San Luis Obispo County is my favorite place

San Luis Obispo County is my favorite place and I don’t have to go far to experience it– it’s in my backyard. It’s exactly why I decided to move here 15 years ago. Of course, the best things about the area are the rural feel, proximity to the coast and the warm weather. Although I don’t want people flocking to the area and spoiling the best of what there is here, I can’t stop sharing how wonderful San Luis Obispo County is.

Photo of 2 plam trees on a cliff in Pismo Beach, California

My top 5 favorite things to do in San Luis Obispo County

  1. Wine tasting at Pianetta Winery in downtown Paso Robles
    Wine tasting at Pianetta Winery in downtown Paso Robles.

    Wine tasting. There are hundreds upon hundreds (that’s not an exaggeration—check out PasoWine.com and SLOWine.com to see what I mean—do note that listings on both of these are dependent on being members, so not all the wineries in the area are listed). Wine tasting in SLO County is less expensive than other more well-known wine regions. The unofficial stance of the local wine country is that wine tasting is for everyone and the best wine is the wine you like. Wine comes with corks, screw tops and in boxes—what matters is not what it comes in but the quality of the wine that goes in.

    Pismo Beach on a Sunday in April
    Pismo Beach on a Sunday in April
  2. Beach day. I love making a day (or at least an afternoon) of visiting the beach, whether it’s by myself, with friends or with my daughter. My favorite beach (shhh…don’t tell anyone) is Cayucos State Beach.  The children like to spend as much time on the playground on the south side of the peir as they do in the water. If I don’t go to Cayucos, Avila Beach is number 2. Although there are many other fabulous beaches.

    A sampling of beers at Dead Oak Brewery in Atascadero
    A sampling of beers at Dead Oak Brewery in Atascadero.
  3. Sampling of sour beers at Libertine in downtown San Luis Obispo
    Sampling of sour beers at Libertine in downtown San Luis Obispo.

    Craft beer tasting. Since becoming gluten-free, I drink more wine than beer, but my dad and brother in particular LOVE beer. My dad’s goal is to visit all the craft breweries in SLO County. There aren’t as many breweries as there are wineries—nowhere close—but it’s still proving to be difficult as there are always more craft breweries popping up. One of my favorites is Libertine Brewing in SLO because of the sour beers. If you haven’t had a sour before, I recommend going to Libertine and trying one—or four by getting a flight.

    On the way to the top of Stadium Park in Atascadero
    On the way to the top of Stadium Park in Atascadero.
  4. Top of Stadium Park in Atascadero early in the morning
    Top of Stadium Park in Atascadero early in the morning.

    Hiking. One thing those of us living in SLO County often take advantage of — besides living so close to the ocean — is the many hiking trails. There are short hikes that don’t have much elevation change and there are more than a few hiking trails that go up a mountain. There’s one I see every time I head north on the 101 just as the ocean is about to disappear from view at Shell Beach (Shell Beach Bluffs Trail). The ones I hike most often are in Atascadero: Stadium Park and Jim Green, as well as trails at Montana de Oro.

    Short rib tacos from Fish Gaucho in downtown Paso Robles
    Short rib tacos from Fish Gaucho in downtown Paso Robles.
  5. Flourlesss chocolate cake from Bistro Laurante in downtown Paso Robles Robles with a birthday candle on it
    Flourlesss chocolate cake from Bistro Laurante in downtown Paso Robles Robles for my birthday.

    Gourmet food. With the multiple wine, craft beer and spirits offerings, it’s no surprise that talented chefs have been drawn to the area. Not only can get get a fantastic meal in any of the cities/towns in the county, but you can also venture out into the country and find a delicious meal at one of many wineries. One of my favorites  that I love to hit up for Happy Hour is Fish Gaucho in downtown Paso Robles. In downtown San Luis Obispo, my newest obsession is the Vegetable Butcher. Don’t let the name mislead you into thinking that it’s a vegetarian or vegan, restaurant. While it can make most dishes vegetarian or vegan and most are already gluten-free, there is an assortment of offerings for all tastes.

This is only a sampling of what SLO County has to offer, but part of why I make my home here, not to mention the mild weather year-round.

Another election? So what?

I’ve always been a voter. As soon as I turned 18, I registered to vote, and it happened to be a general election year. There was never another option in my mind. I grew up in a house where we regularly discussed politics — my grandmother served on the Atascadero City Council from 1979-1991, and both her father and grandfather were county commissioners in Central Montana. It’s no surprise, of course, that my brother went on to get his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science, resulting in even more and longer political discussions.

In my house growing up — and what I strive for in my own home now — conversations revolved around politics, current and world news, social justice issues and religion. Of course, all the things that polite people say you should avoid. But those kinds of conversations and constructive discussions are what we need more than anything. Who cares what celebrity wore what? Who cares that so-and-so cheated on so-and-so? That’s all gossip. What really matters is what is going on with humanity on a more human level. Do people have enough to eat? Does everyone have a roof over their head? Is everyone free of any kind of slavery — abuse, prostitution, addiction, to name a few? What laws are our lawmakers working on? Are those lawmakers spending our money wisely? What are people doing to help others?

We all have a responsibility to care for our planet and the people on it — both those near and far, as well as those problems well known and those hidden from view. While many people do care about those things, there are too many who do not connect our governmental laws, policies, and spending to those issues. I grew up in a home that not only discussed politics, but also actively participated — and we all still do — in social justice. My father is a United Church of Christ minister, has been since before I was born and he said the reason he felt called to go into the ministry was when he participated in social justice projects with my mom’s UCC church in Hayward. Later, when I was 13, my mother got her Bachelor of Science degree in social work. So caring about others has always been a part of me.

All of those things has cemented how vital casting an educated vote is. I highly encourage everyone who can register to vote, to do it. Then vote. But before you cast your vote, do your homework. It could be as simple as knowing what the issue is or who the candidates for office are. As a working journalist for the last 11 years, I have been to countless candidate forums and they are invaluable being able to see the candidates in the flesh and hear them speak on the issues and how they relate to the other candidates.

Check out our spread on the propositions and measures that will be on the ballot for voters in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. They are brief and to the point, but give you a starting point. Your sample ballot will be mailed out soon and it will include pros and cons on each. I also recommend going to the League of Women Voters’ Smart Voter website, www.smartvoter.org, to read a nonpartisan analysis on the issues.

This commentary was published in the October 2014 issue of Information Press.

Stop Taking Water for Granted

Heather YoungWhen we first started talking about conserving water last winter with the lack of rain we were getting, even I was thinking “yeah, yeah, I’ll conserve, but it won’t be that bad.” Well, it’s that bad. No rain in sight, though we certainly have had enough overcast days to get our hopes up, and our bodies of water are drying up. Really drying up — just look at our cover photo and check out the story on Brittany App and what she is doing to put the issue in front of people’s eyes.

It’s easy for us Americans to be blind to the crisis, we can hear all about the crisis, but we can still turn on the facets and water will come out. How much water do we use each day? If I were to guess, I’d probably say something like 20 to 25 gallons, I don’t use that much water. But I’m not really thinking about how much water I use doing dishes, watering the small area of grass, washing laundry, taking a shower, drinking water and using the toilet. That doesn’t even take into account how much water is used to grow our food and to process and package it.

According to www.water.usgs.gov, on average each person uses 80 to 100 gallons for water every day. The highest household water used is to flush the toilet and followed by showers and baths. A few ways to reduce how much water you use for those is to replace your toilet and shower heads with low-flow alternatives. For baths, don’t fill the tub as high, especially when it’s for a child. When bathing a baby use a smaller tub or the sink. For showers, use a timer to reduce the length of shower. Old shower heads use as much as four gallons per minute, so every minute less you shower, you’ll save four gallons.

Other options for saving water — and, yes, I do these — is to shower less often, such as skipping a day or two; it’s better for your skin and body anyway. Abide by the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule so you flush your toilet less often. Some of these things are difficult to break in society, but I personally don’t want to be faced without water, or much less water. Can you imagine living on five gallons a day? That question came up when Brittany App and I were discussing ALS’ ice water challenge.

It’s a great challenge and a great organization to raise money for. The challenge has brought a lot of attention to the organization and to the disease, as well as raising a lot more money. However, every time I see a video on Facebook posted by a friend of them doing the challenge, I cringe and think, “Don’t waste the water.” The concept is a wonderful one and I know that if it we weren’t in such an extreme drought, I wouldn’t give two thoughts to the wasting of the water.

Instead of using water, donate to ALS. Or to do the challenge, think about how to reuse water — take a bucket’s worth from the pool and have it dumped on you in the pool — or do it in an area where you water and just water that area less that day. There are lots of ways to participate in the challenge without wasting the water.

Published in the September 2014 issue of Information Press.

Put Your Guns Away

Heather YoungI’ve never liked guns, and I never will. I refuse to touch them, allow them in my house or knowingly (besides law enforcement/military) be around them. However, I don’t oppose people having guns and treating them with respect. I don’t even feel uncomfortable knowing that there are people around me with concealed guns. I have never had any run-in or problem with someone carrying a concealed weapon.

However, just the thought that people are taking weapons unconcealed into businesses bothers me. In all the photos I’ve seen online, those guns are much larger than the ones that people carry concealed – come on, you can’t conceal one of those rifles very easily.

In one case in Los Osos this week – yesterday! – a man took a 12-guage shotgun and fired a shot into the ground close to a couple he was having an argument with. It’s not the same as people taking guns into people unconcealed, but it still adds to the issue. When is enough enough? What’s going to happen when more and more people are carrying guns slung over their shoulders? Doesn’t that in and of itself invite trouble? I foresee others carrying weapons – people who wouldn’t ordinarily be doing so – just in case those carrying the guns find a reason to shoot – just as the man in Los Osos did, over dog poop.

I’ve been to countries where law enforcement and military personnel walk around with machine guns, it’s unsettling to say the least. I have not yet been to any country where I’ve seen citizens walking around with unconcealed guns, and I don’t particularly want to. I feel unbalanced just seeing the guns on law enforcement, which I suppose is the purpose.

Many people argue with me over my stance – which I believe is a moral one – in opposition to guns. They say, “What if someone is threatening you or your family or has broken into your house? You need to protect yourself.” What about those cases of people hearing a noise in their house, picking up a gun and shooting a child or family member before they even see who or what made the sound? A gun is shot off with just a squeeze of a finger. Something that can happen when you get started. I jump a lot, I wouldn’t want to have a gun in my hand ready to go – I’d probably end up shooting myself.

I’ve seen arguments against gun control, with people saying, “people are killed with cars and those aren’t banned.” Cars serve a different purpose from guns. Guns are meant to kill. The purpose of having a gun is to kill something. I don’t want to kill anything or anyone.

I want to feel safe when my daughter and I go out into the world. We know that there are cars in the world and I teach her how to look both ways and how to be safe in the street and other places there are cars. If we had guns in our house, I would also teach her gun safety; however, she can’t avoid a bullet as easily as a car if someone pulls one out and starts shooting. And who’s to say that the gun that is being toted around won’t be used against the owner? I wouldn’t want to be carrying around the method of my own despise.

We need to all rise up and oppose open carry, as well as lawmakers passing tougher gun laws. Yes, there are responsible gun owners, I know many who are, but there are many who none of us want near a gun, so why make it easier for them?

Write your legislatures. Write the president. Write your city council. Write everyone and anyone you can think of that can influence the laws that govern us. Writer letters to the editor (sloinfopresseditor@gmail.com) of any publication you can think of. Make your voice heard. The more voices that are out there opposing this, the more likely it is that we can overcome this disaster that is very likely to come.