The iris garden at the Three Creeks Trail in San Jose.

Bike by some irises

The water tower with the 3 indicates the entrance to the Three Creeks Trail in Willow Glen.

The Three Creeks Trail is a relatively new addition to the paved trail system in San Jose. It connects to the Los Gatos Creek Trail and the Guadalupe River Trail.

I love to find these small, hidden gardens. When we recently checked out the Three Creeks Trail in San Jose we came by the Iris Garden.

Snow Flurry, a white iris, in the iris garden on the Three Creeks Trail in Willow Glen.

This is a tribute to Ruth and Clara Rees who successfully crossed varieties of irises in the Willow Glen neighborhood. ‘Snow Flurry’ was created as a white iris with “broad, ruffled paddles, clear hafts, several buds in each spathe, good branching and excellent blue-green foliage.”

After some more research I found out that Clara really hit the jackpot and in 1939 grew “the most important iris ever created”.

Snow Flurry became the parentage of all modern TB irises. The iris garden used to be a much larger development in Willow Glen, and this little strip is all but an homage to them; honoring the botanist and flower lover Clara Rees.

Have you noticed the iris garden along the Three Creeks Trail? 

Resources:

https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/07/18/iris-gardens-return-to-the-reopened-three-creeks-trail http://www.historiciris.org/photos/snow-flurry-lm.html

https://www.historiciris.org/articles/notable-clara-rees.html

https://cbris.org/

https://theamericanirissociety.blogspot.com/2018/12/clara-b-rees-queen-mother-of-iris-world.html

https://theamericanirissociety.blogspot.com/2012/02/clara-and-ruth-rees-san-joses-iris.html

http://wiki.irises.org/Main/Bio/HybridizerReesClara

Clive McCarthy's painting at San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.

Get inspired by art

It’s always great to go see some art. If the admission is free and the art contemporary what holds you back?

Stephnie Syjocu, Total Transparency Filter at San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.

The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (ISA) is located in the hip SoFa district. They regularly participate in the South First Fridays Art Walk, a self-guided nighttime tour through downtown’s art institutions.

Currently there are four exhibits running till the middle of March. 

Sense of Self – Bay Area photographers explore the subject of self. Artists are Marcela Pardo Ariza, Tammy Rae Carland, Erica Deeman, Jamil Hellu, and Stephanie Syjuco.

Electronic Paintings – by Clive McCarthy.

Chimera – by Stas Orlovski

LGBTQ+ Youth Space – a continued discussion about self and identity by the LGBTQ+ Youth Space. 

Mark your calendar: March 6th, 2020, First Friday will be co-hosted by the LGBTQ Youth Space and will feature performances, activities, and workshops around topics of identity, representation, and empowerment.

Clive McCarthy's painting at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.

Clive McCarthy’s electronic paintings were my favorites. Large computer generated images, newly invented with each brush stroke of the pixel palette, creates a movie like assemble of an image. To mix up his generative art – art created by a computer algorithm – he will change the image sets every two weeks. You can even review his code in a separate room across from the lobby.

ISA is open every day of the week except on Mondays. Admission is free.

Where do you go to be inspired by art?

Antique bottles filled with essential oils, at the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents.

Treat yourself to a smelling adventure

I usually try to find inexpensive things to do in the Bay Area. So I was reluctant to go to this little museum with a $20 entrance fee. But the sensory experience was totally worth it!

Little labels on the flasks tell you to Smell This, at the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents.

I’m talking about the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents in Berkeley. You can get tickets for this museum of scents online but they also welcome walk-ins. We were greeted warmly by Devon, who equipped us with some instructions, some strips to sample our own smells, and a wool cloth to neutralize our noses. 

Apothecary cabinet with elemi resin, dried roses, at the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents.

There are two apothecary cabinets with dried resins, woods and flowers. We spent most of our time here rubbing things and putting others up to our noses. The Elemi Resin, a dried tree sap, reminded my husband of the smell in an art studio. 

Book aficionados will enjoy the hundred year old books on fragrances and creating perfumes, and the window bench to relax and carefully turn the pages.

Not all smells are pleasing here – some Hyrax poop anyone? – but you learn that to create a perfume you have to have three levels of depth.

Perfume organ at the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents.

The centerpiece of the archive is the perfume organ, hundreds of little flasks filled with natural essential oils. You can dip your three strips into some oils to take home. 

The last experience is Mandy Aftel’s creation of edible essential oils that you spray onto chocolate, e.g. raspberry. These create the most amazing burst of flavor from the dark chocolate that is the baseline to the more floral or fruity oil.

The family business is only open Saturdays 10 am – 6 pm.  Admission is $20.

During the week Mandy Aftel is a perfume composer. You can buy her creations online or on your visit.

Have you been to the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents?

Gingerbread house, Los Altos

Find the gingerbread houses

The 32nd annual gingerbread exhibit in Los Altos had to relocate from its usual location, the now demolished Hillview Community Center. (It will be rebuilt). This year you can stroll through Los Altos downtown in search of the gingerbread creations. From December 10th to the 22nd of December, eight businesses and City Hall are showcasing locally made gingerbread houses. 

Gingerbread house, Los Altos

In each location, you can pick up a passport that lists all locations that have the gingerbread houses. But you have to find the first one! Once you find one, you can have your visit stamped. Some places let you hunt for it; some have multiple houses to show off; one had a little quiz.

Gingerbread house, Los Altos.

On December 19th, 2019, from 4-6:30pm, all participants, their families, and hosting businesses are invited to a Gingerbread Exhibit Crawl in Downtown Los Altos followed by a special reception at the Los Altos Youth Center. 

While I started out looking for the exhibit I stumped a few businesses asking for it. A lovely helper at Linden Tree bookstore called the city to ask where they were, I went to my first place, received the passport, but no edible house to view. It turns out the distribution wasn’t as smooth. (With such fragile deliveries, all needed to be done carefully, and hence ran a bit behind.)

Also the  Linden Tree store keeper referred us to a two-story, life-sized gingerbread house in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. I’m sure that one is hard to miss.

Gingerbread house, Los Altos.

The four gingerbread houses at city hall are right by the entrance. I wasn’t able to get my passport stamped, as everyone was busy helping customers. If you can get all the stamps you can show your completed passport to the Recreation and Community Services desk (400 University Ave), you will be entered to win a gift card. 

Have you seen gingerbread houses around?


Rows of gifts at the Family Giving Tree warehouse.

Master your gift giving

If you belong to a church group, your kids are in boy scouts/girl scouts, or some similar groups, you might have your volunteer schedule for the holidays covered.

If you are still looking to give back this season I might have an idea for you.

Holiday Wish Drive cards from Family Giving Tree.

Have any of your coworkers displayed Family Giving Tree wish cards? Please grab one of these cards and give the gift of giving. I know that some large companies in the Bay Area have cards like these in the reception area and you would drop off your purchased gift with them.

You can also lead a drive. This means you will pick up these cards from Family Giving Tree and post specific wish cards in a well-traveled area, or give them out to your coworkers, friends, or family members . Then you would collect the gifts and drop them off at the warehouse. I don’t know why they don’t call it something like elf helper? 

Little girl wrapping a gift at the Family Giving Tree warehouse.

Since 1990 the Family Giving Tree (FGT) has provided more than one million gifts for Bay Area children, low income families and seniors. Their promise is to give an exact gift. If a person only gets one gift in the Holiday season, an exact gift, something he or she really wanted, can make all the difference.

Little boy playing with the gifts while his dad is wrapping gifts at the Family Giving Tree warehouse.


Last year I answered the call of FGT to help out at a warehouse in Santa Clara to wrap gifts. This was a two hour shift in a cold warehouse, but you just joined some people, made new friends, and shared some scissors and wrapping paper and off you went to beautify these gifts.

It was amazing to see all these volunteers; the volume of gifts warmed my heart.

Please consider volunteering this Holiday season.

Timeline for Seeing Picasso at the Pace Gallery, Palo Alto.

See Picasso

Seeing Picasso is the title of an exquisite exhibit at the Pace Gallery in Palo Alto. I urge every art lover to drop by and see the collection. 

Front window of the Pace Gallery in Palo Alto.

Currently the windows are covered up at the Pace Gallery. Only the front door is announcing the opening hours. It feels like some mysterious, secretive place.

iPad for the audio tour at Pace Gallery, Palo Alto.

When you enter you are greeted by the friendly staff. If you like, you can borrow an iPad and a headset to enjoy an audio tour for a “chronological survey of Picasso” led by Alexander Nemerov.

The audio tour was fun and informative. The poetic explanations definitely point you in new directions while admiring the artwork. 

My favorite painting was The Dead Casagemas (1901) which is considered to be the start of Picasso’s Blue Period. Casagemas, Picasso’s best friend killed himself; he obviously left Picasso in sorrow. 

After seeing a huge Picasso exhibit once in Berlin I highly recommend taking your toddler. Mine, at the time, had a blast and sometimes a better access to the art. 

Timeline for Seeing Picasso, Pace Gallery, Palo Alto.

I liked the timeline in the foyer, starting with Picasso’s birth (1881) till his death (1973). Picasso’s milestones are interspersed with inventions and other important events at that time, putting Picasso in the context of his generation. 

Seeing Picasso will be shown till February 16th, 2020 at the Pace Gallery, 229 Hamilton Ave, Palo Alto. Admission is free.

Have you seen Picasso?

Skeletons dancing in Redwood City.

Celebrate the dead

Usually I try to tell you about things that you can do after reading this. For this post you have to make a note and make sure you will check this out next year. 

Stage in front of the Courthouse in Redwood City.

The Dia de los Muertos Festival in Redwood City is an annual celebration of the Mexican holiday, also known in English as the Day of the Dead. For the ninth time last Sunday, the Casa Circulo Cultural, a Redwood City Hispanic cultural organization, in collaboration with the San Mateo History Museum, the Friends of the Library, and Redwood City Parks and Arts Foundation  organize one of the largest festivals of Hispanic culture in the Bay Area.

Skeleton in front of the courthouse in Redwood City.

The Dia de los Muertos was made popular outside of Mexico by the Pixar/Disney movie Coco. One of the performances at the festival sang a Coco song.

Women in traditional outfits, Redwood City.

Largely celebrated in Mexico, and by Mexicans in the US, the festivities span for three days. It is a lively event that remembers the dead and believes that in this window of time you can spend time with lost ones. 

On altars they put a picture of the ones who have passed and their favorite things and food items. The marigold seems to be the predominant flower of this day. People also wear ‘skulls’ as face paint and traditional clothing.

Altar displayed at the courthouse, Redwood City.

The Dia de los Muertos Festival has altar displays, traditional music and dances. There were food stands and  lots of gift items for sale. Each year the event seems to grow in popularity. We waited in line almost 45 minutes to see the altars in the Courthouse building!

I love this tradition for remembering the dead. 

How do you remember the dead in your life?

Resources:

http://diadelosmuertos.nationalhispaniccenter.org/

Sun shining through the trees, Huddart Park, Woodside.

Hike in a forest

With all the wildfires going on, (I hope everyone is safe! ) I felt the need to visit a forest. I thought the air might be purer, which it was, and I would find some serenity, which I did. I decided to do a short hike at Huddart Park in Woodside. I was aware of the $6 parking fee, which I paid.

Entrance sign to Huddart Park, Woodside.

I passed several bikers going up the hills.  I was surprised how high in elevation Huddart Park actually is.

Douglas Fir signpost at Huddart Park, Woodside.

The Redwood Trail I picked for my forest adventure is a 0.7 mile hike, a short loop with minimal elevation changes. I liked the markers that point out shrubs and trees – yes, the Redwood Trail has more to offer than just redwoods! I saw big leaf maples, douglas fir and sword ferns to name a few. I very much appreciated the poison oak sign, always confused on where it might lurk and what it looks like.

It looks like a bark puzzle, Huddart Park, Woodside.

I also enjoyed the different shapes of the tree barks. One was a puzzle with pieces lying on the floor to complete. The mostly wood trail makes for a nice shady hike. 

Bridge at Huddart Park, Woodside.

I crossed a few bridges which would hold a stream in the winter time. Overall, it was nice to be out in the woods.

Where do you go to hike a forest?


Tesla statue, Palo Alto

Surf for free

You might find some public art objectionable. If part of the art is providing free Wi-Fi, will you still object?

Tesla statue, 260 Sheridan Ave, Palo Alto.

Since December 2013 there is a Tesla statue providing free Wi-Fi in Palo Alto with a time capsule to be opened in 2043, 100 years after Tesla died. 


A successful kickstarter campaign was held for the sculpture and free Wi-Fi. It also has it’s own website: https://www.teslastatue.com/ and can be counted as a true Silicon Valley experience.You can also support this artwork and the Wi-Fi by buying a small replica on Amazon (this is the final year of sale).

Tesla statue, 260 Sheridan Ave, Palo Alto.

Dorian Porter of Northern Imagination LLC ran this successful campaign and Harold Hohbach a landowner provides a place in front of one of his office buildings, 260 Sheridan Ave, Palo Alto. 

Yes, your local coffee shop provides Wi-Fi, but I still love the art created by Terry Geyer.

Where do you go to surf for free?

Resources:

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/nikola-tesla-statue

https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2013/12/06/nikola-tesla-statue-to-be-unveiled-in-palo-alto


Semaphore, Almaden Tower in San Jose.

Crack the code

Have you ever noticed the four round lights on top of the Adobe Almaden Tower in San José? They look like cat eyes turning to a rhythm.  Every 7.2 seconds they change their position. 

Adobe Almaden Tower's semaphore, San Jose.

This is a semaphore – in the early days a semaphore was the person holding two flags to send messages by changing the arm positions. In computer terms it is a variable used for multitasking operations. This semaphore has four wheels each of them can change into four different positions. Enabling it to have a 256 item vocabulary. It is transmitting a code that you can spend weeks to crack. 

Ben Rubin was chosen as the media artist to install this artwork in 2006. By 2007 Bob Mayo and Mark Snesrud cracked it. It took them 3 weeks to find out the semaphore was spelling out Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49.

Adobe Almaden Tower's semaphore, San Jose.

The code has been solved twice now. The most recent update was in October 2012. 

You can spend hours in front of the building or check out Adobe’s website to study the pattern. If you are successful in deciphering the code you can submit it to Adobe and they will award you bragging rights and a year’s subscription for the Adobe Creative Cloud. In 2017 the Tennessee math teacher, Jimmy Waters figured out that the code at that time was a sound file voicing Neil Amstrong’s famous sentence: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

A true Silicon Valley experience. 

Have you ever cracked a semaphore code?

Resources: 

https://www.adobe.com/aboutadobe/philanthropy/sjsemaphore/
https://sf.curbed.com/2017/3/13/14913006/adobe-semaphore-code-cracked-tennessee