Santa Rosa Junior College in bloom!

I’m back! Did you miss me? ūüėÄ I have to confess that I took these pictures in May, during spring, my favorite time of year here in Santa Rosa. I was enjoying all the beautiful landscaping at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) which is where I work and attend college, that I felt I should share some of the bounty with you, my dear readers!

This is just a small sampling of the beautiful flowers on campus – there are many more! thank you to the wonderful gardeners who work in the Facilities department for their hard work that we all enjoy so much!

Let me know if you know what the flowers are called that I didn’t label in the comments, and I will update the post! Thank you for stopping by, my friends!

A glimpse of Armstrong Redwoods and an even tinier glimpse of Jenner by the Sea

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Armstrong Redwoods¬†State Natural Reserve, which is located a short drive north of Guerneville, about halfway between Santa Rosa and the Pacific Ocean. It is truly a magical place. In Santa Rosa it was hot and sunny, and the air was dry and somewhat polluted due to the lack of rain. In the redwood grove, the air is moist and fresh, and the atmosphere is so still and peaceful that you really feel like you are entering into another dimension. It is such a great place to go to shift your perspective and clear your head. You feel like a babe in the woods because the trees are so big. The best part is, it’s free (most state parks charge about $8 to park as a sort of entrance fee, which is well worth it¬†considering what you get in return). You can leave a donation at the visitor’s centre before going in though.

The trees in this reserve are commonly known as coast redwoods but they are actually Sequoia sempervirens trees. Most of the area was covered in these trees before logging operations began in the 1800s.¬†The ancient coast redwood is the tallest living thing on our planet¬†–¬†most of them¬†live to be 500-1,000 years old, grow to a diameter of 12-16 feet, and stand from 200-250 feet tall. Some trees survive to¬†over 2,000 years and are over¬†350 feet tall!

There is a short 1.7 mile trail that loops around the park and passes all of its main features including an outdoor amphitheater, self-guided nature trails, and different picnic facilities. There are also longer and more strenuous trails with elevation of up to 3.3 miles within the Armstrong Reserve, or for the more ambitious, you can start here and then hike into the rolling hills, forests, and grasslands of the adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area.

The foot of the Parson Jones tree, Armstrong Woods, CA

The Parson Jones tree is the tallest tree in the grove.

At the foot of the Parson Jones tree, Armstrong Woods, CA

Pegasus in Paradise felt she should provide a sense of scale for this tree!

Armstrong Woods, CA

I have no idea why I took this picture!

Shadow picture, Armstrong Woods, CA

Waving at myself in the long shadows!!!

Armstrong Woods, CA

I liked the high arbor that this drooping tree made over the path!

Armstrong Woods, CA

The way this vine is growing on top of that tree stump makes it look a little bit like a giant mushroom with a long skinny stalk ūüôā

After relaxing in the stillness of the reserve for a while, my friend and I¬†kept driving towards the coast as I wanted to go to a scenic overlook over the Pacific that we¬†had been to before and really loved, but it was SOOOOOOOO windy and cold there we had to beat a hasty retreat (sorry I forgot to take some photos – my fingers might have had early stage hypothermia by then too and I wouldn’t have been able to operate my camera anyhow!!!)! It continually amazes me how different the temperature and winds are when I leave the area around Santa Rosa and head to the coast!

Instead we stopped in Jenner by the Sea, which feels like it is on the coast, but technically it overlooks a river, so it is a lot less cold and windy (yay!!!). Jenner is a sweet little town very close to where the Russian River meets the Pacific.

We sat on a picnic table and enjoyed these views while dining on a selection of the best vegan food Trader Joe’s had to offer that evening – crusty sourdough baguettes with California Estate extra virgin olive oil, raw sauerkraut with pickles, an avocado,¬†and curried¬†kale and cauliflower salad – yum!!!

View from Jenner at sunset, Sonoma County, CA

Looking out on to the Russian River from Jenner at sunset

View from Jenner at sunset, Sonoma County, CA

Nice view to dine by!

What a lovely excursion that was! Thank you for stopping by, dear reader!

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery – A peaceful oasis in the middle of the city

This week I would like to talk about one of my new favourite hangouts in town. I first became intrigued by the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery when I passed it in a car Рit looked very mysterious and inviting from the outside, like a forest in the middle of the city, and the name was interesting to me. When I read on the excellent birding website Sonoma County Birdwatching Spots that it was a great birdwatching location, I was even more keen to visit as soon as possible.

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

The main entrance to the cemetery at the end of McDonald Avenue. Doesn’t that windy path¬†look enticing?

My new friend from Malaysia who I took with me to visit the cemetery thought it was decidedly odd that a cemetery would also be a park, but I spent a few happy years of my childhood living next to the Camp Hill Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia (she is obviously not a Smiths fan, either!). As we lived in an apartment building it doubled as a bit of a backyard, I was even taught to ride a bike there! What do you think, my friends? Let me know in the comments if you think it is weird to enjoy wandering about in cemeteries? I love it!

Back to this cemetery…the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery¬†is a 17-acre historical site, which was founded in 1854 and most of the graves are from the 1850s¬†to the 1930s. The cemetery¬†suffered from neglect and vandalism during the mid century, until the city took it over in 1979.¬†Things really improved in 1994 with the formation of the¬†Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Restoration Committee, which made great progress in clearing overgrowth, repairing damage and planning for future maintenance. Today the only new burials are those of the descendants of families¬†who held deeds to the existing burial plots. There are over 5,200 graves in the four cemeteries which are collectively known as the Rural Cemetery. Docent-led tours are held during the summer and lamplight tours with historical reenactments are held each¬†September as fund-raising events (source: City of Santa Rosa).

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

The central path, not far from the entrance.

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

My favourite part of the cemetery by far (and the place with the best birdwatching opportunities) is the mature eucalyptus grove which is off to the right of the cemetery from the main entrance. The trees are HUGE, and the atmosphere is so serene and peaceful. There are bee colonies inside the trunks of the trees as well, which is nice to see.

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

Here are a few photos of some of the graves I found interesting (click on any photo to see a larger version):

Once you walk through the eucalyptus grove, you can continue on to a more open area where there are several more traditional “golf course” style cemeteries (i.e. they cut all the trees down and maintain grass everywhere):

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

Check out the moon! ūüôā

Coming back out to the main entrance, I discovered McDonald Avenue, part of a historical district I had not been to before. This is a wide boulevard with huge houses where some of Santa Rosa’s wealthiest residents have lived since the city’s early expansion in the 1870s. Notable buildings include the Mableton mansion built by the McDonald family in 1879, and a house that was used by Alfred Hitchcock as the principal location for his 1943 thriller Shadow of a Doubt.¬†Many houses on that street were used as filming locations, for other films as diverse as¬†Scream (1996) and All My Sons (1948) (source: Dear Old Hollywood blog). I didn’t know this when I visited, so the only photo I got there was of me enjoying some beautiful roses on a street corner!

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

The Details

Location: The Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery is located on Franklin Avenue. There are entrances at Monroe Street and at MacDonald Avenue. Parking is on neighboring streets or near the Town & Country shopping center.

Hours: Daily from  6am-9pm (PDT) and 6am-6pm (PST)

Further information

City of Santa Rosa’s Rural Cemetery website

Colin Talcroft’s birder’s information on the cemetery

Robby Cress’ excellent guide to McDonald Avenue filming locations

Thank you for stopping by! I look forward to our next virtual encounter, my friends – in the meantime you might find me happily locking my bike at the Cemetry Gates (sic) for another visit!

Muir’s Tea Room – a slice of vegan heaven in Sebastopol!

Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh my friends….I can’t BELIEVE it has taken me so long to find this place, it has been open¬†since¬†shortly before I got here at the end of 2014! I had heard about Muir’s Tea Room on Facebook, but thought it was just a regular old tea house with some vegan options. Imagine my extreme excitement and urgent need to get there asap when I found out it was ALL PLANT-BASED!!!!! Woo-hoo!!! That makes it the only vegan restaurant in Sonoma county, which is a travesty that needs to be addressed asap by anyone other than me, hee hee….

Muir's Tea Room, Sebastopol, California

Muir’s Tea Room, Sebastopol, California

Muir’s Tea Room was opened in December 2014 and is inspired by John Muir, a Scottish-American¬†naturalist, author, and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States.¬†Owner Christine¬†Dzilvelis and chef Tika Moon¬†serve a traditional Scottish/English tea service with tiered racks, as well as¬†lunch items such as sandwiches, soups, salads with home-made dressings, and traditional Scottish pasties. It is located in one of my favourite towns in the area, Sebastopol, right on Main Street, in a¬†gorgeous restored 1892 Victorian house surrounded by lush gardens. The decorations are all nature themed and cute as a button, and there is also a gift shop filled with all manner of fascinating curios. And….more importantly – there are UNICORNS and MY LITTLE PONY items as well!!!! I felt like I was in a much more tastefully decorated and spacious version of my own lair!!!!

The decision to name a vegan¬†tea shop after a noted conservationist is¬†extremely timely given the drought that California is facing right now. Animal agriculture is responsible for 47% of California’s water footprint, versus only 4% for domestic water use (Pacific Institute). The adoption of a vegan diet can save on average 600 gallons of water a day compared to eating a standard American diet (National Geographic). Because of how much food is cycled through animals to produce animal products, a¬†vegan diet requires 18 times less land to produce than a meat-eater’s diet, and 3 times less land than a vegetarian’s diet (a vegan diet only requires 1/6 of an acre of land per year to feed one person) (Earthsave, PNAS, NSRL, Johnny Seeds). Animal agriculture is¬†the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction (full sources available at the website for the excellent documentary Cowspiracy, which I recommend you watch at your earliest opportunity if you care about the earth. Also please check out the excellent work Truth or Drought are doing to raise awareness on this issue, and add them to your Facebook feed).

So! Without further ado…I present….Muir’s Tea Room…a story in pictures!!!

Outside patio, Muir's Tea Room, Sebastopol, California

The outside tables are extremely pleasant, and look out over Main Street in Sebastopol and the beautiful gardens at the front of the house.

indoor dining area, Muir's Tea Room, Sebastopol, California

Part of the indoor dining area

Vegan baked goods, Muir's Tea Room, Sebastopol, California

The dessert case

Genuto vegan gelato, Muir's Tea Room, Sebastopol, California

Genuto vegan gelato! Didn’t get a chance to try, sadly as too full from all the other exciting things I had!!!!

Nature themed gift shop, Muir's Tea Room, Sebastopol, California

Nature themed gift shop on one end of the dining room

Gorgeous china table settings, Muir's Tea Room, Sebastopol, California

Elegant and unique place settings – adore the deer napkin rings!

Here is the Close to Nature’s Heart tea rack, $21.95. Includes an endless pot of tea from a vast selection of tea flavours,¬†2 flavors of finger sandwiches (2 of each flavor), choice of cup of soup or house salad, scone w/jam AND assortment of petit desserts!!! Yeah, baby!!!! (click on any photo to see more details and a larger version).

And the soup, sandwich and salad combo with a pasty instead of a sandwich:

Here a few more pictures of the fanciful, creative and relaxing decor and some of the food:

Before leaving, I signed the guestbook which was being lovingly watched over by an awesome unicorn:

Guestbook, Muir's Tea Room, Sebastopol, California

A beautiful unicorn watches over the guest book

Christine, the owner of Muir's Tea Room, Sebastopol, California

Christine, the mysterious, benevolent genius behind Muir’s.

And managed to get a photo with Christine, the creatress of this magical place! Thank you to Christine and her friendly and welcoming staff for an amazing, enchanted visit to vegan paradise!!!

Muir’s Tea Room
Address: 330 South Main Street, Sebastopol
Telephone: 707 634 6143
Hours (watch for expanded hours including dinner opening coming soon! Yay!)
Tuesday- Friday 11:00 AM- 4 :00 PM
Saturday 9:00 AM- 5:00 PM
Sunday 11:00 AM- 4:00 PM
Monday- closed

Reservations are recommended for holidays and weekends. Also check their website for special events throughout the year.

Muir’s is also a Blue Ribbon Sponsor of this year’s Sonoma County Vegfest¬†on August 15, 2015 in Santa Rosa! Yay!

Vegan comfort food restaurant reviews: Nature’s Express and Veggie Grill

Welcome back my friends! Today I am very excited to write about two visits I made to two awesome vegan restaurants a few weeks back: Nature’s Express, in Berkeley (East Bay) and Veggie Grill, In Corte Madera (North Bay). As regular readers of PiP know, I am car-challenged, so when the opportunity arose to¬†accompany a friend catsitting in the East Bay, I jumped at it!

Nature’s Express

For dinner on the first night, we opted for Nature’s Express, which was a real surprise for me in Berkeley. It’s in the north part of town,¬†on Solano Avenue, which is a really cute shopping street right at the bottom of the beautiful Berkeley Hills, an area which I had been fortunate enough to spend some time in back in 2013. I hadn’t had time to do much research about the place, so based on the name, I thought it would be one of those Cali-fresh smoothies and healthy salads and wraps type places, but – oh no! It is definitely more in my favourite food realm – comfort food! Yippee!!!! The atmosphere is very casual and laid back too, also a favourite of mine.

Here are my pictures and some detail about the place in the captions!!! Click on any photo to read the full caption.

Their tagline¬†is ¬†“Kick-ass vegan food since 2010” and their website is really fun, with even more pictures, so I encourage you to check it out. Interestingly the restaurant is staffed by hipstery-looking dudes and dudettes, but it was started by a cancer doctor and a nutritionist, both vegans, so there is some serious science and nutrition behind the tasty grub they are dishing up! Their philosophy is as follows:

Nature’s Express is committed to helping people find delicious, convenient, affordable food that is also nutritious. Keeping everything plant based dramatically decreases the toxic organic pollutants, hormones, and antibiotics that are consistently found in our dairy and meat products.

Our philosophy on our food is pretty simple:

1) Fresh ingredients cooked daily

2) Delicious

3) Nutritious and unprocessed

4) Affordable

Sounds good to me! Definitely wanna go back and try some more dishes! Two thumbs up from Pegasus in Paradise!

Veggie Grill

After this, we¬†managed to fit in even more comfort food wonderfulness¬†by stopping at the Veggie Grill in Corte Madera (in ritzy Marin County) on the way home (boo-hoo! didn’t want to go back to land of no vegan restaurants!!!). Veggie Grill is a chain, with 25 stores on the West Coast and their tagline is ‘celebrate the vegetable!’ – yeah!!! Respect!!!

On their menus and website it says this:

Veggie Grill, Corte Madera

I was so excited as I approached since I had been wanting to come here for months!!!

at our place, vegetables are the rockstars.
shining brightly at the center.
of every plate we make for you.

as an opportunity to
celebrate the vegetable!
the fruit. the grain. and, the nut.

with eyes wide open. as one of us.
not as a diet, but as a person.
as someone seeking out the vegetable.
we think of you as veggie positive.

Love love love!!!! As my friend Muggs would say! ūüôā

You order and pay when you go in and then a server brings your food to your table. The atmosphere and the decor is bright, light and casual. The staff were really nice. I NEED to go back to try more things on the menu, everything sounds sooooo good and there is a lot of variety – appetizers, salads, sandwiches, entrees, all vegan!!! My only small criticism is that they could do with expanding their dessert section, which only has two items (although I do adore vegan carrot cake with vegan cream cheeze frosting!!!).

Here is a slideshow of photos from my visit! Enjoy!

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simon the cat

Simon the cat-dog with his favourite toy, a stuffed rooster!

Whew! What an exciting trip! Here is one bonus picture of the cute cat my friend was catsitting. ūüôā The cat¬†thought he was a dog!

Nature’s Express,¬†Berkeley, CA
Address: 1823 Solano Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707
Phone: 510.527.5331
Hours: Everyday : 10:30am ‚Äď 8:00pm (except for holidays)

Veggie Grill, Corte Madera and 24 other locations on the West Coast
Address: 147 Corte Madera Town Center, Corte Madera, CA 94925
Phone: 415.945.8954
Hours: Sun РThur 11am to 9pm, Fri РSat 11am to 10pm

A visit to Federica from Venezuela’s magical Garden of Eden

Federica at work

My new friend Federica, at work

Part of the fun in moving to a new place is really shaking up your routine and meeting lots of interesting new people. When I took part in my international student orientation waaaaaaay back in January, one student in particular intrigued me. Her name was Federica, and she was from Venezuela. She was the only student in that new group of international students who was¬†even close to my age (the other ones were all half my age or even younger!). I made a note to try to chat with her, but I didn’t manage to do so during the jam-packed¬†orientation, and she didn’t show up for the trip to San Francisco on the last¬†day. As Federica¬†had said she was studying horticulture, and all of my classes were in computer studies, I resigned myself to not having a chance to get to know her better. Until….a few weeks later I switched into a different section of my Digital Media class, only to find what I thought was a familiar face. Turns out she was taking that one class in common with me, as she is a photographer and wanted to learn more about digital media in order to best showcase her work! Yay!


Map credit: Google

Federica has a very exotic and cosmopolitan background. She was raised in Caracas, but studied at university in both Venezuela and the USA. She then lived in New York for a couple of years¬†to pursue her dream of becoming a photographer. Then she moved back to Caracas and ran a photography studio and school with her dad for about a decade and worked as a freelance photographer for awhile after they closed shop. She moved here in late 2014 because of the political instability in Venezuela and to give her son a better life. Her mom was an ornithologist and instilled in Federica a love of nature, so she was also drawn here because of the beautiful trees and vegetation, like myself. She already had sun in Caracas (I think?!?!?), but had lived in apartments her entire life. She is working on her website for our digital media class now, and when she is done there will be a couple of really cool videos and some of her photos, check it out if you have a second. ūüôā

Which brings us to the subject of this post – boy has she ever landed on her feet in terms of being immersed in beautiful natural surroundings! She invited me to visit her sweet garden cottage a few weeks ago after class. The property was soooooooo wonderful. There is a HUGE vegetable garden, she has a giant redwood right outside her deck, there is a giant trampoline (yippeeeeee!), she has a kumquat tree right outside her front door (so yummy!), there is a huge prolific mandarin bush out front, she has seen skunks and other critters mosey on by her deck…I was very tired that day because I had been up most of the night prior completing a photo slideshow for our digital media class, so I didn’t have the presence of mind to get photos of all this super cool garden amazingness, but I did take a few pics of the front garden before I left.

So my friends, without further ado, I give you….(just one small section of) Federica’s magical Garden of Eden!!!! Enjoy!!!

(Click on any photo to see captions and more detail) ūüôā

A post for my friend, Scrawny the Squirrel

In an earlier post I briefly touched on the wildlife that was visiting my garden. Since then, I had the pleasure of briefly getting to know a squirrel I named Scrawny:

Scrawny the squirrel visiting my window!


Scrawny first came to my attention in early to mid March or so, but it wasn’t until 27 March that I got my first photos of him. He was distinctive from the other squirrels that I saw in my yard, because he was so skinny. I didn’t normally put out food for the animals in my yard, but I tried to feed Scrawny nuts. He would always run away when I came out though, and usually the scrubjays or a fat squirrel would get the nuts I had intended for Scrawny. So frustrating!

27 March 2015 Scrawny the Squirrel

27 March 2015: my first photos of Scrawny. He had a charming habit of using his tail as a sort of a sun visor!

27 March 2015 Scrawny the Squirrel

27 March 2015. Squirrels often hop up on the edge of my fire pit to munch on their hidden treasures, which I find odd since they are so exposed there. You can also see in this photo why I decided Scrawny was a “he” not a “she”!

I was so pleased when on April 4, Scrawny finally stayed close enough to venture back after I went back inside and gratefully ate all the nuts I put out for him!

4 April 2015 Scrawny the Squirrel 4 April 2015 Scrawny the Squirrel

Interestingly, I read after that that much like in our own diet, nuts are supposed to just be a desert-type treat in squirrels’ diets and they should be eating veggies and other roughagey-type things mostly. However, experiments with putting out carrots were not terribly well-received!!!

I continued to see Scrawny in early April, with mixed results as to whether he would come back for the food I left him. During¬†this time, and in reviewing earlier pictures I had taken, I realized that Scrawny likely wasn’t thin because he was the runt of the litter or something like that, but simply because he was old. His skin seemed to sag a little bit off his body.

On 14 April, we had a major breakthrough! Scrawny came by and ate his nuts and even had some water from the scrubjay water station (for some reason scrubjays use one of my water stations and all other birds and most squirrels use the other):

14 April 2015 Scrawny the Squirrel

Good to the last nut!

14 April 2015 Scrawny the Squirrel

You can see how painfully thin Scrawny is¬†in this picture ūüė¶

After I fed Scrawny and took some more pictures, I went back to work at my computer. Suddenly I looked up and he was at my office window!!!

14 April 2015 Scrawny the Squirrel

14 April 2015: Scrawny waving at me outside my window!

He stayed there for the longest time, looking at me looking at him and taking some photos of him at much closer range than I was normally able to. He must have been there for at least 30 minutes!

14 April 2015 Scrawny the Squirrel

It was only when I looked at these photos later that I noticed that Scrawny’s tail was missing about an inch or so of fur at the base.

I felt like he was trying to tell me something, but I didn’t know what. After a while, I brought him out a little more food, but he took off without eating it.

The next day, on 15 April, he came back to the window! Then he jumped on to the little roof next to the window, where I had left some food for him previously:

15 April 2015 Scrawny the Squirrel

I came out with some nuts, but Scrawny freaked out and jumped off the little roof about 3 feet to the ground to get away from me РI felt pretty bad for making him do this. I also noticed he had a few cuts on his side. I had seen him get chased out of my yard by another squirrel a week or so ago, too. When I told my mom about this she said maybe I should rename him Scrappy. I put the nuts out in the usual place, but he never came back for them.

That was the last time I saw Scrawny alive. A few days later I noticed a dead squirrel on the road very close to my house. Since I hadn’t seen Scrawny in a while, I went back to check that squirrel and sure enough it was missing fur at the base of its tail. I held out hope that maybe it was another squirrel, but I haven’t seen Scrawny since, so I am pretty sure Scrawny¬†is now resting comfortably in the back of my yard. I couldn’t just leave him on the road ¬†ūüė¶

Scrawny the Squirrel's grave

I miss you Scrawny and I enjoyed getting to know you!