A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Thursday, April 3, 2014


                                         (Above: Lil Bub)

Attention, fellow feline fanciers: I have news that will be mew-sic to your ears. The premiere of the Oakland Internet Cat Video Festival was such a big hit last year, they're going to do it all over again this year. The date: May 10, from 3 to 10 p.m.
Last year's festival drew more than 5,000 people – mostly "internet addicts, families who have cats of their own, and hipsters who think cat videos are ironic," according to spokeswoman Issabella Shields, who says this year's videos are even funnier than last year's.
Among the stars: Grumpy Cat (real name: Tardar Sauce), known for a facial expression that rivals Doc Martin's, and Lil Bub, who is famous for her "perma-kitten" appearance.
Some Internet cats have become such big stars, they have their own agents. One is Dusty the Klepto Kitty, who lives in Alameda. Dusty's larcenous ways earned him a spot on "The Late Show With David Letterman," which flew him and his owner, Jean Chu, back to New York for the program.
"Dusty flew business class," she says. "I flew coach."
The "cativities" start at 3 p.m., featuring live bands singing cat-themed songs; local artists selling hand-crafted cat toys, homemade cat food, pitchers and vases shaped like cats, cat t-shirts and cat ears for you to wear, top hats and bow ties for your cat to wear (good luck with that!) and some of the best gourmet food trucks in Oakland.
Local animal rescue groups and shelters will also be on hand with dozens of adorable cats and kittens that, in many cases, you can adopt on the spot and take home with you.
Then, at sundown, the main show will start, featuring 100 cat videos – culled from more than 10,000 submissions – projected in high definition by a 15,000-lumen projector onto The Great Wall of Oakland, a giant 100-foot-by-100-foot wall on West Grand Avenue between Broadway and Valley Street.
Tickets are $10 per person; $5 for children under 12 and seniors over 65, every penny to be donated to the Oakland-East Bay SPCA.
But there's a way you can avoid paying anything. Just sign up to be a foster parent for one of the participating rescue groups or shelters, and you'll get two free tickets to the festival.
"The entire point of the festival is to sign up 100 foster parents to partner with these shelters," says Shields. "They all get pre-weaned kittens every kitten season, and they have to euthanize them unless people volunteer to foster them until they're ready for spay/neuter surgery and adoption."
To sign up, log on to the festival's website, oaklandcatvidfest.com, go to the "adoptions and fostering" page, and choose the shelter that's either closest to your home or the one you like best.
"Each shelter has its own rules and procedures for becoming a foster parent," says Shields. "Usually, you'll have to go through some training. Some shelters, like the Oakland-East Bay SPCA, will give you all the food and equipment necessary. Others won't."
To get the festival, take BART to the 19th Street station and walk two short blocks to the main entrance at the corner of Broadway and West Grand. Or, if you prefer to drive, there are plenty of parking lots in the area.
See you there!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sweet Story

Young people today are better than we were.
Case in point: Mikaela Bernhardt, Emma Gadberry and Jane Collins, all students at Albany High.
Mikaela and Emma are juniors; Jane is a freshman. Every weekend they and their friends set up a card table on Fourth Street in Berkeley and sell cookies, cupcakes and other baked goods they made themselves.
But they aren't raising money for a pizza party or to go to an away football game, which is what I would have been doing when I was their age.
They're members of the Albany High School chapter of BuildOn, an international organization that enlists teenagers like them to build elementary schools in developing countries. BuildOn volunteers have constructed more than 100 schools worldwide, and this summer the Albany High students are going to build an elementary school in an impoverished village in Nicaragua.
"Our main goal is to raise $30,000, which will pay for the construction materials," says Emma. "Our secondary goal is to cover our travel expenses."
All the goodies are made from scratch, of course.
"We pride ourselves on providing homemade baked goods," says Mikaela. "There are 30 people in our club, and every week we say, 'Hey, try to bake something if you can,' and it always works out that enough people bake and enough people come. So we never know what's going to be on the table until we all get there."
"But we try to always have chocolate cupcakes," Jane adds. "And we usually have a gluten-free option and sometimes vegan, too."
"Emma is really famous for her vegan ginger cookies," says Mikaela.
"And Mikaela is famous for her chocolate chip cookies," says Emma.
"I make chocolate crinkle cookies," says Jane. "It was my grandma's recipe."
So far, they've raised $31,000 - $14,000 from bake sales alone. The rest of the money came from an e-waste drive and emails to more than 5,000 of their family and friends.
In addition, each student created his/her individual fundraising page, all of which are linked to the Albany High fundraising page.
If you'd like to contribute, you can access that page at act.buildon.org/fundraise/team?ftid=25134 or send a check to BuildOn, 777 Long Ridge Road, Building A, 3rd Floor, Stamford, CT 06902. Please write "Attention Sarah Lippman" on the envelope and "Albany High School" on the memo line so your donation will be routed directly to them.
"An anonymous donor told us he would match us if we raised $4,000, and that got done in two hours, which is cool," says Mikaela.
If all goes according to schedule, they'll fly to Nicaragua in early July and stay for a week, laying the foundations and beginning the construction that the villagers themselves will finish up after they've left.
Last year, Mikaela and Emma helped build a school in Nepal. "The village is so small, it's not even on Google Maps," Emma says.
If all this talk of yummy desserts is making your mouth water, you can buy some every Saturday and Sunday in front of Builders Booksource. Unlike some businesses, who shoo young people like them away, the store's owners couldn't be more encouraging.
"They're awesome!" says Emma. "They're always really supportive and excited to see us. They always ask about our progress, and they really like our chocolate chip cookies!"