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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Coming Up: New Year's Concerts - free

The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra will make your new year's resolution for more culture come true. They're offering three FREE concerts around the new year. 

These star Jon Nakamatsu (Van Cliburn gold medalist) on piano, and this season's debut artist, 17-year old double bassist Jared Pabilona in:   

     Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro 
     Giovanni Bottesini: Double Bass Concerto No. 2 in B minor 
     Camille Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor 

According to the SFCO, "Mozart, Bottesini and Saint-Saëns were great virtuosi, writing themselves solo works to promote their double careers as composers and performing artists. Bottesini was considered the Paganini of the double bass, bringing that unwieldy instrument a measure of respect."

Concert dates: 
Dec 29 • Sunday at 3:00 • Nourse Theater, San Francisco
Dec 31 • Tueday at 8:00 • First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Jan 1 • Wedmesday at 3:00 • First Palo Alto United Methodist Church

Friday, December 13, 2013

Holiday gifts: The Gift of an Experience

There's a huge focus this time of year on buying gifts. We wanted to include some ideas that are the gift of experience, not just things.

Unclutterer has a good list of experience gifts, including San Francisco city tours.

I'm a big fan of museum and attraction memberships as gifts. Then you have fun together while experiencing something new. Frisco Kids has a list of most Bay Area museums on the right side of the blog. Like going to amusement parks or the boardwalk? Either buy a season pass, get a gift certificate or just make your own, so you can go together.

Entertainment - get tickets to a show! We have a list of discounted tickets you can get for mostly holiday shows here. Goldstar has a lot of shows at good deals year-round. (affiliate link)

Don't want to do any gifts? You're not a grinch. Read my friend Heather Greenwood Davis' take on why they're not doing Christmas gifts for two years running.

As a gift for your spouse or better half, get a gift through Howaboutwe for couples. Unfortunately you do have to sign up to see the offerings, but you can choose experiences (shows, tours, massages, meals, etc.)

Don't forget the other posts in this series:
-Helping others this holiday season
-Frisco Kids guide to holiday entertainment

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Coming Up: Two Holiday Christmas Concerts - SF Symphony

It's not too late to get tickets for holiday San Francisco Symphony shows.
What: Peter and the Wolf with John Lithgow and the San Francisco Youth Orchestra
When: Saturday, December 14 at 1 and 4 p.m.
Where: Davies Symphony Hall
The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO) performs Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf with special guest narrator actor John Lithgow in his San Francisco Symphony debut. Well-known for his work as a Tony, Emmy, and Academy Award-nominated stage and film actor, Lithgow has performed children’s concerts with the Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, San Diego and Pittsburgh Symphonies. His acting credits include roles in the movies The World According to Garp and Terms of Endearment,plus the role of the alien High Commander on TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun. He recorded a1999 album of children's music, Singin' in the Bathtub, and has written poetry and short stories for children. In this concert the Youth Orchestra will also perform a work Lithgow wrote with Bill Elliott entitled The Bandshell Right Next to the Zoo as well as festive holiday songs for the whole family to sing along to. SFSYO Music Director and conductor Donato Cabrera conducts.
What: 'Twas the Night (carols and sing-alongs with SF Symphony Chorus members and brass section)
When: Sunday, December 22 at 4, and Monday December 23 at 8 p.m., Tuesday, December 24 at 11 a.m.
Where: Davies Symphony Hall
This special Christmas concert offers conductor and SF Symphony Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin leading soprano Lisa Vroman, pianist Joan Cifarelli, organist Robert Huw Morgan, members of the San Francisco Symphony, and members of the SFS Chorus in beloved Christmas carols and favorite childhood Christmas songs, plus audience sing-alongs.
Tickets: here

Christmas Craft Links

Looking for some fun Christmas crafts? Here's our list:

Star Wars Snow flakes - 19 free downloadable templates, from Matters of Grey

Make a keepsake hand print tile, thanks to our friends at Attainable Sustainable.
Okay, this is not a picture of the tile, but it is a picture of hand prints and I could use the photo without getting into copyright trouble.

Elf on the Shelf calendar - so I'm a little late with this one, but if you're looking for help with your Elf on the Shelf placement, and you can laugh at yourself and the whole concept, this is awesome, from People I Want to Punch in the Throat.

Color on your own marshmallows - this is a great one if you have leftover edible markers from those nasty cookies you can color. Use them to decorate marshmallows! This is from Got Chocolate, and the pictures are very cute.

Holiday desktop wallpaper for your computer from Apartment Therapy.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Santa for Kids with Special Needs - Sunday 12/7

Sorry to get this out so late, but here's a call-out to families with kids who have special needs. Stanford Shopping Center's Caring Santa program is tomorrow (Sunday 12/7) from 9:30-11 a.m. in the Center Pavilion. They host the event when the mall is closed to provide a more sensory friendly environment.

Caring Santa provides a more subdued environment to visit Santa and get photos taken. In addition to the mall being closed, they turn off in-mall music, dim the lights and shut down the fountains during the events. They use a numbering system to avoid queue lines. While you wait, there are special activities and stories geared toward the kids, to help them understand what will occur during the visit.

Please RSVP if you can at Learn more about the event on this YouTube video.

To learn more about the event you can also watch this short YouTube video

Gingerbread House Activities in the Bay Area 2013

My kids are begging me for a gingerbread house kit again this year, but every year they start and don't finish it. And then they don't clean up. So I'm looking into other options. Fortunately the Bay Area has many.


The Mandarin Oriental is hosting "ho-ho-ho homes for the holiday" on Saturday, December 14, which includes gingerbread house making from 2-4. Kids get their own aprons and chef hats, decorating gingerbread houses and sugar cookies. For drinking, there's hot chocolate and spiced cider (parents can hit the bar on their own dime). Cost is $60/kid. RSVP at or call (415) 986-2020.

Westin St. Francisco castle
Not for your own making, but check out the Westin St. Francis' sugar castle, one of the country's largest. It's in the lobby through January 3. It resembles a French medieval city and weighs more than 1,300 pounds. It has more than 20 grand circular towers, around 30 rooms, glowing windows and a running train. Not that the kids will care, but you might like that they added the century's past top news makers throughout the castle. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Coming Up: Story time with Rosemary Wells

Fans of Rosemary Wells books should head to Kepler's in Menlo Park on Sunday morning, for a reading of a Max and Ruby book by the author herself. She'll be reading from Max & Ruby's Treasure Hunt and Max's Christmas

When: Sunday, December 8 at 10:30
Where: Kepler's Books at 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park
Cost: Free

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Coming Up: Free Kids' Workshop at The Home Depot - Tic Tac Toe Game

This Saturday, The Home Depot offers its free monthly kids' hands-on workshop. They'll be making a tic-tac-toe game. You'll get a free kit to make, and they'll teach the kids how to do it safely. They'll also get a Home Depot workshop apron and certificate of achievement. 

Who: Kids ages 5-12
When: first Saturday of the month (December 7, 2013) - 9 a.m. to noon (don't come early!) - first come, first served
Where: your local Home Depot
Cost: Free
RSVP: recommended - register here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Give Back Tuesday - Helping Others this Holiday Season 2013

Today is "Give back Tuesday," a national movement following the Thanksgiving spending rush, and a chance to help the less fortunate.

I'll have a few more posts about ways you can give back, through donations this holiday season. But here are some volunteer ideas in which you can involve the kids.

Many opportunities to adopt a family for the holidays, providing them with gifts, funds, or something else to make their lives easier. The Shelter Network is an organization my family volunteered with before (on many occasions) and they have many opportunities to help. Plan a gift drive. Adopt an individual or family. Serve meals. Donate a holiday dinner basket. Learn how to help and sign up here.

Frisco Kids Guide to Holiday Entertainment

There's a ton of great holiday entertainment options out there. I'll do a few posts of holiday entertainment, starting with this one.

Look for holiday shows on Goldstar, where you'll save 50% on ticket prices.

Cirque Dreams Holidaze

When: December 11-15
They have early start times (7 or 7:30 p.m.) and several matinees
Where: Curran Theater, SF
Tickets: here - $45-160 (Goldstar tickets are $60)
Info:  "An international cast of multi-talented and brilliantly costumed artists come to life and perform astonishing feats of disbelief: experience gingerbread men flipping mid-air, toy soldiers marching on thin wires, snowmen daringly balancing, icemen powerfully sculpting, penguins spinning, puppets dancing and reindeer soaring high above a landscape of holiday wonderment.  An original music score and some seasonal favorites accompany hundreds of astonishing costumes and holiday dreams in a setting of gigantic gifts, colossal candy canes and 30-foot towering soldiers, creating a wonderland of spectacle."

Beach Blanket Babylon Holiday Show
When: Wednesdays through Sundays, through December 31, 2013
Where: 678 Green Street, San Francisco
Tickets: get tickets here or by calling (415) 421-4817. Cost is $25-150 depending on location. Most tickets are $25-$56. The higher price are for premium seats.
Info: 21 and over only for evening shows. The holiday show features a chorus line of tap dancing Christmas trees, parodies of traditional Christmas carols, and a huge Yuletide hat.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

When: December 21-January 5
They have early start times (7 or 7:30 p.m.) and several matinees
Where: Curran Theater, SF
Tickets: here - $45-160
Info: The classic story of Belle, a young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast, who is really a young prince trapped in a spell placed by an enchantress.  If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed to his former self. But time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his household will be doomed for all eternity. It features the  animated film’s Academy Award®-winning score.

Some additional discounted shows and entertainment on Goldstar:
Skate Under the Stars - San Jose outdoor rink - $7.50 
San Francisco Nutcracker Ballet - $28-35
San Jose Youth Ballet in the Nutcracker - $10
Cinderella - A Holiday Musical - SF - $10-25
The Muppets Christmas Carol Live Screening - SF - $5
The Snowman and and the Snowdog - Live Screening - SF - $5
The Velveteen Rabbit - SF - $30
The Holiday - "Duck the Halls" Duck tour - SF - $17.50
ACT's A Christmas Carol - $15-78
Disney on Ice - Rockin Ever After - $12.50-39.50 (these are for February to March)
XXMas Smuin Ballet's Holiday Show - $27.50-35.50
A Christmas Carol at San Jose's Olinder Theater - $11
It's a Wonderful Life - Live Radio Play in San Jose - $16.50-22.50
The Snow Queen - in San Jose - $23.50-27

Monday, December 2, 2013

Free Shipping Day

If you haven't bought everything on your holiday list yet, you still have time - with free shipping on Free Shipping Day, December 18th. To participate, companies have to offer free shipping with no minimum order. 

More than 1,000 retailers are expected to sign on for the free shipping day, with gifts guaranteed to arrive in time for Christmas Eve. 

Some companies participating in the past were:: Toys R Us, Babies R Us, FAO Schwartz, eToys, Baby Universe, Avon,, Borders, Footwear Etc., Kmart, Leapfrog, Land of Nod, Macy's, Nordstrom, Petsmart, Ritz Cameras, Sears, Dell, Discover Store, Disney Store, Ebags, Apple Store, American Eagle, and more. 

For a full list of participating retailers, click here.

Frisco Kids Holiday Gift Guide 2013

We' ve been having fun-looking gift ideas for our Frisco Kids' Gift Guide this year.

Personalized sheets - my son recently asked if a company made design-your-own sheets, because he wanted to put a certain song's lyrics on it. I said no company made these. Then I thought about it. What a brilliant idea for a product! Headed over to Google and not surprisingly, I had spoken too soon. You CAN design your own sheets. While I probably won't tell my son this (he has enough sheets already), if you think this is a good idea, here is one company that does it. Many other companies will put photos on sheets or let you design sheets using their patterns and colors.

You may have seen this great commercial from GoldieBlox that went viral online (and recently pulled the Beastie Boys song/lyrics from its ad). It's an awesome ad, and did a great job promoting its toys to encourage girls to be engineers. So here is the GoldieBlox toy, GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine. It comes with a book and construction set. Read more about the background of GoldieBlox toys.

Unclutterer has a great list of kids' gifts that help them become better organized. And they're fun too. Like a t-shirt that helps kids learn how to fold by making great designs on the back as they do so. A chalkboard laptop, swoop bag for cleaning up toys, doodle tablecloth, and crayon ammo belt.

They Draw and Travel maps are adorable and a great way to teach your kids about different places. Their new book Maaaps has 19 hand-drawn maps by Aunyarat Watanab, including 18 international cities or countries and one of Mars. If you look through the website, you'll see maps from all kinds of places made by various artists. You can buy maps printed in various sizes and the artists get 50% of the sales price. Here are some maps of San Francisco by various artists. I love this one below of Big Sur by Nate Padavick. Obviously they are not just for kids!

PRESENTS FOR ADULTS OR KIDS, check out this awesome jewelry my daughter is making, with all proceeds going to Breaking the Chain through Education. The organization is freeing child slaves in Ghana. The kids are sold into slavery by parents who can't afford to educate them and feed them, and think the kids will be getting just that. Instead, the kids are worked really hard (and often in dangerous jobs), getting very little to eat and little to no education. The group has already rescued 30 child slaves, and sent them back to their families, with continued support with food and social work assistance.

Not all the jewelry shown here is available on the Dori Jewelry Etsy site currently, but it can be ordered with quick shipping by email (dorijewelry (at) gmail (dot) com). She's doing a holiday fair this week so some items haven't yet been added to the site in anticipation of the fair. She makes necklaces, earrings, beaded bracelets, chip bag bracelets, and eyeglass chains. She will do custom pieces at no additional charge. Shipping is $3.50 for up to three items.

I have a list of mostly quirky gifts that looked like fun. Like these Star Wars Darth Vader cuff links

And these Star Wars Storm Trooper cuff links.

They have a lot more Star Wars cuff links designs.

I recently bought this exact Nespresso machine and I LOVE it. I don't have the frother that you can buy with it (it's extra) but do use a $3 IKEA immersion frother I got a a few years ago. The espresso and espresso drinks I make with it are SO good and so easy too.

Williams Sonoma is offering a mushroom log where you can grow your own shitake mushrooms. It caught my eye.

For the person who has everything, or a foodie who loves Instagram, check out these Instagram photo marshmallows! Here's the Boomf company link.

Bed Bath and Beyond is selling awesome state-shaped cutting boards for $19.99. The California one is available at California stores, but you can other states online. I couldn't easily copy the California photo, so you're stuck with New Jersey at right. But here's the link to the California shaped bamboo cutting board from Bed Bath and Beyond.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Frisco Kids Holiday Book Gift Guide for 2013

We're big book lovers in our family, so we thought we'd share some favorites to consider for this year's gifts - not just for the kids too!

We recently reviewed Exploralab, which is created by the Exploratorium. This would be a great gift for those kids who like experimenting and have a sense of curiosity about the world. The book is aimed at kids and has things to pull out and use during the experiments. Read more of the Exploralab review here.

For the comic lovers, consider Justice Angel Comic, especially since its heroine is a Chinese girl.

LEGO Space Book - My kid loves LEGOs so much, he has (and built himself) the LEGO Death Star. So I was excited to get a copy of LEGO Space to review. This is not an official LEGO book, but authors Reid and Goddard make intricate custom LEGO models and use them to tell a story of exploration and intrigue. They go on a voyage form Sputnik to a future space-faring civilization.

In addition to the model pictures, it also includes building instructions so you can make some of them at home. LEGO is also going to produce (and sell) the Exo Suit which is featured in the book, in 2014. This is only the 6th fan-created model the company has created. The book came out in November. It's a beautiful, big colorful book.

LEGO Adventure Book - This one looks really good too.

If you're looking for puzzle books, check out the Rich Rollo Number Cross Puzzles. I reviewed it here, along with the Ballpark Mystery series by David Kelly. There's even one set in San Francisco. Read my son's reviews of the Ballpark Mysteries here. Ballpark Mysteries is good for the 9 and under crowd.

We've become big fans of Dan Gutman's Genius Files books. And while we read the first Templeton Twins book, Templeton Twins Have an Idea, we're eagerly anticipating the next one, The Templeton Twins Make a Scene. I see it came out in October! My 10 year old loved these books, and to be honest, I did too.


I just got Allison Winn Scotch's latest novel The Theory of Opposites on my new Kindle. I've reviewed her books before (here's another review) and interviewed her here. Her latest was just optioned by Jennifer Garner's production company. It's getting great press and I can't wait to read it. It's a novel, if you haven't figured that out already.

My travel writing friend Mara Gorman recently published The Family Traveler's Handbook, with lots of stories from parents about how to successfully travel with kids, how to plan for your trip and making the most of road trips. She looks at camping, choosing hotels and resorts, the best ways to plan an itinerary, maintaining kids' routines on the road, eating out with the kids, safety issues, challenges for different stages kids are in and how to deal with them, and a huge resource section with tons of valuable tools for family travel.

Another family travel writer, Collen Lanin of Travel Mamas, also published a travel guide this year - The Travel Mamas' Guide: How to vacation with babies and children...and stay sane. We're quoted in there! It has lots of tips and helpful hints from real-world parents about airplane travel with kids, road trip activities for keeping kids engaged on the road, the types of toys to pack, and more.

For new or expecting parents, this is a thought-provoking book about Read my review of The Business of Baby here. It's a thoroughly researched book that looks into vaccines, pregnancy diets, fetal monitoring, ultrasounds and other testing, C-sections, circumcision, potty training and many more issues important to a child's early life. I don't necessarily agree with all of Margulis's conclusions, but it made me think and question more than I have before, and that to me is a sign of a good book.
Read an interview with author Jennifer Margulis here.

If you're a fan of Chronicle Books, they're having an online friends and family sale (you're included) with 35% off and free shipping through December 5. Use code FRIENDS.

Whiskey Women - The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey by Fred Minnick. Doesn't the title alone make you want to read this book, even if you're not a drinker? The book looks at specific women involved in the business, and is getting rave reviews from the likes of Esquire and American Way magazine, as well as those in the industry.

Coming Up: Local Holiday Crafts at the San Francisco Bazaar

I love quality quality craft fairs, and the SF Bazaar looks like a good one. It's one of the longest running craft fairs in the Bay Area. More than 200 designers, crafters, artists and food companies will sell their handmade goods. This one features only local Bay Area artists, plus some nonprofits like La Cocina, the SF Public Library, SF Youth Employment Coalition and others.

What will you see: clothing, jewelry, paper goods, bath/body products, fine art, ceramics, housewards and food. See pictures of what's for sale here. And a full vendor list here.

Plus, there's a DIY section where you can make cards, jewelry, screen print and wrap presents. If you're one of the first 200 people in the door either day, you'll get a tote bag with goodies and a limited edition print.

When: December 7-8 from 11-6
Where: Concourse Exhibition Center - East Hall (620 Seventh Street, at Brannan)
Cost: free

For photos of products that will be sold at the show visit our flickr page: 
A full list of vendors is available here: