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News and Features
03.18.09

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Phaedra

Best of the North Bay 2009

Everyday

Writer's Picks


Best Time Portal

Time flies. So do falcons, reimagined as ancient hieroglyphs and impressed upon modern glazed ceramic tiles together with a host of the world's other language symbols. They're all to be found squirreled away in the nook of an obscure cranny, around the corner from the front doors to the Rohnert Park-Cotati Library.

Starting with prehistoric times, various scratchings, symbols, alphabet letters and animal representations span a long concrete wall, neatly arched around what's likely the North Bay's sole public time portal.

A second whimsical wall, this one chock-full of color-saturated Boschian grotesques, rises up from the ground. Nary a one of the delightfully improbable characters painted on the wall's 76 separate tiles has the least thing to do with the alphabet letter accompanying it.

Graphic designer and illustrator Martha Crawford designed these two ceramic-covered walls amid what's arguably the most literary, fantastical and offbeat collection of public art pieces north of the Golden Gate. Crawford says her personal mission was to create graphic patterns, "without including words of explanation. The idea was to convey a history of language in a very simplified way."

Crawford was one of a group of independent artists who lent their creative vision to various aspects of this language-themed project growing, quite literally, out from the north-facing walls of the Rohnert Park-Cotati Library.

Cast eyes across these grounds on a recent day, and encounter rows of pink flowering plum trees, stout round picnic tables and an obelisk marking the untimely destruction of the Ancient Library of Alexandria. Diagonal stacks of enormous concrete tomes line one wall of the branch library. A flood of monosyllabic words printed on red bricks stream willy-nilly down the pavement leading to Crawford's whimsical walls. Nearby, a bone-dry fountain filled with baby-smooth circular obsidian rocks have etched upon them universal infant jabber: goo-goo, da and tata.

But just like time's inexorable passage, the unnamed adjunct to the library (its own literature simply calls the area "exterior landscape") stands to be rediscovered when the adjacent new Rohnert Park City Center Plaza is dedicated this July. In fact, the plaza's grand thoroughfare leads directly to Martha Crawford's time portal.

6250 Lynne Conde Way, Rohnert Park 707.584.9121.—P.J.P.

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Photograph by Cassandra Landry

Best Way to Wear the Dead

Some people choose to be sprinkled over the ocean when they die, while others name multiple spots all over the world as their final resting places. But it's unlikely that many plan to be worked into a piece of glass while a long-haired Chihuahua named Kazu looks on.

For Freestone resident John Rizzi, the artisan behind John Rizzi Glassworks in downtown Guerneville, death and remembrance present an artistic opportunity. "With big urns, I don't know, I think there's something kind of odd about having like 10 pounds of someone just sitting there," Rizzi says. "I think glass is really tactile, so when you want a touchstone to a person, you can hold something that evokes the good things, you know, rather than opening a box and just looking in."

A former gourd artist, bartender and odd-job man, Rizzi first began incorporating ashes into his glasswork after a friend approached him with the idea last year. Rizzi began experimenting with surprising results; the addition of a tiny pinch of ashes to the glass creates a kind of atmospheric effect, he says, like clouds hovering over the surface of the earth.

"This is really new for me. It's been kind of in my head for years, but it's hard because I haven't really advertised, and it's kind of hard to practice," he says. "I want to respect the ashes, so I don't really want to say, 'Hey, can I keep some of those and practice with them?'"

While the enterprise is relatively newborn—Rizzi has worked with ashes for three sets of people so far—the reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, and word is slowly spreading. For some, of course, the idea of wearing someone's ashes, however inconspicuous, is just too Angelina-and-Billy-Bob to get behind. Rizzi says some people are downright put off by the concept.

"I don't think it's creepy at all, of course, but I think in this culture a lot of people don't deal with death very well," Rizzi says. "We're kind of detached from it."

The cost of Rizzi's glasswork varies with the size and amount of complexity involved in the design. After initially considering charging a bit more for working with the ashes, he decided to leave the prices as they were.

"From a business standpoint, I can see this as being an opportunity to make extra money, but then I thought, just because of what it is, that's not really what I want to do," he says.

Rizzi's work is beautifully personal, and after watching the process of a pendant or bead come to life, it's easy to understand why the integration of ashes is catching on.

"People respond to glass," Rizzi says. "When people see something that's meant for them, they just go for it."

And what about Rizzi's afterlife? Does the craftsman see himself in glass someday?

"You know," he says, nodding, "I would love that."

16300-B Third St., Guerneville. 707.869.8280 or visit www.johnrizziglassworks.com.—C.L. †

Best Ethnic Market: Honorable mention: Lola's

Seventeen years ago, David Ortega opened his first Lola's Market on Dutton Avenue in Santa Rosa. Lola's quickly established a reputation for in-house pork-crackling chicharrones and for stocking such south-of-the-border goodies as custardy cherimoyas and mamey sapotes, making it your honorable mention nod for Best Ethnic Market in Sonoma County.

Walk into Lola's and your eyes set upon mounds of yucca, prickly pears and fresh thermogenic rainbow-colored chiles. Bulk staples like frijoles, rice, yams, potatoes and cornmeal anchor the festivities. Lola's features Mexican-style spring onions along with other seasonal vegetables and fruits rarely seen in the Safeways of the world. A trip to the center aisles reveals a vast Latino shelf-world of canned, bottled and dried items, while at the meat counter, most every inner and outer portion of cow, pig or chicken awaits your questioning appraisal.

Lola's opened a second Santa Rosa store in the South Park neighborhood in 2003. Like its predecessor, the Petaluma Hill Road outlet stocks a wide selection of Mexican cheeses, ranging from a crumbly feta-like queso fresco to Oaxaca, a meltable cheese similar to a string cheese, and the hard and grateable Anejo Enchilado, coated in chile powder and pungently flavored.

Two Santa Rosa locations may soon be joined by more. Expect to see expansion of the original Dutton Avenue operation even sooner.

440 Dutton Ave. #17, 707.577.8846, and 1680 Petaluma Hill Road, 707.571.7579. Both are in Santa Rosa.—P.J.P. †

Best Way to Hear a Philip Glass–like Composition

Sure, you could go to River Rock Casino to partake in the cash giveaways, table games with (at least according to casino promotional materials) the "most liberal rules in the area," gluttonous Vegas-style buffet, or to enjoy the actually pretty fabulous view of the Alexander Valley countryside from the patio. You might even want to go and try your hand at the profuse rows of flashing slot machines with classic names like Super Ruins of Gold and Enchanted Unicorn. But for those more attuned to the musical aspects of life, the best part of the casino experience is the high-pitched, whirring tone emanating from every corner of the hangar-like building, a sound that provokes a similar anticipatory feeling as the synthesized, arpeggiated opening strains of the Philip Glass composition "Floe," from his album Glassworks. Like an experiment in manipulated emotion, the ringing whir repetitiously builds to a never-reached climax, creating a state of constant anticipation in casino patrons, only relieved by exiting the building, emptied wallet in hand. 3250 Hwy. 128, Geyserville. 707.857.2777.—L.C.

Best East-West Pit stops

Driving West on Highway 12

When fossil fuels are replaced by clean renewable energy, we'll still require road stops that sell not only fuel but also convenience and other consumables. The Redwood Market Chevron station at Middle Rincon Road in Santa Rosa is a model of the modern fuel stop. There's plenty of maneuvering room around the pumps, with multiple entrances and exits, the wine and beer selection is superior to most mini-marts, and inside there are two booths for eating and two large clean unisex restrooms. Of course, the coolest thing about this fuel stop is that a Bohemian newsstand is right inside the front door.

Driving East on Highway 12

On the west side of the road in central Kenwood, Kenwood Fast Gas offers in-and-out convenience that's awkwardly engaging. The pumps don't take cards, so one must pay inside a compact storeroom where snack and drink selections are minimal. Air, water and ice are available, but the restroom is permanently out of order. The coolest thing about this fuel stop is that a huge sign, advertising diesel, is misspelled. In this archaic, charming minimalism, there's a necessary reminder that the dilapidated concept of fossil-fuel consumption will soon experience reinvention.—K.B.

Best Place to Commune with Hummingbirds

At the landmark Mark West Spring Lodge and Hummingbird Gardens, the knowledgeable staff will happily admit that hummingbirds, while beautiful to watch and aerodynamically intriguing, are really a nasty bunch of little fuckers. They might not use that exact term, but that's what they mean. Over a hundred years old, the historic lodge and conference center is now a privately owned events facility, primarily used for weddings and parties, and its gorgeous gardens are a fiercely fought feeding ground for hummingbirds, so that on any given day you can be buzz-bombed by dozens of the miniature high-strung speed freaks, drunk on the nectar of whatever sap they've been sucking, aggressively defending their territory. It's hilarious, and has proven a strong draw. 2520 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. 707.528.9378.—D.T.

Best Place to Score Cheap

Paying designer prices for designer jeans is so pre-recession. Savvy recessionistas know that the secret to staying stylish is little godsends like Knimble, a recycled clothing store chock-full of gently used name-brand clothing and accessories. No threadbare used clothes here, only quality, high-end name brands are accepted, as well as shoes, knickknacks and a fair-trade gift and boutique section featuring local artists and international companies. Your heart is guaranteed to go pitter-pat as you thumb through stuffed racks of reasonably priced jeans that look almost new, with tags shouting the glories of Anthropologie, Seven Jeans for all Mankind, Rock & Republic and some department store brands like Gap and Banana Republic. After you've picked out the perfect pair to showcase your fabulous self, you can move on to what can only be deemed the cutest-shoes-ever section, or then on to the large selection of shirts and blouses and purses and rings and . . . well, you get the picture. Bring your name brands in for a cash or store-credit trade, but don't be too surprised if your stuff isn't up to snuff. Knimble's high standards aren't earned for nothin'. 8200 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 707.665.9401.—B.H.

Best Way to Destroy the Sunday Morning Silence

The last time I shot a gun was in 1999. I was drunk with some friends. We decided to go to the Montana Hawk indoor shooting range in Cotati. To our amazement, they rented us guns, sold us ammo and sent us on our merry shootin' way with only our semi-slurred assurance that we knew what we were doing. Yee-haw! (Montana Hawk eventually stopped renting guns to people who walked in off the street under some very gruesome circumstances, and they closed altogether soon after.) These days, just about the only place to shoot in Sonoma County is the Circle S Ranch & Outdoor Range, where blessedly, there's much more oversight. It's located out in an utterly picturesque area near the coast, with golden rolling hills straight from Little House on the Prairie. And then: BOOM! BANG! BANG! B-b-b-BANG! P-popbLamMablamMaBow! It's not the place to go for meditating. Or praying. Or, good Lord, if you're hungover. 1740 Tomales Road, Two Rock. 707.762.4965.—G.M.

Best Place to Soak Your Jollies Gone

'Twas the season to be jolly, and party we did. I started way back in October with a late birthday (all those brownies), then Halloween (all that candy), followed by the election (lots of Champagne), Thanksgiving (seconds on turkey and pumpkin pie) followed by Christmas (rum and eggnog, yes please), then New Year's (more Champagne) and then the inauguration (lots and lots and lots more Champagne). When the whoo-hoos turned to woes, it was time to drop some of the inebriating, caloric toxins and get a grip. The man will be in office for four years at least, and celebrations will continue, but I must preserve my health in case the healthcare industry doesn't. Feeling drained, I high-tailed it down to Mermaid Spa in Sebastopol and ordered up the European "Green" Seaweed Bath, which utilizes "micronized Mediterranean kelps" that tint the water a pale green, detoxify and heal the body, and calm the nerves. The combo package of a 30-minute bath followed by a 60-minute massage was heaven. But ever the hedonist, even in detox, I had Gina, Mermaids' knowledgeable and accommodating owner, tack on 30 minutes of foot reflexology, just to make sure that all the pressure points corresponding to my organs and muscles received a little extra attention. Besides, my dogs ached after all that dancing. Party on! 115 S. Main St., Sebastopol. 707.823.3535. —S.D.

Best Vet When You're Too Broke to Own a Pet

Sometimes a person falls victim to the sweet blinking eyes of a puppy*. Say this person takes the puppy home, visions of cuddling on the couch and fetching at the dog parks clouding her brain. Then—wham! A letter arrives from the city. Shots, de-worming and all sorts of other unattractive words, of which pre-puppy she was blissfully unaware, become part of this person's lingo. And sometimes this person woefully underestimates the cost of this newfound petcare. The scramble in the phone book for a place to take the little pup without breaking the bank begins. Enter Affordable Animal Emergency Clinic (AAEC). Yes, it may not be marble hallways and breath mints for your pup's freshly brushed teeth, but AAEC gets the job done at a reasonable price. Established in 2002 by Dr. Fred Terrell, AAEC provides routine veterinary services as well as the dreaded emergency services. Vaccination clinics are held every Monday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm. *(As I did, one Sunday afternoon, when I went to have a burrito at El Patio in Santa Rosa and left the proud new owner of a golden retriever puppy. Don't ask.) 4122 S. Moorland Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.584.8273.—B.H.

Best Happiness in a Paper Bag

Need some organic figs, sexy new shoes and free medical help? The Golden Carrotis more than a health food store; it's a magical place where Lorna Birdsall, the auburn-haired proprietor, has for 25 happy years been serving as Napa's village wise woman, doling out sage guidance about what might cure you. When I'm having an off day, I go there for a snack, just to cheer up. It's a pretty, sweet-smelling shop that feels as comforting as a visit to a favorite sister's house. And there is always something new to admire: a silk purse with dragonflies, the perfect blank greeting card, an exotically spiced hummus blend, organic apples, cosmetics, a stone necklace and the obscure vitamin complex you've been searching for your entire life but didn't know you needed till you chatted with Lorna, who figures out in the wink of an eye what will make you happy and healthy. For me, happiness is any visit to the Golden Carrot, where the perfect thing always finds me. It's magic. 1621 W. Imola Ave., Napa. 707.224.3117.—J.P.L.

Best Place to Take a Tub Under the Open Sky

Opening the gate to Shibui Gardens reminds me of crossing an imaginary bridge into the depths of childhood delights. The first time I went, I wasn't sure whether I should run barefoot on the stones leading back to the old house or jump naked into the gurgling waters. The great thing about this little haven is that I can do both. The big old wooden gate opens up to a garden of ivy, rose trees and wisteria that leads back to a small cottage. I usually stroll the pathway sans shoes, feet slapping on the cool stone, taking pleasure in the elements. Deep tissue, Swedish and relaxation massages are offered in the cottage, which is decorated like the inside of a Japanese teahouse. I go to soak in one of the outdoor hot tubs. Each tub is enclosed in a high wooden fence, partially covered by a trellis. Vines and treetops dangle overhead. No one can see into the fences, so I can tub totally naked without feeling bashful. I can tub until my fingers look like prunes. I can tub until the sun has set. Based solely in simple pleasures, Shibui Gardens takes care without being clinical. While I enjoy massages and day spas, I also enjoy bare feet and hiking, and for me, Shibui is the bridge between the two. 19 Tamalpais Ave., San Anselmo. 415.457.0283.—L.P.

Best Place to Enjoy Being Stuck by Hundreds of Needles

There's just something so interesting about a doctor who, upon hearing your medical maladies, simply asks you to stick out your tongue. "Hmm. Slightly pale," he murmurs mysteriously. "This is a sign of deficiency." How come the GPs at the local big-box healthcare system never ask to see my tongue? Dr. David Field, naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist, is the kind of soft-spoken doctor who really listens to his patients, hears the medical complaint, and hearing what's behind it, addresses that, too. Once I asked Field if he really thinks that acupuncture actually solves medical problems. And he said, with a characteristic twinkle in his blue eyes, "Only if you believe it will." 46 Doctors Park, Santa Rosa. 707.576.7388.—B.H.

Best Place to Start a Bucket Brigade

Distorted oil drums, kegs, radiators and disemboweled machines, wires askew, mired in the mud. A pile of office chairs in a dumpster, moated by a ferrous pool of water. Part hardware store and part junkyard, Bataeff Salvage sprawls out over a couple of acres south of Santa Rosa. Formerly the family chicken ranch, it's been in business over 40 years, and it shows. Barns, sheds and leaky tents serve as improvised showrooms, and each turn reveals an unexpected annex of ball bearings, bolts, tarps and metal pipe to all specifications. Nearby, there are ammo boxes and camouflage for a small army. The main office segues into a rambling store crammed full of brand-new hardware that seems to have been priced in some late decade, while genuine antiques dangle from the ceiling. Around the yard, industrial detritus lies about in orderly stacks and incoherent piles of twisted metal. All scrap is sold by the pound; ask for price. And of course, pallets of white plastic buckets a hundred high. Some are brand-new; others reek of Mountain Dew and other soft-drink ultra-concentrate, alarmingly marked "Danger: Corrosive." For $1.50, who doesn't need a bucket? 244 Mountain View Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.584.8401.—J.K.

Best Place to Hire a Day Laborer

In the midst of never-ending controversy over the rights of immigrants—the hard-working men and women who have taken the Statue of Liberty inscription "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free" to be true—the Graton Day Labor Center stands as a beacon of hope. A small, gray modular building with well-tended landscaping located about two blocks from Graton's downtown business district, the center is one of the first organizations in the country to take concerted and positive action at the contested intersection between illegal immigration and our dependence on the easy availability of cheap labor. The nonprofit center opened in late summer 2007 after years of building community consensus. It negotiates a fair wage of $12–$15 an hour for its workers and stipulates access to water and a hot meal if the work lasts longer than five hours. Providing not only a safe place, the site also promotes worker empowerment via programs in education, health access, women's issues and occupational safety. Solely by existing, the center offers a model for a more compassionate, proactive future for a hot-button issue. 2891 Bowen Ave., Graton. 707.829.1864.—L.C.

Best Town to Stay Abreast of Novelty Music

Dr. Demento's radio show may have gotten bumped to satellite radio, but that's no reason one can't keep up with the novelty hits of the day by merely heading to Cotati. After a stop at Zone Music, where Green Jelly's Cereal Killer Soundtrack still gets heavy rotation, one can gallivant across the way to the aisles of Backdoor Disc & Tape for more musical yuks. All through December, it was Heavy Metal Christmas. Also heard on the store's stereo: Luther Wright & the Wrongs' Rebuild the Wall, a bluegrass tribute to Pink Floyd's The Wall, and the Easy Star All Stars' Radiodread, a reggae version of OK Computer. What is it about Cotati? What draws them to blues versions of Britney Spears songs at the Tradewinds or heavy metal versions of a-ha's "Take on Me" at Spancky's? One thing is for sure: When Joe the Plumber finally gets around to making that country album, you'll know where to hear it first. Zone Music, 7884 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 707.664.1213. Backdoor Disc & Tape, 7665 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 707.795.9597. Tradewinds Bar, 8210 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 707.795.7878. Spancky's, 8201 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 707.66.0169.—G.M.

Best Place to Hug the Walls

It's said that once you learn to ride a bicycle, you never forget. Seems that doesn't hold for navigating around Cal-Skate. I had fond memories of the rink. Staying close by the wall at first, later I rolled around with increasing confidence to the steady beat of the latest Devo tune, gaining enough mastery to coolly—OK, make that sweating and awkwardly—ask that girl out for the couples skate, when the lights went down low and the disco ball cast showers of stars on the moon-white rink. So when the ladies asked me out for adult skate night, I knew I was rusty, but how hard could it be? Familiar rink, same old Devo, a girl reaching out her hand . . . except that this roller derby initiate kicked my butt, skating backward and in effortless circles around me, while I gripped the padded walls in abject fear that the rink itself would at any moment sneak up on me and deal me a fatal head-butt. Adult skate night affords big folks a bit of fun, nostalgia or just practice without fear of taking out a few junior citizens while renegotiating the learning curve. Tip: Maintaining forward motion is best while getting one's skate legs, rather than backward, even for a second; i.e. "What if I test my balance, like this—?" Wham. Hard landing on the sit-upon. 6100 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park. Adult night is Wednesday from 8pm to 10pm. 707.585.0494.—J.K.

Best Place for a Glass of Wine, Doggy in Tow

Sonoma County natives are so casual about their wine gallivanting that they balk when the four-legged member of their family isn't just as welcome as themselves. Bartholomew Park Winery, an organically farmed estate just a hop, skip and a jump away from Sonoma's Plaza, is the winetasting destination for you and your pup. Featuring a comfy tasting room, unique in-house museum, and a live music series on select days, this winery can be enjoyed sans golden retriever, but it's so much more fun if you bring one along. Located at the base of the beautiful Mayacamas Mountains, it's a match made in doggy heaven as visitors are invited to throw on their hiking boots, grab a leash and explore three miles of marked hiking trails. Doggy and owner will enjoy poking their noses around gorgeous California wildflowers and oak groves, then settling their tired, happy selves down for an outdoor picnic with a sampling of the winery's super-healthy organic wines and a gulp of water for the pup. Turns out dogs really do go to heaven. It's called Bartholomew Park Winery. 1000 Vineyard Lane, Sonoma. 707.935.9511.—B.H.

Best Place to Manhunt, er, Grocery Shop

Vallergas Market is where locals shop for exciting and attractive, uh, food. Honestly, what first hooked me was Mark, the good-looking grocery clerk. But what kept me returning was the place itself: a family-owned grocery store with down-to-earth sophistication, perfect produce, gourmet cheeses and chocolates to die for, and the best deli in town. Everyone is nice there, and it's just the right size. You don't have to roll a cart through acres of overpriced affectation just to find an avocado. And sometimes there are other things you want to squeeze. In the Redwood Plaza, Solano Avenue at Redwood, Napa. 707.253.2621. —J.P.L. †

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Photograph by Robert Vente

Best Predictor of Water's Dry Future

As talk of a coming drought makes all of us go dry in the mouth, thrilling to every new drop of rain, and as details of the Sierra snow pack are watched and recited as enthusiastically as sports statistics, it becomes clearer that water—or the lack of—will be a major factor in our not too distant future. According to H. R. Downs, president of the O.W.L. Foundation, our access to water is already a factor, one that needs to take up even more of our attention if we are to survive.

"The thing is," Downs says, "water is different from every other resource that you can run out of, because unlike petroleum, which you can replace with solar or other forms of energy, and unlike food, which you can always grow more of, water is irreplaceable. You can't substitute another product for water, because there is no alternative to it. And you can't grow more water. So when you run out of it, you are out."

A bad problem is made worse, Downs says, by ongoing climate change. "We had winter in the middle of February, instead of the beginning of winter," he says. "That's not helping. It's affecting the amount of snow pack we have, which will affect the amount of water we will have later in the year. And that's small potatoes compared to what happens when all the freshwater ice at the poles melts, causing tidal levels to increase, which will impact Petaluma especially badly, since its only groundwater is a coastal aquifer. What that means is that when seawater rises because of the melting snowcaps, that seawater is going to end up polluting the groundwater with saltwater."

As if a shortage of drinking water wasn't scary enough, Downs further predicts that, if current rates of consumption aren't slowed or stopped, Rohnert Park could have a bigger problem than mere thirst.

"In 2007," he says, "satellite pictures showed that because so much water has been pumped out from under Rohnert Park, the whole area is sinking about a half an inch a year. That's a huge amount of movement, about a foot every 24 years."

Rohnert Park is sinking?

"The evidence shows that it is," Downs says.

The bottom line, Downs reminds us, is that overconsumption of water is killing us, and we must take action now and develop new procedures and regulations to curb unsustainable growth before it is too late.

"All of this consumption is because we keep building and building," he says, "adding more and more homes and more and more people, and you can't do that forever. Eventually, you are going to run out of water." www.owlfoundation.net—D.T.

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Photograph by Suzanne Daly

Best Modern Use of Old-Timey Values

Old vinyl records may be passť for music quality, but at Renga Arts in Occidental, those beloved black discs have new life breathed into them as bowls, decorative flowers and wall clocks. Renga's owners, Joe Szcuec (pronounced "sooch") and his wife, Sherry Huss, have focused on assembling a body of work by artists who make functional items out of reclaimed, reused materials with compelling design and a modern sensibility. The tiny store houses an eclectic collection of birdhouses made by Joe; purses from aluminum pull-tabs or cassette tape; jewelry from computer parts, bicycle chains and spoons; and mobiles from piano dampers, among other things.

"My goals for Renga Arts are to create a community of creativity, and bring together creative energies in an online environment," Szcuec says. "We're looking at more interesting and innovative ways to reuse recycled materials to make an even more compelling retail experience for people as they come in."

Transitioning from the dotcom world eight years ago, Szcuec and Huss were looking for ways to connect to their new community. "That was the real reason for opening the store," Huss muses. "This space in Occidental just kind of came up as one of those funny little fortuitous things."

Huss acknowledges the bleed into her day job as director and co-creator of the Maker Faire. "Dale Dougherty, of Make Magazine, and I had previously come together in 2001 to do a joint venture for our two companies—the Web 2.0 Conference," she explains. "When I moved up here, Dale and I started talking about an event for Make. Using a lot of the same Renga values, we went back to the old county-fair model, because lots of things about it are attractive to pulling together communities: there's a deadline, it's seasonal, there are inside and outside activities, and it's family-focused." The team brought in crafting, and Renga's access to the indie craft movement—the makers—helped them be ahead of the curve.

"We were able to create and design the event based on inputs from this world, the past worlds, and from all these future makers who are at the center of the universe right now," Huss says. "It doesn't really matter what the maker has made. It could be a bicycle or a rocket or the slide rule—they still approach an area of expertise with the same passion and enthusiasm. They all share the same values, which are reusing, educating and sharing knowledge."

Szcuec and Huss maintain that this is why the maker group is actually going to help the community at large through the economic downturn. "Even in Obama's speech, he was calling out to the risk takers, the doers and the makers of things, which the maker community is now totally jazzed by, because they are finally getting acknowledged for what it is that they do," Huss says passionately. "So Maker Faire was really nothing more than us creating an event, figuring out what was important, and adding to that."

Maker Faire has now swelled to include 600 makers and 80,000 attendees. "Looking at what has happened to Make Magazine's circulation, online growth and attendance at Maker Faire," Huss predicts, "in five years we will see over 200 percent growth in the maker population as people, families and children learn to make again and need to make again." 3605 Main St., Occidental. 707.874.9407. The 2009 Maker Faire is scheduled for May 30–31 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. www.makerfaire.com.—S.D.

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Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Use of Money to Save the World

John Reid believes there is a powerful but underutilized tool available to defend environmentally sensitive areas in the developing world: economic analysis. "The environmental community has had economics as one of our biggest blind spots," he explains. Ten years ago he founded the Conservation Strategies Fund, now a Sebastopol-based nonprofit, "to train front-line environmental activists in economic literacy," enabling them to understand the financial forces that drive ecologically destructive projects and to "articulate the economic value of preserving the environment."

Marine preserves and rainforests may hold greater long-term value when protected and managed as magnets for tourism, for instance, while large-scale infrastructure projects are sometimes not fiscally justifiable. That was the case when the Panamanian government wanted to build a big new highway through an ecological preserve. "We went in and looked at what are the actual transportation costs you would save by having that road there, versus the costs of building it and maintaining it," Reid says. "Even before considering the impacts of the road, the costs were greater than the benefits." It wasn't built.

Moreover, by training the activists closest to the issues, mostly in Latin America and central Africa, CFS is empowering the local citizenry to defend their resources and embrace their own economic futures. "Economics is not about money, necessarily," Reid says. "Economics is about people's well-being." www.conservation-strategy.org—B.R.

Best Place for That Painfully Last-Minute, Locally Made—Oh, and Also Meaningful—Gift,

It's like a hopeless New Year's resolution, except made more often. Every Christmas or family birthday, I'm madly criss-crossing the county the day before, if not the day of, vowing that next time I will plan ahead. I'll find that thoughtful gift in the leisurely 364 days the ensuing year affords. Fortunately, there's a place where I can hardly ever go wrong, drawing on a deep well of handmade, whimsical but seriously crafted pieces, often with everyday uses. Coffee mugs, carafes, flower vases, serving dishes—and if animal-shaped soap dispenser rings a bell, it's likely because of Valley of the Moon Pottery. Wayne Reynolds and Caryn Fried have been making pottery here for 30 years. At one time they made 60 different soap-dispenser animals, and distributed to 100 retailers. Fried says that stores usually wanted only the top-selling critters for their shelves. Their signature designs are ever popular, but now that they sell just from their gallery, they're able to showcase a wider range for everyone. Long known as North Eagle Pottery, they decided to change the name because it could be confusing to shoppers looking for Native American designs. But there's a good story behind the name: Reynolds lived in Chile for a few years in the pre-coup '70s, spinning clay on a friend's property that, like all addresses in that area of Chile, had a designation, the Eagles. When he detoured north to the Sonoma Valley, he decided he'd like to stay and became North Eagle. Valley of the Moon Pottery, 6191 Sonoma Hwy. Santa Rosa. 707.538.2554.—J.K.

Best Place to Ponder the Blood of Christ

St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church is probably the most opulent and beautiful church in the North Bay. Built in 1927 by Leo J. Devlin, who designed the building in the Spanish Romanesque style, the building is striking enough from the outside, what with its twin towers and Spanish tile roof, but the real beauty lies within, where the sanctuary boasts a gorgeous, enormous "crucifixion mosaic" and a vast number of beautiful stained-glass windows, including three stunning rose windows thought to represent the Virgin Mary. On sunny days, the light inside the church seems nothing short of miraculous, and as such is a delightfully atmospheric spot in which to take the sacraments of Holy Communion, pondering the weirdness of the whole "transubstantiation" thing, as you imagine the wine being transformed into the actual ancient hemoglobin, plasma and platelets of Jesus right there on your tongue, the communion wafer ceasing to be a bread-based cracker as it—not metaphorically—changes its substance to that of Jesus' broken body. One has to wonder why professional skeptics Penn and Teller (or even TV's MythBusters) haven't tried to take this one on yet. Still, there's one thing even we can't be skeptical about: St. Vincent de Paul's is a beautiful church. 35 Liberty St., Petaluma. 707.762.4278. —D.T.


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