Monday, December 30, 2013

TRAVEL San Francisco: Touristy Things to do in San Francisco

It took me nearly 40 years to get myself some good, quality time in San Francisco.  When I finally got there, I really wanted to do some typical touristy things.  I wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Ferry Building, I wanted to go to Coit Tower and Ghiridelli Square, and I wanted to see a Redwood tree.  I did all of those things and much, much more!  I still feel like I haven't scratched the surface in SF yet though, and even after a few solid trips to the Bay Area, I'm always thinking about the next visit.

So anyway, I decided to share my favorite tourist attractions in SF. 

Alcatraz - Definitely plan a visit to the notorious "Rock," where you can stand in the prison cells of notorious criminals like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly.  Surrounded by the freezing water of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was believed to be inescapable. Get a ferry from Pier 33 to the island, and visit for either self guided or formal guided tours.  You'll walk up to the prison buildings and tour the cell block, exercise yard and other locations.  Besides being a popular tourist attraction, the island is also a historic site, and is operated by the National Park Service. Tickets during peak season can be hard to get, so plan ahead!

Coit Tower -  to get a bird's-eye view of the city, you'll want to venture to the top of Telegraph Hill, to the Coit Tower.  Built in 1933, some say the 210-foot tower resembles a fire-hose nozzle that stands as a tribute to firefighters.  You can take an elevator all the way to the top, or if you're feeling it, challenge yourself to take the nearly 400 steep steps up and down.

Ferry Building - The Ferry Building marketplace is open all week, and everything you could possibly want to eat will be there.  Amazing coffee, cured meats, burgers, biscuits, fresh seafood galore!  Try some tasty crab at Slanted Door, anything at Boulette’s Larder — it’s hard to go wrong. If you happen to be there on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, you’ll get to experience the famous farmer’s market, which is among the best in the U.S.

Fisherman's Wharf - if you're in search of food, shops, entertainment, and waterfront views, a visit to the Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 is a no-brainer.  Clam chowder in a bread bowl is a must have, or just sit and people watch as street performers of all kinds do their thing, though I've heard people complain that the street performers haven't changed in years. Either way, it's still an entertaining experience.  This is also where you'll find hundreds of lively sea lions on the marina's western docks.

The Golden Gate Bridge - The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the strait between San Francisco and Marin County. The bridge has become an internationally recognized symbol of San Francisco and CA, and is one of the most photographed bridges in the world. Its famous red-orange color was chosen to make the bridge more easily visible through the thick fog that frequently shrouds the bridge.  You can drive, bike or walk over it, and you can pretty much catch a view of it from everywhere in the city.

Muir Woods - one of my very favorite tourist attractions, Muir Woods National Monument was established in 1908 to protect a redwood forest from destruction.  The trees' ages range from 400 to 800 years, their height up to 250 feet.  It is truly a spectacular, awe-inspiring sight.  Flat easy trails loop through the groves, you can make this stop for a quick scenic walk, or hike the numerous trails for a few hours.  Tour buses routinely visit Muir Woods, or you can take a drive and park at the entrance.

Cable Cars - the trolleys operate today as more of a tourist attraction, though many residents say that they actually use them daily.  They're definitely worth the experience. They're a fun, unique ride, running between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf. A a nice day, prepare to wait for a ride, and to get the best experience, be sure to stand on the running boards!

Lombard Street - located between Hyde and Leavenworth streets, Lombard Street is what's known as the world's "crookedest" street, though it's actually neither the crookedest or steepest in SF.  With eight hairpin turns to reduce the hill's steepness, Lombard Street has a speed limit of 5 mph, and is lined with flowered walkways -- and throngs of picture-snapping tourists. Photo ops are best from the bottom looking up. 

Chinatown - the tourist section of Chinatown is mainly along Grant Avenue, from Bush to Broadway.  There are 24 blocks of crowds, packed densely with shops, markets and restaurants.  Be sure to make a pit stop for some authentic dim-sum.  And don't miss the Golden Gate Cookie Factory, where apparently, every day, two women make over 20,000 fortune cookies by hand. 

What's your favorite tourist attraction in San Francisco?  What have I missed?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

anchorman is my motivation. you stay classy, bloggers.

So I looked at my clock at like 11 something and PROMISED myself that by noon I would get off the computer and stop procrastinating and get shit done!  So far I have been on Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, BuzzFeed... basically everywhere but the places I need to be.

Last night I wrapped about six presents.

I only have 991 left to wrap!  Wahoo!!  Progress!

Seriously.  What is wrong with me?  I am never so sluggish during the holidays!  I cannot get my shit together and make it all happen this year for some reason.  It better all magically come together like some Christmas fucking miracle.  I think it will.  I have faith.  It did snow.  That's a Christmas fucking miracle, right?  Do you think it's rude to say Christmas fucking miracle?

So crap, it's already after noon.  I lied to my own self. It's practically half past noon.  I am shocked.  Shocked!  Where does the time go?!  

And on a completely unrelated note, apparently Phil Robertson made some anti-gay remarks in a GQ article and everyone in social media is having a fit about it and he is being made to take a "break" from Duck Dynasty.  I feel that it needs to be discussed but I just don't have to time to get into it right now.

At least I showered.  Maybe I will go to the mall tonight and go see Anchorman.  That will be very relaxing.  And I could really use some movie popcorn.  Here is the the deal.  If I can wrap 11 presents, I can go to the mall and see Anchorman.  That shit is happening people!  I am doing it!  Wait, if I wrap 11 presents, and order 4 presents, I am going to Anchorman!  Hold on, wrap 11, order 4 and mail 2 packages!  That is the real deal.  And go to the pharmacy.  Because I really need a refill on my prescription.  If I do all of those things, I will reward my good behavior and go see the movie I have been waiting to see all year.

OK.  Now I really do want to go see that movie.  Before I wrap, order and mail though, I better check on movie times... let me just go on

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

really? it's wednesday again?

WTF it's Wednesday again, and here I am!  Blogging like the blogger I am!  Who knew?

I have no business sitting down in front of the computer right now.  I am currently looking at my chalkboard countdown to Christmas, and it's mocking me.  It's like " you do know that it's 7 days til Christmas, dumbass!"  

OK, it doesn't really say dumbass, but I'm sure it means it.  Because the reality is, I have only wrapped about 12 out of 997 presents so far.  And I have not made ONE Christmas cookie.  I have not mailed ONE Christmas card.  I am a massive, horrifying Christmas slacker.

In my defense, my Christmas cards have not yet arrived.  What the heck is taking them so long?!!!  At this rate, I'll be lucky if they get to people before Santa comes to town.  I feel so crappy because Victoria's picture isn't on the cards.  Maybe that makes me a bad host mom :(  The problem was that I had it done and set on Thanksgiving before she came to live with us!  On the plus side, Victoria's Christmas ball came yesterday and she hung it on the tree, so yay!  My status as a decent host mom should hopefully be restored to good standing.

Also in my defense, I am sick!  I have a dumb cold!  I totally blame Ali and her germy family.  Ali had strep throat last week and I took a picture of her germy throat with my phone, because I'm weird like that I guess.  I can't talk, my voice is all hoarse and barky.  I'm all congested and stuff.  So, wah.  It's very hard to want to get out of bed and bake and  wrap and shop til I drop when I am hacking up a lung and feeling generally junky.  Incidentally, isn't it kind of funny when you lose your voice and you have to whisper at people, they whisper back?  I kind of like that...  

And ALSO in my defense, it's snowed!  A lot!  I'm not complaining or anything, because I absolutely love a snowy Christmas season.  I love this time of year, I really really do.  It finally feels like Christmas with snow on the ground and cold, frosty weather, and red rosy cheeks.  I love it.  But.  But, snow means school cancellations and delays.  Which of course means, cramps in my shopping and wrapping style.   How in the heck am I supposed to shop for hours on end in a blizzard with kids at home bouncing around instead of snug at their desks at school?  Sheesh.

So, yeah.  I'm sitting here on the computer.  Procrastinating and looking at awkward cat gifs, bark-laughing by myself like a dummy.  Then, just to balance myself, crying til my nose runs literally to my chin at super sad restore-your-faith-in-humanity dog rescue videos.  Jeez.  Good thing my video cam isn't on or anything.  Nobody needs to see this.

Well.  I guess I should go.  I really have to make a plan of action for what is left of this day.  And I also have to play Candy Crush and Words.  Did I say that out loud?

TRAVEL: What to Bring in Your Carry-on

I'd definitely advocate for traveling with only a carry on, which helps in avoiding the long processing lines you typically wait o while checking a suitcase, and also to avoid the potential hassle of lost luggage.  However, we don't always have that option.  Packing a carry-on bag is a combination of art and science.   Your carry-on bag is the only item guaranteed to get to your final destination with you, so pack the things you'll need during the flight and any essentials that will make dealing with lost luggage easier.

Most airlines allow you to bring one personal item, such as a purse or briefcase, and one carry-on bag.  The best way to organize your carry on bag is to separate your needs into three categories: Absolute Needs, Basic Needs and Comfort Needs.

Absolute Needs are, obviously, the things that you absolutely need and could not function without if your luggage was lost in transit.  Tickets and medications are two of the most crucial items to keep in your carry-on.  This includes prescription medicine or medical supplies, travel documents such as drivers license, passports, boarding papers or tickets and confirmation details for flights and accommodations.  A phone charger is also typically a necessity.

For your Basic Needs, it's wise to pack a change of underwear, a simple outfit and something to wear to bed in case your luggage doesn't make it to your destination.  Of course you can buy clothing as needed, but having the basics helps tremendously while you are trying to track down your lost suitcases. I also pack travel sized toiletries, such as deodorant, toothpaste, soap, etc, and a small makeup bag for freshening up.  Valuables, such as jewelry, money, money orders, electronics and headphones should also be in your carry on to avoid theft.  

As for Basic Comforts, knowing that you cannot control the temperature on a plane, and you can't predict whether your flight is going to be overly warm or overly chilly, a jacket or sweatshirt is wise to bring along. 
A light blanket or pillow is also nice to pack to help you keep comfortable during the flight. In preparation of potential boredom, pack these items for entertainment: a book or magazine, an iPod for listening to music (or for drowning out crying babies or noisy seat-mates) a few light snacks, water and gum.

Consider the length of your flight, and how long you'll be away when packing your carry-on. You most likely won't be served a meal. A few of your favorite snacks will make a long flight more enjoyable. The longer your flight, the more books, magazines and electronic equipment you'll probably need to pass the time. It also helps to be familiar with the security regulations for transporting liquids and potentially hazardous items. With careful planning, you can avoid baggage fees and have a more enjoyable travel experience both in flight and on arrival.

Monday, December 16, 2013

TRAVEL San Francisco: How to Navigate BART

BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transit, is a safe, reliable and fast public transportation system in San Francisco.  For over 40 years, BART has connected the San Francisco Peninsula with Oakland, Berkeley, Fremont, Walnut Creek, Dublin/Pleasanton and other cities in the East Bay.

I found BART to be a very user friendly system, as well as an inexpensive way to get around the city, but some people get confused and panicked with public transportation, imagining trying to navigate the different lines.

First, do a little homework!  Look over the map and figure out where it is that you need to go and which line you need to take to get there.  Also, don't be afraid to ask a friendly looking passenger for a little help if you're confused.  Not all BART passengers are as cranky and aloof as they look.

In my opinion, BART fares are average as a form of public transportation.  Fares are based on how far you travel. To check fares, visit the Fare Calculator. Discounted tickets are available , and kids four and under ride free. BART tickets are plastic, basically like a credit-card with magnetically encoded value.  Fare gates automatically deduct trip fares from the stored fare value on ticket.  It certainly is an eco friendly alternative to driving, and it'll save you a bundle on the super high gas prices and parking rates that you're going to find in the city. 

I have an awesome app called HopStop, which has always been super helpful in being prepared for riding BART.  The app provides directions via subway, (and bus, regional rail, walking, and/or bicycle). It also offers multiple route suggestions, schedules for hundreds of trains, and official transit maps for many cities including, but not limited to, the Bay area.  You'll never get lost again! 

Friday, December 13, 2013

the last word, v12

People Magazine has this feature thing on the last page of their magazine.  On the last page, they have a feature called the last word (so clever!) where a celebrity answers a few questions on some of the last things they've done.  So even though I'm not a celebrity or anything (wait. what?!), I'm going to go ahead and answer the questions.  Because, why not?

The last time I was moved to tears, like, besides every day tears?  Hm.  I'm thinking they meant like, in the emotional sense, like something tugged at my heart and made me have a little well... I'm drawing a blank!  Probably because I am a wimpy crybaby whenever I get in my own head, which is like always, but I've been too busy to have time to think lately!  The last time I can honestly remember being moved to tears by something that got me in the heart was unexpectedly reaching into a pocket and finding this satiny piece of ribbon... I know it sounds so dumb, but it was a surprising little jolt and it reminded me of something that made me sad.

The last home project I did, well, does like, Christmas decorating count??  Because that took a really long time this past weekend!  Or like, bedroom shifting was pretty huge recently.  That was a home project and a half!  Every kid moved bedrooms and it took forever - ugh.  That's like four bedrooms filled with crap that needed to be emptied, cleaned and reassigned!  Thankfully I have a teenager with muscles who can lift and carry and heavy things all over the place.  

The last time I laughed hard was listening to Alex try to speak Norwegian.  He sounded so silly trying to get the inflections right and he was making weird faces while he was doing it.  It just made me laugh really hard.

The last text I sent was: #stillherebutsweatingmyassoff, which was pretty much just goofiness.  We were basically hashtagging everything we were saying, just being silly, and he had asked me if I was still at the dumbass mall shopping.

The last game I played was Candy Crush.  Because I am a freak and I am addicted to that idiotic game.  Like only a freak would be.

The last time I danced was at my cousin Dan's wedding.  Which is where I pulled out some serious white girl Beyonce moves.  I never used to dance in public, but I kind of got over it.  Oh, I guess I also did a head bob, sort of slight movement while holding a glass of wine dance at a more recent concert I went to in Woodstock, but that might not actually count as "dancing."

The last time I took a bath was two nights ago.  I love to take baths, especially in the cold months.  And especially at night.  I like to have it really dim and quiet, with the water super hot so it's all steamy.  It's so nice and cozy.  My tub is extra long and extra deep, which I got specifically when we built the house, because I am a huge bath fan.  I can stay in the tub for hours... ahhhh

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

wednesday and slacking and norwegia and christmas...

So today is Wednesday.  Again.  Wootwoot Wednesday?  Sheesh.  Maybe it was a mistake trying to get this blog going again right in the thick of the holidays.  Well.  At least I'm here!  At least I'm not crying and whining and being all mopey!  That is a really good sign, right?

Actually, I am a huge slacker.  Like, huge.  My plan of action for today was to get up and leave to go shopping when I got Brooke to school.  Well.  Somehow, that plan did not come to fruition, and somehow, I ended up here, on the couch, like a bum at 11ish am.  Still in my comfy clothes.  It does not look like I am making it to the mall.  Well, I'll be making to to a virtual mall or two, because, obviously, but I really, really need to get my ass to some stores and get a handle on this Christmas shopping crap.  And I haven't wrapped one present.

Not even one.  My piles are all out of whack.  Like none of them are equal at all and that drives me crazy.  I now have an extra pile.  Oh!  Did I tell you that we now have an exchange student?  Well.  We do.  It was an emergency situation sort of thing.  It wasn't planned at all.  It happened rather quickly.  Like, within a week.  So, yes, we have a new kid in the house, Victoria, from Norway.  

She's a cute little button, a 17 year-old who was having a rough  time with her original host family in another town.  So we'll have her here with us til the end of the school year.  This past week or two has been a whirlwind of paperwork, and school registration, and bedroom set-up, and moving in, and getting settled... it's been super busy.  So far so good though - it seems like it will be a good and natural fit.  It's nice because she is completely fluent in English, so there is really no language barrier at all, though the kids like when she speaks Norwegian.

Alex, Victoria the Norwegian, Brookie and Megan
When he was little,  my son Alex thought Norwegians were from Norwegia.  Like, Norwegia was the country, and not Norway.  That always made me laugh.  He's got Victoria teaching him Norwegian terms and words already and he's actually sounding pretty good!  

This Christmas may be a little out of control with the amount of foreign people in my family room.  Kara is bringing two of her visiting Australian friends home on Christmas Eve, so they'll spend the holiday with us, and we'll already have Norway here.  It will be a full house, let me tell you.  I have no idea where everyone is going to fit.  And I'm semi-overwhelmed with the thought of what to get extra people for gifts... oh well.  It will all be nice I hope.  I better take some extra crazy pills to keep me calm.  I may need to form an escape plan.

So since my plan to shop today went awry, I am definitely shopping tomorrow, off my couch and out into the wild.  But I am also definitely posting.  Because it has to happen.  See you bloggers tomorrow! 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

TRAVEL app happy - favorite travel apps for the iphone

Get Organized!
I used to ­arrive at the airport or car-rental counter frantically searching through a pocket full of wrinkled printouts for my confirmation number and other reservation details. Now, with the TripIt app, they are all consolidated neatly in the palm of my hand. I forward my flight, hotel, and other confirmation e-mails to, and TripIt combines them into one organized itinerary, adding information such as weather, maps, and driving directions. (free)


Pack Like a Pro
Packing Pro is a mobile app made for super list makers. It helps you remember what to pack and can also serve as evidence of what you packed if your luggage were ever lost. You work from one of many sample lists of items to pack, or you can create your own and tick off items as they go into your luggage. It has a handful of other neat features too. ($3 fee)

flight tracker

Be aware!
There is nothing more frustrating than making an hours-long commute to your airport only to find out your flight has been delayed for half a day or cancelled altogether. The Flight Tracker app aims to make this a thing of the past. Now, you can track flights with amazing maps, and receive real-time info on departure info, delays and gate assignments. (free)

gate guru

Airport Info
If you ever have a long connection through Chicago O'Hare, you'll want to know exactly where to go for the best sandwiches. At San Francisco International Airport, there's a yoga room where you can relax and stretch before your next flight. Or the spot in Denver International Airport where you can get a massage. With this app, you'll have all sorts of great tips and lists of services to help you navigate the world's best and worst airports. (free)


Eat Like a Local

Sometimes your only food choices are in a strip mall (and that’s when that Restaurant Nutrition app comes in handy) but sometimes there’s a ­colorful local restaurant just a mile or two off the highway that you would never have known about without the Localeats app. Choose “Nearby” and the app will pull up non-chain spots close to you that are recommended by local food critics. You can even ­peruse menus! (.99)
A Foodie's Best Friend
Perfect for travelers in search of the best restaurants, this app is powered by users' own reviews and pics, making it a foodie's best friend. For each city, users can browse the app's selections alphabetically, by category, rank, and even neighborhood location. You can also search for nearby restaurants on the list based on your current GPS location. (free)

hotel tonight

Last Minute Lodging
If you’re in a U.S. city or London and need lodgings at the last minute, Hotel Tonight offers steep discounts at a selection of luxurious and hip hotels.  Rates are ­announced no earlier than noon the day of check-in. Since rooms sleep just one or two people and you can’t request a specific bed type, this app works only for solo travelers and couples. Many hotels let you stay multiple nights at the discounted rate. (free)


Flight and Hotel Search
Hipmunk may seem like your run-of-the-mill flight and hotel aggregation search app, but it does one cool thing that I haven't seen any other travel app do: It includes non-traditional lodging, such as listings from Airbnb and HomeAway.  Also, the Hipmunk app searches flights based on costs and filters them based on different variables. Hipmunk was designed to help people who are overwhelmed with pages of irrelevant search results. (free)

google translate

Communicate with the locals!
Spanning over 50 languages, Google Translate allows you to translate text between 57 languages, receive translation by speaking into the phone for 15 languages, display translations so that they are easier to read, and much more. This is the definition of a game-changer. (free)


Get to Where You're Going
One of my favorite apps, hopstop provides directions via subway, bus, regional rail, walking, and/or bicycle.  It also offers multiple route suggestions, schedules for hundreds of trains, buses, and ferries and official transit maps for many cities.  You'll never get lost again! (free)