I received a thank you card from Landon this afternoon— i love little kid handwriting.
“my friends said you were awesome” made me laugh outright. I love doing things for children, especially when they are give the extra boost to shine. Good stuff.

Where to begin? The youngest child of my cousin, Allyson, sent me a Flat Stanley. For those of you who don’t know who that is, see here . Teachers incorporate Flat Stanley books into their lesson plans. Kids colour their FSs and send them off to friends and relatives. I haven’t seen Ally’s son for over five years and I honestly don’t know how old he is (9, i think) but I’m a sucker for little kid school projects. As such, I took him around, bought some neat things, and made up a nice photo/text narrative which I emailed to Ally tonight.

So, let’s cut to the case. Here’s a picture of the kid’s loot (to be mailed off tomorrow) along with a CD of pictures. Sunday newspapers (with store ads), three kid books on CA history/Sacramento, momentos from Sutter’s Fort and Old Sac, a jar of eucalyptus honey, species cards from work, a few take out menus from Los Jarritos and Cafe Morocco, a CA state map, and mailers from the Sacramento Food Coop and Trader Joes. Fat furry cat not included.

Below is the complete text and pics I sent back to Ohio along with the goods. This makes for a long post, and keep in mind the intended audience is a group of little kids. However, it may give some of you a bit more insight into my world and also, well, into my sucker tendencies.

Love to all. JIG


I live in Sacramento which is the state’s Capitol. I thought Flat Stanley would enjoy seeing a few of the places that make Sacramento an interesting place to live.

This is Flat Stanley, the day he arrived. He was tired of being cooped up in the envelope and enjoyed spending some time outside in my garden. 
Downtown Sacramento is laid out like a grid. The lettered streets run west (from the Sacramento River banks) to east and the numbered streets run north (from the banks of the American River) to south. I live in an older part of downtown called Curtis Park.

While we have many of the stores and restaurants you do (Target, Best Buy, Starbucks, Taco Bell, McDonalds), what makes Sacramento unique is the large number of these small family owned restaurants and stores.

Los Jarritos (pronounce Hoe ree toes) is one of the best places in town to get Mexican food. One of the things I had to get used to here in California, many of the menus are in Spanish (and I don’t speak Spanish) and learning the Spanish names for the food I like to eat.  I love eating here. This is a family resturaunt and the owner is a lovely grandmother who spanks your hand if you take too much salsa from the salsa bar. At traditional places, there are at least four different homemade salsas and there are always radishes and carrots slices in bowls next to the salsa. Carrots and radishes kill the “heat” of peppers. So, if you get a pepper that is too hot, eat a radish or a carrot and it will help.

For the last week, Flat Stanley and I’ve been traveling a lot for my work. As today was Flat Stanley’s last day in California, I wanted to give him a tour of where I live. To begin our tour of Sacramento, I took Flat Stanley to my favorite coffee shop.

Old Soul Coffee. This is where I go on Sunday mornings before heading to the farmer’s market. It is a locally-owned coffee shop.

While Flat Stanley didn’t want any coffee, he was patient and waited with my dog, Siddhartha, while I went inside to get my morning coffee. He took this picture of Siddhartha.

After coffee, we headed off to the farmer’s market which is located under Highway 50.

We are lucky because California has a long growing season and there are fruits and vegetables to be found no matter what time of year it is. Oranges come into season right before Christmas, as do Apples. The last of the citrus fruit will be gone in a month or two. You know it’s spring when asparagus begins to appear at the market. Soon, cherries and plums will arrive.

One of my favorite vendors at the market. Always good produce at this stand. I purchase most of my food at the weekly farmer’s market.

One of the flower vendors


Local Honey Vendor. All sorts— Manzanita, wildflower, lavender, eucalyptus— over 12 varieties.

Early strawberries. Half flats will be down to $8.00 by June.
Every spring and summer, I make jams from the strawberries, blueberries, peaches, plum and apricots I purchased from the farmer’s market.

Where I buy many of my herbs and native plants for my garden.
Other food items like cheese, bread, and eggs can also be purchased at the farmer’s market. 

This is Peet’s Coffee, a chain coffee store. The story goes that the man who opened the first Starbucks once worked for Mr. Peet. Peet’s has really good coffee and I like it better than Starbucks.

We don’t have Giant Eagle out here. Instead, the largest grocery store chain  is Safeway. I shop here only when I can’t purchase the items I need from the farmer’s market, the Coop, or Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s is a smaller grocery store that sells mostly organic and natural foods. It’s a pretty popular store.
Sutter’s Fort (Located in downtown Sacramento) 
Stanley’s excited for the doors to open this morning.
Guard station

Inside the fort

“Pioneer” Saddle maker

Pioneer” women preparing for a day of cooking outdoors and spinning wool.

Original cannon used to protect the Fort and the gold stored there.

During the gold rush, Sacramento was the place to be. Old City Sacramento was a large compared to San Francisco, which was a small city at the time. The gold rush occurred in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, approximately 60 miles east of Sacramento. Fun fact: the San Francisco 49ers football team is in tribute to the Gold Rush of 1849.

After the trip to Sutter’s Fort, we headed over to Old City Sacramento.
The Pony Express began in Sacramento–the first rides departed from this location where the memorial statue now stands.

The downtown has lots of old Victorian houses, many of which are now used as offices. Visitors to Sacramento are often surprised to see many of the houses in the downtown are built up on high foundations. In 1906, the Sacramento and American rivers, which both run through the City of Sacramento, flooded and left many of the houses destroyed.  As such, many of the houses built in the downtown after this time were built on these higher foundations. While we do not have tornados or thunderstorms, the winter rains often brings concern of flooding—- Sacramento is surrounded by a series of levees.

Many of the men who paid for the TransContential Railroad (including Sutter, Crocker, and Stanford) lived in Sacramento and are buried in the Masonic graveyard.

The Spanish influence can be seen everywhere— from architecture, names of streets, and creeks (Arroyo). School children take tours to the nine California missions which are located up and down the coast. In the fourth grade, all students learn about the first European settlers to California. One of the projects they do that year include making a model of a California mission out of sugar cubes.

City Hall and Cesar Chavez Park. 

Flat Stanley standing outside the Masonic Temple. He thought the stone knights were cool.

One the way to the Capitol, Flat Stanley spotted firemen out washing the engines. We stopped by and this fire man was nice enough to pose for a picture.

California Capitol.

This is where Arnold Schwarzenegger runs California’s state government. While most people may believe California is “liberal,” we are actually a pretty conservative state, concerned with water and land rights. A large portion of the state is used for agriculture and rangeland for cattle, sheep, and goats. Recently, I’ve noticed more and more llama and alpaca farms.

The weather in Sacramento is quite warm in the summer (approximately two weeks a year are over 100 degrees) but it is a “dry” heat. It is not humid. Also, there are no lightening bugs, no summer rain storms or thunderstorms. The leaves fall off the trees beginning in early December. In this way, our winter is much like Ohio’s fall. In winter, there is dense fog and it rains. However, it is a rare day in California when the sun doesn’t come out at some time during the day. If I miss snow, I drive up to Lake Tahoe (one and a half hours away) and play in the snow.  Spring comes early to California. By mid-February, the days begin to feel warmer and it begins to rain less. By early March, everything from trees to flowers starts to bloom.
Flat Stanley arrived on April 1, 2008. As I needed to travel for work last week, he got to see a lot more of California than just Sacramento. Work took us to the Altamont Hills (one of the largest windfarm areas in the United States), Half Moon Bay (Flat Stanley’s first glimpse of the Pacific was seen here), San Francisco, and Bodega Bay/Sonoma Coast.

What I do for a living:
California leads the nation in environmental laws and protection of plants, animals, and their habitat. Before any construction can begin including construction of housing developments, new roads, and utilities (water, sewer, and gas pipelines, telephone and electric lines), companies must look at what habitat (and the animals and plants that live there) will be impacted by the construction.

Construction may begin once the federal and state agencies (United States Fish and Wildlife Service, United States Army Corps of Engineers, California State Historical Preservation Office, California Department of Fish and Game, and the State Water Resources Board) have issued permits for the project.

For the projects I work on, I am responsible for the protection of plants, animals, and their habitat during construction. I have a group of biologists and archaeologists who are sent out before construction begins to conduct surveys for these plants, animals, and archaeological materials.

California Poppy— the state flower.

Seasons here in California are very different than those in Ohio. In northern California (which gets more rain than southern CA), it only rains between October and March (sometimes into April). Because of this, the hillside grasses are bright green in winter and turn quite yellowish-brown in the summer time and early fall. As the summers are very dry (always a threat of fires), some animals go underground to live for the summer (similar to bears hibernating in the winter). While these animals spend most of their time in their burrows, some still come out to seek water and food near creeks and ponds. These ponds and creeks tend to dry up by late summer and the animals retreat to their burrows until the first rains come in mid to late October.   

Altamont Hills, April 2008.

The species we often encounter are: California red-legged frog, California Tiger Salamander, Western Burrowing Owl, and San Joaquin Kit Fox. These species all live in the ground and often use burrows which were first dug by ground squirrels.
I was confused when I first came to CA and saw ground squirrels. In Ohio, our squirrels live in trees. Here, they live in the ground. Although they look a lot like tree squirrels, their tails are shorter, not as fluffy, and their claws are longer and stronger (so that they can dig their ground burrows).

California red-legged frogs are amphibians, native to California and are smaller than bullfrogs. Mark Twain, when he wrote the story of the Calavaras Jumping frogs, was writing about the California red-legged frog. These frogs are easy to recognize by their “white milk moustache” on their upper lip and a pinched line down the sides of their back/sides.  In the summer they live in ground burrows and move out to creeks and wetlands in the late fall and early winter.

Western Burrowing owls are only 8-12 inches tall with long skinny legs, and bright yellow eyes. They click their beaks to mimic a rattlesnake so that their predators (coyotes, humans) will leave the area.

My biologist onsite was Emily and she showed Flat Stanley this owl through a pair of binoculars.

California Tiger Salamanders are amphibians, native to California, who are easily recognizable by their purplish-black skin and creamy yellow dots and stripes.They are approximately 5 to 6 inches long and live in ground burrows during the hot California summers.  

While Flat Stanley was onsite, this California Tiger Salamander was spotted inside a trench (see below). We got him moved out of the work area and relocated into a nice burrow next to a small pond. This is a federally threatened and a state endangered species.

All of these animals and their habitat (including wetlands, creeks, and grasslands) are protected by state and federal laws. 

I spend most of my time working with construction workers, engineers, biologists and archaeologists to make sure these animals are safe when we build projects through or near these animals’ habitat. Often, even though we’ve conducted surveys to move these animals out of the work area, they show up in our trenches. When this happens, I work with the federal and state agencies to move the animal safely out of the work area. You have to be given special permission by these agencies to approach and move these species. 

Emily is over 5’6″ tall– that’s a BIG excavtor she and Stanley are standing infront of!


Flat Stanley poses in front of windmills along side the 580 freeway.

Flat Stanley and I headed southeast to Half Moon Bay where we were to meet with a representative from the Department of California Fish and Game. We needed to go look at a creek crossing. I  asked her if she knew about Flat Stanley— her child had just completed Flat Stanley, so she happily posed in front of the CDFG truck for us.


Arroyo de en Medio (Medio Creek). The tall trees are eucalyptus. 

The best part of my job is that I spend a lot of time outdoors. When I’m not working outside, I’m at one of my company’s offices in San Francisco, Oakland, Petaluma, or Sacramento. I travel several times a week and most of my projects are at least an hour and a half from my house in Sacramento.

In the pictures below, the water pipeline is being installed. In the second picture, the trench had begun to collapse and work had slowed so that it could be installed safely. The pictures just don’t do the work justice— the trench is close to 10 feet deep. 

The animals of concern here are San Francisco garter snake and California red-legged frogs. Also, the work is occurring within an area known to have been inhabited by Native Americans. Because of this, a Native American representative and an archaeologist must be onsite at all times during construction.

Before we headed home for the day, I took Flat Stanley to see the Pacific Ocean. The pacific’s coast line often has tall cliffs. In this way it is very different from the Atlantic coast line. The black speaks in the water are surfers wearing wet suits.

We headed to the west of the Altamont Hills to Livermore, CA.  

I had a California red-legged frog survey to complete at this creek (Arroyo Mocho). We didn’t see any frogs or tadpoles, but we did see a lot of cows.

The creek is drying up already— it is going to be a long dry summer.  

This cow kept sneaking up on us— Flat Stanley thought it was going to get him, but I shoo’d it away. 

Flat Stanley posing by a coastal live oak.

In the package, I’ve included cards that have several of the threatened or endangered species’ pictures on them. I give these out to the construction workers so they can identify the animals if they are found in the work area (like the California Tiger Salamander from before). These cards are for the workers to put in their wallets and refer to them if they think one of these species may be in the work area. We’ve found the cards to be quite helpful— often it is the workers who find these animals and call us to have them moved.

Jennifer needed to head into San Francisco for a meeting. Afterwards, she drove me to the Golden Gate bridge. San Francisco is a major trade port. The picture below shows a large barge heading back out to the Pacific Ocean under the Golden Gate Bridge. Many of the items you purchase in stores arrive on similar barges on west coast ports including San Francisco. From these ports, they are put on railroad cars or trucks and shipped inland.

Out Under the Golden Gate.

I took this picture from the Golden Gate visitor’s center. Flat Stanley is not in the picture because it was a very windy day and I nearly lost him in the parking lot (he almost blew away but a kind tourist got him back for me).

From Sacramento, if you drive over to San Francisco (about 90 miles away), you may be quite surprised to find summer is often cold, windy, and foggy in the morning and late afternoon. The cold and fog is not what most people expect when they visit San Francisco in the summer. It is not uncommon for it to be over 100 degrees in Sacramento and mid-60s in San Francisco on the same day. San Francisco is colder because of the strong Pacific winds coming off the ocean.

Bodega Bay.

This picture was taken only a few hours after the picture of the Golden Gate. The fog “burns off” by mid-day and leaves golden sunshine. The picture is deceptive— it is quite windy and because of this, a bit chilly. Again, Stanley is safe and sound, peaking out at the Pacific from the pocket of my backpack.