Friday, October 7, 2011

Find fall color at Lake Tahoe

My pal Pettit Gilwee writes that it’s leaf peeping season 
in California’s North Lake Tahoe – almost.
"The trails and roads in North Lake Tahoe are just
starting to show signs of autumn as the area’s aspens
transition from a sea of green to a brilliant shade of yellow."
I love this time of year in Lake Tahoe--autumn's tinges
of yellow and red create such a lovely contrast with Tahoe’s
solid wall of pines and firs.

It’s a good time to slow down. “Whether you’re out hiking or
paddling via kayak, when you see that striking contrast
in the trees, you just have to take a moment and soak
it all up,” says Executive Director Bill Hoffman of the
Incline Village Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau. According
to Hoffman, the last two weeks of October and the first
two weeks of November are when the region’s trees really
start to change over.

Where to see the show? Locals recommend road cycling,
inline skating and running up Blackwood Canyon on the
West Shore, located three to four miles south of Tahoe
City. Blackwood’s paved road takes you from 6,200 feet lake
level to
Barker Pass at 7,200 feet.

Eagle Rock, a Tahoe landmark, sits just south of the
Blackwood Canyon entrance and is an easy 15-minute
hike to the top, offering panoramic views of the region.
(The California Tahoe Conservancy recently completed a
new trail to the top, which has significantly reduced
pollutants into Lake Tahoe.)

For a scenic alpine lake edged by aspen, check out
Spooner Lake nine miles south of Sand Harbor State Beach
(just outside of Incline Village). You’ll find miles of
hiking trails, as well as a good starting point for those
venturing into the backcountry for backpacking excursions.

On the Tahoe Rim Trail-- Lake Tahoe’s most popular hiking,
mountain biking and equestrian trail--you’ll wind through
more fall color. The 165-mile dirt path circles Lake Tahoe,
with eight trailheads making it easy to access. Try
jumping on the trail at Tahoe Meadows on the Mt. Rose
Summit (Highway 431), at Tahoe City off Fairway Drive
behind the town’s commercial core
and at Barker Pass up Blackwood Canyon, the paved
road is open to cars until they snow flies.

Details: In fall, look for the 2-for-1 dining deals,
with coupons in area newspapers; significant savings
on lodging; and many special events. TheVillage Center
in Incline Village is hosting Oktoberfest October 15
with German food, beer, live music by Bigg Funn and
raffle prizes. Furry friends are invited to the Dog
Days of Fall Dog Party October 15 in Incline Village.
The 7th Annual Tahoe City Harvest Festival runs through
October 22 and has a month long Scarecrows on Parade
decorating downtown Tahoe City. The Lake Tahoe
Women’s Wellness Weekend is November 12-13.

For more, head to And,
for the best bargains, check out the website’s
Cool Deals, which is updated daily and includes
savings on lodging and

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Napa Wine Country: a package deal with amour

We love deals. We love San Francisco. And we love the Wine Country. So it follows that we'd really love a new package the Hyatt Regency San Francisco just announced: “Wine Country Amour”. (It's designed to complement the Wine Country-themed exhibit displayed in the hotel’s lobby through November 18, 2011.)

And since we're talking 'amour', the package is designed for couples, with an option of combining two of the most romantic destinations in the world--SF and the Napa Valley. Here's how the Hyatt's Amour Package works.

Starting at only $259, the package includes: one night's accommodations; full American breakfast for two (room service or in Eclipse); a bottle of Flora Springs wine; turndown service (on request); and late check out to 2:00 p.m. (on request). This package is available from now through the November 18, 2011. And then, exclusively for Hyatt Regency San Francisco guests booking this package, the Napa Valley Wine Train is featuring the “Gourmet Express” dinner package, where visitors will enjoy a Wine Country journey for an added $89 per person. After about a one-hour drive north of San Francisco, Hyatt guests will arrive at the Napa Valley Wine Train station in downtown Napa. Prior to boarding, they will be able to taste two wines. Once on the train, guests will choose from a seasonal menu all of which is prepared fresh in the specially designed kitchen car. Transfers between the hotel and The Napa Valley Wine Train are also available for an additional price. Not bad.

Details: All these packages are available through December 30, 2011 (based on availability). Rates vary by dates. For more, see or call 800/ 233-1234.
For Napa Valley Wine Train special Hyatt Regency offer, please visit

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cool hiking along California's San Mateo Coast

Early last summer, I decided I'd had enough of the Central Valley's heat and needed a cool escape. So I called my pals Linda and Terry and we headed out to the coast. Pillar Point Harbor, in Half Moon Bay (Northern California), holds a lot of memories for me.

When we were little, our parents would take us kids (four or five, depending on who was away at school) down to Princeton and Pillar Point, with its protected breakwater and small fleet of tiny fishing boats. It seemed a harbor of refuge for the boats even then. As we walked atop the curving jetty, we'd watch mesmerized as
waves smashed against the structure's rocky outer edge, while keeping the waters in the harbor smooth as glass. We fished for crabs here, dropping our rented crab pots (baited with cans of dog food--eeuuwww!), and once we even snagged one big enough to keep.

In my memories, the
summer skies over the northern California coast are continually overhung with moist, chilly clouds, and a day at the beach always calls for long pants and a jacket. This day, the three of us find the same kind of weather. And boy, is it a relief. The misty harbor is my refuge from the inland's blast furnace heat. In other ways, Pillar Point has changed--now its a modern harbor, and you're discouraged from walking out on the jetty (insurance risks, probably). There's a cute, recently remodeled Pillar Point Bed and Breakfast inn here, and a swanky hotel, the Oceano Hotel and Spa with a village of shops.

The three of us head for one of Linda's fave local lunch stops in Princeton--no ocean views but killer pasta. Mezza Luna Italian Restaurant is housed in a classic old home and the food tastes like Mama Luna must have made it. Try the
Linguine della Baia ($15), linguine sauteed with mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp in a light tomato sauce.

From the harbor, you can't really see the
huge, killer waves at Maverick's, which break offshore in winter. But it's neat to know that one of the world's premier surf competitions takes place here (waves permitting). If you want some really fresh fish, call the fish phone at 650-726-8724; every morning the harbor master leaves a message describing what fish is for sale right off of the boats. Go early in Dungeness crab season, starting in November. And bring a cooler to haul your catch of the day home.

Linda, Terry, and I opt for a stroll along the Jean Lauer Trail along Pillar Point BLuff, part of the California Coastal Trail and a segment of the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST). It's an easy ramble of about a mile or so, looking down over parts of the harbor and out to sea (on clear days, it is said, you can see the Farallon Islands from here). The sky is a gunmetal gray this day, as I remember so many 'beach days' from my childhood, and the air is clean and tangy, smelling of kelp, salty mist, and memories.

Details: For lunch, try Mezza Luna Italian Restaurant, 459 Prospect Way, Princeton by the Sea, 650-728-8108. For more trail info on hiking the Jean Lauer Trail at Pillar Point Bluff, visit the outings page on POST’s website:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

California fundraising walks for kidney disease

It takes real kidneys to do this. And we think you've got 'em. It’s the time to sign up for a Kidney Walk--a fun, inspiring fundraiser sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation that brings your friends, family, and community together to support the millions of Americans with chronic kidney disease. It also calls attention to the prevention of kidney disease and the need for organ donation.

More than 60 Kidney Walks are scheduled coast to coast this spring. There is sure to be one near you. The money raised at Kidney Walks enable NKF to provide free health screenings for kidney disease across the U.S., public and professional education programs, and support for research into the prevention and treatment of kidney disease.

Get involved
Easy: if you are unable to attend a Kidney Walk, you can still show your support by donating here.
Click here to sign up for the walk nearest you today!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April is National Volunteer month-get involved!

This month, we're highlighting various volunteer groups with long histories of contributing to the betterment of America. To kick it off, we're focusing on the 129-year-old AAUW (American Association of University Women), a nationwide network of more than 100,000 members and donors, 1,000 branches, and 500 college/university institution partners. The AAUW is a group founded and mainly run by volunteers. It's goal: advancing 'equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research'. Each year, it gives fellowships, scholarships, grants, and awards to worthy causes at both the national and local level. And the group calls attention to key women's issues, such as the persistent gender pay gap.

Did you know that, according to a study in 2009, women working full time in the United States still earned just 77 percent, on average, of what men earn? Ouch! That's a gap of 23 percent, and while the gap has narrowed since the 1970s, that's due largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate. Progress has stalled in recent years, and the pay gap does not appear likely to go away on its own.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has been on the front lines of the fight for pay equity since 1913, according to their website. And when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 into law, AAUW members were right there in the Oval Office. And here it is, almost 50 years later, and still the AAUW continues to lead the push for policies and legislation to encourage and enforce fair pay in the workplace.

Sometimes it must seem like an uphill battle. In November 2010, the Senate failed to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have given women additional and much-needed
equal pay protections. Oh well, 77 percent of a paycheck for the same work a man does is good enough for our sisters, daughters, mothers and aunts, isn't it, folks?

Get involved: Learn about the gender pay gap, or join the AAUW.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Budget cuts harm libraries--and America as we know it

One of my good pals from high school alerts me to a renewed threat to libraries. Bonnie posted on Facebook recently: "This library (shown in a photo), in my hometown was a Carnegie funded library. As a child, I fell in love with books here- Jack London, Burgess, the Oz books, heaven. Every week I'd check out a stack - a huge treat. I can see and smell those rooms now. What will budget cuts do to places like this?"

Good question, Bonnie. And her pal, Don, commented
"Corporate America and their representative lackeys and hatchetmen in Washington know that an educated populace is dangerous. They count on the people not being able to connect the fact that tax breaks for corporations and the richest 1% of Americans have to be paid for by the closure of libraries and national parks, the laying off of teachers and policemen and the discontinuance of myriad other services for the people."

The state of California has already axed its support for libraries, and in my town we're struggling to keep the library doors open a mere 12 hours a week. (If you want to help keep library programs going in my little town of Lincoln, please go to the Friends of Lincoln Library website and hit "Donate".) Can you imagine our parents' generation allowing that to happen to their society? By
letting conservatives play on our fears of paying adequate taxes and cutting programs like the military, we are letting them make choices about what kind of country we will be in the coming years.

If these proposed cuts go through, here's what we could could end up with: a country with a big military, a small but vastly wealthy upper class that controls politics and services, and a huge and swelling lower class, whose children and seniors don't have access to educational resources (good schools and libraries) and health care, and fewer chances to break out of poverty.

We may be the only nation to go from an advanced economy to 'Third World' status in one generation. Oh, but we'll reduce that all-important deficit, so rich folks won't have to worry about their stock portfolio. Great job, America.

Get involved: Talk to your congress person, your city council members, your mayor and tell them you support libraries. Join your local 'friends of the library' group, and if your means allow it, make a donation to your library today. Or you can help one little library.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Free fun at national parks

My friend John Poimeroo sent me a quick note about upcoming deals at national parks that I thought I'd pass along. John reminds me that National Park Week is coming up (Ap. 16-24) and there are dozens of discounts, offers and deals valid during that special week. You can find them all online at The offers being made by park businesses and organizations are in addition to free admission to all national parks, being given by the National Park Service on Fee-Free Days in 2011.

So plan now for a national park visit and make a long weekend of it. You'll never forget the trip.

Details: Fee-Free Days in 2011 include National Park Week; the first day of summer, June 21; Public Lands Day, Sept. 24; and the Veteran's Day weekend, Nov. 11-13.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Good work: Planting trees and legacies

The older I get, the more clearly I see that the most valuable legacies are not monetary, but gifts of personal qualities that are best passed on by example. My late parents showed me how to lead a good life—Dad, who was my shining beacon of honor and integrity, and Mom, whose life spoke of giving, friendship, and the importance of the small, personal gesture.

This past weekend, I saw how a legacy could grow—literally. Deep inside Humboldt Redwoods State Park in the wilds of Northern California, a group of us gathered to help replant a forest. It wouldn’t have happened without the one man who was the sole link between our diverse group —the late Bill Lane, former co-owner and publisher of Sunset Magazine. Along with the Save the Redwoods League, Lane’s daughter Sharon, organized the event to memorialize her Dad in a beautiful and meaningful way.

It was a day he would have loved. The morning of the planting, we all gathered to pass around a tiny redwood seedling and say a few words about the man we had known. Bill Lane, publisher, was so much more: family man; former ambassador to Australia; defender of the environment and the West; donor to Yosemite National Park, Stanford University, state and national park foundations, and so many other causes. The words integrity, passion, generosity, and giant, were used often to describe Bill Lane. I could see then that the Lane Family’s legacies and lessons were here in this room, in every one of us and in all of those people whose lives were touched in a significant way. And they spread across the West, in trails blazed and parklands saved.

How better to honor this larger-than-life man than to plant a tree that may grow to become one of the tallest living things on the planet? And so out we went, in the teeth of a rather epic storm. By day’s end we had planted 125 redwoods and pulled out piles of invasive broom plants, helping to restore a former logging road.

Someday, giants will grow there.

Get involved
Join Save the Redwoods League: since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has worked to save, restore, and protect ancient redwood forests and redwood ecosystems. Membership from $19; or have a redwood seedling planted in one of California's redwood parks in honor of an individual or organization or in memory of a loved one; a seedling will be planted for each $50 donation. Or dedicate a tree or grove to a loved one or group in exchange for contributions ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. For more information, contact Membership Department at (415) 820-5800 or

Visit Humboldt Redwoods State Park: See awe-inspiring trees, fish for fighting steelhead in the waters of the wide Eel River, hike, bike, or camp in more than 250 camp sites. For current information about the park, call (707) 946-2263.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Good works: Loving libraries, still

I'm always shocked when people say that, what with books from Amazon and all the online reading, we don't need libraries. I remind them of all the people who don't have computers at home, or have had to cancel their internet service and really need the computer use the library provides (for free). And how the libraries provide so much more that they did when I was growing up, such as tutoring help, language help, job services, etc.

Get involved
But the best way to really 'get it' is to visit your own local library. Do yourself a favor--go walk around your library, see how many folks are there and how they use the library; then check out a free DVD or music CD, or, of course, check out a current title. It's so much more fun than Amazon.
Every visit helps the library keep its doors open, and after every visit one more person may become a supporter.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Good work: eat lunch in a garden

It’s still tough out there. And with our economic downturn dragging on, the demand for programs and services devoted to helping families and children is increasing. Spending cuts on family and children’s programs have already been severe, and with California’s dire budget predictions, more are undoubtedly on the way.

Okay, so what can one person do? Eat lunch or shop! Huh? Yep. There are programs where you can help children and families just by having lunch or shopping.

So go to lunch at one of these volunteer-run benefit cafes, browse one of their ‘vintage clothing’ shops, and be sure to bring a friend or two. And, of course, make a donation if you can. There are some suggestions of places to visit, below, but be sure to check your local area for similar organizations—they abound.

Sacramento area
Casa Garden Restaurant

Set in a pretty little courtyard edged by a small garden, the volunteer-run Casa Garden restaurant makes a nice ‘ladies lunch’ type of outing. There’s a set menu, with three entree choices, plus beverages (including wine) and dessert. I had the chipotle Caesar chicken salad (delish) and my friends had the chicken in filo with cheese (outstanding, they said); for dessert, I had a light and chocolate mousse cake. Total per person: about $12, plus tax and tip.

The Mission: "The mission of the Sacramento Children’s Home is “to provide care and treatment for troubled and abused children, to enable families to meet the needs of their children, and to assist these children in becoming productive, responsible adults. Founded in 1973, the Los Ninos Service League has operated Casa Garden Restaurant to provide ongoing financial and moral support to the children and families served by the Sacramento Children's Home."

The Los Ninos Service League is the Auxiliary of the Sacramento Children’s Home. The Casa Garden Restaurant is staffed by volunteers (except for a professional kitchen manager and attendant personnel). Food is planned and prepared by volunteers and the dining room is staffed by volunteer servers and hostesses, and even the gardens are planted and maintained by volunteers.
Get involved: Easy: Let’s do lunch! Open Monday - Friday 11:30 am - 1:30 pm (Reservations recommended, call 916/ 452-2809). They’re at: 2760 Sutterville Rd., Sacramento.
Harder: Or volunteer to work at the restaurant. They need kitchen crew, servers, wine servers, cashiers, gardeners, and weekend workers for special events. Check

Similar organizations helping children

Bay Area
Allied Arts Guild of Menlo Park, CA.

Don’t miss a stop at the beautiful and historic Allied Arts Guild in spring. The gardens look like something straight out of Sunset Magazine. The site is owned and operated by the Allied Arts Guild Auxiliary, and it is a real garden oasis, an enclave of unique shops, artists' studios, and CafĂ© Primavera (open for special events and for catering).

Their mission: “Since 1929, Allied Arts Guild has provided an inspiring environment for working artists, beautiful gardens and shops for visitors, and support for critically ill children at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Allied Arts Auxiliary is an organization, which has been created for the purpose of promoting the health, welfare, maintenance, and care of children, and acquiring funds to be donated for the benefit of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. The Auxiliary owns and operates the historic Allied Arts Guild; all property and income of the Auxiliary is held solely for the purpose of supporting the Hospital.”
Get Involved
Easy: shop here or sign up for their services at special events such as weddings, receptions, seminars, meetings and luncheons on site. Donate to their program here.

Peninsula Family Service
Their mission: to transform lives through “innovative community service programs for children, families, and older adults. Services are provided to all children, families, and older adults who need a hand-up, not a handout, regardless of their ability to pay”. Peninsula Family Service (PFS) has three private, non-profit auxiliaries (Foothill, Hillsborough, Red-CA-Bel auxiliaries) whose events and activities supply an essential funding lifeline to PFS programs.
Get Involved

Easy: Shop at their retail store (or donate items), a vintage clothing and collectibles boutique called The Family Tree at 1589 Laurel St., San Carlos.
Harder: Or volunteer to work at their retail boutique or work with children, families, or with seniors, from being a teacher’s assistant to serving hot lunches. To find out more, Contact Manny Chargualaf by phone at 403.4300 ext 4417 or via email at

Assistance League
The mission: “Assistance League is a national nonprofit organization that puts caring and commitment into action through community-based philanthropic programs. Unlike most national charities, our focus is on local chapter needs first. Assistance League's programs for children are wide and varied. We help build a foundation for learning by providing underprivileged children with new clothing, shoes and school supplies so they can arrive in the classroom ready to learn. Another program gives teddy bears to hospitalized children and young trauma victims as a "friend" to help comfort them and speed recovery.”
Get Involved Easy: Shop at an AL thrift shop, for example the AL of Orange has one called Now & Again, 20 Plaza Square, Orange; 714/532-5800.
Harder: Or volunteer to work at the thrift store, or join/ participate in their philanthropic programs, from bingo nights to providing teddy bears for children in distress. Find a local chapter of the Assistance League by going to their website.

: Note that we don't endorse any organization, but we encourage you to carefully look into any group to which you plan to donate time or money.

Friday, March 11, 2011

California's Napa Valley is bloomin' beautiful

My pal Susan just posted a video on Facebook that says it all: the Napa Valley is in boom with acres of vivid yellow mustard fields, the first stirring of wildflowers, and lush green grass blanketing the hillsides everywhere. Time to visit.

The mustard is blooming in the Bay Area, too, but somehow it's more exciting to see it in Napa...

Details: Oh, and if you want to see that video, click: Ode to Napa Valley And if you want to get a relaxing spa treatment in a spa surrounded by flowers, check out the Spa Villagio in Yountville.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Love libraries? Help save them!

My love affair with the written word started at home, with my Mom reading to me, but it came to full flower at the local library. As a kid, I spent countless hours there, lost in Nancy Drew mysteries while my brother pored over the adventure tales of Robert Louis Stevenson and Mom browsed magazines we couldn't get at home. Then we'd all load up with books to take home. To this day, I'm still a big library fan, especially of the Lincoln Public Library at Twelve Bridges.

The library is a source of fun, entertainment, and education. But not everyone realizes how much the local public library has changed to keep up with the times. (Alas, my brother thinks they're just dusty repositories of old books.)

Public libraries offer more than just books. They offer free computer use and Internet access (a key resource for those who can't afford or don't get web access at home). Libraries offer movie rentals and screenings, music CD check-outs, children's programs, support for seniors in various programs, and a range of free or low-cost seminars. And they are a key help in job hunting. Add the e-books, classes, homework help, tutoring, and so much more that the library does and you start to see how vital a role the library plays in our education system.

Sadly, libraries are in danger of closing their doors, largely due to city budget cuts. And that means our communities are losing access to one of their key support and education facilities. We can all help, but there's no time to lose. Take your kids, your parents, or your grandparents to the library, organize a read-in, or just make a donation. Hey, if you'd donate to save the polar bears, why not donate to save a library from extinction? We don't want to lose either, but losing a library could have a much bigger impact on your own community.

Get involved
Visit your local library and ask if they have a foundation to which you can donate or a 'friends' group you can join.

My local library in Lincoln has a wonderful and supportive group, Friends of the Lincoln Public Library (FOLL), that is doing all it can to help our library keep from having to slash hours. There is an ongoing book sale (by FOLL) inside the public library you can always drop a dollar into. Coming up this Saturday: FOLL Book Sale, Feb. 26 (from 10-5) at 485 Twelve Bridges Dr, Lincoln, CA, (916) 434-2410. And there's a fundraising dinner on March 12 ($50); they don't yet have a way to donate online, but you can send a check, made out to FOLL's Save Our Library Fund, to Friends of the Lincoln Public Library, PO Box 394, Lincoln, CA 95648.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Good work: give a coat, share the warmth

Who doesn’t need a nice, warm coat in this winter weather? Even California, with its relatively mild winters, has been slammed this year with extra-cold and rainy weather. That’s one reason the coat-donation drive sponsored by Burlington Coat Factory has been extended through FEBRUARY 13. When you think about the people (adults and children) who might otherwise have to suffer through the rest of this winter without a warm coat, and how easy is is to simply go through a closet and gather up gently used coats you no longer wear, it’s easy to realize it’s time to donate a coat.
Get involved
Join Burlington Coat Factory’s campaign (in partnership with Good Morning America and One Warm Coat) to gather coats for kids and adults. Check their website for a store near you and simply drop coats off there; you’ll get a nice warm feeling in return (and a 10 percent discount in the store). On the website, you can click to hear compelling stories of need. (In the Sacramento area, go to the Citrus Heights store at 6145 San Juan Ave.)
Disclaimer: Note that we don't endorse any organization, but we encourage you to carefully look into any group to which you plan to donate time or money.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Good work: help public radio

It sure has been fun pitching in on the morning volunteer shift for the call-in pledge drive (ending today) at Sacramento's Capital Public Radio. Okay, maybe I'm not as big a help as I'd hoped to be. At times, I feel like a cross between the Verizon guy ("can you hear me NOW?") and a frazzled trainee at a call center in Mumbai ("say again, please? Can you spell that? Smith? oh...").

See, between my phone headset (not the equipment's fault, I'm sure) and the background noise in the pledge room, I can't always hear my callers easily. But they are unfailingly polite, generous, and supportive— especially of Capital Public Radio (which airs National Public Radio and more, including great local coverage). My callers have their faves among programs, including hits like Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me; A Prairie Home Companion; Fresh Air and also local talent and reports (from Capital Public Radio News to The California Report). And I'm really enjoying chatting with them. But I dare not dawdle.

"The last day of the pledge drive can be a real madhouse," says Art, an experienced volunteer sitting across from me. "The calls come in hot and heavy, so be ready." I brace myself, and inadvertently hit the HOLD button. Oops. "One year, we hit the pledge drive goal early," says Bob, another volunteer veteran, "so the staff came in and we popped a few champagne corks. Not the expensive stuff, though," he noted (a non-profit, public radio does watch its expenses).

At the end of my shift, I can say that, it's been a joyful experience for me, if not always for my patient callers. But next year, if I really want to help out, perhaps I'll just send a check instead of showing up and behaving like a bad Lily Tomlin routine ("Is this the party to whom I'm speaking?"). It may help Capital Public Radio more.

Get involved
Donate online to (year-round, you don't need to wait for a pledge drive). Or mail a check to: Capital Public Radio, 7055 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95826. And if you forgo the Thank you Gift (ie. a thermos, DVD, and such); that way, more of your donation goes to the organization.
Or to find/donate to your local public radio station, go to NPR and hit 'Find a Station".

Harder: Volunteer to help take calls during the next Pledge Drives; check online at or to find your local public radio station, go to NPR and hit 'Find a Station".

Disclaimer: Note that we don't endorse any organization, but we encourage you to carefully look into any group to which you plan to donate time or money.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Good work: beautify a school

Is it easier to learn in a setting that obviously values beauty and creativity? Or to put it another way, would you prefer to send your child (or your neighbors' kids) to a school surrounded by asphalt and concrete or to one surrounded by well-tended fruit trees and pretty flowering shrubs? Well, duh!

Thing is, not all schools have the staff or budget to take care of pretty flowers and such. That's where volunteers can help. A few years ago, our garden club (SCLH Garden Club) made a connection with teachers at Lincoln's Twelve Bridges Elementary School.

First, local ranchers donated some small fruit trees—apples, peaches, pears and the like, some three dozen in all. But like a well-raised child, every tree needs care and attention, so today the garden club is back with loppers and shears to prune all 36 trees. Whew!

Two days beforehand, we got a quick review of pruning techniques from a local nurseryman, Scott, of Loomis' High Hand Nursery. "Plants teach us a lot," he believes. "They've taught me patience and toughness, with their ability to survive," notes Scott. "And they've taught me to think about what could be," he adds.

It's a foggy, cold morning, but our small band of volunteers (led by Joyce) is cheerful and eager. After some quick reminders from Mr. Toy, the science teacher and from Beverley (didn't get her last name), another teacher at this elementary school, we're ready to tackle the trees. "Remember to prune halfway up the new growth," says Beverley. "Don't go too far," she notes with a laugh.

I notice one gal pruning an apple tree with a long, yellow handled trimmer; the unusual part is, she has a baby in a carrier on her back. "Yep, she's my little helper," says Mrs. Volmer. You can't start 'em too young, when it comes to volunteering volunteering!

After a mornings' work, our little group has accomplished its mission. I look at the neatly trimmed branches, now bare against the winter sky, and think about the possibility of this tiny orchard: of luscious, ripe peaches or bright red apples. And about the possibilities inherent in the young students who might learn the lessons plants—and beautiful surroundings—can teach us all.
Get involved:
Easy. Call your local school and just ask when the next fundraiser is, and step up to buy baked goods or make a donation directly. Check out Project Appleseed, a national campaign for public school improvement, or the National Coalition for Parent Involvement.

Harder. Want to help out at Twelve Bridges? Check out their website. If you're a parent or adult with relatives in any school, pick up the phone and call their school to ask what you can do to help. Parental involvement is a key factor in high-performing schools. You may be asked to help in the classroom by assembling paperwork, by making photocopies, or cleaning up toys used during class breaks (you may be asked to undergo a background check if you plan to work with kids directly--it's for the kids' safety). Or there may be other work needed; let them know if you have special skills. Read more.

Disclaimer: Note that we don't endorse any organization, but we encourage you to carefully look into any group that you plan to donate time or money to.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A year of volunteering: The giving leaf

I'm committed to the idea of 'giving back' in a meaningful way this year. Think of it as one small leaf added to the giving tree (remember the story in the wonderful children's book The Giving Tree, first published in 1964 by Harper & Row, written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein). So I've asked my friends for ideas on how I can get involved, do some volunteer work that's interesting, preferably local or with a local angle, and realistically doable for a gal like me (ie. not terribly young or fit).

My goal is to do a bunch of things every month and write about it on my blog in the hopes that others will learn about the work these organizations are doing. It may include roll-up-the-sleeves effort (like working all day at a library or soup kitchen); exploration (like working the Audubon bird count or planting trees); or fun (like going to a charity auction or school fund-raiser). The point is, we can all give back at various levels, whatever is achievable—it all counts. Americans are among the most generous people on the planet, and more of us would give if we just knew how.

I've gotten some interesting ideas so far. Check 'em out. Please feel free to add yours by commenting below.

LuAnn says: "Training a service dog...check out my blog at; If my life ended today and you were to ask me of what I had done (other than family), volunteering for Helping Paws would top the list.

Vicky says: "Rebuilding Together.An organization that repairs and rehabilitates the homes of low-income elderly or disabled homeowners.Its all over the world and we love helping them...."

Pettit wrote: "Trail building and maintaining on the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail. :)"

Norma wrote: "Schools always need volunteers. And political parties of the volunteer's choice!"

Cherise wrote: "I think there's an Assistance League in Sacramento... All kinds of community work through them, from calling homebound seniors, to reading to kids, to putting kits together for foster kids and domestic violence victims."

Details: Can't wait for my ideas? Check out the world of giving at the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

White swans in the Sacramento Valley

Driving the backroads of the Sacramento Valley, you soon realize you're in rice growing country. Giant red tractors and combines dot the fields which look kind of like boggy lawns: long, green grassy stalks rise from flooded fields. But while they look like monocultures, these fields are alive with wildlife. Crawfish, frogs, mollusks, and other critters thrive in the muddy waters, while hawks, egrets, blue herons, geese, and ducks fly above and winter in the marshlands.

My friend and I picked a sunny afternoon to crisscross the backroads and look for the most majestic denizen of all: tudra swans. Some 70,000 swans migrate through the Central Valley from spring and summer breeding grounds in the far north (from Alaska to the Arctic). With its honking call, long, graceful neck, and black bill, the tundra is unmistakable. At our first stop, pulled off the roadside along a ricefield, we find no swans, but an army of blackbirds perched on the power lines overhead. We pause to scan a few redwing and Brewer's blackbirds before the army spooks. They scatter up into the sky by the hundreds; the scene looks just as if someone sneezed into a bowl of black pepper.

After a few more miles, we hit the Mother Lode of bird-dom: a pond filled to bursting with white-fronted geese (which my friends says the hunters call 'specks', for their speckled appearance), snow geese, and various ducks. "Now, how are we supposed to find white swans amongst thousands of white geese?" I wonder. We set up the spotting scope and scan the pond; all the while, skeins of gees are flying in overhead, coming in to land on the pond. It's so noisy I can hardly hear myself think for all the cackling.

Eventually, we spot a handful of swans, gliding off by themselves among some reeds. They're unmistakable: a pure, snowy white, heads held high, looking for all the world as if they're miffed at having to share the pond with commoners like Canada geese. With a wingspan of up to 77 inches, they're bigger than most of the birds here, which also makes them easier to spot.

I think they're romantic birds, not only for their grace and beauty, but for their loyalty. Like most swans, tundras pair up for life, monogamous until one partner dies. If the cruelties of life in the wild takes one partner before the other, the surviving bird often will not mate again for some years, or even for its entire life. Their journey from the north is arduous and life in the Arctic is hard, but here in the Sacramento rice fields they find a relatively warm, well-earned respite, a kind of Palm Springs vacation for swans.

We watch them glide silently off into the reeds, and hope we'll see them safely return next year.

Details: Not a skilled birder? No worries. The California Department of Fish and Game offers tundra swan tours in the Marysville area the second and third Saturdays of the month through February. They're free, but you must book ahead. Click above or call 916/358-2852.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Celebrate the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

On MLK Day, it's good to remember the role that people of color played in the world of ranching and cowboyin' (and cowgirlin') across the West. Did you know there's a place that honors such folk? Yep, it's called the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum, in Fort Worth, Texas. And on January 21, 2011,the museum marks its 10th anniversary. with exhbits featuring the Tuskgee Airmen, the Buffalo Soldiers, and more.

Closer to home, the California African American Museum in Los Angeles serves up a continuing exhibit called How We Roll (July 28, 2010 - March 20, 2011). The exhibit offers “insight into the engagement and cultural influence of African Americans in the sports of surfing, roller skating and skateboarding. How We Roll celebrates personal stories, cheers on the radicals who changed and blended the sports, and the artistry and livelihoods that have grown out of these respective fields. The exhibit is a mixture of sculptural art forms, intertwined with historical facts, personal accomplishments, vintage and contemporary photos, artifacts and videos.” Cool!

Details: The California African American Museum is in Exposition Park, Los Angeles.
Join docent tours Tuesday—Saturday at 10 am, 11 am, 1 pm and 2 pm. Call to book a tour ($3, $2) at 213/744-2084. There's no entry fee to the museum.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bonkers for birds: Audubon's Christmas bird count

You have to be kind of cuckoo—for birds, that is—to join in the Audubon Society's annual Christmas bird count. This year, I joined the other nuthatches standing in the December drizzle to spot, identify, and count hundreds of birds. And I had a blast. I got to know some neat people, enjoyed a fabulous walk through an oak-filled canyon, and got much better acquainted with my nearby habitat. And I felt like I was making a small contribution to science. Yep--me!

It's a labor of love that has taken place across this nation for 111 years, and now I know what keeps people joining in year after year. You don't have to be an expert bird watcher to take part, thank Heavens, just be willing to help keep eyes and ears open and try to identify and count. What's the point of all this effort? Says the Audubon group, "Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action."

And what did we find? In my portion of the Sacramento Valley, we counted a total of 4045 birds (says Ruth, head of our bird group); the species count was 76—about average for the last 7 years. Compared to last year, Ruth adds, some of the species that we counted significantly more of are: wood duck, cinnamon teal, ring-necked pheasant, California quail, white-tailed kite, dunlin, bushtit, ruby-crowned kinglet, spotted and California towhee, and lark sparrow. And while its participants may be amateurs, the annual count helps real researchers spot trends and ends up helping birds. "The data collected by observers over the past century allow researchers, conservation biologists, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America," says the Audubon's website.

I was happy to hear one of my favorite birds, the bufflehead duck (above), was spotted in our area. But what I wanted to see were wood ducks. The males of this specie are as gorgeous as Tom Cruise (and probably as vain). Dramatic, vividly colored, almost garish birds—this was one bird I was eager to see on my Audubon walk. And I wasn't disappointed. At the end of our morning walk, just as the drizzle was letting up and we were about to give it up for the day, we caught sight of eight pair of wood ducks floating about a small pond just a few yards from us. And thanks to the real experts I was walking with (thanks Don and Maxine), I knew what I was looking at.

Details: The annual summary of the Christmas Bird Count, American Birds, is published each fall and contains the regional summaries for all of the counts conducted; check the Audubon website. And if you want to participate next December, sign up; learn more from the Audubon website or contact your local chapter of the Audubon Society.
COPYRIGHT Lora Finnegan 2008-2009

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