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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Top 12 Things I Learned at Disneyland

1. During the fireworks, some idiot dad will stand in front of you the entire time, blocking the view of everyone sitting behind him. What an ass.

2. In Astroblasters (the Buzz Lightyear ride), if you continue to shoot a lit-up target, you get 1,000 points instead of 100. This is how you can beat your husband three times and almost get the high score of the day. Not that I’m bragging. (I knocked out my husband twice in Wii boxing too).

3. If you are prone to motion sickness, one time on Star Tours is plenty.

4. If you try to take your daughter on Indiana Jones because you think she’ll love it, be warned. Family therapy awaits.

5. If your daughter uses a FastPass on Indiana Jones and ultimately sits the ride out (waiting for you in the loading area next to a garbage can), you do NOT get the FastPass back.

6. When you sit in the front of the Splash Mountain log wearing denim shorts, the shorts will stay damp in the crotch all day and you will look like you peed in your pants. Your children will think this is hilarious, as will Grandma.

7. If the Dumbo ride says the wait is only 10 minutes, the sign is lying. It’s 30.

8. Your children will outgrow wanting pictures with the characters. You and your sister, however… 9. If I give my kids $10 to spend at Disneyland, one child will buy the first thing he sees, and the other will shop at every possible store. Come to think of it, each child takes after a different parent. Scary.

10. Sign of the times: The sign for Tom Sawyer’s Island is now covered with a ‘Pirate’s Lair’ sign. But the most popular sign is the one that says “restroom.”

11. Pirates of the Caribbean is a great place to take a nap. Ask my dad.
12. If your husband hates Disneyland before he goes, he’ll hate it after. Especially since you can’t buy beer there.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Need Kids' Furniture?

Do you need bunk beds, well-made/attractive dressers, night stands, a twin bed, preschool desks/chairs, novelty lamps, kids’ comforters or cute kids’ art? Right now there’s a slew of great stuff at below market values at Home Consignment Center (1888 S. Norfolk St in San Mateo - 650/577-8979). Normally this store sells used furniture (and there’s still plenty of that there), but the kids’ furniture store across from them went out of business recently.

This furniture is awesome and I wish we actually needed new beds and dressers (especially since I finally broke down and bought a crappy do-it-yourself dresser at Target a few months back – I wish I waited). You’ve seen the boys’ Pottery Barn boat bed? They have one like it for a few hundred dollars.

There’s a cute covered-wagon bed (ala Little House on the Prairie) that both my kids were dying to climb into. And a bunk bed that looks like a pirate ship. Of course you need to have a kids’ bedroom larger than matchbox-size for those, but I’m guessing some of you do.

After searching Ikea, Pottery Barn, Craigslist, Land of Nod, West Elm, ANA and House of Values for a desk suitable for my daughter and my bank account, I finally found it. It was part of this new collection they’re selling – it was a total steal. Now we're off to get her that pink chair from Ikea.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Coming Up: King's Mountain Art Fair

King's Mountain Art Fair, Labor Day Weekend in Woodside 10:00-5:00

In spite of the beautiful woodsy location and the yummy pancake breakfast, Mark has had enough of the Kings Mountain Art Fair, coming up this Labor Day weekend. Last year we spent more than $500 and he’s afraid we'll spend more.

We got great stuff, though, including a hand-painted silk wall-hanging for our bedroom, a puzzle for our niece, plus birthday and holiday gifts for our moms. One year at the fair (yes, we’ve been several times), we met a pewter artisan who turned out to be our Madison, Wisconsin dentist’s brother.

The fair has a kids’ craft area (Kiddie Hollow), with spin art, puppet making and other fun activities run by local high school kids. Tickets run $3 for 12 tickets (I think it’s a few tickets per craft), and they have books you can read the kids while lounging on comfie beanbags too. Just outside Kiddie Hollow, the local school moms sell enormous home-baked cookies for $3 as a fundraiser. The fair also features expensive face painting and some booths selling kid-stuff (like the aforementioned puzzles).

You can meet the firemen (the fair benefits the local volunteer fire department) next to the upper beverage booth, and get a free Smokey Bear coloring book.

If you bring a stroller to this gorgeous wooded setting, make sure the wheels can handle the dirt and small hills, since most paths aren't paved.

The fair runs Saturday to Monday from 10:00-5:00. Go early - parking is tough. The festival is on Skyline Blvd, about 6 miles south of Hwy 92. It’s a twisty narrow road and parking is where you pull onto the shoulder in the dirt. The later you get there, the further you park (though they have shuttles). One idea is to get there in time for the pancake breakfast (8:00 to 10:30) – and then parking is much easier.

Did I mention the pancake breakfast?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Free Ice Cream for your Birthday

Who doesn’t love ice cream (well not my brother-in-law, he’s lactose intolerant)? But really – if you’re not lactose intolerant, who doesn’t love ice cream? Especially when it’s FREE. And it’s your birthday?

Cold Stone Creamery has a birthday club, where you get a free “creation” i.e. with several mix-ins. I think it’s a “love it” size – equivalent to an adult medium (or grande in Starbucks lingo), sometime in the two weeks surrounding your birthday.

You can sign up your family online, including the kids. Of course if you take the other kids with you to redeem that coupon, you’re stuck with an additional Cold Stone bill, but at least they offer a $2 kid-size ice cream with one mix-in, so the un-birthday children won’t be jealous. The “love it” size IS big enough to split – if you can convince birthday kid to do that. Good luck.

And yes, you get on their email list, but Cold Stone doesn’t send many ads (this, from personal experience).

First Day of School

My kids went back to school today – and my baby entered kindergarten. Yes, I cried. Our tradition is taking pictures in front of the big school sign before class starts. I’m not sure how long this tradition will continue – I’m afraid that my now-2nd grader will refuse because it’s too embarrassing. When does that start?

Our other tradition is a big swim party – provided the weather is good. We have a “minimum” day the first day of school – they get out by 12:40. And fortunately it’s a nice, hot day here, so the pool beckons.

What are your first day of school traditions?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Coming Up: Strawberry Music Festival

I won’t normally post events that are already sold out, but if you’re interested, it’s worth putting it on your calendar for next year. I’ve never been, but my friend Danielle goes every year with her family and has a blast.

The Strawberry Music Festival is held Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends at Camp Mather, just outside Yosemite National Park. Most people camp for the weekend, enjoying a full range of kids programs like dance workshops, arts & crafts, music and storytelling. It sounds a little like a tamer Burning Man in a more hospitable natural environment. Or not.

Most people come for the 40+ musical groups performing over four days, plus informal jam sessions.

And there are showers, so not everyone camping will be stinky.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My New Invention: Chalk Holder

Assorted pieces of sidewalk chalk
I realize that summer is almost gone, but I wanted to share my new invention – a long chalk holder. My son always wants me to draw tracks for him on the driveway, so he can race his bike. Need I say how hard it is to draw a track while on hands and knees, or bending over? (No nasty jokes, here please).

So I taped a piece of chalk (using packing tape) on the top of a broom handle and used it to draw the track in record time – and with no back problems! Yes, I know there are chalk holders you can buy, though I think most of them are kid-sized. But isn’t it easier to just do it yourself than run out to buy one?

Travel Deal: Kimpton Hotels - save 20% using public transit

The San Francisco Kimpton hotels, a boutique chain with some quirky, fun properties, is offering 20% discounts to travelers arriving by public transit. Take Caltrain, BART or Amtrak to their hotels and save money as well as gas. According to the San Jose Mercury News, this is valid through December 30, and requires a seven day advance reservation, using the RTR code when booking.

Mark and I stayed in the Serrano hotel this past spring, a night away from the kids. Wish they had this promotion then, since we did take BART into the city! Got a great rate, though, from Julie at the travel agency Curing Cold Feet.

Happy travels!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Top 11 Things I Learned at Legoland

The top 11 things I learned at Legoland:
1. Don’t let your child wear a retainer while riding a roller coaster. It makes for a very expensive day at Legoland.

2. If you do Mad Libs in line, don’t let your kids choose private body parts as nouns. The other parents in line will glare at you. And the lines are long, so that’s a lot of glaring.

3. If you drive a Volvo, you get preferred parking in the front of the lot (but still pay the same $10 fee). You’ll find blatent Volvo references throughout he park, including two "Volvo Driving School” rides (with paper licenses), a full-size Lego Volvo, and a Volvo permanently parked at the front of Legoland, complete with a photogenic Lego family outside the car. How’s that for a corporate tie-in?

4. If you need any feminine products, get them free at the Model Mom Baby Care Center.

5. I can think of a lot more appropriate names than the Model Mom Baby Care Center. That’s just dorky in so many ways.

6. In Danish, LEGO is an abbreviation of two words, “leg godt," meaning "play well”

7. Lego keychains cost $2 more at Legoland than at Lego stores ($5.99 v $3.99)

8. There are five Legolands worldwide (California, Denmark, Florida, Germany and UK)

9. You can buy a LIFETIME membership to Legoland (all 5 parks) for $2,000. Why would you do that?

10. 16 billion Lego bricks are molded every year. And they’re for sale at Legoland (what a shock!) for $32 a pound.
11. Legoland creators have a sense of humor - check out their bathroom signs.

Coming Up: Free Shakespeare in the Park (San Mateo’s Central Park)

I have fond memories of San Francisco’s free Shakespeare in the Park. Now the troupe performs in San Mateo as well. This is the last weekend for Pericles in San Mateo. Bring a picnic and blanket for the show.

Pericles moves next to the Presidio’s Main Post Parade Ground Lawn, August 30 through September 21.

When: Saturday 8/22 at 7:30 and Sunday 8/22 at 5:30.
Where: Central Park, 5th and El Camino Real
Cost: Free, you fool. Didn’t you read the post?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Coming Up: Palo Alto Festival of the Arts and Klutz crafts

Spend the weekend in Palo Alto, with two fun family events. The bigger one is the Palo Alto Festival of the Arts on University Avenue.
Running Saturday and Sunday (8/22-23), from 10:00-6:00, your kids can stay busy at the Kids Art Studio, a free craft area. Stay home if you don’t like crowds, since it attracts up to 150,000 a year. The festival is on University Ave – take Caltrain!

If you go on Saturday, stop by the Klutz store at 572 College Avenue between 1:00 and 2:00. The store has free “melty bead” craft projects. These beads are popular in our house, and the finished projects multiply like bunnies. The store also features jugglers at 3:30.

Coming Up: SF's Castro Theater – Little Mermaid Sing-Along

It’s never good when you’re at the movies and the person next to you starts singing along loudly with the tunes.

But at the Castro’s Little Mermaid Sing-Along, you’re encouraged to do just that. Here’s a good excuse to break out the costumes – for yourself and your budding Ariel. But be warned, those of you who go as the bare-chested King Triton. You may attract some attention, being in the Castro and all.

The movie is two hours, complete with on-screen lyrics, goody bags and costume prizes.

Showtimes: 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.
Dates: 8/22-28
Cost: $15/adults, $10/kids. Get advanced tickets here:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Free Things to do with Kids

While you may not be a grandparent, the free e-book “100 Free Things To Do With Your Grandkids,” is still full of ideas for a rainy day (or for when Grandma comes to babysit).

Many of the ideas here aren’t rocket science (like thumb-wrestling), but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. Try out some simple crafts like making a noisemaker out of paper plates and dried beans (yeah, I know – noisemakers probably aren’t the best example –we’re always on a quest to decrease noise from our household, not add to it).

An off-the-mark idea from this book: #56, play croquet. In the absence of an actual set, the e-book recommends using a toilet plunger as a croquet mallet. Gross! Who in their right mind would let a kid take a toilet plunger out of the bathroom to start swatting at things? That would qualify for a “time out” in our house. The next idea should be #57 – “race to find the bleach and Purell.”

Better are ideas like: write down 5 things about yourself, only 4 of which are true. The kids can guess the false one, learning about you in the process. Of course this works better as a drinking game. You’ll have to think extra hard on the kid version, since you don’t want your little ones to know about your youthful indiscretions.

Idea #61 is pretty much my cooking philosophy – “cook using only found items.” This is also what I call “freezer cooking,” when I delve into the crowded darkness I call my freezer, to find items for dinner since I’m too lazy to go to the store. I am a Virgo, though, so my pantry is well-stocked.

Get the e-book at, where you’ll need to register (registration is free, but you’ll probably get on their mailing list).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Travel: Disney Tours

There may be Disney in Tokyo and Paris, but how about Peru and Italy?

We’re off to Disneyland soon, so the New York Time’s article on Disney tours caught my eye. We’re not much into tours of foreign countries (we're usually independent travelers) – granted we haven’t been brave enough to fly anywhere more exotic than Mexico with our kids, and that was to an all-inclusive.

But for those who are traveling abroad with their kids, I understand the draw to tours. This year Disney has tours to 13 countries, and will add more next year. As the article points out, touring with Disney has some draws, like a backstage tour of the Lion King in London.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Coming Up: Intel Museum's Kid Classes

If you have a budding scientist or engineer, check out the Intel Museum’s free Schematics, Switches, and Circuits classes on August 14. It’s one of many classes offered by the museum on robots, binary beading (huh?) and puzzle balls.

This class is for kids ages 9 and up, teaching them to decode schematics and understand basic circuitry as they work with wires, batteries, and switches. They’ll build doorbell chimes or a burglar alarm. Maybe then can come to my house and install them.

Choose from three class times that day – you need to make a reservation.

Museum admission is always free at this Santa Clara museum.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Review: Throw Your Tooth on the Roof

Here in the U.S., the kids all expect a visit from the tooth fairy when their pearly whites fall out. Have you even wondered what they do in other countries? Throw Your Tooth on the Roof tells you.

In Columbia, kids expect El Raton Miguelito, who leaves money for the tooth. In Mali, kids throw their teeth in the chicken coop, and the unlucky chicken eating the tooth might end up as dinner.

With cute illustrations and dozens of countries covered, kids will learn about traditions from around the world.

The downside: the book has no plot, just a line or two from each country listed. This means it’s repetitive. How many times can you bear to read aloud that in this country or that country, the kid throws his tooth on the roof? Even my kids got bored after a bit. Here’s a hint: just read a few pages at a time, and get out a globe to show your kids the different countries.

Throw Your Tooth on the Roof, by Selby Beeler, illustrated by G. Brian Karas.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Coming Up: Redwood City Target Family Day

August 10, 2008 noon to 4:00

Gather up the kiddies for a free Target Family Day in Redwood City (there’s one more this summer: September 14). This Sunday is Hawaiian Day, a good excuse to break out the loud Aloha shirts. The streets around the downtown courthouse will be closed off, so you can dance to:

Live Music by Ledward Kaapana and Mike Kaawa
Hawaiian Dance Instruction
Fresh Flower Lei-Making
Learn to Cook!Hawaiian specialty family-friendly dishes
Hands-on Art Projects
Free Face Painting
Bounce Houses

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mystery Shopping

When my friends check out my website, they don’t comment on the expertly written tomes, the witty phrases, the brilliant story concepts. No, they ask me about my side gig as a Mystery Shopper. For the uninitiated, a mystery shopper pretends to be a real customer, while secretly evaluating the company’s products and services.

Most gigs pay a nominal fee, in addition to reimbursing expenses. But you won’t get rich (or even make a living) off it – especially with the cost of gas these days. After signing up for a job, the shopper has to read a lengthy list of requirements for the shop (i.e. purchase a specific product, check out the bathroom, see if the shelves are dusty, ask certain questions) and remember everything, since you can’t take notes while you’re there. Within 12 hours, you input the information online and scan or fax in your receipts. It’s time consuming and the report writing tedious (i.e. "Describe the "doneness" of the pizza in three sentences").

With two kids at home, I’ve cut back on my list of assignments because to be frank – most mystery shopping gigs are a pain the (blank). So why do it? The only assignments I take are for places I need or want to go. For example, I get regular oil changes, visit a specialty coffee shop for drinks and beans, take my kids to amusement parks, go bowling and get my car washed - on their dime. I'm still waiting to score the assignment for the wineries.

So how to sign up? You certainly can Google “mystery shopping” though you’ll get a list in the hundreds of thousands at least. And unfortunately, few sites list their clients. So I’ll give you the name of a few places that have jobs in the Bay Area.

But first:
--Don’t EVER pay to sign up
--Open a paypal account - this is how you’ll be paid
--Payment is often 30-60 days later – track it
--When you fill out the applications, some require a writing sample. Save this to a Word document so you can reuse it on other applications
--Store all your log-in information in one place
--Yes, you have to pay taxes on the income, though you won’t get a 1099 unless your income is over $600 yearly from a company
--Once you’re signed up, you’ll get oodles of emails, and you'll need to respond quickly if you want the job. If you’re serious about mystery shopping, visit the company’s website frequently and don’t rely on the emails as your only alert.
--Start a separate folder for the mystery shopping emails or your inbox will be a mess

A few reputable companies I’ve worked with in the Bay Area:
Service Evaluations
California Marketing Specialists
Kern Scheduling

Ath Power Consulting
Secret Shopper
Service check
About Face

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Volunteer Opportunity: Science is Elementary

A new Silicon Valley non-profit (Science is Elementary) is looking for engineers or scientists (or anyone with that background) to volunteer 2 hours a month in local elementary school classrooms.

Each unit is designed with kids in mind. The hands-on curriculum is fun and engaging, and you’ll be helping enthusiastic and appreciative kids in underprivileged elementary schools.

A Lawrence Hall of Science study showed that Bay Area K-5 teachers spend less than 1 hour a week on science, if that. You can make a difference!

Coming up: Starry, Starry Night at Montalvo Arts Center

August 8, 2003

Skip the Olympic opening ceremony and sleep out under the stars
this Friday, at the beautiful Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga. Before you slumber, though, you’ll see the beginning of the Perseid meteor showers through telescopes, and hear about them from astronomers. This is a great chance for your budding skywatcher to see the stars as never before (providing the sky is clear, of course).

The program runs from 8 p.m. Friday to 8 a.m. Saturday (with breakfast provided), and costs $88 for adults and $50 for kids under 18 (kids must be at least 6 to participate). Discounts given to members. or (408) 961-5858

Monday, August 4, 2008

Coming Up: San Mateo County Fair

August 8-17th.

How can you not love the county fair, where they give awards to kids who set the best table (home arts category). And you can see glass cases of half-eaten stale cookies that won awards (culinary arts category). This year, the San Mateo County Fair even has pig races. I’m. Not. Kidding.

Before you go, plan out which awesome bands you want to see from the good ole days – and they don’t cost much ($20-25 including fair admission). That these performers might be considered to be “has-beens” doesn’t make them any less spectacular. Who doesn’t want to see the Village People? To flail your arms around to “YMCA” with the uh…gentlemen themselves? Priceless.

My husband Mark’s favorite musician, Weird Al Yankovic is playing August 15th. I’m not kidding when I say how idolized this man is in the Kaplan house. When I’m out for the evening, my husband spends his time watching Weird Al videos on You Tube. I know, it sounds rather geeky, but it’s better than the alternative.

Support the 4-H kids (we have 4-H in the Bay Area???) and see the cows they raise (and then sell to Safeway to become Rancher’s Reserve). And watch the cooking demonstrations by traveling pots & pans salesmen (another of Mark’s favorites – free food samples!). It’s all very middle America and very…awesome. Plus there are pony rides for the kiddies. Need I say more?

--August 11th is kids’ day - free for kids 12 and under

--August 13, everyone gets in free until 3:00

The county fair runs from August 8 – 17th. Get discount tickets through August 6th at any San Mateo Credit Union branch or the San Mateo County Event Center Administration office. We’ll see you there, we’ll be there singing along to “Like a Surgeon.”

Friday, August 1, 2008

Coming Up: The New Mom's Fair - Sunday August 3 in Burlingame

The New Mom Fair is for parents to learn about products and local services to help prepare for, birth and raise your child.

Keynote speaker – Pediatrician Jack Newman, MD, renowned breast-feeding expert and author will speak twice at the event, at 1:00 and 2:00 on the myths and controversies about breastfeeding.

Topic-expert speakers – Join Elisa Song, MD at noon to learn about Holistic Pediatrics for Your Child's Body, Mind and Spirit and Douglas Husbands, DC at 2:00, talking about a Balanced Start Toward Motherhood: The Importance of Structural and Nutritional Balance for Mothers-to-be and New Moms

Demonstrations – entertaining brief presentations on infant massage, infant CPR, car seat installation, how to use a baby sling, etc.

Pamper station (no not the diapers), rewarding moms with relaxing treatments and more.

Raffle – more than $5,000 worth of products and services will be given away to attendees!

Live entertainment (versus dead entertainment I guess)

And if that’s not enough, stay for the:

World Breastfeeding Week picnic – celebrates breastfeeding at a potluck picnic with food, refreshments and entertainment (okay, my kids were breastfed, but this part is a bit much).

Details: Sunday, August 3, 2008 from 11 a.m. to 3 pm. At the Burlingame Recreation Center, 805 Burlingame Ave. It’s aimed at trying, expectant or new parents and it’s FREE.

Coming Up: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus

August 14-24

Get your peanuts that don’t cost peanuts! Get your really expensive cotton candy! It’s circus time again.

We’ve gone three of the past six years, and it’s actually a good show, with motorcycle riders in the big flashing cage/ball. There are tightrope walkers, clowns, dancing dogs and cats, and of course the animals (see below for more on them).

If your kid is under 12 months, you can sign junior up for a FREE TICKET – with no expiration date! My daughter has one (but we still haven’t used it). Here’s the deal: they send you the coupon, but you have to cash it in at the box office or mail it to the box office. BUT if you just show up at the door and don’t care where you sit (bring binoculars), you should still be able to do it all that day. Especially if you get the cheapie nose-bleed seats like we do (you can see just fine). It’s usually empty up there – plenty of room for the kids to run around. And you save on the nasty Ticketmaster fees (plus they’re notorious for spamming your email before every Def Leppard concert).

Now I can’t post this without mentioning the circus controversy. Each year we see protesters decry the treatment of these animals, especially the elephants. I’m not sure what the truth is, so I’ll print both sides. Animal welfare activists are suing the circus, claiming the elephants are chained up far too long, and claim the trainers use inhumane bull hooks on them. The circus argues that they treat the animals well. You can judge for yourself.