Sunday, October 20, 2013

Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival

     It's October, and my favorite Bay Area event celebrating my favorite gourd has arrived. No, I don't mean Halloween. Halloween is for amateurs. I'm talking about the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. Half Moon Bay, pumpkin capital of the world (or so they claim), is one of the prettiest seaside towns along the coast, and it's made pumpkin-love a specialty as well as an art.
     Each October, for three magical days, Half Moon Bay fills every possible surface with every possible pumpkin product. It will keep you seeing orange all the way through Christmas. If you can only go to one event in the Bay Area, this is the one to choose, especially if you want to eat and see pumpkin everything, want pictures with giant pumpkins, want to shop for great harvest art and crafts, and want to pick out your pumpkins from massive pumpkin patches.
    Let me walk you through my festival strategy so you can get an idea for the best way to approach and enjoy this most gourd-plumping of events. Unless you want to spend hours waiting in traffic trying to get into the festival, get to Half Moon Bay early. My suggestion is to be there by 8 am (yes, even on Sunday).
     Have your camera ready for the drive there because beautiful pumpkin patches pop into view as you wind your way through the forested slopes near Half Moon Bay, and the sight of long stretches of pumpkins with deep green trees behind them is one you'll want to remember and brag about every Halloween.
     When you enter Half Moon Bay, there's a parking lot right before Main Street that will get you the closest to the festival while also allowing you a quick and painless getaway when you're done. Parking is $20 in this lot (don't forget to bring cash), but you'll discover it's worth it when you aren't stuck in a snarl of traffic after you're thoroughly pumpkined out. Also, bring a jacket because it tends to be chilly and foggy in the morning.
    You can warm up and reward yourself for being up so early on a weekend by going to the Pancake Breakfast that benefits the local high school basketball team. This breakfast usually starts at 7 am (though I don't recommend getting there that early because you'll have a long wait for the festival to start) and will set you back $10, but you can eat all the pumpkin pancakes you want. They also have sausage, orange juice, and coffee. AND PUMPKIN PANCAKES.
     The festival begins at 9 am, and there are a ton of great vendors to browse, demonstrations to watch, photo ops to take advantage of, and activities to occupy the kids. Some unique items you can find at this festival are gourd art and decorations, wooden wrist watches, pumpkin jewelry, surf board barrettes and magnets, Bay Area photography and trendy art, pumpkin lavender lotion and pumpkin pie lotion, all sizes of blown glass pumpkins, pumpkin hats, pumpkin candles, and bubble wands.
     You can take your kids to the petting zoo, the haunted house, or to the craft stations. You can also sit and watch Farmer Mike carve intricate designs, scenes, faces, and characters into giant pumpkins. You can seek the wisdom of the year's largest pumpkins, take a picture with the world's largest pumpkin sculpture by artist Peter Hazel, listen to event bands, and browse through the little shops along Main Street (there are two books stores and a feed store that sells baby chicks).
     Then it's lunch time, or second lunch time, or snack time, or grab-as-much-food-for-the-ride-home-as-you-can time. Hey, this event only comes once a year. Here's a partial list of the delicacies you can enjoy at this festival: pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin fudge, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin chili, pumpkin churros, pumpkin mac and cheese, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin smoothies, and classic pumpkin pie. There are other foods at this event too, but who cares? You're here for pumpkins! The pumpkin ice cream is my favorite.
     Once you finish with the festival, you can stop by the pumpkin patches to pick out your pumpkins, and if you have kids, there are a few more activities to deplete their energy and ensure a peaceful evening: pony rides, train rides, hay rides, corn mazes, haunted houses, and bounce houses.
      But the pumpkin patches are the real whipped cream on top of the pumpkin pie. Pumpkins of every sort, every size, and every type, are everywhere...sigh. Walk among them, visit with them awhile, ask them to share their pumpkin knowledge until the perfect pumpkin invites itself home with you. Don't worry, they have plenty of wheelbarrows if you can't choose just one (or ten).
     If you're a true festival enthusiast, you can attend the Great Pumpkin Parade or the pre-festival pumpkin weigh off. If you have a knack for growing giant pumpkins yourself, or you're looking for a hobby, you can win $25,000 if you enter a pumpkin that sets a new world record. Thad Starr set a new California record last year with his 1,775 pound monster gourd.
     This event is perfect for bringing the family together and getting into the Halloween spirit. You'll have so much fun you might elevate Halloween to your favorite holiday...if you haven't done so already. Visit the festival's website to watch a video about the festival, read up on the festival's history, get more info about festival activities, etc:

And now, feast your eyes and torture your tummy with a picture gallery that spans three years of this beloved celebration:

A festival with official gear? Sh*t just got real.

Farmer Mike preparing to carve...
Voila! The Lorax.

Farmer Mike carving away again...
Bluegrass, folk music, and pumpkin festivals? Of gourd.

World's largest pumpkin sculpture by artist Peter Hazel

Bubble Summoner

Bubbles or Inner-Child Whisperers?
The year's largest pumpkins...not the prettiest, but the biggest.
Pumpkin Ice Cream

Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin Pancakes
On the hunt. Which one is just right?
Choose one...
Pumpkin Patch
Did I mention the prices? Lotta pumpkin for litta dollar.
The odd patch (my favorite).
Another pumpkin patch...
Treasure in hand, rest time...
Or another train ride.
Yet another pumpkin patch.

Until next year, my beauties...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Friends of the Alameda Free Library Used Book Sale

     Book addicts get as much pride out of the size and variety of the stack of unread books waiting on their shelves (and the stories of buying those books) as they do from the amount of books they've read. Thrifty book addicts keep a sharp eye out for great book sales where they can find lost treasures and great deals to boast about for years to come. An out-of-print and pristine Jim Kjelgaard may very well be to one book addict what a 20 pound trout is to a fisherman (and be wary of photos of a book addict's big catch because they can get downright vulgar).
     If you live in the Bay Area, a place where rent rates will literally strip the clothes right off your body while you're making your daily commute, getting a great deal on anything is vital to daily survival. Books are no exception, especially when they are the only thing keeping you from having a meltdown on public transit. That's why you can't miss the Friends of the Alameda Free Library Used Book Sales (even if you don't live in Alameda).
     These epic sales are held a couple of times a year at the Dewitt O'Club in Alameda. Did I really say epic? Isn't that a clich├ęd exaggeration? No. Epic is the word that best describes these three-day sales. E-P-I-C. From the Friends of Alameda Free Library's website: "We take 800-1000 boxes of books to every sale. There are literally hundreds of items in every category. Most books are priced between 50¢ and $2.00."
     I've been to the sale two years in a row now, and they aren't lying. The books fill three large rooms and cover every genre you could hope to find. There are new books, old books, classics. There are history books, biography, poetry, fiction, mystery, children's, teen, cookbooks, sports... There are hardcovers and soft covers. There are rare local books and bestsellers. Bring your lists, addicts, and behold the wonder.
     The sales take place over three days (smash those piggy banks!). On Friday, there is usually a presale in the evening (from 6:30pm to 9pm). You pay $5 at the door, and the books are marked with their prices. If you are a Friend of the Alameda Free Library, you get two free tickets to this sale, and since membership only costs $10, why not join? Friday is a good day if you want the best selection. This also tends to be a day when the shoppers are friendlier, the lines shorter, and the aisles less packed with frenzied bookies.
     That being said, this year there was a tall man literally running from table to table snatching up book after book and bulldozing anyone who crossed his path. By the end of my shopping experience, he had about seven giant IKEA bags filled with books. However, most of the other shoppers were not only calm but downright chatty. I had many pleasant conversations with other shoppers while browsing titles. One nice woman even offered to let me know if she saw one of the titles on my list.
     On Saturday, admission is free, and the sale runs from 9am to 4pm. This day is fine for the casual book buyer who doesn't mind crowds but doesn't want to feel like he or she is shopping in a mosh pit. Books are priced as marked on Saturday.
     For those who want to practice for Black Friday door busters, Sunday is your day. Sunday's sale is a clearance sale that runs from noon to 4pm. You can stuff a bag with books and pay just $3 or you can fill a box with books for $5. Or 20 bags. Or 100 boxes. No one is judging, I promise. But be warned, you have to keep all bags and limbs inside the ride at all times or you might literally be torn to pieces by bookies.
     On Sunday, people will push you out of their way, run over you if you're blocking an aisle, and berate you eloquently but very loudly if you get too close to their boxes of books. This day is not for the faint hearted, but if you want a phenomenal deal, this day is a must. Once you get home with your prizes and have calmed your shaking hands with a stiff cup of coffee, you'll look back on Sunday's sale and laugh appreciatively. Plus, braving Sunday's mad crowds gives you golden boasting powers.
     I'm not a crowd person, but I went to the Sunday sale last year, and I actually had a blast. Perhaps my body released a chemical that made me forget the pain of squeezing down aisle after aisle and risking fingers to reach in and secure titles. Regardless, I walked out of the sale last year with awesome gifts for my dad and enough books to last me the rest of the year (some are still on my waiting shelf).
     This year, I opted for the presale, but I still walked away with a huge bag of books, many of which were on my reading list, and many more simply caught my eye. Although I did pay more for the books, I liked the calmer atmosphere of the presale.
     If you go to these book sales, make sure to take your own bags, and make sure those bags are very stout and have strong handles. However, while you're shopping, if you fill a bag, there is a bag sitting area where you can safely store them until you're ready to pay (unless you want your exercise while you shop). If you go on Sunday, they do provide you with boxes, but take your own bags in case they run out.
     The profits from these sales help fund some really great programs in Alameda including Alameda Reads, an adult literacy program. Please remember to donate your books to your local library so sales like these can continue and others can enjoy the adventures you loved.
     Also, if you live in the Bay Area and don't have books to donate but want to give back to the book community, consider volunteering for one of these book sales. Volunteers are always needed and appreciated. Visit the Friends of the Alameda Free Library website for more info:

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Park Street Classic Car Show

     October is a beautiful time in the Bay Area; there's mild weather, fall festivals, and stores filled with autumn-themed merchandise. But there's also the Park Street Classic Car Show--one of the best car shows I've seen--on one of my favorite Alameda streets. This year, the show celebrated its 20th year, and there were over 400 cars in attendance flashin' some chrome and fresh wax.
     Of all the classics, I'm partial to Mustangs (as you'll see from the photos below), but there's a car in this show for every auto enthusiast. Last year, Chevy Impalas seemed to dominate the show, and there were no Chevy Novas, my second favorite model. This year, Mustangs definitely seemed to outnumber all other models, followed closely by Camaros, and I was happy to find three Novas. There were also Chevelles, Bel Airs, classic fire trucks, a Jaguar, a Model T, a couple VW Beetles, and even a Lotus. And much more besides.
     I think my favorite part about the show, however, are the people: Men standing together in groups talking about the merits of one model versus another or leaning over a car in hushed respect, dads dragging their kids from one car to another, totally oblivious to their cries of exhaustion and boredom, and couples leaning under the hood to check out the engine compartment. This is an event that allows the kid to come to the surface in even the most stoic heart.
     There's also a DJ to make the magic complete with music from the 50s and 60s. This year, Lee Auto Supply held a raffle and the Park Street Business Association held a drawing for prizes. You could purchase shirts and pins at the information booth. Many of the shops on Park offered discounts and specials to lure in shoppers, and with multiple toy shops (carrying classic and vintage toys as well as games), antique stores, a pet shop, a bead shop, a bookstore, a magazine shop, and tiny fashion and gift boutiques, you'll find plenty to do in between and after your car browsing.
     You can also grab a bite to eat from one of the many great restaurants on Park Street. There's a New York Pizza and Bowzer's Pizza that sell slices and whole pies. You can also try The Sandwich Board, Ole's Waffle Shop, Burma Superstar, and Zen Restaurant. You can get ice cream and desserts from Tucker's Ice Cream, coffee at Starbucks or Peet's, and even boba teas from Tuttimelon.
     If you want to drive to this event, you have to get there early because the parking garage fills up fast, and you do have to pay the meters on Saturday. Also, wear a hat and sunglasses because it's usually sunny, and there's no shade while you're browsing the cars. Most importantly, bring someone with you who doesn't mind stopping at each car while you rattle off random facts and peer under the hood (although you'll find many other friends willing to join you under the hood). Check out the gallery below, and visit the website to find out more information about the show: