My Simple Guide to Creating Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Posted on October 17, 2018 by Mark Stevens

This past weekend I made a nesting box for the Western Bluebird. This species is a one of my favorites—their color is stunning and they are a pleasure to watch as they swoop and dive to catch insects. Over time, I have found that creating and/or preserving space for wildlife in my own backyard isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Putting out bird feeders and making nesting boxes are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some simple steps that my family and I have taken to make sure that the birds, bees, and all the other critters that live alongside us have safe, welcoming homes of their own.

My Western Bluebird nesting box.
Create Shelter

Most birds want a nest that feels just right. For those birds that are comfortable nesting in a box that someone else made, the dimensions and opening size are important. An opening that is too big may allow predators or competitors to use the box. A great resource for region specific nesting box plans and placement is NestWatch. To support the natives bees in your area you can make nest blocks or other types of tunnel nests.

Plant Natives and Provide Food

Using plants that are native to your area will provide habitat and food resources for a variety of animals. Plant a varied selection of plants, which will give birds many options to build their own nests and find food. Choosing plants that flower at different times will ensure that there is a steady supply of food for native bees. For information on California’s native plants, visit the California Native Plant Society. Placing bird feeders throughout your yard will also attract and sustain wildlife. For help choosing the right bird feeders check out Wild Birds Unlimited.

Manage Wisely

One of the simplest ways to ensure that your yard is wildlife friendly is to leave some of it untouched. Whether you plant natives or have more exotic landscaping, try letting them grow wild for most of the year. It may end up looking less tidy than you are used to, but the insects and animals like it that way.

Want to go further? You can get your yard certified as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Foundation. Check out the checklist here.

*featured image courtesy of

News This Week: “Best Of” Sonoma County & Other News

Posted on October 12, 2018 by Mark Stevens


“Best Of” Sonoma County Awards
Award recipients—including Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery and Cowgirl Creamery (our fav)—were honored at the Luther Burbank Center on Wednesday evening. READ MORE

Explore Marin County
Find out the best places to eat, drink, play, shop, and stay. READ MORE

Best Remodeling Projects of 2018
Remodeling Magazine just announced their awards for the best remodeling work in the past year. Discover the top 5 home remodeling projects for smart design tips and trends. READ MORE

Sustainability Award for Jackson Family Wines
Jackson Family Wines has been given a Green Power Leadership Award from the US EPA for  their continued commitment to using renewable energy; the company uses 100% certified green power, including power coming from solar installed on their 12 wineries. READ MORE


*featured image courtesy of 7×

Harvest Party at Flanagan Winery in Healdsburg

Posted on October 11, 2018 by Mark Stevens

It was a perfect day for a harvest party in Sonoma County’s signature wine town, Healdsburg. And it was my first. My lucky break came when my boss, Mark Stevens, asked if I wanted his ticket. A scheduling conflict had come up, and alas, he couldn’t attend. I had to think about it for about half a second, then told him I would take one for the team and go. (Later, Eric Flanagan said Mark should be paying me double-time for working on a Saturday….)

I made the short drive from my Windsor home to Healdsburg, parked in a gravel parking lot and was promptly bussed up to the winery on West Dry Creek Road. In exchange for my ticket I was handed a shimmering glass of the signature Viognier, which was creamy but light and the perfect introduction to a day spent drinking wine at noon. I sat on the deck in the sun and admired the view of the famed West Dry Creek Valley. From there I made my way to the tents and felt compelled to go with the Pinot Noir while I sampled the Liberty Duck with Polenta & Fig Jus (which was amazing, I had three of those!). I am a huge fan of Pinot, so that was a no-brainer, and it was deliciously paired with the duck.

Then I headed to the the Hog Island Oysters stand, manned by a biologist who was a wealth of information on oysters. I adore oysters, and I appreciate them even more after learning about all the things that make them so unique and tasty. One of the best things I learned was that oysters, like wine, have a terroir. Hog Island Oysters are grown in Tomales Bay, CA and have a distinct flavor that is unique to that particular spot in the ocean. Ever wonder what that whitish round disc is in an oyster? It’s a muscle and makes the shell open and close. Because muscles store glycogen (another name for sugar), when you eat that part of the oyster you will notice–if you pause to really taste–a distinct sweet flavor.  And I did!

And like wine, every oyster is unique. Some are skinny, some are fat, some are in between.  Which you prefer depends on your taste (like the dark meat/white mean debate). I definitely gravitated towards the fatties, which were marked by a creamy, luscious layer over the main body of the oyster. The amount of fattiness is somewhat determined by sex (oysters are gametes, so they can change sex when they feel like it, based on the environment).  Females–you guessed it–tend to be fattier and more abundant during “good” years. I ate about half a dozen oysters, which was nothing when I discovered another party goer claimed to have downed no less that three dozen! And it almost goes without saying that in order to fully appreciate the oyster, I had to pair it with the signature Flanagan Chardonnay. I am not a big chard fan, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  Full bodied and fruit-forward with just the slightest hint of oak. Very nice.

The pizza oven was energetically worked by two pizza chefs, and though I normally don’t eat pizza, this was not your normal pizza.  It was rustic. Authentic. And had an impressive wood-fire oven to go with it and a seductive, lively fire. It was the archetype of a thin-crust pizza pie, a “pizza margherita”, adorned simply in the colors of the Italian flag: green from basil, white from mozzarella, red from tomato sauce. Oh–and a few, lightly roasted thinly sliced purple onions on top for a beautiful accent of extra flavor. This I paired with the Flanagan Cabernet Sauvignon. I found the Flanagan Cab to be respectable and well-mannered…”structured” as they say. It was not as heavy as some of the Cabs I’ve had recently, and I enjoyed its ability to be serious and casual at the same time. If that makes any sense.

Finally, the grand finale was the Syrah. The very nice woman in charge of the Cab and Syrah station would not let me try the Syrah before the Cab. She warned me: The Syrah is very large, very strong, very bossy.  I love bossy and I couldn’t wait to try it. And this I did, with three of the gorgeous little dark chocolate macaroons, each crowned with a dollop of tart cherry and cream. It was the perfect finish to a perfect afternoon of drinking amazing wine (thank you Flanagan and Cabell Coursey) paired with exquisite culinary delights. I’ll say one thing: those Flanagans really know how to throw a party! Thank you!

And thank you, Mark Stevens.

–Michelle Magnus, Mark’s assistant

Art Trails of Sonoma County – Like a Treasure Hunt (but better!)

Posted on October 10, 2018 by Admin

Sonoma County Art Trails goes onto my schedule, every year, twice a year, without fail.  And this isn’t just because I live next door to the talented Carole Watanabe.  Well, that could be part of it… but more so, Art Trails creates a great excuse to get out & about to new places in Sonoma County.  As we are driving down numerous hidden back-country roads toward our next stop on the Art Trails, we have the perfect excuse to stop off at a nearby winery or restaurant for refreshment and sustenance.  After all, looking at so much great art is sort of like an endurance race, requiring (delicious) food & hydration……

I am proud to call Sebastopol my home of many years. I love its progressive attitude and upscale down-to-earth vibe, among other things. So its no surprise that my town is home to the largest Art Center in California, north of San Francisco—Sebastopol Center for the Arts—responsible for creating this fun adventure known as Sonoma County Art Trails.

If you’re new to Art Trails, here’s a great way to take advantage of this event: Go to the Sebastopol Center for the Arts at 282 S High St, Sebastopol, CA 95472. They are open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10-4 pm and have extended hours over the weekend from 10-5 pm (10/13 & 14 and 10/20 & 21). Once there, you can pick up the Art Trails Catalog and Map, plus view the participants’ paintings throughout the gallery (each artist has one piece hanging in the gallery).  Or simply CLICK HERE for a digital version & print at your leisure.

Meanwhile, enjoy rambling around all the open art studios throughout Sonoma County….and have a great, art-filled weekend!

— Mark


Schedule for Sonoma County Art Trails

Sundays and Saturdays, October 13, 2018 – October 21, 2018

Upcoming Dates:

~ Saturday, October 13, 2018 – 10:00am to 05:00pm
~ Sunday, October 14, 2018 – 10:00am to 05:00pm
~ Saturday, October 20, 2018 – 10:00am to 05:00pm

Cost: Free


Various Sonoma County Art Studios
Sebastopol Center for the Arts
282 S. High Street
SebastopolCalifornia 95472

For More Information:

Contact: Sebastopol Center for the Arts
Local: 707-829-4797


*Featured image courtesy of

News This Week: Wildfire Recovery One Year Later

Posted on October 05, 2018 by Admin



The Fear That Keeps Napa Winemakers up at Night

One year after devastating wildfires, Napa winemakers confess that they are worried about much more than the threat of fire in the future. READ MORE

New Homes for Wildfire Survivors

Homes for Sonoma—an organization that makes tiny modular homes that are approximately 500 sq. ft.—is creating new housing in Sonoma County for displaced fire survivors. The first 5 homes will be in Windsor, CA with plans to create an additional 40 in the upcoming months. READ MORE

Graton Gets its First Park

Last Saturday was the ribbon cutting ceremony for a new park that will open in Graton. The park has been a longtime dream for the town, which currently has no public space. READ MORE

The Future of Homes

Leaders and visionaries in the home-design community describe what home design will look like in the year 2039. READ MORE

Sebastopol Highlight: The Barlow

Posted on October 02, 2018 by Admin

With the holidays around the corner, you may be looking for inspiration and specialty gifts for your loved ones. Look no further than The Barlow in Sebastopol. First opened in 2013, The Barlow is almost a town unto itself, filled with premier shops, tasting rooms, breweries, and restaurants. Set aside a few hours to drink, eat, picnic, walk and shop in this beautiful outdoor shopping center featuring some of the best products Sonoma County has to offer.


Scout West County has been called “The Barlow’s new modern general store.” They have a wide selection of clothes, homegoods, and gifts focused on sustainability and craftsmanship.
Sonoma Flower Mart brings wholesale flowers to the public. They work with 15+ local farms to source high quality flowers year-round.
Community Market is a full-service grocery store featuring organic and health foods. Stop in to fill your kitchen larder or enjoy prepared food from the deli.

Also check out: Adele Stoll, Tamarind Clothing, Gallery 300, Elsie Green, California Sister Floral, The Passdoor, and Soap Cauldron.

Dining and Drinking

Kosho is a new addition to The Barlow. They offer modern Japanese cuisine utilizing fresh, high quality ingredients.
Golden State Cider (coming Spring 2019) uses the finest west coast apples to make a selection of high quality hard ciders.
Barrio: Fresca Cocina Mexicana serves gourmet Mexican street food in a contemporary style.
Pax Wines is focused on making wines from Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Gamay, Carignan grapes with as little intervention as possible.

Also check out: Seismic Brewing Company (coming soon), The Farmer’s Wife (coming soon), Crooked Goat Brewing, Friedman Wines, Guayaki, Kosta Browne Winery, MacPhail Tasting Lounge, The Nectary, Spirit Works Distillery, Two Dog Night Creamery, Taylor Lane Coffee, Village Bakery, WM Cofield Cheesemakers, Woodfour Brewing, Zazu Kitchen + Farm.

The Barlow also has an event center that is available to host weddings, corporate events or private events celebrating any special occasion.

*images courtesy of and