Saturday, April 20, 2013

Alameda Earth Day Festival

     Earth Day is not only a reminder that we need to take better care of our environment but is an opportunity to do so on a larger scale than daily recycling.  Most cities in the Bay Area offer neighborhood clean-up efforts, and this year I participated in the Alameda Crab Cove clean-up.  At 8:30 am I, my sister Hilary, and other volunteers gathered at the Crab Cove Visitor's Center to receive instructions along with gloves, buckets, and trash bags.  Spirits were high as children chased each other with garbage claws and adults chatted about weekend plans, and the park naturalist had to stand on a bench to get everyone's attention.  The crowd grew quiet as the park naturalist discussed ways that local pollution impacts the Bay Area, reminding us that plastic washing into the ocean from streams and rivers is swallowed by wildlife and finds its way into the plastic island in the middle of the Pacific.  With this reminder of why the clean-up is important, volunteers ranging from individuals to girl and boy scout troops were eager to get started.  We spread across Washington Park and along the beach to collect trash and admire the local sea birds and animal life.
      My sister and I chose the shoreline and went along a jetty and then down by a dock.  Items we found included plastic containers, drink cups, bottle caps, plastic scraps, and most plentiful of all, cigarette butts.  Most trash was located within a few feet of covered garbage cans.  We were surprised, however, by how clean the park was already, a testament to the hard work of the park personnel.  While we were working, sea birds and ground squirrels came close to investigate and watch our activities.  At one point we stopped to watch a cormorant sunning his wings.  Needless to say, this only provided more incentive to clean up this protected habitat area.
     At 10 am volunteers handed in the trash they had collected and walked to Washington Park to enjoy the Alameda Earth Day Festival.   Here children had the opportunity to see how conservation efforts impact their communities, taste fruit grown locally and organically, and engage in planting and art activities.  For their service volunteers were given a free Chinook Book of Bay Area coupons and a t-shirt, but plenty of free items were also available at the festival for the general public.  For liking Alameda Recreation and Parks Department on Facebook, festival goers received a free t-shirt.  They could also enjoy a healthy snack for making a personal fitness pledge for the coming year. 
     Around thirty vendors handed out fruits, bags, knick knacks, and pamphlets with tips and instructions on living an environmentally-friendly life.  Festival participants could sign pledges to use chemical-free cleaning agents, sign up for air quality alerts and local conservation efforts, and learn about everything from installing solar panels to how energy is created for personal use in Alameda.  Vendors from the Alameda Farmer's Market also attended, offering various kinds of hummus, pita chips, local honey, and organic fruits and vegetables.  A band kept children occupied while pets awaiting adoption from the Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter played in the shade of the park trees.
    Mother Nature provided beautiful weather for the event, doing her part in reminding everyone to be grateful for our environment.  Sunny skies, high temperatures, and a slight breeze made for a perfect day.  My sister and I left the festivities with a bag full of goodies feeling as though we'd gotten much more than we'd given.  Next year we might choose a more challenging clean-up effort, but in the meantime, we commit to recycling when possible, using environmentally-safe cleaning products, and buying local, organic products.
    If you weren't able to participate in one of the many clean-up opportunities this Earth Day, please make plans to do so next year.  At least go outside and enjoy outdoor activities like playing catch or football, grilling, or kite surfing.  With the increase in volatile weather and natural disasters due to global warming and pollution, we can't afford to neglect or ignore the place we call home.  Show your planet a little love, and she just might let you stay here a little longer.

Monday, April 15, 2013


      For crafters, artists, do-it-yourselfers, or anyone who wants to reduce the amount of perfectly good materials being dumped into landfills, Scrap is the place to go to get your materials...and get lost for hours.  Located at 801 Toland Street in San Francisco, Scrap is a warehouse of sorts dedicated to recycling through reuse of materials donated by individuals and businesses.  Buttons, corks, containers, scraps of paper and cloth, pieces of'll find anything and everything here.  Go with a list of specific items you need or let your creative juices flow as you see what's there.  The selection will vary from trip to trip based on donations so you'll never run out of things to look at, ponder over, or reminisce about.
      Normally I would deduct points from a venue inside San Francisco (unless you live there or have planned a day trip to the city) because transportation, both public and private, can be a headache.  However, Scrap is located just off the freeway from the Bay Bridge, and though traffic can get heavy back and forth to the bridge, it's pretty much a straight shot in and out. 
     Scrap is also nestled among warehouses so there are wide roads, lots of truck traffic, and you park on a dirt run along the building which looks, well, scrappy.  But all this gives the place character.  I never feel like the area is unsafe just...time-worn.  Classic.  Scrap is real in a plastic, corporate world.  It makes you feel like a kid again searching through odds and ends amid people of all creeds and backgrounds.  Sometimes I feel I could build a spaceship in an old tilt-a-whirl from things found here, and I wouldn't have a problem finding willing passengers.   To add to the charm of the place, Scrap has a resident cat you can pet as you shop, and there is a donation jar on the counter for its care.
      And you'll definitely want to leave a donation in the cat jar and at the register because everything is so cheap.  My latest visit was especially successful.  Not only did my sister (the crafter) and I (the artist) find materials to make time-capsule necklaces and a lamp shade made out of old slides, but I also found a phone cover celebrating the Golden Gate's 75th anniversary and office supplies to organize the craft room.  We also picked up a large stack of old calendars from the free pile to use on a variety of future projects.
      Besides providing a place for the American crafter and artist to find materials and network with other crafters and artists, Scrap employees work to increase reuse and recycling awareness in the community by hosting field trips, workshops, and training.   Scrap reminds us all that self sufficiency, creativity, and environmental awareness are still possible and valuable.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Alameda Theatre

              If you want a positive experience at a Bay Area theater, you need to find the right one.  For me, the perfect theater is affordable, in a safe location so I can go to late movies without being mugged or harassed, and has a respectful group of movie-goers who know quiet time starts when the movie does.  Alameda Theatre is therefore my ideal movie theater, and we'll get to why after I give you a little info on other Bay Area theaters you might be considering.
               The Regal Cinemas at Jack London Square is, unarguably, the most affordable theater if price is your only concern.  On Tuesdays and Sundays, tickets are just $5 without restrictions ($8 for 3D movies).  And if you're a Regal Crown Club member, your ticket purchase earns you points towards free drinks, popcorn, and movie tickets.  That being said, safety might make you rethink this theater.  In 2012, there was a shooting just outside the doors of the Jack London Regal Cinemas, and homeless people who roam the area can be both very verbal and very confrontational.  You often have to fight large crowds, which you can avoid somewhat by using the ticket kiosk rather than going to the window.  And your fellow movie-goers are often loud, rowdy, and just plain hostile.  Expect talking, shouting, chair-kicking, and the occasional racial slur during your feature.
              Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, on the other hand, is in a moderately safe area and, though crowds do get large from time to time, movie-goers are reasonably peaceful and respectful.  The Grand Lake also has a classic feel with its old neon sign, giant theaters with carved, ornamental walls and curtains, and the semi-tacky concession stand.  General admission is $10 with a matinee at $7.  Getting to and parking at the theater, however, drops this one down the ladder.  It's situated right in front of the off-ramp of the freeway, and it is difficult to turn around or circle back when looking for a parking spot.  And parking.  Metered.  Yikes.  Guess it's the late movie so you can avoid the parking cost, but then you pay a higher ticket price.
             There's also a Regal Cinema in Dublin, but this is a long way for a lot of people to drive or BART.  Plus, the ticket prices are OUTRAGEOUS.  And there are often loud and poorly controlled kids even in adult movies.  Theaters in Emeryville and San Francisco might be nice if you are in those cities for other things, but driving, parking, and even BARTing to these locations isn't worth it.
             Alameda Theatre in Alameda (of course) is reasonably priced.  General admission is $10.50, and a matinee is $7.75.  However, parking is CHEAP.  There's a parking garage attached to the theater, and it only cost me $2 for four hours of parking.  Plus, you get a parking voucher for your next visit if you ask for one at the box office.  And, trust me, you'll want to hang out after the movie because Park Street has a ton of cute, local eateries and shops.  Alameda Theatre is also beautiful and full of history.  The lobby is high-ceilinged, rich-hued, and ornate.  The theater was designed by Timothy Pflueger and opened in 1932.  You can watch a documentary on the theater's history at the theater's website:  Your fellow movie-goers are also respectful and quiet during the movie, the neighborhood is not only safe but buzzing with local life, and you don't have to fight large crowds to see your film of choice.  This theater also plays classic films at reduced prices and has community talent shows.  Did I mention they recycle and compost?