Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sundays on Telegraph

     If you want a nice, laid-back atmosphere with nice, laid-back people, you have to visit Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue.  Especially when the crowds of Berkeley students have left for the summer. Telegraph is an area where you can find lots of shopping, delicious eateries, and Bay Area history and ambience.  I recommend visiting on Sundays because most of the parking is free, and you can check out street vendors and see local bands and entertainers gathered as part of "Sundays on Telegraph."
     Sundays on Telegraph started in June and runs every Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm through September 27th.  Telegraph is shut down to traffic during the event between Durant and Haste, so you can browse without having to worry about or wait for traffic.  Most of the vendors present when I went were selling jewelry, but there were also t-shirts, dream catchers, and knick knacks.  There were also jugglers performing individually and in groups, a band playing Hawaiian music and doing hula dancing, and Aztec dancers wowing the crowds with their impressive skills and outfits.
     The vendor turnout when I went was light (under twenty booths), but there's so much to do on Telegraph that it's still worth the trip.  You have to check out the historic Moe's Books, where you can wander multiple floors of books in every genre.  Moe's buys and trades books, so you can find new and used books. Moe's also has a collection of rare books, and a great selection of books about the Bay Area.  And Moe's has a restroom for customers, which is a rare thing in some parts of the Bay Area.  You just have to ask for a token.
     Another shop you have to visit is Cream.  Stop here.  Take a deep breath to prepare yourself.  Now, Cream sells ice cream sandwiches that have been divinely ordained.  As in, they take two warm cookies of your choice and put your choice of ice cream between them.  What this creates is a warm, melty, gooey chunk of pure bliss.  What is commonly referred to in Berkeley as Nirvana.  And they cost only $2!  Seriously.  Two bucks for the perfect cookie/ice cream sandwich.  Who can beat that?  They're also open way late to satisfy midnight munchies: until midnight Monday through Wednesday and until 2 am Thursday through Saturday.  Visit their website at to see their flavors, mouth watering pictures, and information about the shop.
     You can also get something simple and delicious from The Melt, Gordo's, or Noah's Bagels.  And you can get new and used DVDs, BluRays, and music from Rasputin's or Amoeba.  You are also in walking distance of Shattuck Avenue where you can go to Shattuck Cinemas, Pegasus Books, and the Berkeley Public Library.
     Shattuck Cinemas is a beautiful little theater that plays a great selection of new independent films.  It has a lounge that serves food and alcohol, and it offers showings in the evening that only admit adults 21 and over (yay!).  But the best part about Shattuck Cinemas is that the theaters have couches and bean bag chairs instead of theater seats.  The couches come in single, double, and triple seats, and the bean bag chairs are up front right before the screen.  These couches are big, very plush, and very comfortable.  I saw Blackfish here.  The documentary and the experience were awesome.
     Across the street and down a little way from Shattuck Cinemas is Pegasus Books, an adorable bookstore that offers new and used books in many genres.  The selection is not as big as Moe's, but the atmosphere is great, and Pegasus sells a collection of Zines from local authors.  It also has a bookstore cat that will tolerate light mauling.
     It may seem odd to promote a library as an entertainment destination, but the Berkeley Public Library is one you just have to check out.  As a connoisseur of libraries, I can tell you that Berkeley's is one of the biggest and best of the Bay Area.  The grandeur of the architecture reminds me of the Boston Public Library.  And if you're a California resident, you can get a library card for free.  You don't have to be a Berkeley native.  This library has five floors.  Five!  It also has tons of comfortable areas to sit, tons of study cubicles, a large amount of computer terminals, and almost any book, movie, or periodical you could ever want.  You can also browse a large section of books on local history and look at photos from Berkeley's past.
     If you live in the Bay Area and you haven't visited Berkeley's Telegraph area, you're missing out.  If you want to get in touch with the vibrant spirit of the Bay Area, there's no better place to do it. This is an area that helped shape our nation, and you can feel that rich history in the air.  You'll meet some colorful people and sometimes see some shady interactions, but you won't be bored.  You can drive or BART/bus.  Just make sure to have cash with you, and share a little with those you meet.  Because this is definitely a place where you should share the love.

Sundays on Telegraph
Aztec dancers preparing to amaze.

It looks small on the outside, but like a book, you just have to go inside.

Welcome to heaven.  We have cookies.



Just watching the world from my window seat at the library.

One of the many lounge areas of the Berkeley Public Library.

You're looking in on just one section of the Berkeley Public Library.  This place is huge!

A little note on Berkeley Public Library's history.

One of the best documentaries I've seen this year and ever.

Shattuck Cinemas...home of the cushy couch seating.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Faith Fancher Breast Cancer Challenge

     Almost everyone knows someone battling cancer, so you probably also know that those affected by cancer need a lot of support emotionally and financially.  Low income and/or uninsured cancer patients often face an even darker battle, a battle in which they may silently forego treatment and resign themselves to their condition because of the shame of not being able to afford any treatment and the difficulty of finding care in the first place.  That's why it's so important to get involved in fundraisers that benefit cancer research, patient support, and free preventative care.  Even if you can't afford to sponsor or donate, you can volunteer to help with such events.  And the Bay Area is one of the richest places for volunteer opportunities.
     This year my sister and I volunteered for the 9th Annual Faith Fancher Breast Cancer Challenge on behalf of Mills College.  Faith Fancher was a journalist and reporter for WBIR and KTVU.  After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Fancher made her battle with the disease public in a mini-series on KTVU titled "Faith's Story." Fancher succumbed to the disease in 2003, but her legacy continues in the annual 5k walk/run and other events held by Friends of Faith, Inc., in Faith's honor.  The walk/run takes place at Oakland's Lake Merritt, and the website ( states that the event "is a fundraiser for uninsured and underinsured women undergoing treatment for breast cancer."
     This year, Mills College hosted the water booth at 18th Street.  As volunteers, we handed out the water, but we also cheered the runners and walkers on with our voices, plastic cowbell and hand clackers, pom poms, and an occasional hug.  A group of Mills employees and alumni also supported the event and their own cancer survivors by running or walking in it. 
     Hands down, this is one of the best experiences I've had in the Bay Area.  Everyone was just so happy.  The runners and walkers cheered with us as they came through, people were genuinely grateful for the water and the enthusiasm, and cars passing by honked their support.  Smiles were infections and inescapable.  My favorite part was seeing all the kids running through the water station.  One young boy was running flat out, arms akimbo, stride irregular...the type of running only children can achieve.  Many of these participants have stood on the frontline, have faced terrible suffering and loss, and yet they still embrace life, love, and joy. To hand someone a bottle of water and see that person light up from such a simple gesture, to see people with serious faces suddenly break into grins as they realize the cheering they hear is for them...these experiences are priceless.
     Besides getting a rejuvenation of optimism from participants, we volunteers got a big sunny smile from Mother Nature.  There was just enough overcast to prevent sunburn, and there was a cool breeze coming in off the water and fountain.  Our view was amazing.  From our location, we could look out across Lake Merritt and see Downtown Oakland and the string of pink shirts making its way back to the starting point.  We set up the booth at around 8 am, and the event lasted until around 11:30 am.  As we waited for the runners, we could watch cranes, herons, and loons fishing in the water.  We could also see crew teams practicing.
     And the fun didn't end after the run and walk was finished.  Back at the start line, the band Push entertained participants while they cooled down.  Former Giants player Jeffrey Leonard signed autographs at the Gazebo, and six runners and walkers received prizes for their performance.  Participants could also purchase raffle tickets starting at $5 to win a bunch of awesome prizes: a Pier 39 Fun Package, Raiders and Giants signed merchandise, Golden State Warriors signed merchandise, a resort vacation, and more.
     If you're interested in participating in this event in the future, it only costs $40 to run or walk.  Or you can volunteer.  Just go to to learn more, and check back next year to sign up as a participant or volunteer.  I personally think it's best to drive to this event.  Parking beside Fairyland is plentiful, even when the event gets busy, and costs $5 for the whole day.  Just make sure you have a five dollar bill because it's cash only, and ATMs are not close enough for convenience.  They'll also give you a hard time about breaking a twenty dollar bill.  Eye roll.
     After you participate or volunteer, why not make a day of it?  Have lunch at one of the restaurants in the area or grab a snack from Lake Merritt Bakery.  Rent a row boat, peddle boat, canoe, sailboat, or kayak from the Lake Merritt Boating Center at a very affordable price ($10-$25 an hour, depending on your choice of craft).  The Boating Center is also cash only.  If you have kids, go check out Fairyland, but be aware that you have to have a child with you to enter.  Also, a word to the wise. A lot of geese inhabit the Lake Merritt area, and most grass is covered in droppings.  So picnics might not be the best idea.
     Enjoy your community, your city, and your state.  But remember to give back if and when you can afford to do so.  Time is often as valuable to organizations as money.  A couple of hours a week can create a better place to live, brighten a person's day and life, and make you feel good.  Everybody wins in this scenario.

Volunteers Preparing to Cheer and Hydrate
Gathering More Water

The Mills College station with the sign ("Courage") my sister made for a friend and participant.

Our View

If you look really hard, you can see the string of pink shirts approaching the finish.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Modern Mouse Crafternoons

     Calling all crafters!  If you like to get together with friends and other fun people who like to do hands-on activities, then you'll love Modern Mouse Crafternoons.  Modern Mouse is an adorable little shop at the Alameda South Shore Center that sells products made by Bay Area artists.  You can find everything from necklaces to shirts, coffee cups to wall clocks, stationary to posters, and more at Modern Mouse.  Many of the items are handmade, most are locally designed and themed, and all come from artists and crafters who live nearby.
     But Modern Mouse isn't satisfied with just supporting local artists and crafters.  They want to get their customers involved in the creative process.  That's why they offer a craft workshop at least one Sunday a month, and you don't have to be an expert crafter to have a blast at this event.  Modern Mouse usually allows customers to vote on the craft for each event and sends out a notice of the upcoming crafternoon via Facebook.  To participate, all you have to do is RSVP on Facebook.  The cost is only $5, which covers all your crafting supplies as well as snacks and drinks.  Occasionally the crafternoon benefits a charity, and crafts made during the workshop are donated afterwards.
     The first crafternoon I attended focused on making bottle cap necklaces, magnets, and pins.  I was amazed by how many materials you get for the price you pay.  I was able to make five necklaces, three pins, and two magnets...for just $5! And it was so simple to do! I am not the crafter in my family.  My sister holds that title.  I am usually the person dropping the bottle of glitter, gluing her shirt to the table, or embedding a needle in her finger.  But the workshop instructor not only gives directions to guide you through the craft, but she also makes rounds to give personal advice and instruction just in case you're struggling.
     This time, we made tomato pincushions.  My sister and I decided to make pumpkin pincushions instead of tomatoes, so we could use them as fall decorations.  The instructor for this craft was Polly Conway, the same person who taught us how to make our fabulous bottle cap items.  Even though sewing is my personal crafting nemesis, I was able to create a fairly cute pincushion, and I only jabbed myself once with the needle!  And my ego was stoked a little by the compliments my frankencushion received from the instructor and other crafters.
     The atmosphere for these events is awesome.  Everyone is relaxed, happy, and ready to have a good time.  You will receive a warm welcome, and everyone wanders around the room while crafting to comment on each other's designs and to share advice and feedback on the craft.  You definitely feel like you're part of a big, happy family in this workshop, and you get to walk away from it with an item to brag about to all your lame, noncrafting friends.
     The crafts you'll learn to make at these events are also so easy and so cheap to make, and give you so many ideas for similar creations, that you'll definitely want to stop by a craft store and pick up supplies to continue the fun on your own.  Lucky for you, there's a wonderful craft store just across from Modern Mouse called Beverly's.  Anything you could ever need is in this craft store.  I was able to pick up more bottle caps, seals, and necklace chains there after the last event.  The prices are a bit steep at Beverly's, but the selection of supplies is worth it.
     Modern Mouse is also in Alameda's biggest shopping center.  This attractive area provides shops, benches, and eateries that will tempt you to hang out a while after your craft is complete.  You can get a coffee, pick up some groceries at Safeway or Trader Joe's, and have some lunch at Chipotle or Panera.  The beach and the bay are just across the street, so you can also go sit by the water and watch the kite surfers do their thing.
     If you want a quiet, relaxing Sunday where you can let your creative juices flow and chat with like-minded people, and you also don't want to break your budget, then you have to try Modern Mouse Crafternoons.  Make sure to bring a five dollar bill to drop in the fishbowl as you enter.  And make sure to like Modern Mouse's Facebook page to get notices of upcoming events, to RSVP, and to see fun pictures of people crafting from previous events.  You can also visit Modern Mouse's website to learn more about local artists, shop for gifts, and learn about the shop.  In the meantime, stay calm and craft on.

Some of the bottle cap necklaces we made last time.

Here come the crafters!

Supplies and written instructions should you need them.

My little gem is the squashed one on left, my sister's expert pincushion is obviously on the right.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Laurel Street Fair

     I first went to the Laurel Street Fair a couple of years ago when I lived in Oakland, and I wasn't impressed.  There were hardly any vendors, the event didn't start at the advertised time, and the vendors who were open were not very friendly.  However, I decided to give Laurel another chance, and this year, it did not disappoint.
     The Laurel Street Fair takes place every year on MacArthur Blvd between 35th and 38th Avenue. It usually happens on one Saturday, so it's easy to miss, and this year ran from 11 am to 6 pm.  It is, as you might guess from the name, in the Laurel neighborhood of Oakland, which is right beside Fruitvale and the Dimond District.  The area is a little scruffy, but tough.  People in this neighborhood are wary, but friendly.  Life is lived to the fullest here, and the fair reflects that.  Families come to relax, have a good time, and chat with neighbors.  Many booths are geared towards community building and improvement.
     Of all the events I've written about so far, the Laurel Street Fair is the most family friendly.  This year, there was a small train and other rides for children.  Vendors sold affordable toys, firecrackers, and baubles.  There was a crafting station where kids could make paper mache flowers and other goodies.  A petting zoo offered children the opportunity to interact with animals you rarely see in a city setting, including two baby pigs that generously shared their cuteness with anyone extending a hand to them.  There were even two people dressed as cowboys riding horses from one end of the fair to the other, allowing people to take pictures.  The horses were so quiet and gentle, in fact, that I almost bumped right into one.  And right next to the rides, children could get cotton candy and ice cream, which is exactly what one little boy was dragging his dad towards.
     There were vendors like Oaklandish selling goods made, grown, or sold in Oakland.  There were also vendors supporting pride in Oakland and Oakland Pride.  But I was happiest to see booths by local schools, parks and recreation, community centers, and libraries.  Not only were they talking to fair goers about the services they offer but they were educating families about their importance and contribution to Oakland neighborhoods.  You could make a donation in exchange for pins or books or you could put your name on their mailing lists to get important community updates.
     And what is a fair without some delicious, local food and entertainment?  I chose a pork tamale with tortilla chips and salsa, but I had my choice of American, Asian, or Mexican cuisine.  And almost all booths had not only a vegetarian but a vegan option as well.  A bandstand occupied one side of the street at about the middle of the fair, and while I was there, the band was playing African music.  However, the listing also boasted funk, soul, reggae, and world music.
      Although this event is surrounded by bus lines, I find driving to be the best option.  This part of MacArthur is right off of 580 and is close to Highway 13.  You can pay ten dollars to park right next to the fair or you can park for free on one of the side streets above the fair.  Just make sure to check the street cleaning dates and restrictions.
     Overall, this street fair is one of the smaller ones in the Bay Area, but it also is one with the most character.  In between mingling and shopping the booths, make sure to check out the Laurel Bookstore and Farmer Joe's Marketplace up on 35th.  If you like events with a good family vibe, if you want to get a sense of the Oakland community spirit, or if you just want to enjoy some good food and music, then this is definitely a Bay Area miss-me-not.

Rides and Bounce Houses, Oh My!



The Bandstand

The Train...and a Jurassic Jump House

Precious Little Piggies

The Petting Zoo

Saturday, August 3, 2013


     Blessed is the foodie who stumbles upon Off the Grid, one of the Bay Area's best food experiences.  Off the Grid started in San Francisco in 2010 when organizers decided to bring multiple food trucks together in one location.  This was so popular with the locals that Off the Grid has expanded its sites to many areas beyond San Francisco: El Cerrito, Hayward, Berkeley, Alameda, and Larkspur.  There can be anywhere from four to fourteen food trucks gathered at one time depending on which location you choose, and each gathering usually lasts four hours.  Visit Off the Grid's website at to find locations near you, times of operation, information on Off the Grid's beginnings, and the types of foods you'll find there.  You can also follow Off the Grid on Twitter and Facebook.
     Now, many people who haven't experienced the food truck renaissance probably cringe at the thought of food trucks.  You might picture a dirty truck that sells greasy, questionable food items and is surrounded by crazy, hung over, or seedy characters.  But this is not Off the Grid.  When you think of Off the Grid trucks, think gourmet.  Think variety.  Think clean, in many cases organic, environmentally friendly, scrumptious, and insanely fresh.  Best of all, think affordable.  There are trucks at Off the Grid that serve every craving and preference.  You can get food from many different world cuisines, and you can also find unique drinks and desserts.
     I visited Off the Grid at the South Shore Center in Alameda on this sunny Saturday, and the type of food available included Vietnamese, Korean, Peruvian, Mexican, and American.  There was a truck that served dishes featuring cheese in its many manifestations, a truck called Go Streatery serving "peasant" comfort food, and even a cupcake truck.  I sampled lemongrass chicken over rice, garlic fries, and salt and pepper chicken bites from Hiyaaa.  For dessert, I got a s'mores cupcake from Cupkates.  The cupcake was the best cupcake I've ever had.  It had a graham cracker bottom and was topped with super soft marshmallow fluff.  Yum.  The lemongrass chicken was hearty and tangy, the salt and pepper chicken bites were lighter and perfectly spicy, and no one can ruin garlic fries.
     The great thing about Off the Grid, besides having a million food choices at your fingertips, is the community feeling it creates.  At South Shore, you eat in a great group in the middle of the food truck ring.  A band plays beside you while you eat, and you can look out at all the trucks and all the people enjoying themselves.  If you are tired of eating the same old stuff, or if you're with a group of friends and need to satisfy many different palates, or if you just want something really good to eat, then Off the Grid is the place to go.  Every time I've gone, the crowds haven't been overwhelming, the lines are usually short, and the service is amazing.
     You can also have Off the Grid cater your special events.  How fun and easy would it be to have a couple food trucks at your big birthday bash?  Plus, Off the Grid hosts a picnic at the Presidio in San Francisco on Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm.  Besides having a great selection of food and drinks, this picnic also has produce and retail vendors.  And on Friday nights from 5 pm to 10 pm, Off the Grid has thirty vendors at the Fort Mason Center.  If you literally want to get a taste of the local scene, check out Off the Grid.  And don't forget to tip your food truck magic makers.

Lemongrass Chicken Over Rice from Hiyaaa

Salt and Pepper Chicken Bites and Garlic Fries from Hiyaaa

S'Mores Cupcake from Cupkates