More Than Words Inspires


I am visiting my son in Boston and he just moved to South End (between downtown and South Boston). It is a place in transition with new buildings going up on almost every block. Around the corner from him in the redbrick Medieval Manor a local nonprofit, More Than Words, is opening a new used bookstore. It is more than words/books as it provides job training and life skills to at risk youth in the neighborhood. Based on the Google listing I walked there expecting to go book shopping.

Unfortunately the old bookstore is closed so they can remodel and reopen later this summer with far more space, a coffee shop, and meeting space. Fortunately they were hosting an open house today so I was able to take a tour of their warehouse facility and learn more about their youth program.

It all begins with book donations from people in the greater Boston community. This is a community of readers and it looked like the quality of donations was a notch above what the Sacramento Library receives. Program participants are paid to sort the books, check the ISBN numbers for marketability, catalog the books into their tracking system, shelve the books, retrieve them as on-line orders come in, and ship them out.

They also have kiosks like the one at the local coffeeshop where people can select a book and pay a flat $4 via Venmo and start reading.

The new bookstore location (opening this summer) will give even more job training opportunities. Program participants are held accountable for showing up on time to work, not missing days of work, setting goals and achieving them, school attendance and more. They make a base salary of $108 a month and if they perform well they have opportunities to work more hours and earn more. There is also a clear path to earning more responsibility.

It is hugely inspiring. My son forwarded me a crowdfunding appeal later the same day and I was happy to make a contribution. I am happy to report that they exceeded both their goal of $50,000 and their stretch goal of $75,000.

IMG_4590Also in the neighborhood: Grab breakfast or lunch at Cuppa Coffee, the Aussie coffee shop around the corner on Traveler Street. Be sure to get the egg and cheese pie, or lamb pie, or other meat pies specially made to their recipes. There is also a Blue Bikes bikeshare kiosk on the same corner.


Western Hills Garden a Gem


There is so much to see and do in Sonoma County. There is the coastline, the Russian River and the party town of Guerneville. You can wine taste in Healdsburg or Sonoma. Great food abounds in Petaluma and throughout the county. Many of the historic Italian dining rooms dotted throughout the western county are still serving lunch and dinner. One that holds many memories for me is Union Hotel in Occidental, California. I don’t know how young I was the first time I rode in the car from Occidental, up and over Coleman Valley Road and dropped down to Highway One and the Bodega Bay on the other side. Dramatic scenery abounds and if it is foggy it adds an element of terror to the ride. I have a romantic spot in my heart for Coleman Valley Road.

When my Auntie J sent me the notice about the Western Hills Garden reopening for visitors this summer and I saw the address (16250 Coleman Valley Road), I got a little thrill. We needed to go on Saturday because that is the only public day that I generally have free. I saw that dogs on a leash were welcome so I packed up Lulu the adventure dog and we headed to Petaluma to pick up my Auntie.

IMG_4468We drove the backroads through Valley Ford to Occidental. Coleman Valley Road deadends in to the middle of town. The garden is part way up the hill from town on the right. There is parking along the road. The garden and plant sales are open Saturday from 10 – 4 as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment.

The entrance fee is $12 for adults. The garden provides a map but the 3 acres of paths are straightforward. Lulu was so excited by the smells of garden cats and wild animals. We were excited by the amazing plants–oversized lilies, large rhododendrons, and a tremendous diversity of plants.

We saved some time for plant shopping. I found some specimens that are hard to find in most nurseries. Now that I have so much shade, I can consider some plants that couldn’t survive in my Central Valley garden with hot summer sun.

IMG_4478I’d go back to shop for plants (no entry fee needed) or to show the garden to friends. It is always inspiring to see a truly well designed garden.

We returned to Petaluma via Sebastopol and to Amy’s Drive In in Rohnert Park. Amy’s features delicious vegetarian diner food. It is just a block from an In-N-Out if you prefer a double-double.



Cooking Adventure in Santiago, Chile


Tevis Spezia loves to travel and has negotiated a month off to be able to recharge from his hectic nonprofit job. This year his destination was Chile, landing first in Santiago. With friends in Santiago there was plenty to do and still he found time to take a cooking class with his friend Edmond.

Tevis has cooked since his senior year in high school and he’s developed some skills from cooking with friends weekly in San Francisco and taking some classes in Southeast Asia. He’s also game to try new things. Based on past good experiences, he went on Trip Advisor and found a class.


They walked to the markets and took the subway to the kitchen. The teaching chefs had already prepared the dough to make dosladitas–a Chilean bread that is similar to sourdough that you eat with salsa or butter. The class put the bread dough in the oven and prepared the salsa (pebre). They also made ceviche. No recommendation here (Tevis is not a fan of fish, cooked or raw). They mixed up pisco sour cocktails (which can make you invisible but that is a tale for another day). The menu was rounded out with a pork and potato dish (Chorrillana de Cerdo) and a Panacota de Chirimoya dessert.

All of the food was very tasty. Tevis thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anyone spending time in Santiago.

Cooking classes are a great way to get to know a culture more intimately. Taste preferences are created over a lifetime. We assume pumpkin pie is delicious to everyone, but when I asked the chef at Moreton’s in St. Heliers/Auckland to make one for our family Thanksgiving dinner, he scrapped it because it tasted off to him. He remade it with butternut squash. And this in a country that eats pumpkin all the time.


The recipes and the knowledge of how to make them are the ultimate souvenir to take home.