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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Four Fun Things to See in Japantown

Walking into the Japantown center in San Francisco is like entering another country; spend just a few hours wandering around the three story building, and you’ll feel like you just took a trip overseas, just without the jet lag. Here are a few shops to visit while there:

Pika Pika – Imagine a photo booth, where you put in a few dollars, and a strip of photos of you with a goofy grin spits out of the machine. Pika Pika does this, but with so much more style. Enter one of the seven Japanese photo booths. Pick your background. Add words and designs. Make them into stickers, stamps or print them on golf balls. Or just wander around and see what others are doing. Your kids will LOVE this place. 1581 Webster Street, Kinokuniya Mall

Paper Tree – If you’re a decorative paper fan, check out Japantown’s Paper Tree. Here, you can stock up on high quality patterned paper, whether for origami, gift wrap, or to make your own books. The Japanese art of wrapping is alive and well. 1743 Buchanan Mall

Isobune Sushi – if you’ve ever taken sushi dishes from the floating boats circumnavigating the sushi chef in the middle, you can thank Isobune. This was the first sushi restaurant to do this. Take a break from your shopping and fill your tummy with sushi from this original restaurant. The entertainment value is high - just remember to track how many of those little plates you grab. It adds up quickly. 1737 Post Street (between Buchanan & Webster)

Asakichi Kimono – This store is as much a gallery as a shop for beautiful kimonos. Clothing is art at Asakichi Kimono. 1730 Geary Blvd

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ski Tickets - Buy One Get One Free in Tahoe and Other Deals

If you're planning to ski Tahoe this season, you'll want to check out Bay Area on the Cheap's post. Buy some gas at participating Shell gas stations, and get a voucher good for one ski ticket when buying an adult one, at Mt. Shasta, Northstar and Sierra-at-Tahoe. Tickets are good through April 16th. Bay Area on the Cheap has all the links and details.

The post also shares a bunch of other Tahoe ticket deals. Check it out!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Coming Up: Valentine's Crafts at Michaels

Michael's Arts & Crafts has a bunch of Valentine's Day crafts to show you this month. Here's a list:

January 3o - 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Family Event -Heart Shaped Frames - buy a frame ($1) and decorate it for free.

February 6 - 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Valentine's Day Card Making & Box. Buy a mailbox ($5) and decorate it using their supplies for free. Make free cards to put inside the box

February 6 - 2 to 4 p.m.
Wilton Valentine Day Cookie Demo - learn how to decorate cookies & other treats from Wilton reps. Free - but I don't think it's hands-on.

February 9 - 6-8 p.m.
Happy Valentine's Day Treat Bags - make your own card bag with free supplies from Michael's (the bags cost 79 cents)

February 13 - 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Heart Shaped Frame - buy a frame for $1, and decorate it for free using Michael's supplies.

Find a Michael's near you - click here and look for the "find a store" link at the top middle.

Great Sale at the Children's Place

Earlier this month I posted about the Children's Place Monster Sale. It's gotten even better. In addition to the $5 pajamas, they have a slew of rock bottom prices. We bought:
-winter coats for $9.99
-polo shirt for 99 cents
-boys' dress shirts (button down oxford) for $3.99
-courderoy pants for $3.99
-sweaters for $3.99
-long sleeve jersey shirts for $3.99
-cute stuffed penguins for 99 cents

You can shop online at the Children's Place (with $5 shipping per order) but the deals are much better in the store.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Coming Up: Gustafer Yellowgold concert in SF - Free

Coming up - a small, yellow, cone-headed fellow from the sun will be doing two free multi-media shows at the SF Library. Gustafer Yellowgold’s show is reportedly unlike anything in family entertainment. Morgan Taylor’s story-songs about Gustafer and his pals is performed against a backdrop of large-screen animations done up with karaoke-style subtitles, and creates a world as deep and original as it is beautiful. It’s equal parts pop rock concert and minimally animated movie, but mellow. If that doesn't make sense, see a Reuters video about Taylor and Gustafer here - it will make more sense.

When: Saturday, February 6th - 10:30 a.m. and noon.

Where: San Francisco Main Library

Cost: Free

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Coming Up: Snow Day at Habitot

This Saturday, Habitot brings snow to Berkeley. Sure Berekely might have had a little snow during that freak December storm, but who can plan? You can!

Come for snowballs in the Wind Tunnel, making snow in the Art Studio, building an igloo, and cuddling a friendly polar bear in the museum.

What: Snow Day

When: January 30 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Where: Habitot Children's Museum, 2025 Kittridge St, Berkeley

Cost: $8.50/person

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Robot Cookies

Since I posted the winning Spaghetti & Meatballs cake recipe, I thought I should post more on my son's adorable robot cookies, which look more impressive un-frosted.

We bought the cookie cutter on sale recently at Williams-Sonoma. You can twist this cookie cutter to make 64 different robot shapes. It's really fun to wash out at the end (that's a joke). Especially since it's hand-wash only (that part is not a joke).

There's a sugar cookie recipe on the box, but you can use any sugar cookie recipe where the cookies won't rise.

We used store-bought frosting mixed with food coloring - lumpy and hard to smooth out. The Cake Mate Icing was awesome.Perhaps if we made our own frosting (Royal icing?) it would have been smoother and looked better. More like this.

Instead it looked like this.

Sadly, the whole family decorated cookies and you can't tell the adult ones from the kid ones.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Free Movie at Redbox today

It's time for your Free Movie Monday code from Redbox.
Find a Redbox here.

Here are several codes that are working today. I can't guarantee they'll work all day, but hundreds of people reported they're working so far.

DVDATWAG - Walgreens only

Spaghetti & Meatballs Cake

As I mentioned yesterday, my son lost the Boy Scout Pack bake-off to this:Add Image

I think the correct winner was chosen. Believe it or not, this Spaghetti & Meatball cake was made by a fourth grade boy. I originally thought his dad did it - you should have seen this kid's iPhone Halloween costume. It was like Steve Jobs made it himself.

But 4th grade Pastry Chef Michael and his dad generously agreed to let us post this photo and info on how he made the cake. Michael went to three different web sites to cobble together his own recipe. Here's what he used:

Cake base: Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Classic Yellow Cake (using eggs, water and vegetable oil)

Baked it in a pan using Crisco No-Stick Spray, and dusted with flour

Spaghetti: Made from Betty Crocker Whipped Butter Cream Frosting pushed through a potato ricer

Sauce: Solo Raspberry Cake & Pastry Filling

Meatballs: Entenmann’s Pop’ems, dipped in the "sauce"

Parmesan: Lindt white chocolate grated on top

Impressive, huh?

Deal of the Day: Bay Area Discovery Museum - Half Off Tickets

I love love love the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito. In fact, I like it so much I wrote about it for Family Fun Magazine.

So I was very excited to learn of this deal - which you can buy today only. Buy a coupon for $25 - good for 5 admissions to the museum before 12/31/2010. You do need to use the coupon in one visit (though you can buy more than one coupon - and use two coupons at one visit, and save the rest of the coupons for future visits).

Admissions are normally $10 for adults, $8 for kids. So even if you went with 2 adults and 2 kids, it would cost $36. So maybe you don't save the full 50% every time - but you still save.

To get this deal, click here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Bake-Off

Zachary recently entered his Boy Scout pack's bake-off. Here was his entry. And here was the winner.

This is cake - made to look like Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Zachary clearly doesn't watch enough Food TV.

Tomorrow I'll post the winning recipe.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Three Kid-Friendly San Francisco Tours

Guided tours are a great way to learn about a new city – or even one you think you know well. Here are three family-friendly tours that prompt you to look at San Francisco from a different angle.

Photo by Aschloch
Fire Engine Tours – Driving or walking over the Golden Gate Bridge is fun, but think how much more memorable it would be atop a fire engine. You’ll leave from Fisherman’s Wharf, taking the scenic route in the Presidio, to the base of the bridge (Fort Point), then over the bay for a view of the Pacific on one side, and Alcatraz on the other. Fort Baker in Sausalito is at the other end of the bridge, another historic military base you’ll drive through. I saw the truck there once when we were visiting the Bay Area Discovery Museum. After Fort Baker, you'll head back over the bridge (you don’t have to pay the $6 toll like everyone else) through San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood. You’ll stay toasty warm in the fire engine gear provided during the tour, and you’ll ride in style in a vintage Big Red Shiny Mack Fire Engine. Tours leave from the Cannery at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Alcatraz – It may be touristy, but for good reason. The Alcatraz adventure starts with a short boat ride to the Rock, the island penitentiary in the Bay. From 1934-1936 Alcatraz housed inmates like Al Capone and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud. On the tour, you’ll learn fun facts, like those who were locked up here got hot showers – so they wouldn’t acclimate to the Bay’s cold water, making escape easier. Take a free National Park Service tour or rent a Cellhouse Audio Tour and hear about the jail from former correctional officers and inmates. Get tickets and depart at Pier 33. You can just wander around by yourself too, if the kids can't handle a formal tour.

Free Walking Tours of San Francisco – if the kids can walk for two hours and are patient enough to listen to a tour guide, check out San Francisco’s City Guides – free walking tours. Just show up for these tours at the designated spot, and get an insider view of places like Coit Tower, the Fire Engine Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, Nob Hill, City Hall, the Castro, Chinatown and Pacific Heights mansions.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Tech Museum - Star Trek the Exhibit coupon code

Star Trek the Exhibition has arrived at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. Our friends at Bay Area on the Cheap have all the info - and a 40% off coupon code.

Let me know what you think of the exhibit!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More King Tut discount codes - buy one get one free

But I've got a new discount code for you Peet's Coffee & Tea fans. Did you know Peet's is the coffee and tea sponsor for the deYoung Museum's King Tut exhibit? I didn't think so. It's a natural fit, since the Egyptians are so well known for their coffee and tea consumption. And you're allowed to drink so much coffee and tea while touring the exhibit. Or not.

Anyway, the deal is good.

Through January 29, 2010, buy one adult admission ticket, get one free! Tickets are valid through March 15, 2010. Use promo code: TUTBOGO

Peet's customers will continue to get a 20% discount on adult admission tickets after that (or if you don't use that other coupon code). Offer and tickets valid through March 15, 2010. Use promo code: TUTPEETS

Finally - you get a Pharaoh's Gold Card when you get your ticket. Use the card at participating Bay Area Peet's stores through March 28, 2010 and receive a free beverage with the purchase of a beverage. Fine print: offer excludes juice, kids' drinks and bottled beverages. Free drink must be of equal or lesser value. Participating Peet's don't include airports, grocery stores, BART kiosks and some other licensed locations.

Coming Up: Lowe's Build and Grow Clinic - tic tac toe board

Lowe's has great clinics for kids to make things. And they're free. Coming up this weekend: make a tic tac toe board.

When: Saturday, January 23rd from 10-11 a.m.

Where: Lowe's

RSVP: here

Cost: Free

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Coming Up: Crafts at Michael's

This Saturday, Michael's Arts & Crafts has two free craft events:

Fuzzy Friend Pencil Toppers (from 1-2 p.m.)
Lily Sugar 'n Cream Straw Weaving Wristbands (from 2-3 p.m.)

About the pencil toppers: Join us for a fun filled hour to create a fuzzy friend that will bring a smile to your face each time you write. While supplies last. Sponsored By: Loops & Threads™ Impeccable™ Shades

About the wristbands: Learn the simple, but fashionable craft of straw weaving to create a unique and stylish bracelet that you can take with you. This project provides a new take on the classic bangle bracelet. While supplies last.

Find a Michael's near you - click here and look for the "find a store" link at the top middle.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Free Movie Monday at Redbox - get code here

It's time for your Free Movie Monday code from Redbox. Find a Redbox here.

Here are several codes that are working today.
DVDATWAG - at Walgreens only

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Colleague donating $1 per blog comment to help Haiti

My colleague at Houston on the Cheap is generously donating $1 for every blog comment and tweet about this project - to help kids in Hait. Please join me in helping her goal of donating $500.

You can comment here at Houston on the Cheap.

Three Cheap Wharf Attractions

While there’s no debate that Fisherman’s Wharf can pull lots of money from your wallet, don’t forget that there’s plenty of cheap fun to be had as well! Take the kids, hop on the bus or cable car, and head to the water. These inexpensive Wharf attractions will keep your family entertained and out of the poorhouse.

Free Entertainment at Pier 39 – Normally we’d suggest you visit the wharf’s famed sea lions. However they recently left en masse and they didn’t say when they’re returning. In any case, their neighbor, Pier 39, does a good job entertaining visitors for free with outdoor concerts and street performers. Their musicians perform on stage nine times daily and there’s no admission charge. They also feature kid-friendly street performers, including jugglers, magicians, acrobats and more. Last time I was there, I saw a magician doing some toilet humor tricks – the kids ate it up.

Boudin’s – walking west along the Wharf, you’ll notice Boudin’s, the flagship store of this wonderful SF sourdough company. Watch the bakers through the large windows on the street, as they shape the bread into crabs, alligators and turtles. If you hunger for more information, tour the museum inside, where you’ll get a less crowded floor-to-ceiling window view of the operations, plus lots of other information. The self-guided tour costs $3, but the street viewing is free. A Wharf visit isn’t complete without eating the chowder in the sourdough bread bowl there. Their sandwiches and salads are awesome too. 160 Jefferson Street (between Mason & Taylor).

Hyde Street Pier – Continue walking west a few blocks, and you’ll come to the Hyde Street Pier. This is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Stop first at the Visitor’s Center across the street from the pier. There, kids can learn how to earn a free ranger badge. Walking around the pier is free, along with the innards of some maritime exhibits. There’s a nominal $5 cost for those over age 16, to board the historic vessels. Jefferson/Hyde Streets

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Free SFMOMA Admission this Weekend

Come celebrate SFMOMA's 75th anniversary with free admission this weekend.
Enjoy gallery talks (75 of them), a new multimedia tour, a SUNDAY FAMILY DAY with familiy film screenings, a chair making activity, the poetry cafe and more.

Here are their weekend hours:
Saturday, January 16, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Sunday & Monday, January 17 & 18, 11 a.m. – 5:45 p.m

What to do on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in SF?

Just a reminder, here's a link to the post about things to do in SF Bay Area on/around Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Enjoy the long weekend, and make it a meaningful one.

Happy Zoo Year! Free kid admission to the SF Zoo in January

How do you get into the San Franisco Zoo for free? All January, kids ages 4-14 get in for free by bringing in a coloring sheet (colored, of course), and having the accompanying adult pay for the adult ticket. Thanks the Bernard Osher Foundation, your kid can have a free day at the zoo!
Here are more details about the free zoo offer, and a link to the coloring page. You can also have your kid draw/color any animal on a piece of paper. You don't have to use the zoo's printout.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Coming Up: Jurassic Park at the Retro Dome

Jurassic Park may be retro to us - but not to our kids! Take them to see Jurassic Park - and then suffer the consequences of nightmares and sleepless nights. Or maybe just endless talk of REAL dinosaurs.

The movie shows on the big screen this week at San Jose's Retro Dome January 15-17. The Friday & Saturday shows are at 7 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 1:00.

Get your tickets or more info here.

Four Great Kid-Friendly Hotels in Scottsdale & Phoenix Arizona

Since I was born and raised in Arizona, and am a travel writer, friends always ask me where to stay with their families when visiting Phoenix and Scottsdale. So I'll tell you what I tell them.

When choosing hotels, I didn’t look at the best golf courses or spas. I looked for what the kids want – pools, water slides and fun activities. And I didn't look at what you can do off-property. I assume you'll want to hang out at the hotel for a few days.

So here’s my list of the three best family-friendly hotels (plus an honorable mention).

--Sheraton Wild Horse Pass
--Westin Kierland
--Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak
--Fairmont Scottsdale - Honorable Mention

Sheraton Wild Horse Pass – I just stayed at this Sheraton before a conference last fall. The resort, in Chandler, is not close to much. But they do have enough on site to keep the kids busy for a few days. The resort is in the Gila River Community – Native American land. The hotel is actually owned by the tribes (hence, their casino), but run by the Sheraton. Without beating your kids on the head, they’ll easily learn about Indian history, culture and customs while staying on the property. Most choose the resort, however, for its amenities. The kids’ pool includes a slide meant to look like Casa Grande Ruins (photo above). It’s cute. Family activities are described here, (look for the family activities button and you can pull up a calendar). They include movies in the pool, wagon rides, pool games, watermelon eating contests, horseback riding, Native American storytelling (and s’mores) by the fire pit and arts & crafts.

Take free boat rides on their man-made river (photo right). Rawhide, an 1880s Western theme park is on one of the stops – and you can head there at night for some Arizona-themed fun. They also offer camps for a fee – giving you time to play golf or check out the Aji spa (which is lovely).

Take advantage of “Guilt Free Dining” and let the staff take the kids for an evening while you enjoy Kai, the Valley’s only Five Diamond restaurant and Arizona’s only Mobil Travel Guide five star restaurant. It’s fabulous and a truly unique dining experience (I ate there). But make reservations early. Seating is limited, and locals are doing what they can to get in too.

The Westin Kierland – I picked this hotel because of the pools and kids’ club. The Kierland’s adventure water park has a lazy river and a 110 foot water slide. Plus a separate kiddie area with a sandy beach, spraying water fountains to run through, and a shallow pool for the littlest ones. They also offer movies by the pool, plus live music out there as well.

Check out the Westin Kids’ Club, which offer scavenger hunts, computer games, soccer, crafts, Spanish lessons, movies, field trips and a playground. Fees apply. Also for a fee, take the kids golfing (half price for kids), do a family scuba lesson ($99 per family) and check out the zoo animal program at the hotel once weekly (summer/holidays). Here's their event calendar. The Kierland has twice weekly campfires with s'mores. Mmmmmm....

You can do a scavenger hunt just with your family too – it will help you get to know the resort. Kids get their own “passport” and win prizes for completing activities.

The Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort – this one is near where I grew up. And I’d love to spend a night here with the kids. Check out the Hole in the Wall River Ranch, with its lazy river (photo left), water slide and waterfall and playground. They also offer Coyote Camp (fees apply - photo below) with swimming, cooking, crafts, daily Arizona-based themes. Here’s a schedule. They have a mini-golf course, and a lot of two-room suites (need I say more?).

I'm sure the restaurants here are good, but you're in walking distance of one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Aunt Chiladas.

Honorable Mention
Fairmont Scottsdale – You might know this hotel as the Princess. They recently changed the name. I picked this hotel because of their FREE kids’ club, available for all guests (you just pay for meals if they’re going to eat there). The counselors take the kids on hikes, swimming and for other activities. The facility itself has games and computers and looked clean and fun. While they’re there, you can check out the gorgeous Willow Stream Spa. The Fairmont has five pools – and some great grub including Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak. Yummy! The hotel is an honorable mention because of the free (and nice) kids’ club. The hotel itself (while a Five Diamond resort) does not emphasize family fun, as some of the others do (one way to tell – can you find a “family” section on the hotel web site?).
**Update: 3/18/10 - I just learned that the hotel will be adding a year-round National Geographic Explorer's Program for their kids' club this summer. Participants will pay a fee for the program, but it will be more extensive. They're also rolling out a new website which will include more family information. Details to come.

Let me know what you think. And please add to the list via the comments section!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Coming Up: Workshop - 7 Steps to Financial Mastery for Women

My friend June forwarded this to me - she took the workshop and said it was very helpful - regardless of your financial or marital status.

What: 7 Steps to Financial Mastery For Women: Becoming Your Own Prince Charming
Presented by Emilie Goldman (based on the book Prince Charming Isn’t Coming, How Women Get Smart With Money by Barbara Stanny)

From the organizers "This workshop is an excellent starting point for women who are committed to growing their confidence around money and financial decisions. In a small group format, we will explore both the outer, tangible aspects of wealth as well as the inner roadblocks that may be holding us back."

When: Tuesday, February 2
9:00 am to 12:00 pm
Coffee and registration at 9:00, workshop to begin promptly at 9:15

Productive networking at the end.

Where: Blue Oak Capital
2600 El Camino Real, Suite 415
Palo Alto, CA

Cost: Suggested donation $30 (bring a check to the workshop, payable to Women’s Initiative for Self Employment, a Bay Area non-profit that provides high-potential, lower-income women the training, resources and on-going support to start and grow their business.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Earthquake Preparedness in SF - and Haiti Donations

Given the tragic earthquake in Haiti, it's time to revisit your own earthquake plan. I put a few links here to help you prepare.

EARTHQUAKE KITS has a list of specific items to have on hand - plus tips on how to package them. Things like water in a plastic jug, a first aid kit, clothing, bedding, sanitary items (diapers anyone?), documents, cash, food and more.

In case that's not enough, here's another SF Chronicle list. It include the idea of making three kits - one for the house, one for work and one for the car. And to put the items in one container (like a backpack for smaller items, and a (clean) garbage can for the others).

Feeling lazy? If you don't have time to do one yourself, order a premade one like this premade earthquake kit. Lots of companies make them, and you can sometimes find them at Safeway or Costco too (Costco has one online right now).

It's scary to think about your spouse being at home or work, and your children being at school or daycare when an earthquake hits. But it could happen. Make a plan so your family knows what to do.

Here are some sample plans - one from FEMA. Here's another. Try to keep your phone charged, and have an additional backup battery. A hand-cranked flashlight/radio is good have on hand too - mine can charge a cellphone too (albeit not for long). Keep emergency numbers in your car, and stashed in various other places you might need them. Make sure the kids' school or daycare has all the updated/correct numbers.

We're sending some cash to aid organizations tonight. Here are some organizations you can help fund, to get care on the ground.

American Red Cross - donate here, or send a $10 donation by texting ‘Haiti’ to 90999. The American Red Cross has already pledged $1 million .

American Jewish World Service - an excellent organization that helps those in need around the world. They have local partners on the ground already, providing assistance.

Unicef is collecting funds to help children of the earthquake.

Here's a good list of other organizations.

Review: Cleaving by Julie Powell

I just finished reading Julie and Julia when I found out Julie Powell had a new book out. I was very excited, because I didn’t want Julie and Julia to end. It was original, witty with self-deprecating humor, and beautifully written.

I was shocked to hear that Julie’s new book was partially about cheating on her husband after the book was written. Cleaving: a Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession was about that two year affair, interspersed with her apprenticeship at a butcher shop.

I made it half way through the book and I just can’t finish it. I’m glad I got it from the library and didn’t pay for it. The best thing I can say for this book is I love the title. It’s a clever take on both marriage and butchery.

The two year affair, which her husband Eric knows about almost since the beginning, is not interesting. There’s such a thing as TMI – too much information. I do NOT want to read every whispered sweet nothing, every detail about her lover biting her shoulder, about her being bound up during sex, about sex in the hallways, about embarrassing text messages she sends to her lover after he breaks up with her.

I get it. We all do stupid things when someone breaks up with us. However her attempts are so pathetic and embarrassing for her, I just don’t want to read it.

About the butchering. If I wanted to read a manual on how to butcher a cow or pig, I’d buy that. She includes so many details about each section of the animal, I had to start skipping pages. I’d like to know some general information about how to butcher. Her section on making head cheese, for example, was fascinating. But I don’t need to read about every ligament. Every slice. Every muscle group. It’s not interesting.

Plus, Julie includes too many banal snippets of conversation from the butcher floor. At some point you have to know where to edit your conversations. It was like reading a minute by minute account of her life. And no one’s life is interesting enough to do that.

When reading Julie and Julia, I really liked Julie as a person. I cheered her on and wanted her to succeed. I wanted to hang out with her. After reading even half this book, I no longer like her. I don’t care what happens to her at the end. I don’t care if she breaks up with Eric or is blissfully happily ever after. I don’t care if she becomes a master butcher or lives life as a hermit.

I do know she is not a likeable character here. I don’t know why her husband stayed with her. I hope her family didn’t read this book – it’s embarrassingly personal and not for good reason.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Suddenly Frugal

I’ve been reading Leah Ingram’s Suddenly Frugal blog since it started (even before she changed the blog’s name to Suddenly Frugal). It began when she and her husband bought a bigger, more expensive house, and needed to cut back in order to afford it.

I was a bit skeptical when I agreed to review the book for Frisco Kids, that I wouldn’t have learned anything new from the book. After all, I read her advice, and I’m naturally a frugal person already. I keep the thermostat low and wash my clothes using cold water. I clip coupons and read the grocery store circulars. I buy/sell things on Craigslist. I get my movies from Redbox and my books almost always come from the library.

I figured Leah would be proud of me for the frugal way I obtained her book – I got a free review copy from the publisher. My husband joked (at least I think he was joking) that you (my Frisco Kids’ readers) could save ten bucks by not buying the book. But then, of course, you miss out on frugal tips that could help you save much more.

While the book is aimed at newer frugalistas, there were still plenty of tips to help me. For example, we’re going to get a second refrigerator (the beer fridge) and planned to put it in the garage. It turns out in some parts of the country, that’s not such a wise move. The difference in temperature between the refrigerator and outside air temperature could be extreme enough that the fridge doesn’t work properly, or even shuts off completely. So now on to a new plan. (Of course we’re still waiting on my neighbor to hand over his used fridge).

Leah also mentions Radio Shack’s trade-in program, that gives a credit for electronics you give them, in exchange for a gift card to the store. And Staples’ ink cartridge credit – bring in your cartridge and get a $3 credit.

And those Swiffer cloths that aren’t cheap to buy? Use a washable microfiber cloth instead.

She talks about home maintenance and inspired me to go check some things around the house – like the fridge coils and the water heater. I need to get a blanket for it, to keep the heat from escaping.

If you’re looking to save a few bucks in the new year, check out Suddenly Frugal. You won’t look like the neighborhood tight-wad with most of her suggestions and you may even free up enough cash to do something exciting – like invest in your kids’ college fund or take a great vacation!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Free Movie Monday at Redbox - get code here

It's free Movie Monday - compliments of Redbox.

Get a free one night rental from your nearest Redbox kiosk - the code expires midnight tonight. Use code RBXLUV10 to get your free movie rental. You're welcome!

Free new computer game on Financial Literacy for Kids

I get a lot of press releases - most of them boring and not at all appliable to what I do. I almost deleted the one I'll mention here, on financial literacy for kids, but buried several paragraphs in was a link to a computer game (on the web - nothing to install on your computer). The program, the Great Piggybank Adventure, is put out by both Disney and T Rowe Price. Why didn't they say that EARLIER?

I can't wait to have Dori play it. The graphics are gorgeous and it teaches about saving and earning money. It's a virtual board game.

The downside? You have be able to read to play it. So for the younger kids, you'll need to sit with them - that's not a bad thing. It gives you a chance to talk about what they're doing and the lessons they'll hopefully absorb while you're playing for fun. But it's a bit harder to put it on while you make dinner! Also, for a dinosaur like me, some of it wasn't intuitive. For example, they show a die on the board. You need to click it to roll it.

Check out the Great Piggybank Adventure here. Let it sit on the screen a bit - so you can hear the explanation.

What do you think???

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Coming Up: MLK Activities in SF Bay Area

Looking for a way to spend MLK Day 2010 in the San Francisco Bay Area? Here are some options. Please add to the list in the comments section below.

1. Habitot - Berkeley (2025 Kittridge St)

View their Hope & Peace Wall, highlighting Dr. King’s accomplishments and the leaders he inspired. Make Peace Medals in the Art Studio to present to family and friends who have shown great patience and thoughtfulness, or have been helpful in resolving a conflict. Hear stories about Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Multicultural Reading Tent throughout the day.

January 18, 2010 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Cost $8.50/person

2. January 18th is a Day of Service.

3. Hands on Bay Area - volunteer in various locations during their MLK Week of Service, January 16-24. Last year, 175 HOBA volunteers joining in more than 20 projects.

4. Exploratorium - special holiday hours on MLK Day. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

5. San Francisco SPCA - holiday camp for kids. Open to 4th-8th graders, kids will learn about animal care and behavior, hands-on interaction with animals, and crafts. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with optional aftercare. $90 for basic program

6. Peninsula Jewish Community Center - Join the PJCC for a day of service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy. They'll do a community service project and learn about Jewish community involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Bring a lunch to eat during the learning (drinks provided). This program is open to everyone (children must be age 4 or older to particpate). Program will be held at the PJCC.

7. Hiller Aviation Museum - Kids in grades 1-6 can join in the Flight Explorer's Half Day program on January 18th. They'll follow in the footsteps of Wilbur and Orville Wright, by exploring the story of the invention of the airplane. They'll Build and fly a detailed scale model of the Wrights' 1903 Flyer, and enter the Flight Sim Zone to attempt to fly this challenging airplane. To register, call (650) 654-0200.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Don't Miss these Two Train Exhibits

The Polar Express is gone for another year, but there are two model train exhibits you can see in San Francisco.

Golden Gate Express – Conservatory of Flowers: This second annual train show created by the Bay Area Garden Railway Society and hosted at the Conservatory of Flowers has a unique San Francisco flavor. Not only do the model trains go by San Francisco landmarks, the set itself is made partly of recycled items. Look for wine corks, cheese graters, a computer keyboard and more. As for city landmarks, you’ll see City Hall, the Chinatown Gate, the Transamerica Pyramid, Ferry Building, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Ghirardelli Square. The fog rolls in twice daily, at 11:15 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. The exhibit runs until April 10, 2010. It's at 100 John F. Kennedy Drive.

Randall Museum: While kids love watching this model railroad work, adult enthusiasts will go nuts. A variety of trains run through tracks winding around — and through — mountains, over bridges, by McDonald’s, through towns, by burning buildings and though miniature industrial areas. The Golden Gate Model Railroad Club operates the trains in the basement of the Randall Museum, where it’s been since 1961.

While the rest of the museum features a myriad of non-train exhibits, it just opened Riding the Rails, a scale model of a caboose that kids can climb on. In the works: an urban rail exhibit with famed San Francisco buildings – you’ll be able to move streetcars on the railroad tracks. While the Randall Museum is open Tuesday through Saturdays, the model railroad is only open on Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 199 Museum Way.
See my review of the Randall Museum here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Free Sacramento Kings Tickets for January Birthdays

Here's a deal - get a free Sacramento Kings NBA ticket if your birthday is in January.

Details on the form here.

Three Great Outdoor Sculptures in San Francisco

One of the great things about San Francisco is its playful public art. If you look at the San Francisco Art Commission's website, you'll see the expanse of the art program. You'll find publically commissioned art in the city's jails, playgrounds, airport, post office, hospitals and outdoors.

These three sculptures are among the more whimsical - and the ones you'll likely associate with the great city.

Cupid’s Span: Walking along the San Francisco waterfront, you might be surprised to see a giant bow and arrow partially buried in the grass. It’s Cupid’s Span, created by famed sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Controversial for its location on the water and its size — the piece is 60 feet high — the 2002 sculpture is made of fiberglass and stainless steel.

As with most art, you can interpret the piece any way you want – whether you’re struck with love of San Francisco, or you just notice the resemblance between the shapes of sculpture and the boats or bridges nearby. The sculpture was given to the city by the Gap’s founders, Donald and Doris Fisher. Incidentally (or not), the Gap’s corporate headquarters are nearby. You'll find the sculpture near the intersection of Folsom and Embarcaradero.

Three Dancing Figures: If you’re visiting the Yerba Buena Center, stop by Keith Haring’s Untitled sculpture, also known as Three Dancing Figures. Using primary colors, the painted aluminum piece is quintessentially Haring’s style: pop art that’s eye catching, colorful, and fun. You can even climb on it — or rather, your kids can. The San Francisco Arts Commission paid for the piece, which went on view in 1989, about a year before the sculptor died of AIDS. Find the sculpture on 3rd and Howard.

Hearts: “I Left my Heart in San Francisco” may be a Tony Bennett song, but hearts are definitely associated with the City by the Bay. At Union Square, and throughout the city, you’ll find five-foot-tall (and more than three-foot-wide) hearts decorated by Bay Area artists. New 400 pound sculptures are unveiled every February, and you can spot them through the summer. Then they’re off to their new owners, who buy them through a San Francisco General Hospital Foundation fundraiser.

The heart photo is courtesy of Kumasawa/Flickr

Thursday, January 7, 2010

See San Francisco the Unconventional Way

Sometimes it's fun to play tourist and do the things your visiting friends and family do when they come see you. Or perhaps you just want to shake things up a bit and get around the hometown in something other than a minivan.

Here are four fun ways to see San Francisco.

By Segway: If you have kids ages 12 and up (or can leave them at home), check out a Segway tour. You might scoot around Alcatraz, Sausalito, the San Francisco waterfront, Palace of Fine Arts, Ghirardelli Square, or Lombard Street aboard one of these two-wheeled space-age scooters. They're a little awkward to ride at first, but the tour includes practice time on these gyrating machines.

By kayak: See the City by the Bay, from the Bay. Try to catch a fly ball during a Giants’ game (from the water!) or check out the Ferry Building from the vantage point of the ferries. If you have kayaking experience, try paddling under the Golden Gate Bridge or past Alcatraz. City Kayak welcomes kids 12 and older on its trips, which depart from both the outfitter’s Pier 39 and South Beach locations.

GoCar Tours: This yellow two-seater convertible looks like a go-kart but is fitted with a GPS that narrates a tour while guiding you around town. Strap on a helmet and zip through downtown San Francisco, urban parks, or get an “insider” tour of the city. You’ll pay by the hour.

Bike Tours: If you don't have a bike, you can rent one for a solo trip (or join a guided tour) from an outfitter like Blazing Saddles or Bay City Bike. If you’re worried about burning and shaking thighs, rent an electric bike instead. A fusion between bicycle and scooter, this contraption will get you around without polluting the air. Either way, the popular excursion is to bike the Golden Gate Bridge from Fisherman’s Wharf to Tiburon.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Educational Expo at Hillsdale Mall

Hilldale Mall is featuring an Educational Expo, with representatives from local public & private schools, from preschool to high school. Get info on curriculum, dates of admission, requirements & open houses. And when you're done, you can shop. I bet Hillsdale never thought of that one!

The event is sponsored by Parenting on the Peninsula.

When: January 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Hilldale Mall, San Mateo (31st Avenue & El Camino Real)
Cost: Free

Monday, January 4, 2010

Winter sales

I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays! I managed to avoid the after Christmas shopping rush, but did peek into a few stores in the past couple of days. I thought I'd tell you about a couple deals too good to pass up.

Children's Place - popped in there yesterday for their "monster sale." And monster indeed! I splurged on $5 pajamas for my kids. Got some for this year and next. Fleece pajamas with cute polar bears for boys and girls (and white unisex ones). Also long sleeve, long pant jersey knit winter ones in cute designs also for $5.

You can get these at the store or online. Shipping is a flat $5.

They also offered 50% off their winter coats - so your kid needs a new winter coat for next year (or this year) - you can get a nice one for $30 or so.

Blockbuster - sad to say that some Blockbuster stores are going out of business. In the Bay Area, it's selective - a few stores here and there. I stopped by the San Mateo store (2900 S. Norfolk Street), and that one (as well as San Carlos, I think) will be out of business by January 10th. I picked up pre-viewed movies for $2.99 each, including a few for my kids (Hotel for Dogs, Water Horse and Open Season). Got some for the hubby and me too. They're selling new movies for 30% off, TV series for either $3 or $6, and some cute stuffed animals for a dollar or two.

Any good sales still in progress to tell me about??

Friday, January 1, 2010

Coming Up: Family Sundays at SFMOMA

This Sunday it's time for a free Sunday family tours and hands-on activities at SFMOMA. Kids 12 and under get in free (adults don't). Family tour (aimed at ages 4-11) starts at 1:00, with special programs starting at 2:00. Generally, the day (which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) includes the tour, hands-on art creation and other programming like movies, book readings and more. You need to RSVP since space is limited.

Here's what's coming up:

January 3 - Taking it to the Street
Travel through time to investigate the sites and styles of an evolving San Francisco landscape. Think architecture, street photography, Robert Bechtle, and Eadweard Muybridge.

February 7 & 21 - License to Steal
According to SFMOMA: "Clever artists—Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, and Sherrie Levine spring to mind—purposely seek out treasures that are there for the taking (in) and reinvent these works as their very own."

March 7 & 21 - Might as well JUMP
According to SFMOMA: "Art is active! Dance through space and time. Groove to the beat. Be the star of your own kinetic art show as you investigate the media of visual freestylers like Pipilotti Rist, Christian Marclay, and Bruce Nauman"

April 4 & 18 - Less is Best

According to SFMOMA: "Appreciate the choice of a small gesture, the art of taking away. Minimalism aptly demonstrates that less can be more. The short list? Sol LeWitt, Ed Ruscha, and Robert Ryman."

May 2 - The Joy of Junk
According to SFMOMA: "Any artist knows that someone's junk is another's treasure. Collect all you can. Spiff it up. Anything can be art, according to junk connoisseur Robert Rauschenberg."

June 6 & 20 - Focus on BLUR
According to SFMOMA: "What is it? It's playing with focus and light. It's using photography tricks to alter perception. It's the artist's visual truth. That's what. Picture Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, and Sigmar Polke, for a start."