I drive the stretch of MacArthur Boulevard between the Laurel and Dimond Districts of Oakland quite a bit. When I take the curve by Coolidge Avenue I often glance at the small shopping center that is home to a local favorite, Loard’s Ice Cream. A sign has always caught my eye towards the back of the parking lot that says “Free Oakland UP.” I have often wondered what it represented. When I learned that an interesting concept was at play behind the doors of this unique thrift shop I added it to my list of places to pop in.
It’s National Pollinator Week and I just read an amazing fact; one third of all agricultural output in the United States relies on pollinators. Isn’t that unbelievable? Without the help of pollinators worldwide, such as bees, butterflies, and birds, we wouldn’t have coffee. Or chocolate. Or tequila! It’s funny, my husband’s favorite beer is Pliny the Elder, an IPA named after the famous Roman naturalist and produced by Russian River Brewing Company. I therefore find it ironic that as I read about pollination today I came across a quote by Pliny the Elder, “Nature is to be found in her entirety nowhere more than in her smallest creatures.” Its profound and true. Seventy-five percent of all of the plants on Earth rely on pollinators. Yet as industry, population, and pollution increase, their colonies are being threatened and destroyed at a disturbing rate. Its something to think about as you watch a bee buzz from flower to flower. I chose to honor pollinators this week in my own way; a trip to our local urban farming store for a jar of their honey, produced by their own honey bees. A day later I have a pitcher of honey lemonade to enjoy on this perfect summer weekend.
I often forget how close Oakland is to the coast. Not just to any coast, to the amazing Northern California coast; to Highway One, teal colored water, rugged cliffs, and quaint coastal towns. I was determined to partake in berry picking season this year. I lived in Portland, Oregon for several years and used to always head to the farms just outside the city limits to pick red, purple and blue colored berries when the season hit. When I reviewed lists of recommended spots to pick berries in the Greater Bay Area, I knew the coast was going to be preferred over inland spots. What resulted was a family day trip to Pescadero last Saturday. An early departure meant no traffic. Blue skies equaled that teal-colored water. A list of recommended stops yielded delicious indulgence. Eighteen pounds of bright red organic strawberries meant I had work to do when we got home.
I consider myself a creative person; yet I can’t draw, paint, or sculpt. My children will ask me to draw a lion or a firetruck, and I actually feel embarrassed as their wide eyes watch my poor attempt in action. On the other hand, my husband can sketch any number of things in a matter of minutes and their eyes light up. I suppose I will stick to reading books and the occasional Lego build. I think my creative side is a bit more subtle. I’ve been told I have a decent eye with a camera. I can come up with clever ideas for a party; invitation, decoration, theme and the like. I think my brain tracks somewhere in the zone between left and right; at least an online quiz told me that once. Places like Flax Art & Design inspire the right side. I know better than to load my basket with brushes and paints, but I can still enjoy what I might be able to DIY out of a beautiful paper or ribbon.
To experience pleasure through our senses is critical to health and well being. I know that I often take my five senses for granted. I try to focus on small pleasures in the form of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell; it is an exercise in slowing down. I move so fast on a daily basis, to take just 5 minutes can rejuvenate and reenergize me. Since I have been trying to focus on slowing down recently, lavender has been on my mind. It has always been one of my favorite scents; its ability to help with relaxation and sleep is why I use drops of its essential oil at bedtime. A recent trip to The Gardens At Lake Merritt with the kids was an opportunity to visit the lavender varieties in the sensory garden, and to allow all my senses the opportunity to find pleasure. While lavender’s scent induces calm and its little purple flowers add pops of color in perennial form, its flavor is a quality I hadn’t considered. Honey, tea and herbes de Provence are ways in which lavender can make its way to our palete, but I was curious about how to use it in baking. During my recent visit to Oaktown Spice Shop I saw bags of the little dried flowers and decided to try my hand at baked donuts.
As someone who loves food, loves Oakland, and loves inspiring local retail, I am ashamed to admit that I had not stepped foot into Oaktown Spice Shop before last week. As I have visited local restaurants and bakers over the past months, the shop’s name has been mentioned time and time again as the go-to spot for spices to bring amazing flavor to our town’s taste buds. Perhaps the idea of a shop dedicated to spices intimidated me. While I know it’s an artful combination of spices and herbs that make me pause during a meal to wonder how a flavor is achieved, I am still daunted by experimentation in my own kitchen, and cautious of the expense that a well stocked spice rack can bring. My visit to Oaktown Spice Shop has changed that. With surprisingly reasonable prices, a staff ready to help and guide your choices, and a website loaded with recipe ideas, Oaktown Spice Shop is a local gem that will be added to my shopping list.
Sunday is Mother’s Day. Since I am the mother of two little ones, it is a day where I have a free pass to do as I please; to indulge, rest, rejuvenate, reflect. Since my kids are still young, they don’t quite understand that being on their best behavior and honoring all that their momma does for them are required for the day. So while I do plan to spend time enjoying their company, my true intention is to use this day to take care of me. Guess what? You certainly don’t have to be a mother to chose this for yourself. Furthermore, you certainly don’t need a special day of the year to do it. I try to find moments in time throughout busy days to take pause, to enjoy something as simple as a sound, smell, or sight. If I have more moments free that can be laced together to create “me” time, some of the below are at the top of my list for spending time to take care of me, my senses, my mind, myself. Oakland is full of ways to treat yourself…be inspired to do so, you deserve it.
During my visit to Angel Cakes a few weeks ago, I was drawn to the lovely arrangement of flowers sitting on the coffee table. Rustic and colorful in a mason jar, just as I would do at home, I couldn’t resist taking photos of the mix of pink, orange, and purple blooms. When owner Jen Angel told me that they had come from a local non-profit called WOW Farm, a program teaching Oakland youth about small business management and sustainable gardening, I was intrigued. When I heard the flower farm was located in front of the historic 16th street train station in West Oakland, the appeal of Oakland history coming together with a great cause within the community took hold. I knew I had to learn more. On an overcast Saturday morning just over a week ago, I had the pleasure of spending time with these hardworking teens. As an added bonus, I got to spend some time inside the historic station. Once again, my appreciation for Oakland and its beauty, in the form of a empty shell of what once was and rows of blooms offering hope to its future, grew.