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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Review: Vanilla Moon Bakery in San Carlos

When my friend Stephanie suggested going to a San Carlos cupcake shop, who was I to say no? Cupcakes are the latest trend (a trend that seems to be sticking). And providing the cupcakes taste better than mine (which come from a box mix), I’m game.

She took me to Vanilla Moon Bakery on Laurel Street. Open now for seven months, the local owner serves up the treats herself, with a rotating assortment including tiramisu, German chocolate, lemon crème, S’mores (graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate), red velvet with cream cheese frosting, carrot with cream cheese frosting, and “Hi Hat” – which has a high marshmallow topping dipped in chocolate. Of course you can also choose the basic chocolate and vanilla
Cupcakes are $3.25-$3.50 each, with some flavors available in taster sizes. Vanilla Moon serves scones and other pastries as well. They were delicious!

Get a cup of coffee or tea to go with the cupcake, and sit outside when the weather is nice. Or enjoy the warmth of the rich purple walls inside. It's a great place to chat with the girls. Or to take your kids for a special treat.

Vanilla Moon Bakery, 872 Laurel Street, (650) 593-3015

Photo courtesy of Clever Cupcakes, some rights reserved

Friday, January 30, 2009

Birthday Freebies

In this economy, freebies are even more exciting than ever. Especially on your birthday. I posted awhile back on getting a free Cold Stone treat on your birthday (and thanks to my friend Loren who also said that Baskin Robbins does the same thing).

It turns out there’s a whole industry of things you can get for free on your birthday.
Like a free ticket to Disneyland on your birthday – in 2009. Of course when we went to Disneyland last summer, very close to my husband’s special day, he had one request: that we did NOT spend his day there (he’s not a fan). But personally, that would be one of my favorite celebrations (hint hint).

Birthday freebies are such a special industry, that there’s a whole web site devoted to them. I thought I’d point you in that direction.

A few examples: on your kids’ birthday, get them free food at California Pizza Kitchen, Denny’s, Marble Slab Creamery, Red Robin, Sonic Drive-In, the Old Spaghetti Factory and more.

Olan Mills offers a free portrait sheet, Limited Too gives you 20% off a birth day purchase, and Diddams gives you a free package of invitations (but who needs invitations ON their birthday???? Presumably the party is already planned).

Most of these offers you have to sign for online. And there’s a separate section for adult birthdays too – it’s not all about the kids you know!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Help Save the Adult School

This is a guest blog post from my friend Cynthia, a teacher at the Adult School, run by the state. I met Cynthia when she taught a parent/child play course that was a wonderful opportunity for both my kids and me. The class was filled with immigrants learning English and learning about our country - learning about being better parents.

Cynthia's post is a call to action, so make sure to read down to see what you can do to help maintain the Adult School system.

Here is Cynthia's post:

Adult Schools are one of the most cost-effective educational systems around. And we are in jeopardy. Here’s what Adult Schools do:

· We teach immigrants English, citizenship skills, job skills, how to get involved in their communities, help their children succeed in school, and get involved in their children’s education.

· We provide job skills classes to anyone over 18. We provide free or low-cost classes which help re-employ and re-train people in an extremely cost-effective way. (We save the state money: we create taxpayers, not unemployment numbers.)

· We help young adults aged 18 to 22 get their GED or High School Diploma. We give them job skills and vocational counseling. (We help kids who might be in trouble get on the right path to success. We save the state money: someone with a job who pays taxes… not someone in prison we’re paying taxes for.)

· We provide parents and childcare providers with education about child development and safe childcare. We promote literacy, school involvement, and health. (We save the state money: kids do well in school… versus failing and needing extra help and state involvement. Child abuse rates go down. Mental and physical health increases.)

· We provide Older Adults with classes that keep them mentally, physically, and socially active, which keeps them healthier and lowers for their need for medical interventions. (We lower medical costs for people over fifty.)

Sounds pretty good, right? It is. Adult Education has been around in California for 150 years.
We serve 1.5 million students and employ 15,000 people. And we do so in an extremely cost effective way.

Adult Schools are funded at a lower rate per student hour than K-12 or community college and therefore are a very cost effective way to serve the most difficult to serve communities, such as immigrant communities and young adults who did not finish high school, in order to prepare them for jobs, college, etc.

So what’s going on?

Well, we have a budget crisis. You know about that. We’re one of the top economies in the world – for now. But when both our K-12 educational system and our Adult Education program receive less money than almost every state in the nation, that’s not going to last.

Right now, the state gives Adult Ed money and Adult Ed manages it very well. Schwartzenegger wants to let K-12 districts do whatever they want or need to do with categorical money (the Adult School runs on categorical funds).

That means that a high school, which might be desperate for money because it is not properly funded and because property taxes are dropping, might need or choose to close the local Adult School and use that money to keep the K-12 system going. Asking people to choose between kids and adults is asking the wrong question. Educational systems serve each other.

For a low cost, we help parents help their children succeed in K-12. We put parents to work. We help young adults get back on track, finish their high school education, and get a job or enroll in Community College, vocational school, or a 4 year college or university. We give immigrants the English skills they need so they can go to a Community College or 4 year school and take academic classes and succeed, getting a job and/or a degree. Keeping ESL within Adult Schools frees up community colleges to focus on the impacted programs that help students transfer to 4 year schools. Both Community Colleges and 4 year colleges are upset that students are not prepared for college work. We prepare them.

We don’t need to be pitted against each other.

Adult School funds should not be used to “fix” the K-12 system. We are willing to make changes to survive this crisis… we’re not asking for special treatment… we’re not taking an entitled stance.

So… what am I asking you to do?

I am asking you to write a letter – not an email. One letter is worth twenty five emails.

Can you tell that story of someone impacted by the Adult School? Someone who benefitted from ESL classes or citizenship classes? Someone who had help getting a GED?

Please look up your State Senator and Assembly Member and write them a letter or call them.

We need to act because the Legislature must come to a decision now. The pressure is on them – and us – to act.

There is no “Big Government” to complain about here. We are the government.

We, the people, elect and must communicate to our elected officials.

Speak up now. It’s your future.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Coming Up: Peter Pan at San Mateo High School

Join Peter, Wendy, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook in this journey to Never Land. Both my kids saw hour-long versions of this Peter Pan show on a field trip this week, and they were enchanted. Also fun to see your camp counselor on stage (hi Squirt!) and a babysitter too (hi Chelsea!). San Mateo High School is known for their high quality drama department.

If Zack could sit through a production and talk happily about it at the end, then all kids should go see it.

What: Peter Pan
Where: San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 North Delaware, San Mateo
When: January 30-February 8, 2009
Tickets: $10-15. Order online or take your chances at the door.

Free Family Ski Lesson at Northstar in Tahoe

Got an announcement recently from Tahoe Kids Guide that Northstar at Tahoe is offering a free 45 minute (off-peak season) family lesson for Mom, Dad and Kid (age 3-4). I assume they’d also allow Mom, Mom and Kid, or Dad, Dad and Kid. Lessons are Sundays through Fridays at 1:30 p.m. For more information call them at (530) 562-3470.

And if you leave the kids with a babysitter, or enroll them in Minor’s Camp (starting at age two), you can take free adult lessons (blue diamond level and up) in off-peak season. These lessons are from 1:30 to 3:45 p.m, Monday through Friday.

Here’s my posting on other things to do with kids at Lake Tahoe. Happy winter!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Get ‘Yer Tickets: High School Musical the Ice Tour

There’s nothing that lends itself more to an ice show than High School Musical. Okay, I’m just kidding. Disney princesses ice skating. There’s something more fitting.

So for all you High School Musical fans out there, be it HSM 1, HSM 2 or HSM 3, you’re in luck. The ice show is coming to the Bay Area for performances in both San Jose AND Oakland.

Act 1 = High School Musical
Act 2 = High School Musical 2
Special Bonus = High School Musical 3!!!!!!!

What: High School Musical the Ice Tour
When/Where: HP Arena in San Jose from February 25-March 1. Oracle Arena in Oakland from March 4-8
Cost: Opening night tickets are $15. Otherwise they cost $16 or $25 (plus fees)

Coming Up: What Will You Celebrate? Disney Tour at Pier 39

Disney is bringing its “What Will You Celebrate?” tour to San Francisco. Stop by Pier 39 on Thursday, January 29th for free Mickey Mouse balloons, and a chance to win a Disney vacation. Plus register to get a free ticket to go to Disneyland on your birthday.

The tour is from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Day Trip: Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Last time I went to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, I didn’t think much of it. Sure it was a pretty beach, but where were the famed animals? It was high tide. Yes, my mistake. You have to go at low tide. Duh!

So we went back again recently, on a sunny January day. For once I was not underdressed on the coast. Ah, beautiful January weather in California. Short sleeves and sunblock. This is why we don’t live in a place like…New Jersey.

Mark checked the tide charts before we went, and though we missed the exact point of the low tide by 45 minutes, we still spent several hours wandering around the slick, wet rocks looking into tide pools for hermit crabs, sea anemones, sea stars and the like.

The Reserve is in Moss Beach, and technically runs from Point Montara to Pillar Point. It’s been protected since 1969 as a semi-protected open coastal area. You can walk around the 30 acres of reef, providing of course, that it’s not high tide. While more than 200 species of animals and 150 species of plant are there, we still only found a few we could solidly identify.

And for once, our family enjoyed a solid hour with no complaints of “I’m bored. Can we go home now?”

The star of the excursion (pun intended) was the starfish, otherwise know as a sea star (which is double points for all you Scattergories players). We saw three sea stars, including one stuck to the top of the rocks where we were walking. It’s a good thing Dori was looking down or we could have stepped on it. Granted it’s got a pretty hard shell, but still.

Also exciting...the sea anemones. These spongy sacs attach themselves to the rocks and seek out prey with their tentacles. The open spot in the middle of the disc is the mouth. When open, the tentacles sway with the waves, and if you stick your finger near the tentacles (don’t try this at the reserve), they’ll feel sticky and will close in on you. Zachary threw some small pebbles into the anemone to see what would happen. Before you get mad at me, I told him not to do it again. But I also watched in fascination as the tentacles closed up and the anemone looked like a different creature all together.

The outside of the anemones were covered in small rocks and shells. After a short time it was easy to find the closed ones, because they looked like a dark decorated sac.

You can’t miss seeing hundreds of hermit crabs of varying sizes. It made me happy we had read Eric Carle’s A House for Hermit Crab.

There were itty bitty hermit crabs and slightly larger ones, in varying colored and shaped shells. They were plentiful, scurrying around in the water.

We also saw an abalone shell, empty of course. You aren’t allowed to collect the shells or rocks here, which is too bad for us because we found some great ones.
The other fun sighting? Harbor seals. The Marine Reserve is one of 300 spots where the California harbor seals “haul out” onto land to rest. They spend half their time in the water, and half resting in the sun. They didn’t come onto the beach while we were there, but you could see them swimming and sunning in the distance. They birth there from March to May, obviously a good time to see the pups.

After taking the kids to numerous aquariums, it’s great to see a tide pool in real life. To see the starfish gripped onto the side of a rock. To see the anemones swaying in a wave action that’s real, not from a pump.

A word of warning – wear shoes that can get wet, and shoes with a good tread. The rocks can be very slippery and are often covered with some kind of seaweed or plant life. Zachary accidentally got both shoes wet (and of course we didn’t have another pair with us).

The Reserve is about two blocks north of the Moss Beach Distillery, just off California Street. Look for the sign that says “Marine Life Reserve” on Route 1. Take it to the end (about 2 blocks) and you’ll run into a parking lot for the Reserve. 

It’s a county park, and there is no cost to park or to visit. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Coming Up: Preschool Preview Night in Redwood City

Join other parents for a preschool/child care and parent resources fair in Redwood City. Representatives from preschools and child care organizations from Belmont to Palo Alto will be there to talk and give information. Plus the Child Care Coordinating Council will put on two brief presentations on choosing quality childcare or preschool, at 5:30 and

The event is sponsored by the Redwood City Mother’s Club, Redwood City Parks, Recreation and Community Services and Bay Area Parent Magazine.

What: Preschool Preview Night
Where: Community Activities Building, 1400 Roosevelt Ave., Redwood City
When: Wed, January 28, 2009 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Info: 650-780-7311 or 415-846-9521

Saturday, January 24, 2009

All-Inclusive Mexico Vacations with Kids

Many vacationers recall the Club Med all inclusive vacations of their early adulthood, exchanging beads for drinks in a bacchanalian revelry. With Mexico a mecca for U.S. tourists - Americans account for almost 90% of international arrivals, according to the Mexico Ministry of Tourism - the trend is to make resorts more family-friendly.

Which is a great thing for those of us with young kids. In the wake of 2005's Hurricane Wilma, Club Med Cancun spent $24 million updating the resort, adding on kids' and teen clubs. The beads are gone, and adults vacationing without the younger set are certainly still welcome. But the resort now also caters to those bringing children.

Traveling with kids is hard enough, which is why many families choose an all-inclusive resort for vacation. Cancun has at least 14 all-inclusives with kids' programming. And just a plane ride away are the resort towns of Los Cabos and Ixtapa, with dozens of facilities luring families with suites, baby-sitting, piñata parties, circus school, "baby welcome" programs, and round-the-clock pizza and soda. How to choose between them?

Read on in this fabulously written article in the New York Daily News (or read it on my website).

Friday, January 23, 2009

Finney's Friday Free Stuff

This past December we went to Gilroy Garden’s Holiday Lights. Did it cost us a fortune? No – we only paid for parking, thanks to Finney’s Friday Free Stuff, the local ABC reporter who posts every Friday with coupons for free products and events in the Bay Area.

Last week it was a coupon for a free McDonalds Happy Meal and a coupon for a free admission to the Aquarium of the Bay. Not bad!

Just check back every Friday to see what Finney is offering. This week it's baby food (we'll take a pass) and a sample package of natural snacks.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Coming Up: Make Chinese Lion Head Puppets at Randall Museum

As Chinese New Year approaches, make Chinese Lion Head puppets at the Randall Muscum.

Where: Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, San Francisco
When: Saturday, January 24 from 1:00-4:00
Cost: $3/child or $5/parent/child combo.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Coming Up: Fratello Marionettes at the Redwood City Library – Free!

Check out the performance of the Fratello Marionettes, as they perform The Frog Prince.

Where: Redwood City Library (1044 Middlefield Road)
When: Wednesday, January 21 at 7 p.m.
Cost: Free!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and Freedom Train 2009

As you know, Monday is not only a day off work and/or school, it's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Join others from the Bay Area celebrating what he accomplished. There's a march and rally in San Francisco, which you can get to by public transit from the City or from the South Bay.

Join the 24th annual Freedom Train on Monday, January 19th, on Caltrain from San Jose into San Francisco. This is an additional train running into the city just for the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration; you cannot use regular Caltrain tickets for it (for ticket info, call the numbers below).

The train leaves San Jose's Dirdiron station at 9:30, stopping in Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and San Mateo, arriving at 4th and King Streets in San Francisco at 11:16. From there, either join the march, or take MUNI to to Civic Center for the Dr. Martin Luther King Junior celebration.

The march leaves the Caltrain station at 11:30, and heads to Civic Center. While the march ends around 1:30, there's also a rally at the Bill Graham Auditorium (Civic Center) from 12:30 to 3:30.

To buy Freedom Train tickets, call 408.428.9551 or 408.435.7499. Or buy regular Caltrain tickets and just take a different Caltrain train.

Presidential Inauguration Day – live at San Francisco Civic Center

What’s more exciting than taking your kids to the polls with you to vote for Barack Obama? Taking them to celebrate with other Americans as he’s sworn into office. Okay, so it’s a little late to get tickets in Washington D.C., and a bit expensive too.

But you can celebrate with your community at the San Francisco Civic Center, from 7 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, January 20. The gathering is at Civic Center Plaza in front of City Hall.

Be a good citizen and bring new socks and/or underwear (price tags still attached, so they know they’re not used), to be given out to the homeless.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Moms interested in going back to work? Sign up for Moms in Career Transition workshop

If you're a mom who took some time off to be with the kiddies, and now wants to reenter the workforce (or just want a new career), consider signing up for this workshop: Moms in Career Transition. I haven't taken it, but have heard great things about it. It's run by Jewish Vocational Services (but you don't need to be Jewish) at the JFCS Parents Place in San Mateo. Here's what the JVS website says about the program:

A six-week career exploration group for moms who are looking to re-establish satisfying careers. Whether you’ve been out of the workforce while raising children or have continued to work but are looking for a career change, this group is for you! Led by a seasoned career coach (and mom!), this group will share ideas and feedback, contacts and strategies to help each member define and reach her career goals. It’s just the push you need to get started!

Admission: $150 for six-week series
Instructor: Barbara Gottesman
Location: 2001 Winward Way, Ste 200, San Mateo
Mondays: January 26, February 2, 9, 16, 23, and March 9
9:30 - 11:30 am

Preregister here, and when you get confirmation, bring a check for $150 to JVS on the first session.

Huge Gumshoe Sale

Several friends swear by Gumshoe, a locally-owned kids shoe and apparel store. They currently have a fabulous in-store sale (as opposed to online, since they have an active online presence as well).

Their "dot sale" began yesterday, through the end of January. You can get all kinds of great shoes HALF PRICE. They color-coded each shoe with a dot:

Yellow Dots = $15
Green Dots = $25
Pink Dots = $40
They have a huge inventory, since the shoe brands are also participating to sell down their inventory from the slow Fall season. According to the store, this means that instead of having 100 Umis left over, they have about 1,000 Umis to choose from. Instead of a handful of Kuurus, we have every Kuuru in every size. And the list goes on and on.

They're at 275 Primrose Road in Burlingame, (650) 342-2048

So check out Gumshoe in Burlingame and let me know what you scored!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Coming Up: An Evening with Khaled Hosseini

The timing of this is perfect, since I just started reading A Thousand Splendid Suns (granted it's been on my bookshelf for a year).

New York Times #1 bestselling author, and a local author and physician Khaled Hosseini, is speaking at an event to raise funds for a Trust in Education. The evens features a discussion with Hosseini, who wrote the Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I heard him speak a few years ago on his books, and he was a pleasure to listen to.

The event is a benefit for a Trust in Education, a grass roots,non-profit organization founded in 2003 to provide healthcare, education and economic developmentprograms in Afghanistan.

If your kids are old enough to read the books (high school, maybe even younger), this would be a great chance for them to connect what they've read with the person writing it.

When: January 23, 2009 from 7:30-9:00
Where: Smithwick Theater at Foothill College (12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos)
Cost: $15 for students, $25 for reserved seating, $50 for priority seats and pre-registration event reception with Dr. Hosseini from 6:00-7:00 (with Afghan hors d’oeuvres).
Tickets: Get them through Trust in Education or Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park. Or call TIE at (925) 283-8057 or call Kepler's Books at (650) 324-4321 (or better yet, visit them at 1010 El Camino Road, Menlo Park)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Usability tests for kids age 8-12 - Emerald Island online game

The Usability Testing post was quite popular, so I thought I’d pass this along as well. Just so you know in advance, the pay is low, so you’d have to do it for fun (or live close by - in Marin).

Fluid Entertainment is looking for kids to test their new eco-themed online game, Emerald Island. They’re paying kids $10.

Who: Kids age 8-12
What: One hour workshops of playtime and sharing feedback with the team behind the game
When: Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at 3 pm and 4 pm
Where: The Fluid Entertainment offices are in downtown Mill Valley - across from the Greenwood school at 16 Buena Vista Ave Mill Valley 94941
How often: Just once although they may invite the testers back in for follow up testing
How to get started: email Sarah West: to sign up for a workshop
Can friends come? They encourage friends to come together, but ALL children must but be scheduled for workshops in advance. They can host up to 4 kids at each workshop.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Review: The Ivy Chronicles (and a bunch of other random stuff like the K Files blog and Amy Graff)

In my vast amounts of spare time, between writing, raising the kids, and making meals, I dissect tomes like War and Peace and The Fountainhead. And if I still have spare time, I translate the Odyssey from its original Greek (I’m kidding, since I can’t even spell it in English and had to look it up online).

Once in a great awhile, I change from my intellectual ways and read chick lit. And of course I want to share my reviews with you. War and Peace – it already has Cliff’s Notes and scholarly research. It doesn’t need me.

While I was in New York a few months ago, I was digging through the stacks and stacks of books at the Strand and I randomly happened upon The Ivy Chronicles by Karen Quinn. Very random because a few days after buying it (it was literally shoved into one of dozens of massive bookshelves with only the spines showing), I saw a review of it in People. (No, I don’t subscribe to People. My friend’s cat Lolita does. It gets passed down to me after my friend, her husband, their babysitter and of course, the cat, reads it).

In another moment of massive coincidence, I also just happened to read a San Francisco Magazine story on getting into kindergarten in San Francisco. You see I’m usually months and months behind in my magazines. But for some reason I flipped through the magazine when it arrived, and out popped this story. It centers on Amy Graff, a San Francisco mom and fellow magazine and blog writer who actually gets PAID to write her blog posts (please please click on my ads!).

Reading this story made me realize how lucky I am to live in a suburb with good public schools. Okay, lucky isn’t the right word, since our move to a suburb with good public schools was intentional. I wasn’t aware of Amy’s K files blog until this magazine story appeared. I never had to go through the angst of evaluating dozens of San Francisco public schools and then ranking them, hoping to get one of my top seven choices. I didn’t have to apply to unaffordable private schools to ensure my children got a quality education.

And now you’re wondering whether I mislabeled my blog title, reviewing The Ivy Chronicles, which you don’t even know yet, is about getting children into private kindergartens in Manhattan. I find this all fascinating since my youngest entered kindergarten this year.
All I did was pick up the forms on the first day of registration, and then turn them in a few days later. Granted, friends at the popular Baywood School in San Mateo had to wait in line for days…in the rain. I didn’t feel too sorry for them, since their houses are worth more than mine.

The Ivy Chronicles is an over-the-top book, none too subtle with the names. The protagonist, Ivy, is a private admissions consultant trying to get Manhattan’s finest into the “baby Ivies” (if you’re dense, these are top notch private schools that give your child a better chance to go to the college Ivies). This cracks me up, since I went to an Ivy League school, and was clueless about the process of getting in during high school, let alone in preschool where I stuffed bugs up my nose and my parents thought I’d be lucky to make it through high school. Of course the main reason I got in was because I was geographically desirable (i.e.from Arizona).

So Ivy is married to Cadmon (Cad for short), who like his name, is a lying, cheating ass (I hope I didn’t spoil the book for you). When we start the book, they live the $2 million yearly salary high life in NYC that few of us will ever understand, let alone experience (damn!). And then she gets canned and her life falls apart. THIS we can relate to.

She musters her resources and becomes a kindergarten admissions counselor to mostly rich and jaw-droppingly odd characters. Hilarity ensues. I’m serious. This book is laugh out loud funny, and you can’t help but like Ivy. She’s fun and she’s real (except for her rich days, when her kids had $22,000 birthday parties at FAO Schwartz. Our last one was at Chuck E. Cheese. And I thought THAT was expensive.)

So I’m now in search of Karen’s two other books, one with the awesome title Wife in the Fast Lane. How can you not want to buy a book with that title?

As for me, I'll be the wife in the carpool lane.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Freebie! Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan book

Wish I could say this was a freebie from me, but it's not. It's a freebie from your next favorite person, Oprah.

With the economy in the gutter, we can all use some advice on handling our money this year. I haven't yet read Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan, but I did download it. And you can too. Until 11:59 CT on 1/15/09.

Coming Up: Family Appreciation Day – Free Museum Entrance for SF Families

If you’re a San Francisco resident, Sunday is your lucky day! Get your family in free to 32 San Francisco museums and attractions, including these:

-California Academy of Science
-Asian Art Museum
-Cable Car Museum
-Chinatown Alleyway Tours
-Golden Gate Park Carousel
-Museum of the Africa Diaspora
-Tree Frog Trek
-San Francisco Zoo
-S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien
And more…

Plus…kids ride Muni and the Culture Bus for free (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

What: Family Appreciation Day
When: Sunday, January 11, 2009
Cost: Free (with SF proof of residency)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Coming Up: Big Kids/Little Kids tour at DeYoung Museum

My friend Jill swears by this tour and craft event for kids at the DeYoung Museum. You and your tykes take a docent-led tour geared toward the kiddes, followed by a studio workshop. And it’s free for kids!

What: Big Kids/Little Kids tour at DeYoung Museum
When: Saturday, January 10, 2009 from 10:30 to noon
Where: DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park, SF
Cost: Free for kids, $10 for adults

Monday, January 5, 2009

Usability Study: Earn lots of money and it's easy!

I got a lot of interest when I posted about mystery shopping. And I frequently get peppered with questions from friends about getting paid to participate in focus groups and usability studies.

So - here's one for you. I do usabilty studies for a software company that's looking for more guinea pigs. This company uses people like me to try out new products, and I’ve provided oh-so-valuable insight in exchange for oh-so-valuable cash (or rather, AmEx gift certificates plus free software sometimes). You sit in a room with their researcher, who shows you screen shots of a new or revised product. Then you tell them how you would use it, what you think the links do, and whether it's intuitive. Basically, you give your opinion for a fee. And there is no right answer.

I vouch for them, having done several myself. The studies are one-on-one (one reasearcher and you, though they have a mirror where several other people watch what happens), and it usually take place in their office. Occasionally, though, they come to your house (but don't drink your coffee when offered).

Pay is around $150-200 for 90 minutes.

They're recruiting for usability studies and focus groups in the San Francisco Bay Area, Tucson, Boston, San Diego, Plano and some other USA and Canadian cities as well.

I'm happy to refer you to them if you're interested. If so, please comment below with the requested info, or email me ( with the requested info, and I'll forward it to them.

They’ll call you or email you to see if qualify for a particular study. You may have to fill out more info and send it back.

Disclosure: I will not use your information for anything else (if you email it to me, I will delete it from my email once you're referred). Also, I get a $15 gift card if you do a study through this referral.

Here's what I need (post a comment below or email me at

Your name (REQUIRED):
Occupation/Job Function:
Company Name:
Daytime phone (REQUIRED):

Methods for tracking personal finances:
E.g. Quicken, MS Money, Excel, pen and paper, etc.
Methods for tracking business finances:
E.g. Quicken, MS Money, Excel, pen and paper, QuickBooks, an accountant, Peachtree, ADP, etc.
Location (Bay Area, San Diego, Tucson, Plano, Boston, other (please list))

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Coming Up: Family Activity Day at Museum of Craft & Folk Art

This Saturday, January 9th, the Museum of Craft & Folk Art hosts Family Activity Days from 1-3 p.m.

To register for the Family Activity Day, call (415) 227 4888 x 10.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Craft Day: Rock Candy

In 7th and 8th grade I made rock candy as part of my science presentation. It was easy and impressive. So I thought I’d do it with my kids, so Daddy wouldn’t look like the only scientist in the family.

I looked online, and the recipe I found is pretty close to simple syrup, which I use to make a fabulous lemon drop (handy, since I usually need at the end of our home craft projects).

The recipe calls for one cup of water and two cups of sugar (or you can play with the amounts, as long as it’s a 2:1 ratio). Don’t do what I did and reverse the ratios, also pouring in the sugar without realizing that you don’t have enough. That’s just a waste of water, sugar and time.

So we did it again. Or rather I did it again when the kids were at school (I had to save face, you know). But in honesty, I made all the mistake so you wouldn’t have to. Nice of me, huh?

How to make rock candy:
Boil the water and dissolve the sugar in it. Let it cool a little and color it with food coloring, if you want, after you’ve poured it into glass jars. Wrap a piece of string around a pencil, and weight the end of the string down with something like a screw (wash it first). The recipe I saw called for dipping the string into the solution and letting it dry for a day or two, to help “seed” the string so crystals will grow faster.

Do not let the screw touch the bottom, or you will have to ram a knife down there to break it apart, like I did. Perhaps you can start with a taller jar. But it should be wide enough to get the crystals out.

The recipe said the rock candy would be done in seven days. So we waited and waited. And waited.

A month later we finally have something looking like a very short string of rock candy. And lots of crystals growing at the bottom and top of the jar. We’ll let it sit in there a bit longer before drying it out on wax paper, and eating it.