Favorite Small Places

It's little wonder that I have a love for the diminutive: I live surrounded by tiny things: children, clothes, booties. I've never managed to recover from that intense desire of childhood: entering the world of the Borrowers, or The Littles or Thumbelina. And our house is like our own private diorama, especially by American standards: under 1,000 sq. ft. Our car is a VW Beetle. And every seat is taken. I don't want to sound virtuous, we really struggle with the lack of space, and I admit to occasional pangs of desire for one of the ridiculously monstrous SUVs, you know, the sort that should be named Goliath or U.A.E. (named after the country whose oil supply it depletes just backing down the drive.) But most days, I am content in my small life.
B is particularly adept at small space living, we have a lot of things hanging behind things, nested in other things, under beds, or somehow given dual purposes. I think he'd have been happy living on a boat, or designing train berths.
We've always equated small with coziness, like Mole End or Ratty's snug home beside the river in Wind in the Willows, always preferable to Toad Hall when you want to be cozy. It is easier to curl up with a book in 800 sq feet than in Buckingham Palace which, as we all know, is 828,818 sq feet. I do hope the Royal corgis will budge up for Her Majesty and Prince Phillip....
I've realized recently that there are a few places in town that give me that feeling of smallness, a sort of coziness/small town America feeling. Things that sort of reset my cultural vestibular system. So here are a few of the places- local charms on my Santa Cruz bracelet-just for you.
1. Porter Memorial Library
Soquel Village
This little place is part of a vanishing breed -the private library. They rock the card catalogue, and the dusty display case to patron ratio is high. It is volunteer run, and my library card is made of card stock and my name is written in by hand. And even though I've had a book overdue since 1982, they still welcome me back with open arms. There's so much to recommend about this place (Shannon Marie, if you are still a rosa-sinensis reader, you would definitely love it).
One of the last times I visited this library I spent a lot of time in the little local history section with the librarian who looked to be in her 70's. She told me about growing up in the mountains outside Soquel, off Old San Jose Road, educated in a little one room school house-her school would occasionally go to 'town' to share some classes with Soquel Elementary School (my alma mater.) She pulled out one of her old class photos, one of those long, thin, panoramic pictures that showed the entire school lined up on the grass in front of the school. It dated from the late 20's or early 30's. She pointed out a young woman at the end of a line of children, dark haired and smiling. "See her?" she said, "That's Miss Woolsey. She was my favorite teacher." I looked at her dumbfounded. "Miss Woolsey? Alice Woolsey? But she was MY favorite teacher!" We stared at each other for a moment, and then laughed. Sure enough, this septuagenarian and I had both been taught by one of the most exemplary teachers I've ever known, she at the beginning of her teaching career, and myself at the end. Alice Woolsey taught my second grade class, immaculately dressed in sweater sets, brooches & makeup. She was a classy lady. When we would take a paper to her desk and tell her we were 'done', she would reply archly, "Rare or well?" We'd all watch in awe as she would dance & sing to scratchy recording of 'Yellow Bird'. I felt loved and believed in & able to achieve with Miss Woolsey as my teacher. It was due to her that I won the second grade spelling bee. When she died, they named a street after her.

A Eulogy:
The Village Diner
Soquel Village
This place has been gone for many years now and the ache is still palpable. Does anyone (besides the Elevens/Izzie) remember this little spot? It was next to the Hairy Chair barber shop, across from the Bagelry in Soquel Village. A tiny little diner with heart-breaking retro decor and burgers and fries that would make you weep. The chocolate cake was exactly the size of the cake in Roald Dahl's Matilda, (masssive), the coffee was strong, and we were on 'hey-how's-it-goin'' terms with the proprietor. What more could you ask for in a restaurant? Even now, 7 or so years after its demise (help me out here) I still have to avert my eyes when I drive by. It's now the home of a garishly painted taqueria. Gone, gone. Here's an old review just to pound the nail in the coffin.

3. The Word Shop
The Word Shop is a sweet lil Christian bookstore,very tucked away and homegrown. Allie, the proprietor, is lovely and will sit around and talk about life, the universe and everything with you all afternoon. We know this from experience. There's a section on heretics, poetry and old hymnals. I love it. It's volunteer-run, and needs more exposure. Check out the website link, and go give them your custom. An added bonus is that it is right down the street from the coolest remaining 50's sign in the county, the Sno-White Drive In. The food I can't vouch for. But the kitsch is outstanding.
4. El Salto
This is a nice little neighborhood, perfect for walkies. It sits on Depot Hill above Capitola Village and boasts many beach cottages with sweet little gardens and a walk along the cliffs above the ocean. I believe the parking just might be permit only nearer the cliff, so watch out for that.
5. Prayer Mountain
This little gem is located in Scotts Valley, right before you hit Mission Springs, one of the ubiquitous Christian camps in the area. What sets Mission Springs apart, by the by, is one of its Maintenance staff alumni. Which goes to show that you never know just what sort of mindless trivia you'll find on rosa-sinensis.
So I discovered Prayer Mountain years ago. It's proper title is the Fasting Prayer Mountain of the World, modeled after Dr. Yongi Cho's prayer retreats in Korea. If you are able to find it (and a lot depends on a little sign written in Korean on your left) you will be happy you made the trip. It's basically a retreat place dedicated to prayer, seeking God and getting away from it all. You need to register when you first arrive, after which you'll be assigned one of the small one-room cabins that litter the hillside. You can stay overnight if you wish, and it's free. But don't bring food-this is a place of fasting. It's incredibly peaceful and landscaped in this very Eastern sort of way, though without pagodas or Zen gardens. It's hard to describe. It's in a redwood forest, but every now and again you'll chance upon old stumps that have been planted with shade plants, mainly of the impatien type. Everything is meticulous. Why this means Eastern to me, I'm not sure. And I'm also not quite sure why I've included it in this list, but you'll be glad I did if you ever go there. Here's some yelp reviews (of all things!) to give you some more practical info.
6. Super Secret Staircases
downtown Santa Cruz
There are some fabulous little alleyways and streets that connect different parts of downtown SC to each other. I have fond memories of tramping them in the dark with friends, coffee in hand, the smell of jasmine and ocean air in our nostrils. I'm not giving you any real directions to find these places, since part of the delight comes when they are just happened upon. Start looking near Walnut Street, across from Santa Cruz High. Or Mission Plaza to Green Street. Find Walnut Street and the pristine and hidden Lincoln Court where I spent most of that Crazy Summer with Oliver and Scout. The summer I met the Contessa and was an official Slacker Employee at the Del Mar Theatre. But that's another story. So go to the Abbey, get something to go, and then start walking.
7. The Mystery Spot &
Gift Store
What list of favorite little local gems would be complete without the Mystery Spot? When I was little I remember some Japanese tourists, very polite and lost, knocking on my grandparent's door, asking for directions to the Mystery Spot. As a child this was akin to watching a space ship trying to parallel park out front.
I love this place so much it hurts. It's got all my favorite components in a tourist destination: a mention on Ripley's Believe It or Not!, kitsch, nature, dizziness, balls rolling up hill, free bumper stickers and goofy tour guides. (I think the suspenders over T-Shirt/belly/beard might be requisite). Did I mention the kitsch factor? It's high. When I was a kid the staff used to go out to the parking lot and put Mystery Spot bumper stickers on your car while you were on a tour. That was in the days when bumpers were not attached to your car, and they made those stiff paper bumper stickers with wire to wrap around your bumper. Now they are properly plasticy and sticky and they hand them out free. But it's not the Mystery Spot on its own that earns a place on this list. No, it's the gift store, which is an incredible treasure trove of 50's Americana, complete with buffalo nickel rings and redwood burl carved into clocks, cribbage boards & crosses. Add to it dubious tom toms and Native American jewelry which may or may not have been made in the USA and you'll have to agree that the tat is pretty outstanding. Now what did I do with my Mystery Spot shot glasses?

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Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.