream of getting a yellow motorbike that smells of gasoline and rubber tires. I want to experience the thrill of baby guppies and to feel the wind in my face as I race around town. I want to feel the exhilaration of my youth, of time forever, of nothing but possibilities.

Bringing in the Catch

On a sunny Sunday morning at Pillar Point Harbor, light dances off the surface of the water, and a wide arc of clouds ripples to the hard line of the horizon. Sports fishermen drop their small crab pots over the rail, while the ocean slaps the sides of boats and sea lions bark from the shady underpinnings of Johnson’s Pier. Looking further out, you’ll see waves crashing into the sides of the riprap jetty that shelters this natural harbor from the relentless sea. At a passing glance, this harbor may look like any one of the many scenic marinas decorating the West Coast, but when you look beneath the surface of Pillar Point, you will discover a busy village of fishermen and women committed to catching premium seafood sustainably.

Pillar Point Harbor, situated at the northern edge of Half Moon Bay, is one of the coast’s most active commercial fisheries and, uniquely, allows customers to buy directly off the fishing boats. “We have 369 slips here, and about two-thirds are active commercial fishermen and the rest are recreational boaters,” says harbor master Chris Tibbe, who, along with his team, is responsible for everything from policing the docks to overseeing facilities. A reef system just past the breakwater and unpredictable seas are part of what makes this harbor more challenging than most. “The weather systems we have here can be very extreme,” the harbor master notes. “It’s not the easiest to maneuver in and out of, and it does tend to separate a new boater from the more experienced.” The professional fishermen and women of Pillar Point face the adversity of the tumultuous sea every day, taking pride in being a part of this vital working pier.

When you walk around the harbor you’ll see everything from large, well-maintained crafts to beat-up skiffs bearing the dings and scars of their long lives at sea. Chris enjoys the non-stop activity. “I got here this morning at five o’clock and there were already forklifts driving up and down with bait, and boats were coming and going,” he says. “Because we operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year at this harbor, it’s just so cool to see that kind of activity at three, four o’clock in the morning. We get it done.”

As well as enjoying the stunning views and the whirl of activity, customers who frequent Pillar Point can feel confident that they’re doing their part to support sustainable fishing. This year, the fishermen are recovering from a late start to crab season due to whale entanglements. Although this affects these small business owners’ bottom lines, they accept that delays are necessary in order to maintain the health of the harbor. “Fishermen are the stewards of the sea,” explains Robbi Edwards, who provides port support, including running sales, for the Jessica Mae 1. “If they need to start late to avoid whale entanglements, they’re happy to do that.” Lance Govia, skipper on the Jessica Mae 1, started off as a boat builder in Seattle before taking to the seas himself. He nods in agreement, “If we don’t do it right, there won’t be any fish in the future. It’s our livelihood.”

For the fishermen of Pillar Point, doing their part to protect the ocean while providing their customers with excellent seafood aren’t mutually exclusive endeavors. Kerry Davis, captain of the Bare Bones, carefully moves a crab with a missing leg to another tank, and then he takes a seat on the sunny deck of his boat, waiting for his next customer. “I try not to overfish,” he says. “I like to sell out the day they’re caught. I like to be able to tell customers, ‘I just caught them this morning.’”

Fishing, even for the seasoned pros you meet at Pillar Point, is demanding physical labor and, sometimes, downright dangerous. Erica Clarkson was a crew member on the Ocean Gale at the beginning of crab season when the boat suffered a mechanical failure and caught on fire. “It was never a panic situation,” she recounts. “Terrifying, yes, but because of quick thinking we were able to keep it moving. This is the situation, here is how you respond.” Erica snaps her fingers to indicate making one quick, lifesaving decision after another. “We got one flare off. One call out. And that was it.” The Ocean Gale caught fire close to the harbor, and nearby fishermen responded immediately. “Everybody came running in our direction,” Erica says. Ultimately, the Smith Brothers No. 2 was able to rescue the entire crew. “They got between us and the burning boat, and pulled us on board, so we never got in the water. We were extremely lucky in that.”

You may think a boat burning to the water line would be enough to deter you from making a living fishing, but the ocean has an addictive power. Erica, who first started fishing with her family when she was a girl, never considered abandoning the sea in spite of the dangers and difficulties. “It’s organized chaos, but we live in paradise. I don’t want to live anywhere else,” she says emphatically, looking out over the edge of the pier to the boats moored below. “I don’t want to do anything else.”

This sentiment is echoed by many of the fishermen and women of the harbor. Pat Coyle, who owns and captains the Janet E, admits that his work dominates his life in the best possible way. He used to have a corporate job working for Oracle, but he appreciates the freedom that comes from being his own boss, even if the demands are extreme. “There are times I’m out here until three, four in the morning. Then you’re back to fishing at six,” he says. In spite of the back-breaking labor of hauling up 100-pound crab pots, and, occasionally, getting tossed around in tempestuous waves, Pat maintains that there’s nothing he’d rather be doing. “I love going out there. It’s quiet. It’s pretty peaceful,” he muses, as he secures a heavy cable running down the side of his boat. “People talk about loving what they do, and I love doing this. It’s not work.”

The fishermen and women know they are serving the Peninsula’s savvy, foodie community, and they have some guidance to get the most from your visit. Kerry Davis advises, “Get here early. We’re a first-come, first-served business.” Many boats start to sell out by late morning on a busy weekend. If you’re looking for crab, they will generally be alive, scrabbling away in live tanks. With croakers, also known as kingfish, or other smaller fish, they may be on ice. How can you tell if they’re fresh? ”Look to see if the eyes are clear and check the gills to see if they’re still bright red. If the gills are washed out or the eyes are cloudy, the fish is probably a day or two old,” says Kerry.

The harbor features other amenities to support visitors in getting the best fish-buying experience possible. If you’re squeamish about cleaning and filleting your own fish, you can make use of Princeton Seafood Company, which will take care of the dirty business for you. And, if you’re inspired by what you see at the harbor, you could get your own crab pot, or put some bait on the line. Just make sure to fish or crab at the rail nearest the Harbor Patrol office where sports fishermen are allowed to try for their own dinners.

Pillar Point Harbor is a treasure not to be missed, and when you visit, make sure to take a moment to appreciate the sharp sea air, the gorgeous views and the devotion of the fishermen and women that make it all possible. For Lance Govia, fishing isn’t just business, it’s a way of life. Peeling off the thick rubber gloves that protect his hands from the thrashing crabs in the live tank, he starts setting up his pots for tomorrow’s haul. “You either get addicted to it or you never want to do it again, but I love it,” he reflects. “I’ll never do anything else.”

Landmark: Dug the T-rex

Redwood City’s Emerald Hills is home to a prehistoric fixture that unites a community and never lets a holiday pass uncelebrated. Meet Dug—a six-foot-tall, XXXL shirt-donning Tyrannosaurus rex statuette that’s been grabbing attention since it appeared on the front lawn of Gnat and Chris Matthews’s home off Jefferson Avenue in June 2011.

“We were driving to Half Moon Bay for lunch one Sunday and on 92 there’s a place called Spanish Town,” Chris says. “They have these giant metal dinosaurs out front as a sort of landmark and Gnat, rather casually, remarked, ‘Who buys those?’ By the time we were done with lunch, she answered her own question: ‘Oh. We do. We buy those.’ Two weeks later, we were back to pick out Dug.”

Father’s Day then approached, so the couple decided to dress Dug up in a sweater vest and tie—igniting an idea. They’ve since become frequent customers at Savers and JOANN Fabrics and Crafts, decking Dug out in festive fare for Christmas, Halloween, Bastille Day, 49ers games and the Fourth of July. Dug also indulges in numerous pop culture references including Marge Simpson, an Aliens chestburster, a Valentine’s Day kissing booth and Pikachu from Pokémon.

Dug has amassed fans worldwide (with nearly 25,000 Likes on Facebook) but Redwood City remains his biggest supporter. An entire classroom from a nearby elementary school sent hand-drawn pictures of Dug to Gnat and Chris and families reroute their neighborhood strolls to make sure they pass by for a wave. He’s even inspired another dino in the neighborhood named Tango the Velociraptor.

The Matthews family moved out of Redwood City for work last summer (they hope to return soon) and bestowed Dug to a friend’s lawn near Roy Cloud Elementary School, where he keeps watch on the playground across the street. The possibilities for costumes are endless—only limited by Dug’s larger-than-life dimensions.

“The one costume we never pulled off was to build him a snow globe—we always wanted to pull that off for Christmas somehow,” Chris says. “Turns out, it’s…a lot of engineering.”

To follow Dug’s antics, visit facebook.com/DugTheTRex

Born to Ride

On this foggy morning, a light drizzle is coming down and settling over the lush, green foothills off Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. Sporting a vintage Icelandic wool poncho and well-worn paddock boots, Laura “Lala” Benson approaches two horses in adjacent stalls. “Góðan Daginn, krakkar!” (“Good morning, kids!”), she brightly greets. Noting their agitated excitement, “Rólegur!” (“Be patient!”) Lala gently admonishes, as she takes their reins to lead them to a nearby pasture. When one tries to push forward and nibble a snack along the way, “Hættu þessu!” (“Stop that!”), she responds firmly, but with a clearly-bemused smile.

With long, shaggy fur and short, muscular bodies, these Icelandic horses look dramatically different from the taller, lankier steeds out for morning rides on the nearby equestrian trails. Lala also has a way of catching the eye, from her confident carriage to her own thick, golden mane of hair. And then there’s that melodic lilt of her voice as she shifts interchangeably between English and Icelandic.

Passersby viewing this tableau may feel as though they’ve been dropped into a Nordic fairy tale. So it’s not surprising to learn that Lala is the founder of Valkyrie Icelandic, a riding school and training program named after the singing god maidens who would ride down from heaven to carry fallen warriors back to Valhalla. As the first American to become a licensed Icelandic riding instructor and trainer, Lala pays tribute to Norse mythology by embodying a storied life of her own.


“I feel like I’m 100 years old,” Lala remarks, as she settles into a chair in her tack room. Rather than her physical well-being (which has included extraordinary challenges), she is referring to the magnitude of her adventures and experiences. In her mid-30s, Lala is clearly not an elder; she does, however, conjure up the essence of an old soul.

Born in South Carolina, the daughter of a preacher, Lala had lived in Ireland and Tennessee by the time she was three. As Lala tells it, she was obsessed with horses from the start. “My first word was ‘gony,’ which was pony,” she says. “I’d see the horses in Ireland and say, ‘Gony! Gony!’” After settling in Greeneville, Tennessee, her parents brought home a horse for Lala and her older sister, Heidi. “We grew up riding bareback in the hills of Tennessee,” recalls Lala. “I could ride before I could barely walk. I’d just hang onto the back of my sister, and we’d basically go out when the sun was up and come back in when the sun came down.”

From an early age, Lala felt drawn to one other passion: music. She started with piano and later picked up guitar. “When I sit down to play, I slip into a different universe and the music just envelops me,” she says. “For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to do was play music and ride horses. There has never been a doubt in my mind that this is what I was put on this earth to do.”

Meeting Destiny

Lala was 13 when she witnessed the sight that changed her life. Living with her family in Georgia, she had the opportunity to attend Equitana USA, a large horse expo in Louisville, Kentucky. Accompanied by strobe lights and a ’90s disco house remix, a group of riders came charging out. “The Icelandic horses were small, hairy and super fast with these huge Icelandic men riding them as they flew around the arena,” Lala recounts. “The crowd was freaking out. Nobody had ever seen anything like it, and I was just mesmerized.”

Lala approached their booth the next day and asked to ride one of the Icelandic horses. She spent the rest of the weekend helping the Petursson family groom and tack up, which was capped by a friendly (if gratuitous) invite to come visit them in Iceland. Lala cleaned stalls all winter and saved up her money. The very next summer, she came knocking. “I don’t think they thought a 13-year-old girl would show up on their doorstep,” she laughs. “They put me on a horse and they never got rid of me.”

The year was 1997 and Iceland’s humans numbered 300,000 to the country’s 90,000 horses. “Because I never lived anywhere very long as a kid, somehow it just rooted me,” Lala recaps. “I knew this was where I was supposed to be.”


Over the summer, Lala’s passion only deepened as she discovered the wonders of Iceland and its extraordinary horses. By prohibiting the importation of all other equines since 982 AD, Iceland kept its native horses in isolation, resulting in one of the purest horse breeds in the world. They grow up wild, in the harshest of conditions—with no natural predators, they’re not easily spooked. Celebrated in Norse folklore, they are stocky, robust and sure-footed. “They’ve had to endure horrible winters and volcanoes erupting,” Lala notes. “They have all this hair to protect them from the wind and snow.”

And yes, they are also smaller in stature. “Many people think they are ponies. They are not,” Lala says, emphatically. “Icelandic horses have the bone density of a large horse. They’re extraordinarily powerful and can carry up to 300 pounds.”

The Icelandic is also one of the only breeds that is ridden in five gaits. In addition to walk, trot and canter, the Icelandic has two extra gaits: tölt, a four-beat gait that always keeps a foot on the ground, and flying pace, a two-beat lateral racing gait. “Tölting is so smooth. It’s just a feeling that you don’t experience on another breed—it feels like you’re gliding along, even though you’re going fast,” describes Lala. “And the flying pace is called the ‘Gait of the Gods’ in Iceland. We only ride it at speeds of 25 miles or faster. It’s the greatest rush you’ll ever have.”


Already selling Icelandic horses to U.S. clients, the Petursson family decided that providing additional support was the natural next step. In 1999, the youngest son, Gudmar, was sent to Kentucky to start a farm, and he asked Lala to come work with him. Homeschooled at the time, Lala secured the “go-ahead” from her parents. “I moved to Kentucky, and this 19-year-old boy and I ran this farm and imported all these horses and gave lessons,” Lala recalls. “I felt so old at the time. I was 15.”

When Lala turned 17, Gudmar suggested it was time to refine and polish her skills—Lala agreed. “I wanted to have an education where I could come back to America and promote the Icelandic horse,” she says. “That’s all I wanted to do—I wanted to share it with everybody.”

However, the only school offering a degree in Icelandic riding instruction was Iceland’s Hólar University. “No American had ever gone there before,” Lala points out. “You have to be able to speak Icelandic.” Gudmar’s solution: complete immersion on a remote farm in winter. “I lived alone in the north of Iceland with this family and became fluent within three months,” Lala says. She passed her entrance exam that summer and started in the fall.


The first year at Hólar focused on dressage—the systematic training of the horse. “To improve the horse, you have to do exercises and patterns in all of the gaits inside the dressage arena that help create focus and balance,” Lala explains. “This prepares horse and rider for the final tests in Icelandic competition, performed on an oval track.” Occasionally taunted and often intimidated, Lala fought to keep her spirits up in the fiercely-competitive program. “I’m kind of an all-or-nothing person,” Lala reflects. “When somebody tells me I can’t do something, that motivates me to do it more than anything.” Lala also turned to her music for solace: “I would spend those long winter nights in Iceland sitting on my porch, staring at the northern lights and strumming out tunes on my guitar.”

In the second year of the program, Lala hit her sweet spot—starting young horses and addressing behavioral issues. Familiar with bucking horses from training mustangs, Lala respected the wild nature of the Icelandic breed. “For me, it’s all about the connection,” she says. “We’re dealing with animals that will never speak our language, so it’s our job to learn to speak theirs.” After earning her two-year degree, Lala took a break from Hólar. With the third year focusing on advanced teaching, riding instruction and training, Lala knew her education would be enhanced by more practical field and teaching experience.

With her sister, Heidi, living in Colorado, Lala moved to Denver in 2004, where she found the opportunity to pick up music again, finding expression in piano and jazz. In Denver, she also met Keith Houston, who has been her life partner ever since. When Lala said, “I gotta go train horses,” Keith responded, “I’ll go with you,” and the two set course for the West Coast. Keith got a job in Palo Alto, and the pair moved to Redwood City. In the meantime, Lala’s work with Icelandics took her to Castro Valley and Watsonville and, after Heidi moved to California, the two teamed up to sell Icelandic horses and teach out of Santa Cruz. In 2005, Lala founded Valkyrie Icelandic, expanding her offerings to include summer camps, lessons and clinics, in addition to traveling and teaching all over the country.


Lala also continued to collaborate with Gudmar in Kentucky, which led to developing another outlet for her passion. Inspired by the Icelandic spectacle that once captivated her, Lala and Gudmar recruited professional riders to create a show team called the Knights of Iceland. “I was that kid in the crowd who saw them and it changed my life forever,” Lala fondly reminisces. “We usually have six to ten riders and we do patterns and mirror each other—it’s kind of like synchronized swimming but on horseback.” After viewing Knights of Iceland videos on YouTube, a more apt comparison pops into mind: the Blue Angels. The suggestion makes Lala chuckle. “That’s a way better explanation!” she concedes. “We do it at speeds of 25 miles an hour or faster, so it scares the s**t out of the audience. It’s dangerous, but it’s really fun.”

In 2010, Lala decided it was time to go back to Hólar, which temporarily meant leaving Keith, her business and her horses behind. Faced with even greater rigor in the program’s third year, Lala found herself confronting additional challenges—the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano and a devastating strep virus that sickened the Icelandic horse population. Lala persevered, ultimately completing the program with the high point for horsemanship. Officially the first American to become a licensed Icelandic riding instructor and trainer, Lala eagerly returned to her life on the Peninsula.


In the years that followed, Lala continued to build her business, still working with her sister out of Santa Cruz, while juggling Knights of Iceland shows, new training in Portuguese dressage and more demand for her workshops and training. Then, late 2014 hit with a wave of adversity. Having already suffered two broken tailbones and her lowest disc going out, a central disc bulged in Lala’s back, effectively paralyzing her. “I had all my horses and my business—and I couldn’t walk. My savings went like that,” she says, snapping her fingers. “Everything was gone, and I had to start again from scratch.”

With the unfamiliar sensation of having time on her hands, Lala picked up her guitar again. “Even though it was the worst thing that ever happened to me, it brought me back to my other extreme passion,” she reflects. “I’d been so lost without music.” Injections eventually brought some relief, and after six months, Lala started walking again and taking light rides. But then in 2016, while still in PT for her back, she got caught in a terrifying accident during her Highway 17 commute. “The airbag broke some of my ribs and it ended up rupturing the bulge in my disc,” she summarizes. Surgery followed, along with more rehab, and Lala fought her way back to riding strength once again.


Lala credits a close friend, Cathy Luo of San Mateo, with helping her relaunch Valkyrie Icelandic in Palo Alto. The two met in late 2010 over their shared love of music, and in 2017, Cathy sought Lala’s help in buying two red Icelandic stallions for her and her daughter to ride. “She pretty much lifted me up at my darkest hour,” Lala says of her friend. “I don’t know if I’d be here now without her support.” The desire to find a closer home for the two horses led Lala to Page Mill Pastures, where her business is once again thriving.

For Lala, 2017 also marked the launch of Gæðinga (Guy-theen-guh) Dressage. Working with partner Carrie Lyons Brandt (Lala’s former student and the second American to graduate from Hólar), Lala drew on an epiphany about jazz to develop a new training program. “I told Carrie the way I want to play music and the way I want to train are exactly the same,” recounts Lala. “It’s knowing the structure and theory which then gives you the creativity to improv freely.” Derived from a term describing the perfect horse in Icelandic, Gæðinga blends classical exercises with the spirit and freedom of Icelandic horsemanship.

In another mix of music and riding, Lala worked with her songwriting partner to adapt a song she recorded into a new Knights of Iceland act. “Keith calls me ‘The Singing Viking,’” Lala says with a grin. “I sing on horseback and having my two passions come together is the most defining moment of my life.”

Even as she records her first EP, Lala remains devoted to the training and promotion of Icelandic horses. Beyond her homebase in Palo Alto, she currently works with clients in Portola Valley, Woodside and Los Gatos. She estimates that there are about 30 Icelandic horses on the Peninsula—and she’s confident the number will continue to grow.

“I’ll be flying down the road in tölt, on this stallion with his hair blowing everywhere,” she says, “and I’ll have people stop me and ask, “‘What is that?!’” By the time Lala is done, they’re clear on one fact: it’s definitely not a pony.

Tudor Transformation

For some, home means being enveloped by a favorite collection, cherished memories or dreams of travel. Living in a home that reminds you daily of the things you love with spaces designed to fit your needs nurtures a sense of well-being and contentment. That’s what drives and inspires San Mateo interior designer Kari McIntosh—balancing functional comfort with meaningful design elements.

From an early age, Kari’s knack for interior design was apparent. When she played with her doll collection, she wasn’t focused on what they were saying to each other but what their homes looked like and the function of each room. Her parents contributed to her understanding of design; her father was a civil engineer and her mother owned an antique shop.

When it was time to declare a major in college, Kari enrolled in the architecture program at Cal Poly. “I wanted to create interiors that would affect people and how they live and their enjoyment,” Kari remembers. But the program Kari found herself in was highly technical, utilizing physics and calculus to prepare students to design large-scale exterior projects like bridges.

She switched her major to business and entered the corporate world after college, becoming VP of Equities at JPMorgan in San Francisco. Even as Kari worked full-time managing investor conferences for the bank, her passion for interior design persisted. So she enrolled in UC Berkeley Extension’s Interior Design and Architecture certificate program. “I took these classes and picked away at them little by little at night,” she says.

In 2008, Kari founded Kari McIntosh Design (KMD), a small boutique firm that melds both her business and interior design skills. She clearly found her niche. KMD designs have been featured in national publications including House Beautiful, California Homes and Town & Country and KMD has contributed to the San Francisco Decorator Showcase. “The showcase is a wonderful way for people to be introduced to your firm and your design sensibilities because you’re designing for a faux client,” Kari notes. “You can put a lot of your own personality out there.”

Kari describes her design style as eclectic because she loves to incorporate both modern and antique items into her designs. Whether updating a San Francisco Victorian or a mid-century home on the Peninsula, she gets plenty of opportunities to do so: “I love to reuse things. If I can incorporate antique or vintage lighting, I think that’s a really brilliant way to keep an interior looking fresh and more unique because you’re not using mass-produced light fixtures.”

When working with clients, Kari likes to create designs that flow and tell personal stories. “I try to get to the heart of what inspires them and what they find soothing, relaxing and comfortable,” she says. She talks with clients about their interests and where they like to travel for design inspiration. One couple collects menus from the Michelin star restaurants they’ve enjoyed around the world, and Kari was able to incorporate their menu collection into the design of their new home. When her clients get a chance to add to their prized collection, they report back to Kari about their new foodie conquest.

In 2019, Kari completed an interior design project of a Tudor Revival-style home in San Mateo Park, a neighborhood known for its wooded elegance and storied past. San Mateo Park also happens to be where Kari lives; she and her family were drawn by the charming homes, outdoor spaces for children to play and the proximity to good schools. Development of San Mateo Park began in the late 1800s, and a wide range of home styles are represented. The area’s first homes near El Camino Real vary from Victorian to California Craftsman, and homes built on the hillside during the ’20s and ’30s reflect Romantic styles like Spanish and Tudor Revival. John McLaren, the landscape architect who designed Golden Gate Park, supervised the planting of San Mateo Park’s dense greenery, along with its winding streets and landscaped traffic circles.

KMD’s Tudor project called for the redesign of the home’s public spaces. Kari describes the owners as empty-nesters looking to create flexible spaces for entertaining. “They wanted to feel just as comfortable having a room filled with people at the holidays with little nooks and crannies for people to sit, as they would entertaining just one other couple and still feel intimate,” she says. The couple was inspired by their travels to London and wanted to recreate the “clubby” vibe they experienced there. Kari used some of the client’s existing artwork, antique pieces and a rug in the design, taking color cues from the artwork.

The project was completed just in time for Thanksgiving entertaining, and the homeowners were excited to host their friends and family in the redesigned spaces. “I like that the project is very unique and it’s definitely tailored to my clients,” Kari reflects. “It speaks to all of the elements they were looking for and yet I was able to add some other elements that they wouldn’t have thought of to elevate the design overall.”

Edgy Elegance

When it came time for the 18-mile bike ride, Bridget King knew she was in for a different kind of spa weekend.

The Atherton jeweler signed up for a Tahoe spa retreat through a fundraiser at Menlo School where her son attends. She joined a group of 18 moms and jetted off to Tahoe last year. The bicycles awaited them when they landed.

“Every woman on the trip was very athletic—that’s not me. But I said, ‘I’m game,’” Bridget says during a bustling Friday morning at CoffeeBar in Menlo Park.

“I was the last one on the bike ride but I made it. When I got off the bike, I was seeing double. The next day was the ropes course where you had to climb up a tree and take a leap of faith. I just climbed up there and jumped. And I don’t really drink but I did take a tequila shot and danced on the tables. We had the best time, and because it was such a special trip, we wanted to give our hostesses something to thank them.”

Being the designer and proprietress of Bridget King Jewelry, she got to work and crafted commemorative bracelets with the engraving GG 2019, as in “Girlfriends Getaway.” Recently, all 18 members of the trip reunited with bracelets on wrists.

Don’t expect to see the design appear in her collection for sale since there are some designs Bridget would never commercialize. However, the jeweler isn’t desperate for any fresh ideas, as made evident on her website, where hundreds of distinct and graceful earrings, charms, necklaces, bracelets and rings sparkle on the screen. Her jewelry is sumptuous, created with the finest detail for diamonds, while equally wearable and discreet. Bridget King Jewelry, one could say, is the convergence point between elegance and edge.

Before launching her business in 2003—initially in Hong Kong before moving to Atherton in 2013 with her husband, Ed, and two children, Audrey and Kevin—design and jewelry were natural outlets for Bridget.

She designed her first piece of jewelry, a pair of earrings, as a 19-year-old with a pair of tweezers growing up in Los Angeles and her designer eye first extended to a career in fashion as a ready-to-wear designer. Amongst friends, she’s known as the Alicia Silverstone (á la Clueless) due to her reliable approach to orchestrating a successful makeover.

But jewelry design offers Bridget a deeper meaning that extends beyond glitz and glamour.

“Being a wife and mom, you can lose part of your identity,” she explains. “I’m Audrey’s mom or I’m Kevin’s mom; I lose my name. I felt like I needed my own thing, my own space—I needed something I can do that is purely me and my jewelry is that for me.”

Now, little reflections of Bridget’s identity flicker from the wrists, ears and necks of customers on the Peninsula who either peruse her collections online or while at Neiman Marcus in Palo Alto.

The creative process of a jeweler, much like that of any artisan, isn’t tied to a 9-to-5 schedule. Bridget works locally, which is to say that ideas for new concepts sometimes find her as she admires the artwork on the back wall of CoffeeBar.

“I get inspired by everything, but mostly geometric shapes,” she says while eyeing a photo of a glacier inside the coffee shop. “My designs are classic with an edge; I like it to have something a little different and nontraditional. And if it’s a traditional shape, I want to wear it in a nontraditional way.”

Another way in which Bridget’s collection can grow is from direct feedback from customers, such as the time a client asked if she could create a piece of jewelry inspired by dogs. Bridget is a canine lover herself (an outspoken fan of PUNCH’S Diary of a Dog column) and her family owns a Labrador named Jake and a Golden Retriever named Sally. With them in mind, she began designing a chic dog bone pendant encrusted with miniature diamonds.

Not long after the charm was released, Bridget’s sister-in-law Tina called her one night to tell her to turn on Entertainment Tonight.

On screen was Ayesha Curry donning Bridget’s diamond dog bone pendant. The celebrity endorsement was an exciting validation for her craft but Bridget had to laugh at herself when her penchant for perfectionism had her noticing that the charm necklace was ever-so-slightly out of sequence.

An element of Bridget’s success lies in her ability to create without rules since she’s self-taught and did not undergo a traditional path such as attending the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Her mother, however, attended GIA and Bridget recalls with painstaking detail how mother and daughter would carpool together, battling Los Angeles traffic, so her mom could take classes at GIA in Santa Monica while Bridget attended UCLA.

In college, Bridget studied design and learned an array of mediums from photography to graphics to designing cards. She loves stationery to this day, citing her father as inspiration, and instilled the importance of handwritten thank you cards to her two kids.

Bridget works with a group of gemologists she met in Hong Kong whom she can trust to execute her vision. Currently in her office are stacks of designs awaiting production such as her 24/7 collection, which is ongoing and crafted to feel like your favorite pair of jeans. (“I lived through the 1980s,” she says. “No heavy jewelry!”) She says that she prefers to spend more on a manufacturer to receive better quality (with a price point that is higher) rather than have it cheaply made to sell higher quantities.

It’s all part of her pursuit for the perfect sparkle to complete an outfit or inspire a stronger sense of confidence for her customers. Whereas large diamond retailers might grab ears through radio commercials or flashy storefronts, Bridget continues to woo clients simply by asking questions about the person’s preferences to whittle down possibilities for the ultimate bijouterie. In more ways than one, the Peninsula has a friend in the diamond business

“Who do you think of when you hear De Beers? Or what face comes to mind when you think of Tiffany? People want a story,” Bridget opines.

“And for me, there’s a story for everything. There has to be an origin.”

The Beat On Your Eats

Bird Dog

Palo Alto

Bird Dog’s chef Robbie Wilson honed his skills working with superstar chefs like Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio and Nobu Matsuhisa—and it shows. The daring and inventive menu is broken up into three categories: raw items, proteins and vegetables/grains. This includes multicultural dishes such as the Yeasted Waffle with uni cream cheese (aka sea urchin) and bone marrow, fried chicken thigh with smoked oyster and green curry and a carrot dish with chai flavors and pineapple. The decor is sleek, simple and ultra-modern. Leave the kids at home and bring only your coolest vibe. 420 Ramona Street, open Monday through Saturday from 5PM-10PM; Sunday from 5PM-9PM.


San Carlos

Seiya’s dark, intimate decor gives the place an exclusive feel. While the extensive menu includes plenty of sushi, nigiri and items from Seiya’s Kurobuta grill, it’s the less conventional signature dishes that will surprise you. Try the Asari Butter Sakamushi (steamed manila clams in soy sauce, sake broth and butter), Mentaiko Spaghetti (pasta with spicy fish roe, grilled Hokkaido scallops and shiso) and the Seafood Cigar (scallop, shrimp and sea bass rolled in salmon skin, grilled and then tempura-fried). It’s the perfect restaurant for a romantic meal or a classy girls night out. 741 Laurel Street, open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11:45AM-2PM; for dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30PM-9PM, Friday and Saturday from 5:30PM-10PM; closed Sunday and Monday.


San Mateo

A family-friendly, Michelin Guide-recognized restaurant isn’t always easy to find, but Pausa is just the answer. Everything from the friendly service to the daily changing menu warrants its Bib Gourmand accolade. Be sure to try something on their extensive charcuterie menu with dried meats cured in house for years. Other highlights include the house-made pastas and pizzas. On my last visit, it was the perfectly-prepared pork chop entree that stole the show. The space is modern yet unpretentious, so it’s nice enough for a casual first date but comfortable enough for a family dinner. 223 East 4th Avenue, open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30AM-2PM; for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5PM-9:45PM, Friday from 5PM-10:45PM, Sunday from 5PM-9PM.


Henry Eng’s most heartfelt childhood memories are of his grandaunt taking care of him and his brother. Talking about her, he pauses, removes his glasses and wipes tears from his eyes. “She has played an instrumental role in my life. Thinking of her brings up strong emotions,” he shares. “The way she cooked for us… it was like magic.”

Henry recalls going to the daily market with his grandaunt, where everyone knew her name and she would carefully pick out the freshest produce and meat. And he credits her with being the biggest influence behind his newest endeavor. As the chef/owner of number5kitchen, a family-owned and -operated restaurant in San Carlos, Henry is committed to serving farm-to-table local cuisine crafted with seasonal hand-picked ingredients.

Growing up in Hong Kong, Henry was surrounded by family and culture. Every night, at 7PM on-the-dot, the extended family, living in separate apartments, would gather for dinner. On Sundays, the larger extended family of 20 would come together for a lively evening of plentiful, freshly-prepared delicious dishes. Hong Kong, as a cosmopolitan city, offered Henry exposure to many different tastes and types of food. Unbeknownst to him at the time, this was just the beginning of his experience with culinary capitals, including New York, London and Singapore.

After earning a degree in information systems, Henry pursued a career in risk management. He first landed in New York, where his office happened to be right across the street from Les Halles, where Anthony Bourdain got his start. During this time, Henry enjoyed cooking for himself and friends. After a short stint in London, he ended up back in Hong Kong where he met his wife, Carly. Their last stop on the metropolis journey was Singapore. After city life and Henry’s career had taken their toll, the Engs were ready for a slower-paced lifestyle. So, in 2011, Henry and Carly decided to move to California. Drawn by family ties in the Bay Area, they put down roots in San Carlos.

The question facing Henry: What to do next? Recognizing Henry’s passion and talent for cooking, Carly suggested that he become a chef. With her encouragement, he began his pursuit.

First came a six-month, eight-hour-a-day, immersion program at the French Culinary Institute where he graduated top of his class. Henry then spent two years working for Chef Tusk at Cotogna in San Francisco. For Henry, it was an eye-opening experience. “I had never seen so much variety of herbs, fruits and vegetables,” he recounts. “Cooking seasonally was my biggest takeaway.”

Henry’s next opportunity, as the sous chef and operations manager at Mayfield Bakery in Palo Alto, gave him valuable insight into the business aspects of running a kitchen. With the intent of owning his own restaurant, Henry looked for the logical next step. It came in the form of KitchenTown, a San Carlos-based incubator program that supports food startups. Henry became chef at KitchenTown Café, where his brand, number5kitchen, was born.

Henry’s two-year venture at KitchenTown delivered valuable hands-on experience in running a restaurant business. “It was like having my own restaurant without the financial investment,” he says. “One of the things I most valued was being able to bounce ideas off of others, including chefs, food experts and the owner. I remember one American-Indian woman made the most unique cilantro sauce that I used with my dishes.”

While at KitchenTown, Henry learned about an ideal retail space becoming available in downtown San Carlos. After nine months of preparation, number5kitchen opened its doors in February 2019. Carly did all the design, creating a space that is aesthetically pleasing with a simple, modern touch. As for the meaning behind the name, Henry wanted something that represented his family, so he looked to his name and heritage. The Chinese character of his last name is also the character for the number 5.

Creating number5kitchen’s ever-evolving menu starts with shopping. While other chefs might build a menu and then procure their ingredients, Henry reverses the process. After selecting what’s seasonal and fresh, he fine-tunes the menu accordingly. Henry sources his product from three places: the local farmers market, wholesale and directly from a few small farms. As he thinks about what goes into each dish, Henry explains, “I prefer to limit the ingredients to no more than five per plate. The simplicity of cooking is what I like best.”

On a typical Saturday morning, Henry begins his day at the College of San Mateo Farmers Market. Not only there to buy, he likes to explore. He then heads back to San Carlos to prepare brunch. While his trained chef prepares the main dishes, Henry tastes each and creates the sauces himself. When the doors open, you will find Henry serving as host, waiter, bartender, barista, et al. After brunch, it is time to prepare for dinner. He typically calls it a day around 10PM. 

Sampling number5kitchen’s seasonal menu, the food is light, flavorful and plated with an artful touch. In another nod to Henry’s Chinese heritage, he wields chopsticks to precisely place each dish’s delicate garnishes. With the first bite of number5kitchen’s popular crab pasta, each ingredient pops—the freshness and quality of the crab, the silkiness of the burrata cheese, the zest of the backyard lemon, the crunch of the breadcrumbs, the flair of the fennel and the kick of pepper. The turmeric fried chicken beckons with a delightful crispness to the skin and is flavorfully served on a bed of cilantro chili yogurt, with a side of herb salad and turmeric rice. House-cured sardines are fresh from Monterey and paired with organic egg, potato and pea shoots, drizzled with a citrus vinaigrette. “Fresh, seasonal food is the only way we should be eating,” Henry says, gesturing to the dishes.

With a business philosophy of touching people’s hearts, Henry’s biggest reward is seeing people smile after eating at his restaurant—and return customers, of course. 

As spring begins to make its appearance, you can expect to see touches of asparagus, peas, fava beans, spring onion and garlic on the menu. Walking through the aisles of the farmers market to procure the freshest ingredients, Henry is clearly channeling his grandaunt as he creates number5kitchen magic.

Kombucha King

Less than two miles from Fitzgerald Marine Reserve’s teeming tide pools of sea creatures, Douglas Nelson reaches down into a 600-gallon fermentation tank and pulls up a slimy, gelatinous mass that’s floating on top. Needless to say, it bears zero resemblance to anything you would want to eat. “It looks really gross,” he concedes. “It’s squishy and feels like a jellyfish.”

And that’s being generous.

The goop Douglas is showing off has an equally unappealing name: SCOBY, which is an acronym for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.” To be clear, this is no failed science experiment. When combined with sugar, tea and water, SCOBY is actually the magic ingredient in the purportedly health-enhancing fermented beverage known as Kombucha.

Kombucha here. Kombucha there. Kombucha everywhere. Walk down your supermarket aisle, and you’ll find a refrigerator case devoted to this wonder drink. It’s on tap at the gym, ready for grab-and-go at the corner grocery and on the menu in local cafes and restaurants. In Douglas Nelson’s case, he’s brewing and bottling it right here on the Peninsula under the brand of Moss Beach Kombucha (MBK).

To backtrack (and we’re talking hundreds, if not thousands of years), the exact origins of Kombucha aren’t known—although the effervescent tea is most frequently traced to Manchuria, Russia and Eastern Europe. The name Kombucha means “kelp tea” in Japanese, adding yet another layer to the mystery. (There’s no kelp involved here.)

Douglas first encountered Kombucha in 2010, when a friend who brewed her own Kombucha gave him a sample. He was immediately hooked. “I said, ‘You’ve got to show me how to make it,’” he recalls. “So she gave me her SCOBY and set me up. Kombucha is one of the classic communal hobby foods. You need to know somebody to get started.”

How Douglas went from homebrewing for family and friends to becoming the Peninsula’s first Kombucha manufacturer is part of a bigger roundabout story. Originally from Louisiana, he moved to New York after earning a theatre degree in college. While his desire to pay the bills eventually led to data processing work, the through line in it all was the pleasure he found in the flavors of food. After his wife’s work brought the couple to San Francisco, Douglas got the opportunity to chase his passion and pursue a culinary school degree. He graduated in late 2016 and realized that while he loved to cook, he didn’t want to be a professional chef: “I thought, ‘I make good Kombucha. Maybe there’s a business to be had.’”

Douglas and his wife had relocated to Moss Beach in 2013, and he sensed a synergy with his Kombucha epiphany. “Moss Beach is that place where you go to rest and become a new person. In a very small footprint geographically, there is rejuvenation,” he says. In January 2017, he launched Moss Beach Kombucha with a parallel mission. “I would like to restore you a bottle of Kombucha at a time,” he states simply.

Naturally rich in probiotics and antioxidants, Kombucha has garnered its share of health claims—from restoring your gut biome to disease prevention. Douglas is careful not to push the miracle elixir agenda. “There are apocryphal stories of it curing various things and there’s plenty of skepticism,” he notes. “I drink Kombucha for pleasure—not for health. The only thing that I can say experientially is that I feel better when I drink it.”

Back to MBK’s fermentation tanks—and that symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. It takes about two weeks for each batch to reach just the right level of sugar and acidity. Douglas uses only organic ingredients, many scooped out of fragrant large bins, including his proprietary blend of black and green tea, celery seeds and hibiscus flowers. When it’s time to bottle, the fermented tea mixture is strained to filter out any pieces of SCOBY and pumped into the mixing tanks, where Moss Beach’s unique flavor profiles are added. Whether it’s Hibiscus-Lime, Meyer Lemon-Ginger-Cayenne, Celery-Lavender or Turmeric-Black Pepper being brewed, the final steps include bottling into pint-sized glass containers, labeling, capping and shrink-wrapping.

And then comes the tasting. Which is what enticed Douglas in the first place.

Twist the cap to break the seal—and there’s that quintessential sound of carbonated pressure being released. Hssss! The first sip is bubbly with a complexity of flavors to process and absorb, followed by a tantalizing tickle at the back of the throat and then a satisfying settling into the stomach.

“What you get from Kombucha that you don’t get from any other non-alcoholic drink is depth,” Douglas says. “When you’re drinking juice or Coke or something, you’ve got a single dimension. Kombucha has at least two, painting in broad strokes, dimensions: sweet and sour. There’s a vertical matrix of interest in the mouth and that goes back to why I love it. There’s just a lot going on in there—it’s exciting.”

After opening in 2017, Douglas started out by self-distributing and working the farmers markets. Given that he considers himself a culinary artist (along with musician and writer) more than a “business guy,” Douglas is thankful for the Kombucha version of being discovered. “A distributor bought one of my bottles and contacted me out of nowhere and said we’d like to represent you,” Douglas says. “That was a Cinderella moment for me.”

MBK is now sold in about 120 stores across the Bay Area, including Draeger’s Markets, Bianchini’s Markets and Piazza’s Fine Foods. But Douglas acknowledges that the company’s future growth likely hinges on bringing in additional resources. “I would be open to a partner who complements my skill set,” he says. And while he’s intellectually curious to see how far Moss Beach Kombucha can go, he’s also content with whatever size footprint the company creates. “It’s my mission in life to create and share beauty,” he explains.

For right now, that means Kombucha, and he encourages anyone who hasn’t tried it to give it a shot. How much should you drink? “Some folks feel great having half a pint a day, some drink half a gallon,” he says. “The only real answer that makes sense to me is to follow your gut. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. How do you feel? Your gut will tell you.”

Indoor Outings

Rainy days are certainly not the norm on the Peninsula (consider it reason #256 why living here is subpar to none) but sometimes a few soggy afternoons find their way into our cooler seasons. During such damp days, it’s natural to want to hunker down at home. However, it’s even more fun to stay in—while technically going out.

For example, consider the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo—with its newfound bounty of indoor activities. No longer just a one-stop shop for shopping, Hillsdale also offers bocce ball, bowling, escape rooms and cinema.

Hillsdale Shopping Center has become emblematic for how commerce centers can regenerate interest. Following a $155 million open-air renovation, the food court is reimagined (long gone are the neon lights, now replaced by a breathable, sunlit atrium) and the entire north block building was restored to house major attractions like Pinstripes and Cinépolis.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to remain home on a stormy day but for those who seek adventure regardless of having an umbrella in tow, here are indoor outlets ready to add some rhythm to the pitter-patter of rain.


The ways in which Cinépolis rethinks the movie-going experience hit you before you even land in your seats, which, by the way, are plush recliners robotically equipped to maximize comfort. Ascending from the staircase onto the second-floor lobby in the San Mateo location, you quickly notice that a box office is nowhere to be found, instead replaced by a full bar, lounge area and electronic kiosks for purchasing tickets.

Patrons are encouraged to purchase movie tickets online, with prices starting at $10 for a matinee, and arrive 20 minutes ahead of showtime to allow for the Mexico-based cinema chain to lavish you with its additional features like in-seat concierge dining and drink options. Servers appear with a push of a button and they’re privy to the film’s plot so as not to disturb during key moments.

The menu offers a variety of snacks, from edamame to gourmet truffle fries with a beer, wine and cocktail list sporting favorites such as the blackberry mule or the spicy strawberry margarita made with Tanteo jalapeño tequila. Veggie melt sandwiches, Mexican street tacos and Nathan’s hot dogs are among the entrees and what good would a movie theater be without a full offering of chocolate candies and multiple flavors of popcorn.

Cinépolis opened in November, the worldwide chain’s first Bay Area complex, and brought with it some of the most unique screens available on the Peninsula. San Mateo’s location is the first theater in the country to present Screen X, where a full 270-degree panoramic view is sometimes projected during the movie using dual screens on the left and right of the main display. Your retinas are engulfed in action.

“With the proximity to Silicon Valley, we wanted to see what people would think about it,” says Annelise Holyoak, the national director of marketing & communications for Cinépolis. “It’s quite affordable compared to other luxury experiences; you can see a movie on the weekends for $15. Things like Netflix and Hulu are out there but we want to create a memorable experience.”

8 Hillsdale Mall, San Mateo

Sandbox VR

The future of video games thrives in San Mateo. After opening to much success in June 2018, Sandbox Virtual Reality relocated last October to a larger facility on the second floor of the shopping center to allow the virtual reality arcade to expand into four greenrooms for a digital escape room experience unlike anything you’ve played before.

Sandbox VR has done to laser tag what the iPhone did for mobile phone calling: Live-action battle gameplays are no longer limited to a television screen, rather, they exist in your hands and beneath your feet. (But don’t worry, you’re not going to bump into each other or trip onto the floor; the system is designed for function as well as dazzle.)

A greenroom covered with cameras is what it takes to transport gamers from the Peninsula into otherworldly frontiers. Gamers wear five trackers (two on the arms and legs with one on the head), which monitor and react to all their movements. There are currently five options for experiences, called titles, including the Star Trek Away Mission, which is a story-based experience using familiar characters and the famous holodeck that immediately whisks gamers into a number of thrilling situations.

Eric Anjain, the San Mateo store manager, explains that weekdays are packed with corporate bookings whereas weekends are when individuals come in to compete. From 5PM to 9PM on Mondays through Thursdays, a virtual fight club is available for gamers to defend their skills. The community scoreboard showcasing the top players is Sandbox VR’s first step into the expanding e-sports arena.

“VR is not as mysterious as it used to be. When people hear about what sorts of things I get to do, they get excited and immediately want to play,” Eric says. “If you say that you have VR at home, it’s not as exciting as going to a communal space.”

60 E 31st Ave #2044, San Mateo


Senses overload in the best possible way when stepping into Pinstripes. The crashing of bowling pins against the back rack are met with cheers whereas elsewhere, a well-placed pallino earns praise during a tight back and forth on the bocce court. A server squeezes by with a plate of chicken saltimbocca while the name on the reservation is called to pull you in.

A trinity of Bs defines Pinstripes: bocce, bowling and bistro. Born in a suburb outside of Chicago during the mid-2000s, Pinstripes blurs the lanes between a gourmet menu of homemade Italian-American cuisine and competitive active games for all ages and abilities.

The Pinstripes in San Mateo took over what used to be Sears and is the company’s first outpost on the West Coast. The complex sprawls across 33,000 square feet on two floors with 12 bowling lanes, four indoor and outdoor bocce courts and a full-service restaurant and bar. Prices are fair and welcoming; bowling, per person and per hour, tends to be $15 most days but $20 on weekend nights while the bocce court remains a flat $10 per hour.

The kitchen prepares wood-fired pizzas, seasonal gelato and each and every Italian-American dish is made in-house. Pinstripes’ flexible ballroom seats up to 200 people with private reception rooms and outdoor fire pit areas. This might be one of the few places on the Peninsula where a tech company on a team-bonding retreat meshes with a 12-year-old’s birthday party.

36 Hillsdale Mall, San Mateo

Breathtaking Blooms

March heralds the beginning of wildflower season on the Peninsula. The good news is that spring blooms can be viewed at numerous nearby preserves, offering flower fanciers both easy jaunts and real leg stretchers. Head to the ridgetops or stay closer to sea level, take your pick!

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) offers a downloadable guide to 30 local wildflowers. Before you head out, make sure to visit openspacetrust.org/wildflowers, so you’ll know whether you’re feasting your eyes on a seaside daisy, California fuchsia or coyote mint.   

Here are some of our favorite scenic hikes, accompanied by a hint of what you’ll see, thanks to photographers Robb Most and Frances Freyberg. Of note: Frances will be exhibiting flower photos from nearby locales at the Portola Art Gallery in May—learn more in the May issue of PUNCH.

Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve
Redwood City

If you’re a 280 commuter, you’re undoubtedly familiar with this very showy springtime treat. Edgewood Park boasts an endless carpet of wildflowers amidst its serpentine grasslands.

The 467-acre park has 10 miles of trails, and you can choose from a number of loops. Or, for easy access to wildflowers, park along Cañada Road just south of Edgewood Boulevard and enter the park via the Clarkia Trailhead.

What makes the wildflower display at Edgewood unique is that its serpentine soil normally inhibits plant growth. Thankfully, a number of mostly low-growing plants have adapted. They include blow-wives, blue dicks, California lomatium, California plantain, goldfields and serpentine linanthus.

Starting March 14, docents will be leading free wildflower walks on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10AM through June 7. Departing from the main parking lot, the three-mile routes vary according to what’s in bloom. Groups of 10 or more need a reservation but otherwise it’s first-come, first-served. In addition, on Saturdays from April 4-25, tours will also start at the Clarkia Trailhead at 10AM.

Enid Pearson-Arastradero Preserve
Palo Alto

Another option for easy wildflower viewing is the Enid Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, which offers 533 acres of land that was protected from development in the 1970s thanks to the city of Palo Alto. The Preserve is noted for its rolling savanna grassland and broadleaf evergreen forest with no elevation over 775 feet.

Among its 10.25 miles of hiking trails, the grassland areas above and beyond Arastradero Lake boast the best wildflower displays. You’ll see California poppies, lupine, thistle and wild pea on the Juan Bautista de Anza and Meadowlark Trails.

Of note: Mountain lion warnings are often posted at Arastradero as it’s part of their local habitat. They’re a good reminder to keep dogs on leash and children close to you. In years and years of hiking there, we’ve never seen a mountain lion, although we did spot a bobcat once and have seen rattlesnakes later in the spring.

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve
Redwood City

The over 3,000-acre Russian Ridge Preserve just may boast the showiest display of wildflowers on the Peninsula. From about 1920 to 1950, a Russian immigrant known as Mr. Paskey grazed cattle and ran a dairy farm here, inspiring Russian Ridge’s name. Today, the preserve’s grassland trails—Bay-Ridge, Borel Hill, Hawk Ridge, Alder Spring and Ancient Oaks—offer hikers a dazzling assortment featuring first poppies and lupine and later gumweed, mules ears, farewell-to-spring and brodiaea.

Russian Ridge also boasts the highest point in San Mateo County—Borel Hill at 2,572 feet with 360-degree views. Just a half-mile from the park entrance, it is named for Swiss banker Antonio Borel who lived there at the turn of the 20th century and helped create the Crystal Springs Reservoir to the north.

There are 10.4 miles of hiking trails to choose from, with some trails shared with cyclists and equestrians. You can mark the season at the Peninsula Open Space Trust Council Circle by standing on the brass marker and seeing where your shadow lands. The Circle honors Audrey Rust who served as president of POST.

Skyline Ridge Preserve
La Honda

At over 2,000 acres, Skyline Ridge Preserve features not only great views from its ridgetops but also comes with its very own lake.

Once owned by James Ralph, Jr., aka “Sunny Jim”—who served as both mayor of San Francisco and governor of California—a fun fact for long-time Peninsula residents is that it was subsequently owned by John Rickey, who used it as a hog ranch. Mr. Rickey was the owner of three much-loved restaurants in south Palo Alto: Rickey’s Studio Inn, Rick’s Swiss Chalet and Dinah’s Shack. Dinah’s Shack remains in the form of Dinah’s Garden Hotel while the other “Rickeys” were torn down for housing in 2005.

Amongst its 10 miles of trails, the grassland trails—Sunny Jim and Ipiwa—provide seasonal wildflower viewing as does the 1.3-mile loop around Horseshoe Lake, which was constructed in the 1950s to provide water for ranching and agricultural operations. Depending on the month, you’ll see milkmaids, Pacific hound’s tongue, Henderson’s shooting star, miniature lupine and giant wakerobin trillium.

Besides its lake, unique to this preserve are two multimedia nature tours, a family-friendly jaunt around Alpine Pond and a longer, two-mile hike that features four different habitat types.

Wildlife Champion

Charlie Knowles’ epiphany arrived 26 years ago while reading a New York Times article about the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Charlie, a Stanford-educated entrepreneur fresh off the sale of his company, was searching for his new purpose in life.

“I didn’t really want to spend the rest of my time golfing,” he says.

Through reading about the CCF, Charlie found his purpose: He would apply his entrepreneurial instincts to global animal conservation.

Twenty-six years later, Charlie is the co-founder and president of a successful conservation non-profit, the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN).

Growing up in the Midwestern forests of Elgin, Illinois, he says he felt incredibly connected to the wildlife he saw on his strolls through his hometown. Yet Charlie felt it was his destiny to become an entrepreneur, being from a family of self-starter engineers.

“I felt like if I went to my parents and said, ‘Hey, I want to be a veterinarian or want to work at a zoo,’ they would’ve rolled their eyes,” he says. “So I never really felt like working with animals was an option for me.”

Charlie moved out to the Peninsula to attend Stanford University, where he completed both his undergraduate and graduate studies. With a background in physics, engineering and business, Charlie was well-equipped for the ever-advancing Silicon Valley. He worked for Hewlett-Packard out of college, then for a robotics company before starting his own software company, Rubicon Technology.

Though WCN headquarters is in San Francisco, Charlie resides on his wooded Los Altos Hills property. As to what has kept him on the Peninsula rather than moving to the city, Charlie says he has formed a similar bond with the grassy hills as he once had with his hometown forests.

“Essentially, I can go out my back door and there’s nothing between my house and the mountains,” he says. “I’ve got camera traps in my yard to see wildlife walking through and I can take my kids hiking to various places.”

Starting with $350,000 at WCN’s founding in 2002, Charlie shepherded the organization into a $24 million force for conservation as of 2019. The non-profit is also on the cusp of unveiling a new North American conservation project this year—a significant step for a typically internationally-focused group.

“We’re hoping an inital species will be mountain lions,” Charlie says of WCN’s proposed North American initiative. “But we would look at a broader North American strategy that could certainly include grizzly bears, wolves and other species.”

WCN functions like an entrepreneurial incubator for conservation projects. Charlie hopes that WCN can exponentiate the impact of conservation projects that have attained positive results, but have further room to grow.

“Much like a venture capitalist evaluating a company, we’re looking for the right people, working on the right problem, with the right strategy,” he says.

However, according to Charlie, unlike traditional investments, conservation projects do not always have traceable metrics, which makes measuring the “success” of a project a bit murkier.

“When you look at a for-profit company, you can see what their market share is, you can see whether they’re growing and at the end of the day, you can see what kind of a profit comes out,” he contrasts.

Furthermore, even basic measurements that conservationists observe, like animal population size, are often misleading to philanthropists. In 2019, a rabies outbreak amongst Ethiopian wolves cut the already dwindling population in half.

“Does that mean that I’ve failed in my investment?” Charlie asks hypothetically. “The population went from 430 down to 210. Should I invest more; should I invest less? As a philanthropist, it’s hard to know the answers to these questions.”

“Lions are in crisis. In just 25 years, lion populations have declined by half. The Lion Recovery Fund invests in the most effective projects aimed at recovering lions across Africa—backing key tactics such as supporting the parks and reserves that serve as lion strongholds and promoting coexistence so that people can live alongside and benefit from lions. The LRF is moving swiftly to convene conservationists and other institutions to address the threats to lions and ensure that the King of Beasts can thrive across Africa. Lion recovery is within our grasp.”

While Charlie says that he contributes a six-figure check every year to WCN to help offset overhead costs, he and co-founder Akiko Yamazaki have made a point not to over-invest. Charlie says this was tough, emotionally—especially in the early years of WCN when he wanted to grow the organization right away. Akiko advised him that propping up funding for WCN with their own money was unsustainable. They needed to make new donors feel like integral members of the team.

“You want to build a collective ownership of it,” Charlie says. “Most organizations look at philanthropists and donors as a necessary evil to fund what they’re doing. We turn that on its head and say, ‘You are partners from the beginning.’”

WCN hosts expos twice a year including its spring expo scheduled for April 25 in Redwood City. WCN invites any organization doing wildlife conservation or animal welfare work to come and exhibit for free. These events feature lectures from a range of conservation and ecology leaders, such as Dr. Jane Goodall, who has become a friend to the organization.

For a field with noble intentions like conservation, the competition between organizations for donations is fierce. A cursory Google search for “competition for charitable donations” yields thousands of articles and blog posts, all trying to explain how to out-fundraise non-profit opponents.

“My experience has been that for people working in the conservation space, their intent is pure and their passion is deep; they’re really, really good people,” he explains. “If you can get them in the same room and talk about what you share in common, the competition can melt away.”

Ultimately, Charlie trusts that everyone is born with an innate respect for wildlife.

“I haven’t met a kid who wasn’t deeply connected to animals,” observes Charlie. “I think it’s more that some people lose that along the way. At WCN, our goal is to rekindle and nurture that connection.”

Unravelling Mysteries

Any minute now, the phone will ring, bringing news of an award nomination and a new benchmark in his literary career, but during a recent morning, John Billheimer remains untethered to his landline because as any good mystery writer might, he has a keen sense for what’s about to transpire.

He instead breaks open The Wall Street Journal. In between sips of his regular sweet and spicy caffeine-free tea, he contemplates completing the daily crossword puzzle, a 30-minute exercise that he can now afford since retiring as the VP of a small engineering consulting firm that specialized in transportation research.

This relaxed schedule offers further opportunities for John to search for the right words. In 2019, the Portola Valley resident had two books published: Primary Target, his sixth installment in the Owen Allison mystery series, which whisks John back to his Appalachian roots in West Virginia, and the nonfiction Hitchcock and the Sensors, a detailed documentation of the painstaking measures the famed director took to create cinema within the antiquated standards of Hollywood code officials.

It’s his treatise on Hitchcock that’s earned John the imminent phone call.

Having served as a judge in previous years for the Edgar Allan Poe Awards (or the Edgars), John is aware that after the nominees are announced online, the feat is personalized by a congratulatory call. The awards are commissioned by the Mystery Writers of America in New York City to honor the year’s best in mystery fiction and nonfiction; John read that morning that Hitchcock and the Sensors made the shortlist for best critical/biographical book of 2019.

This is his first Edgars nomination and at 81 years old, John embraces the recognition with equal measures of pride and humility. Seated on a couch in the luminous living room of the hillside home he shares with his wife, Carolyn, John clings to his reading glasses as he thinks. His neatly-trimmed beard has more salt than pepper and sometimes, when he looks off to the side, he resembles a distant relative of a grizzled Paul Newman. Perched on a stand on the back patio is a colorful, mobile sculpture of a cowboy and Indian on horseback that swings like a pendulum. It’s by Palo Alto native Fredrick Prescott and the pieces begin to sway slightly in the direction of the wind as John recollects his mysteries.

Carolyn, his wife of 51 years, is on the line in the other room, allowing him to disconnect from thoughts of that impending phone call. He turns to discuss his approach to mystery writing, informed by hardboiled, mid-century greats—Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald—writers who famously diminished attention to plot and mastered the simile.

“Usually, I know the ending, but the path getting there can vary,” John says. “One or two times I’ve changed an ending but most of the times I know who did it. One aspect of my engineer training is that I have to feel that this is plausible and that it can happen. My problem with a lot of mysteries is that the plausibility just isn’t there. Hitchcock hated that in people—he called them the de-plausibles.”

The Master of Suspense captivated John since his first job as a teenage usher at the Keith Albee Theatre in his hometown of Huntington, West Virginia. Years later, John can still hear the audience’s gasps during a murder scene in Dial M for Murder.

His father, Wayne, was a civil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who would travel up and down the neighboring Ohio River to work on dams while his mother, Mildred, taught at the local Catholic school. Born the oldest of four in November 1938, John was often found in the Huntington library reading World War I dramas or baseball stories.

He’s an avid fan of America’s pastime, rooting for the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds alike, and he’s penned two mystery novels centered around a baseball sportswriter named Lloyd Keaton and one nonfiction book exploring some of baseball’s more infamous, egregious misplays. The book, Baseball and the Blame Game, begins with the clever truth: “Baseball is the first thing most men fail at.”

Appalachia colored in the backdrop of his youth. (Which, for semantics’ sake, is pronounced App-a-latcha or, as John divulges, “It sounds like, ‘I threw an apple atcha.’”) The coalfields, integrity of the common blue-collar worker and colorful colloquial phrases seep into John’s novels as easy as sliding off a greasy log backward.

“When I was growing up, each state had its own culture but now the Internet and TV have homogenized everything,” John says. “Steel Magnolias came out when I was writing my first book, The Contrary Blues. I was in the theater watching the movie and Shirley MacLaine says, ‘That woman has a butt like two pigs fighting in a gunny sack.’ The audience broke into laughter but I’ve heard that my whole life. That’s when I became aware that jeez, the world at large might not know these things.”

Leaving West Virginia for his education, John first graduated from the University of Detroit in 1961 before attending MIT for his masters’ degree in electrical engineering. He then earned his PhD in industrial engineering from Stanford in 1971 and afterwards he began working for the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park. His first assignment: Return to West Virginia for a project regarding coal mining. His interactions with the West Virginians would later become fodder for his first novel, which introduces his failure analyst-turned-crime solver hero Owen Allison (whose namesake references childhood friends Robert Owen and Allison Read).

“I thought I was writing a short story but when I got to the end, I thought, these guys are fun—what would happen next?” John says of his debut into fiction, 1998’s The Contrary Blues. “I can think three chapters ahead but when it comes to writing, I outline a chapter in grim detail. But not the book. I need to have enough leeway so I can meander with the plot so that there are surprises for me. And if there are surprises for me, then there will be for the reader.”

The latest installment in the Owen Allison series, Primary Target, has his protagonist reconciling with his collapsed consulting firm that took on transportation projects but fell to cronyism. One dialogue exchange involves characters discussing how the Highway Patrol set policies for when mobile phones hit the market. His prose is full of action, not just due to the bombs exploding in garages or shootouts at the airport, but when his characters talk, they also tend to walk, creating a forward momentum that pummels his stories onward. 

Prior to solving his own mysteries, John worked as a specialist in modeling, analyzing and evaluating transportation systems for SYSTAN, Inc. in Los Altos from 1972 to 2005. He helped establish the California Motorcyclist Safety Program, a statewide program of mandatory training that saw motorcycle fatalities drop over 70% during its first 15 years. And if you’ve ever been caught driving solo in 101’s carpool lane, John’s research helped the CHP to establish HOV lane enforcement policies. His engineering career was fruitful, but looking back, he recognizes a resemblance between his life and his fiction.

“I had been almost too laid-back. I didn’t go out beating the bushes to develop things and we probably would have been better off with more salesmen,” he says now. “We eventually fell prey to the same thing in Primary Target: A big job we won was taken away from us. We had a small business for 33 years that eventually fell fallow to bureaucracy.

Acknowledged in the front of Primary Target is the Wednesday Night Wine Tasting and Literary Advancement Society, a writing group John has been a member of since the mid-1980s. The group keeps him humble, telling him what works and what needs editing, but he says their most important function is to crack the whip on deadlines to ensure he produces at least a chapter a month.

When he’s writing, John prefers to use a pen and paper, lounging on the couch in his downstairs office and since he’s a lefty, his hand sometimes smears the story as it inks out, leaving him unsure of what he just wrote—furthering the layers of mystery. He’s casting around for ideas for his next book idea and perks up at the suggestion of somehow introducing the protagonists from his dual mystery series, Lloyd Keaton and Owen Allison, in one story.

But that’s a mystery he’ll solve some other day. Carolyn is off the phone now, the line is free and John returns to reading. The Prescott sculpture still gently sways on the patio like the eyes of a Kit-Cat Klock while from a distance, across the country in New York, someone begins to dial 6… 5… 0… on the telephone keypad.

Pillar Point Coots

PUNCH reader and Los Altos resident Paul George had just finished lunch at Barbara’s Fish Trap in Half Moon Bay and was strolling along Johnson Pier when he was struck by the complex line formed by the convergence of a small stream of fresh water flowing into the lapping waves of the harbor. With his Canon EOS 5Dsr in hand, Paul focused and took this Perfect Shot: “The coots had been scattered about as I started shooting,” he says. “When they all suddenly converged to get a drink of fresh water, I knew I had a winner.”

Image courtesy of Paul George / flickr.com/people/paulgeorge

Diary of a Dog: Chase

While I am officially a Yorkshire Terrier, I’m not the fanciest sort since I don’t have a long, silky coat or the most distinctive of colors. But my family chose me anyway because I was the quiet one in the litter. I was initially brought home for the two girls in our family, Arielle and Talia. They were teenagers at the time and ever so excited to get a puppy. They loved me and played with me, but before long, they were off to college. I had more time on my hands, so it made sense to get a job. Sloane, the dad in my family, started taking me into the office. And back at home, I still had Coby, the youngest son, to give me lots of attention. But then Coby went away to school. Before I could get too lonely, the oldest son, Josh, moved back from college into a small home in Palo Alto and he wanted a turn with me. I still put in my office time with Sloane but every night I’d return to Josh’s house. Then, a few years later, Josh moved away. (It’s not just me, right? You’re seeing the pattern here too?) I moved back in with Sloane, and as you might imagine, we became pretty tight since we both missed having the kids around. I’m getting a bit old now, 14 or so, and I retired from the office and spend most of my time sleeping. But here’s the crazy thing! Suddenly, there are kids around again. I hear them being called “grandkids,” and they’re always coming to visit. Best of all, they’re fun to play with because they’re small like me.

Real ID Is Not Free

A mix of stress and anxiety came over me as I braced myself for the task ahead. I parked my car and briskly walked toward the long line snaking around the nondescript beige building. I was at the DMV.

A month before, I had learned about the Real ID and how, starting this October, you would need this special enhanced driver’s license in order to use it as your identity proof at the TSA. If you don’t have it, your only choice will be to use your passport. Since one of my daughters and her husband and baby are doing me the great disservice of moving to Los Angeles (I’m secretly hoping they quickly regret the move and return here, where they belong), I did not relish the idea of constantly traveling with my passport, a document that seems too important for a 50-minute Southwest run.

When I heard about the Real ID, I jumped on the Internet and learned as much as I could about it, all of it bad. First, you can only get the Real ID at a DMV, no online possibilities. Second, despite my trying for weeks, it seems impossible to get an appointment at any DMV (well, maybe in Arvin). Third, you have to gather a bevy of documents and bring them with you and hope that they will pass muster.

It’s only logical that as every week passes toward October, the situation, whatever it may be at the DMV, will get worse. In October there will be tomes written about all the eager flyers at SFO who miss their flights because they will have arrived with only their driver’s licenses. My thinking was that early action in this situation was imperative.

And so, on a cold, early February Saturday afternoon at 2:30PM—with nothing planned until Sunday at noon—I took my place in line outside the door. There were about 50 people in front of me (not bad, I thought) and within 20 minutes, 50 people behind me. I had brought the weekend edition of the WSJ, the current book I was reading (something about deep-sea treasure hunting), a fully charged phone and, to the best of my limited ability, patience.

The line moved at a tediously slow clip. I found myself reading each word of every article of the paper. I made sure not to initiate any conversation with those in front or behind me since there is nothing more distressing to me than trying to keep an unintended conversation going, talking about nothing.

After a slow, cold hour, I finally made my way inside the DMV building where two women, business-like, were—first stop—checking documents to see if we had brought the proper ones. I watched as some of my fellow liners, crestfallen that their documents had not passed the test, limped out the door they had waited an hour to enter.

I was nervous because one of my documents—proving my social security number—was almost four years old. Like approaching the Soup Nazi (Google it if you don’t understand), I smiled, said nothing and hoped. After a few minutes of shuffling my papers, she gave me a prized number, G51.

I took a chair as distant as possible from the multitudes, knowing that there was no end to the number of viruses floating through the angry DMV air. A loudspeaker cried, “G12 to Window 8.” Patience. I read some, but mostly watched the process—people making their cases for their Real IDs, a woman illicitly helping her elderly husband pass the driver’s test, a mother demanding that it was not too late for her daughter to take the road test. Slowly, the numbers crept up: G24, then G33, then G45.

Suddenly after a little more than an hour: “G51 to Window 12” and I quickly made my way there. A pleasant-looking woman took my papers, my driver’s license, my passport and my hope.

“How are you hanging there today?” I tried to sound sincere, though I don’t know if I came across as pathetic instead. She didn’t respond, keeping her head down, attending to business. After about ten minutes with nothing negative said, I became hopeful. She printed out several documents and asked me to carefully review and sign them.

True joy! I was almost done. A few minutes later she printed out two papers and handed them to me. One was my receipt and one was for me to, gulp, go get into another line for my photo. It occurred to me that perhaps this whole process was designed to ensure that you had a big smile on your face for the picture, ecstatic that soon you would be done with this mishegoss. After waiting another 15 minutes, I put up a big, honest smile at the photo booth. I was done.

It was a bit after 5PM then. I had to leave out the back door since the front section was closed. As I walked into the crisp, clear winter air, I felt as though I had just left jail after a two-year term. A free man with a Real ID.

Cantor’s Hidden Art Collection

Part of Elizabeth Mitchell’s job is to become unstuck in time. As a curator for Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center, she’s constantly referring to the past when reviewing possible new additions to the collection. How could this piece relate to another already in the archives to form a conversation or, better yet, an argument? As she cross-references, she mentally ticks through the museum’s database stored in her memory.

She also thinks decades ahead, prearranging exhibits for 2030 and beyond that assemble the pieces she’s spent years acquiring into a cohesive array. When considering a potential artwork donation, Elizabeth interprets art history before turning to forecast its future, and all the while the Cantor rests in the present with its ever-beckoning walls awaiting.

“Part of my job is collecting for now and then part of my work is determining if this will be interesting in 50 years,” she says. “After I discovered what a curator does, I didn’t know what else I could do. You’re thinking like a historian but also thinking visually. Thank goodness this weird little job is here.”

Hermes #V (2018) by Wesaam Al-Badry “Photographer Al-Badry investigates assumptions about consumerism, religious freedom and cultural values in provocative images that ask: Would the niqab be more accepted in the West if women wore high-fashion scarves? Themes exploring the construction of identity permeate Paper Chase and are captured beautifully in Al-Badry’s work.”

Elizabeth joined the Cantor in 2010, where she is the Burton and Deedee McMurtry Curator and director of the Curatorial Fellowship Program for the museum. As she marks her first decade of curating, she’s on the eve of rolling out Paper Chase, an exhibit opening on April 3 featuring over 100 works done on paper (prints, photographs and drawings) that she and the museum have collected during her tenure. Some of these pieces have been held in reserve, anticipating their inaugural display.

“Looking back at what I’ve acquired, it was really interesting to stop and think about what we have done in the last 10 years. It feels to me, as we’re getting a little farther away from the 20th century, we can now start to define who we are,” Elizabeth says. “I thought it would be interesting to survey something from the 16th century to yesterday. That really got me thinking about different categories I could use to organize. I started with the section that thinks broadly about different identities and how we project them. This first section will look at age, religion, sex and relationship status—all these ways in which we define ourselves.”

Untitled (2008) by Ambreen Butt “In this print, one of a series, Pakistani-born artist Butt contemplates issues of power and personal autonomy in the lives of young women who endure many forms of repression. The artist considers the perspectives of the school girls who were used as human shields during the 2007 siege of Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad. Paper Chase features many works by female artists and images illuminating women’s experiences.”

The show is grouped into themes: women’s lives, fashion and identity, political responses to war, nature and science. Elizabeth hopes the display will ignite questions around collecting and why the Cantor collects.

“It’s a strategy in museums to show off what’s been acquired and to honor the donors who have been so generous to give,” explains Cantor’s director, Susan Dackerman. “Hopefully, it can inspire other people to collect and encourage a relationship with the museum. This kind of show has a real objective behind it.”

The museum was the recent recipient of a gift donation that included photographs from environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy. Elizabeth was struck by his interpretation of nature and immediately placed the work against photographs they had by Ansel Adams.

“I can look at one photograph and think of 20 different things,” Elizabeth says. “When I go to someone’s house to look at their collection, I start to think how this can go with that. I’m constantly thinking of what kind of conversation we can have.”

Cassette Grid No. 10 (2009) by Christian Marclay. “Composer and visual artist Marclay is interested in both visual culture and sound. In this piece, he uses the early and outdated cyanotype photographic process to depict a set of audio cassette tapes—another discarded technology. In turn, he asks questions about collecting, memory, media and time. Those are questions we ask when we build a collection of art: What is important now? What will be important to teach with in the future? What conversations do those objects enable us to have about who we are and how we live?”

A museum is defined by its wall space as well as its storage. Presently, the Cantor has about 40,000 objects in its collection but a vast majority is kept in storage, safe from damage and potential thievery.

“In museums across the county, only two or three percent of a collection is on view at one time,” Susan says. “One has to be precise in terms of collecting practices. Things have to meet a certain criterion. The most complicated storage challenges are around the scale of things. Think of the Rodin bronzes we have here—it’s easier to keep them on view than to put them in storage because they’re so big.”

A team of registrars work in and out of the storage facility to maintain the art’s security and to retrieve specific pieces requested by students and faculty. The Cantor’s mission is to educate and most of the pieces in its micro-encyclopedic collection are available for viewing in any of the museum’s study rooms, which can be refashioned into miniature galleries.

“There’s a myth that the storage in a museum is a locked door and no one goes in and out but it’s really like a beehive. You can only see a few bees,” Elizabeth says. “Nothing is forgotten; things are just used in
different ways.”

Landmark: Facebook Thumbs-Up Sign

About 500 people make the trek to Menlo Park every week for a photo op (and social media post) that’s becoming synonymous with Silicon Valley. What was once the original Sun Microsystems sign at Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road is now a beacon welcoming visitors to Facebook. After Sun Microsystems was acquired by Oracle in 2009, Facebook secured the sprawling site for its new headquarters. In 2011, Facebook officially moved from downtown Palo Alto to what’s known as its Classic Campus at 1 Hacker Way. Real estate head John Tenanes suggested wrapping Sun’s existing sign with the iconic thumbs-up Facebook emoji banner to welcome employees to their new home. The sign was so well “liked” that Facebook decided to keep the existing monument structure, flip it and reuse it—with the backside still carrying the vestiges of the property’s history.

Courtesy of Facebook

Faces of Art

All share a passion, the same motivation: the need to create. Working in every imaginable medium, Peninsula artists contribute to the aesthetics all around us—from our homes and offices to galleries and museums. Often, we know them only as a signature, so here’s a glimpse at the faces behind the works of art.

Jill Andre

Always drawing, whether in the margins of books, on her iPad or on vellum for architectural renderings, Bay Area native Jill Andre spends her time capturing people in their element, doing their work: “It’s the intensity I see in the people that compels me to draw them. I’ve got a wonderful sketch of Dr. Stacey Quo tightening my son’s braces.”

While studying design at CSU Long Beach, Jill attended a Wayne Thiebaud exhibit and had a revelation about color. “I have multiple instances of synesthesia, with my senses crossing. I can ‘taste’ color and ‘see’ sounds,” she says. Jill’s color sense is informed by Matisse, Milton Avery and the Peninsula’s own, Mitchell Johnson. Jill was selected for the 11th Annual 50|50 Show at Sanchez Art Center this past summer, creating 50 artworks with her chosen theme ‘Single Serving’ in 50 days.

Mitchell Johnson 

Contemporary painter Mitchell Johnson is the subject of the monograph, Color as Content, and the documentary film, The Artist of Silicon Valley. Based in Menlo Park, Mitchell’s shape-driven paintings are known for their personal approach to color and have been exhibited in Milan, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. An American Academy in Rome Visiting Artist (2015) and a Josef Albers Foundation Artist in Residence (2007), Mitchell divides his time between his favorite painting locations in Europe, New England, New York City, Asia and California.

Mitchell’s paintings can be found in the collections of 28 museums and over 600 private collections. The most recent museum acquisitions were Museo Morandi in Bologna, Museum of Modern Art in Rome and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. Mitchell moved to the Bay Area in 1990 after completing his MFA at Parsons in New York.   

Krytzia Dabdoub

Born in Mexico City, Krytzia Dabdoub is a global artist with long sojourns in France, Spain, Venezuela, the Netherlands and the U.S. Her work is often large-scale, organic and inspired by environmental colors, textures and moods. Lately, she has been concentrating her work on climate change, trying to create awareness about the impact our actions have on the ecology. Specifically, she has been making contemporary works with butterflies as she explores their migration to and from Canada and Mexico. Krytzia believes in the Butterfly Effect, where our actions have a ripple effect that can destroy or save our ecosystem. She also uses an app to show butterflies flying to give another layer to her work.

She showed her work in Prague last November, Miami Inspire during the week of Art Basel in December and opened a show in Half Moon Bay this January in the Coastal Arts League Gallery.

Barbara M. Berk

Barbara M. Berk’s journey has been circuitous: a childhood love of fabric and sewing, a master’s degree in Russian history and over 15 years in magazine publishing. Her introduction to antique jewelry led to studies in gemology and metalsmithing—and the discovery that her true passion is working with the metal itself. She learned that metal can be worked like fiber and that sheet and wire can be woven.

Most exciting for Barbara was the realization that structurally sound, three-dimensional forms could be fashioned from the metal “fabric” she makes. She established her company in 1992 to create her signature handwoven high-karat gold and platinum jewelry. In 2013, with her move into a studio at the Peninsula Museum of Art, she began producing large-scale, free-standing, wall-mounted and hanging sculptures in stainless steel and phosphor bronze. Her sculpture has been exhibited in museums and art centers nationwide.

Kim Lordier

Native to the San Francisco Bay Area and a graduate of the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, Kim Lordier combines keen observation and sensitivity to create her award-winning landscapes. Kim can often be found with her easel, painting along the Crystal Springs corridor, San Mateo Coastline and the Baylands, or farther afield along the Monterey Coastline, the High Sierra and much of the Western United States.

Working out of a studio in Millbrae, Kim’s paintings are in private collections throughout the country. Kim has exhibited at New York’s Salmagundi Club and the National Arts Club along with the Haggin, Irvine and Autry Museums in California. Her work has been showcased on the covers of Art of the West, Southwest Art, PleinAir and The Pastel Journal.

Nancy Woods

Nancy Woods has been making art in various forms throughout her life. She graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts, majoring in graphic design and ending with a Bachelor’s of Fine Art. She began her career in graphic design and, after a short stint in “Art to Wear,” she found furniture a creative outlet for new and different forms of art. She appreciated how such art was usable. Today, in her studio in the Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingame, she finds old furniture, renovates it and reinvents it to have a colorful new life.

Nancy believes that we spend most of our growing up life trying to fit in and then, much later for most, trying to distinguish ourselves from everyone else. She thinks that having some fun in your house represents a connection to the whimsical world that can be revitalizing.

Neil Murphy

Neil Murphy was born and raised on the island of Oahu. Tropical colors and Asian art influences contribute to his off-beat and whimsical style. He uses mixed media (digital and traditional painting) to create curious maps, fanciful animals and art that often depicts neuroscience topics.

Neil is a strong advocate for those who suffer from mental and addiction illness. He believes that viewing art about both of these subjects opens conversations about difficult topics and experiences that we all share and provides invaluable pathways to understanding each other during difficult times. He thinks that creating art that illustrates neuronal networks and interactions is a wonderful way to learn about brain function and opens dialogue that helps to de-stigmatize mental illness and promote empathy.

Roberta Salma

Although Roberta Salma comes from an academic painting background, her focus for the past seven years has been abstract art. Roberta’s large acrylic paintings begin with a theme, color choices and a composition but often evolve into something quite surprising. She adds layers, subtracts layers and suggests shapes and lines—letting the painting tell her what it needs—building on elements of rhythm and balance. Nature is always present—water, trees and rocks all play strong roles in her work.

When Roberta works on commission, she looks to weave in something personal that relates to the person, believing that a painting should always connect with the viewer on an emotional level. She refers to her studio on Burlingame Avenue as a “community outreach studio” since it’s a working studio with a gallery room for displaying Roberta’s art as well as works by other artists.

A PAL to the Arts

The soothing melodies of Mozart drift throughout the Forest Gallery of the Pacific Art League (PAL) during Robin Scholl’s Tuesday morning class. The concerto complements the gentle scratching of pencils in mid-sketch. Robin, a teacher at PAL for nearly 30 years, strolls between her students to sprinkle tidbits of wisdom when needed. Sometimes, the learning reflects back onto the teacher.

“I love the students,” Robin effuses. “Over the years, because of the teaching, I realized that I’m growing, too.”

Robin counts herself among the many who have utilized the Palo Alto fine arts center to learn artistic technique, teach students and display their works of art. Now in its 99th year of operation, PAL’s newly-hired executive director Lisa Coscino is hoping to cement PAL as the Peninsula’s hub for artistic engagement.

“A world without art is actually a world none of us would want to live in, whether we consciously know that or not,” Lisa says. “Art affects our daily lives; art is in architecture, cars and programming.”

PAL offers a trident of artistic influence on the Peninsula: art classes, outreach initiatives and gallery space. PAL’s function as a gallery is the prong of the trident that Lisa is most focused on overhauling. “What we’re really trying to do now is give working artists an opportunity to earn a living,” Lisa says.

Emerging up-and-coming artists display their work at PAL’s headquarters in downtown Palo Alto and in exchange for wall space, the artists can either pay a membership fee or teach a class for PAL.

“Almost everyone knows who Picasso is by now but people don’t know who Michelle Louise is,” Lisa says, gesturing to Louise’s geometric yet chaotic paintings displayed on the Ramona Gallery wall. “And in order to become Picasso, you had to be Michelle Louise at some point in your life. Here is our opportunity to give everyone a chance as an artist who comes through our walls to have a career arc and start them off.”

Lisa adds that displaying emerging artists’ work helps address a certain wealth inequality plaguing the art community. A former private gallery owner herself, she says that price points on pieces by emerging artists are too low for private galleries to turn a profit. This system, in turn, prices out many people looking to purchase an art piece and leaves emerging artists underexposed.

Rather than subsisting on art sales, PAL is a non-profit primarily funded through membership dues and class fees. Therefore, PAL can afford to display emerging artists’ work and people coming from all backgrounds and interests can afford to buy the art they see on the wall.

“It is really rare in a city like Palo Alto to have a place where emerging artists can exhibit their work,” Lisa says.

Lisa wants exhibitions at PAL to center around the causes that artists engage with to improve the social relevance of the exhibit. She also wants more exhibitions to focus on a particular artist and demonstrate the journey of the artist.

“Michelle Louise might have beautiful paintings—but I want to know who she is and where she came from,” Lisa points out.

She then references the slips of paper, barely larger than an index card, that hang next to the artist’s work, providing scant background or meaningful insights. “Having this little bio isn’t really telling me enough,” she says.

PAL offers close to 70 classes a year for all degrees of artistically-inclined people. For example, Robin Scholl’s Tuesday course is a beginner-level class on landscape drawing in preparation for painting. Her Monday class on watercolor and oil painting is structured for advanced students—many of whom have been under her tutelage for over 20 years. PAL is also multi-generational and offers one- or two-day workshop courses for children.

In 2019, PAL rolled out their “beginner arts series,” designed for people who want to engage with art but lack some basic artistic skills necessary for some of the more rigorous classes. Lisa notes that this beginner curriculum was something PAL lacked for many years—many students are simply trying to scratch a creative itch that they otherwise cannot satisfy.

“There’s this desire for so many people to get away from technology and to get back to the basic, tactile kind of experience,” Lisa says.

PAL draws many students from the competitive corporate world that engulfs Silicon Valley. Even some of PAL’s artists/teachers hold demanding tech or medical jobs. PAL designs and hosts art classes for the likes of Facebook and IDEO, and Lisa is convinced that more artists are hiding in plain sight among these giant corporations.

“I find it interesting that so many people followed the corporate pathway because their family made them do it,” Lisa says. “And now that they have become adults on their own, they can go back to doing what they want to do.”

PAL’s sphere of artistic influence extends beyond its headquarters; instructors teach art classes at the Bill Wilson Center for at-risk youth and PAL organizes an art after-school program for the San Mateo Boys and Girls Club. PAL’s DREAM program, based in the Ravenswood School District in East Palo Alto, aims to enlighten kids to the connections between artistic expression and STEM fields of study.

While Lisa admires these outreach programs, she hopes the diversity in students taught by PAL ultimately translates to the walls of PAL’s gallery space. “Creativity is best supported by diversity,” she says. “Diversity in thought and from diverse backgrounds. This is what we’re going to bring into PAL.”

Catching the Art Bug

It’s not a necessity. It’s a luxury. It’s not a need to have. It’s a want to have. That being said, Stephanie Breitbard and Evie Simon work toward one goal: connecting clients with art that they will love and want to live with for a lifetime.

“Everyone works hard and what are you going to spend your hard-earned income on? Is it vacations with your kids? Is it beautifying your home?” questions Stephanie. From the perspective of Simon Breitbard Fine Arts, immeasurable satisfaction can be found in finding pieces of art that speak to you.

“I tell clients that it’s your personality on the wall and each piece can describe a different aspect of who you are,” Stephanie explains. “It all works sort of synergistically to create this dialogue and environment within the home that affects your daily mood—it’s happy vibes coming at you or intriguing vibes or conversational vibes or whatever you want it to be.”

After growing up in Marin and attending college and business school on the East Coast, Stephanie ventured into finance, marketing and fashion apparel retailing. She caught the art bug from her husband, who comes from a family of collectors, and together they embraced the building of their own collection, mostly works by local SF Bay Area artists. Stephanie’s eye for visual aesthetics drew notice—and she began to dabble in art consulting. “Friends would come into our home and enjoy the art that we had, and so it started organically, just helping friends acquire art for their own homes,” she says. The tipping point came in 2007. “I finally made the decision to switch into the fine arts as a full-blown career.”

Meanwhile, Evie started out on the East Coast and looks back on herself as an English major who should have been an art history major. Sharing her family’s passion for museums, she studied abroad in Italy, and throughout non-profit, sales and illustration work, she always maintained touchpoints—whether it was the Art Institute of Chicago or the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis—with art.

Three children each. Both living in Marin. Stephanie starts to build her art consulting business, and the two connect through their kids. “When I met Stephanie, she said, ‘You have a passion, I can see that. If you want to try this, let’s see what we can do together,’” recounts Evie. “It was a very untraditional way to enter into this career. Because we didn’t have a lot of rules around how we were going to operate, we were able to get really creative.”

Stephanie nods in agreement. “We still don’t!” she adds. “I think that’s reflective of our business, which is very atypical—very much a disrupter in the art category. We just continue to invent and reinvent our own unique service model to art acquisition in the home.”

Initially operating out of Stephanie’s home in Mill Valley—with walls and two added-on gallery spaces displaying artwork on consignment—Stephanie and Evie took the next leap in 2015, partnering to open their first retail gallery space in San Francisco. Calling it Simon Breitbard Fine Arts (SBFA), they honed in on a target market they felt wasn’t being adequately served.

“This area is very unique in that it has a lot of people who are new to the income levels that they’re enjoying through tech and finance and may have lovely new homes and not a lot of experience or knowledge in the art world,” observes Stephanie. “Our gallery space is always reflective of this need for clients to explore and really discover their own tastes and even what kind of art they like.”

While a traditional gallery might rotate through a series of four- to six-week solo or two-artist shows, SBFA exclusively represents over 100 artists—specializing in contemporary fine art from emerging to mid-career—spanning photography, painting, mixed media, sculpture and works on paper. Stephanie and Evie are always scouting new talent, whether they’re attending Art Basel in Miami or responding to an email introduction or referral. “Are they good at what they do? Are they unique? What is exciting and new and different from other art that we’ve seen?” is how Evie summarizes the evaluation process.

“We like to have a diverse collection because you don’t want your home to be curated with a single note or single style or genre or medium.”

A typical engagement starts with a visit to a client’s home to take photos and measurements, followed by an SBFA gallery visit to spark the process of discovery. “People will come in with every wall empty in their big homes and they are just sort of paralyzed,” relates Stephanie. “We always say, ‘What do you like? What are you drawn to? Let’s just look. Let’s see what you fall in love with and start from there.’”

Next comes Photoshop mock-ups blending favorite pieces with different options for placement, leading to actual works being brought in for in-home viewing—with delivery and installation all included. “We want to make sure they love it, see it at night, in different lights,” says Evie. “The only way to feel confident in your choices is if it comes from you—if it’s your own reaction.”

That need to foster a personal connection is what prompted Stephanie and Evie to further expand. Recognizing that half of their clients live on the Peninsula, they opened up a Menlo Park gallery in 2019. “Our clients don’t have a lot of time to see art or come up to our gallery in San Francisco,” comments Stephanie. “Our success in finding out what our clients like goes up dramatically if we get them into the gallery, so we realized that we needed to have a location down here.”

SBFA’s two galleries both convey the feel of a well-decorated home with eclectic furniture, vibrant colors and wallpaper. And while artists may not get the resume-builder of a solo exhibit, they enjoy the benefit of steady exposure—which Stephanie says maps to a dual goal: “Making clients happy in these beautiful home environments and making artists happy by allowing them to make a living at what they love to do.”

Stephanie and Evie say clients typically spend anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 for quality, original works of art, 4’x4’ or bigger. And they emphasize that the most difficult hurdle is making that first selection. “Once they get over that hump with all this pressure on the first piece, they start relaxing into it and enjoying the process of discovering the artists and buying artwork,” Stephanie says.

Evie advises to look at art collecting as an evolving process: “To me, as your collection grows, it shows the diversity of what you’re caring about and sort of an arc of your taste. Art is this amazing way of reflecting your own visual aesthetics—it’s a timeline of the history of your family and your life.

After capturing museums, galleries and art fairs, art world photographer Andy Freeberg turned his focus to art in the home—as seen through the lens of Simon Breitbard Fine Arts. Photographing Stephanie and Evie in action over the past four years, Freeberg will wrap up the project in 2020. “The series has become a documentary of the acquisition of art in this part of the world, especially Silicon Valley, and all that is happening in the homes around us as we come in to hang art,” notes Stephanie. View more images at andyfreeberg.com.

The Beat On Your Eats

Alana’s Café

Redwood City

Under the shade of the pepper and elderberry trees planted around 1900 and inside the historic Dielmann House lies Alana’s Café, a cozy eatery with time (and their butyraceous Swedish Oatmeal Pancakes) on its side. Alana’s shares premises with the Main Gallery, home to a 16-person artists collective showcasing 2D and 3D work in photography, mixed media, collage, painting, jewelry and ceramics. The café’s walls are updated with fresh art from the gallery every six to eight weeks—which is the doctor-recommended lapse in time to keep you from overindulging in their oat bran, buttermilk pancakes sweetened by drops of lingonberries.

1020 Main Street, open Monday through Friday from 7AM to 2PM; Saturday and Sunday from 8AM to 2PM.

Courtesy of Allied Arts Guild

Cafe Wisteria

Menlo Park

Since replacing the Blue Garden Cafe in 2018, Cafe Wisteria has served as a cool complement to a stroll through the Allied Arts Guild’s open art studios and scenic botanical gardens. The menu is both casual and satiating; sandwiches, soups and salads prepared in a union of greens and flavor. Chef Jose Bernal’s crab cakes come topped with a savory mango chili salsa while the chicken cranberry salad makes excellent use of goat cheese and caramelized onions. Whether you’re exploring Portola Art Gallery, Joy Imai Pottery or the Artisan Shop, taking a break at Cafe Wisteria refreshes with simple epicurean pleasures.

75 Arbor Road, open for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11AM to 2:30PM.

Courtesy of Eric Wolfinger


Los Altos

Cetrella (pronounced che-trella) in downtown Los Altos is named for the panoramic valley on the Isle of Capri, which, like the Californian cuisine the eatery prepares, is at a crossroads for cultures. The borderless menu features the inspired forest mushroom risotto blending maitake and beech brown mushrooms in truffle oil while the New Zealand Ōra King salmon pizza comes with a coat of crescenza from Bellwether Farms in Petaluma. The décor includes two murals and a painting by Matt Farrar, who gives nods to Adobe Creek and Redwood Grove in Los Altos and the highlands of Los Altos Hills through his serene landscapes.

400 Main Street, open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11AM to 2PM; dinner Monday to Sunday from 5PM to 9:30PM.