December 28, 2010

Uniquely Japanese New Year

Photo courtesy of Mainichi Daily

These are "shimekazari" -- traditional New Year's decorations made with sacred Shinto rope of rice straw and other ornaments -- in the shape of samurai topknots.

When we lived in Japan you could find versions of these mounted on the sides of buildings and on someone's front door. I will never forget seeing the side of the Meiji-ya Grocery Store building in Hiroo.  Hiroo is a neighborhood filled with embassies and western families.  The Meiji-ya had both western Christmas decorations mixed in with the Japanese. 

I love how uniquely Japanese these New Year's decorations are in their symbols.  Each section is specific in how it relates to the new year, prosperity, good health et al.

What is a little sad is that the skill and knowledge on how to make something like this, is fading within the country.

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu
Otoshi o yoroshiku onegaishimasu



December 14, 2010

Giving Fearlessly: Cleo and the Song of the Sea

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Giving Fearlessly: Cleo and the Song of the Sea

We love taking our dog to the beach. On the edge of town, where the hang gliders soar off of wind swept cliffs, is a wonderful stretch of beach that allows off-leash play for dogs. Our big German Shepherd-Siberian Husky girl loves chasing shore birds and having loads of space to stretch her legs while running across the cool wet sand.

One afternoon, during a rare heat wave, the three of us were enjoying the quiet empty beach. The temperature was mild, which is rare because the cold Pacific Ocean temperatures ensure the need for even a light windbreaker on the sunniest of days. We walked for an hour in almost humid conditions. The warm mist and low tide encouraged my imagination to create a stranded pirate ship just past the breakers.

We didn't see anyone, only a few sand dollars and few birds but I did capture some unusual photos.  This photograph above highlights the special solitude of our beach walk that day and it is a beautiful reminder of the unique relationship between man and dog.

I've read that dogs make us human, and this photo of quiet companionship seems to support that theory. My husband didn't realize that I had captured this wonderful moment. He was enjoying the walk with our dog too much to pay that much attention to what images I was snapping my lens at. When we got home and I saw this amazing moment captured, I knew it would have to become a gift.

A few months later, after I turned this photo into a canvas, it was wrapped and under our Christmas tree.  To my husband's surprise and delight, it became one of the best gifts I've ever given him.  He has it hanging today near his desk as a reminder of how fortunate we are to live where we do and to have found such a wonderful rescue dog at the SPCA.

Learn more about the coolest new app that revolutionizes the whole shopping, gifting, and gift card-organizing experience and Download the SWAGG app to your iPhone or Droid. I was selected for this sponsorship by Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity.

More info about Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C)

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December 11, 2010

Another side to San Francisco

Recycling that is often condemned but rarely seen in daylight
Here is one side of the green movement in San Francisco that you don't see very often, at least not in daylight.  Residential neighborhoods regularly get men and women walking the streets and plucking cans and bottles from public and private trash cans.  They carry their bags this way or if part of a larger crew, they will covertly meet up with a truck parked or idling further down the street.

December 8, 2010

Traveling with Dogs - Wordless Wednesday

Canine Cargo or Puppy Passenger?

December 3, 2010

November 30, 2010

Family Poetry: Honoring Loretta

My amazing grandmother
My grandmother died exactly 35 years ago today.  I think of her often and wish we had time together now.   She had such stories to tell.  Her travels to Asia in the 1920s are only documented by a few photos. 

As a young girl I recognized and appreciated her spirit of adventure and independence. She knew how to live in the moment and create her home wherever she lived.  Through her I learned to create a feeling of home anywhere I set my shoes.

My great-aunt Molly wrote the following poem honoring her older sister, my grandmother.

We drove to the marina and parked
On a strange, a dream like day.
The sky was a breath-taking blue,
And a light breeze rippled the bay.

Such beauty pierces the heart,
And we had nothing to say -
For Loretta loved the song of the sea,
And Loretta died today.

November 16, 2010

Japanese Television: Cooking WIth Dog

This YouTube video is what I love about Japan and Japanese television. Talking helpful Poodle? Check. Detailed instructional show with a great name? Check!

This video for Ebi Fry 海老フライ reminds me how I miss Japanese television and the delicious prepared foods I could buy at the Peacock or Seifu grocery stores.

November 14, 2010

Amazing Race Still Amazes!

I love the Amazing Race Season 17. From the start it is easy to see why it wins Emmy Awards. Each episode satisfies my love for travel and reminds me how it should be savored and not rushed.

The team members cannot hide who has an intolerant nature. It is clear who among them has never ventured outside their city, let alone the country before. In some ways the show is a promotion for solo travel.  It seems clear who will be divorcing, breaking up or ending a friendship.

I wonder who will travel more after the show ends?

October 24, 2010

Travel Photos Inspire - Shutterfly Holiday Card Collection

This time of year is my favorite. I'm contemplating travel plans for the new year.  I'm culling large photo files.  There is a chill in the air and a fire in the fireplace.. It is also a time to update our address lists and start thinking about what photo we are going to use for our holiday card.

Travel photos are my favorite style for Christmas cards. Exotic locale or big city rooftop, it doesn't matter as long as we've captured one great moment together during our trip – that is harder than it sounds!

Kauai Santa - Christmas in Hawaii
Besides one amazing photo out of hundreds from a trip, I need a beautiful card and holiday stamp to go with it. Each year one of the hardest decisions to make is where to get holiday cards and what design to choose.

This year is different. This year not only are we starting the decision-making process weeks earlier than usual I’ve already got three great ideas from the new Shutterfly holiday cards. This year we can pick up prints at Walgreens, CVS, or Target® stores too.

Right at the top of their best sellers page is the Mod Snowflakes Christmas Cards that I just love. The black background is perfect for us city folk. Its square shape makes it unique and the design simplicity is pure sophistication.

One of the joys of sending our own cards is that we can say Merry Christmas if we like. The Bright Merry Cheer Christmas card is a style that appeals to the spirit of the season. The sentiment is bold and that speaks to our family. I love that the card stock is sustainably forested.

Because we have many friends in other countries, some years we like to send a New Year’s card instead. The Black Border folded card offered under the New Year's Cards selection is perfect. This card is simple but the photo can be vertically or horizontally oriented and the card stock is also sustainably forested.

Do you want 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly? Click here to go to Shutterfly for information on how you can get 50 free cards this holiday season, and make sure to select Clever 1000 as the referral source.

This post is part of a series sponsored by Shutterfly. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

September 14, 2010

Waters Edge in Venice

Our view of the Grand Canal from atop the Rialto Bridge - Venice, Italy

We spent a week in Venice and I often thought about the slow sinking of this beautiful city while walking. It was hard to imagine it being gone completely. The streets are at times very close to the water line, even in the spring when I was there but to have the entire city submerged was beyond me.

Winter months are when it seems one - or at least I as a tourist - would expect to have water overlap the streets. Do you remember the big December 2008 flood photos - with everyone wearing stylish hip-waders?

That winter it was said to be the deepest flood in 22 years. I read in an old Evening Independent that in 1966 both Venice and Florence experienced the worst flooding since the Middles Ages! Even the mayor of Florence was quoted as saying that the Arno River did more damage to the city than the water.

September 8, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Spicy Spain

Casa Gispert - Barcelona

September 4, 2010

Summer has officially arrived in the city

Our warmer temperatures are finally here in San Francisco!  Granted it is Labor Day, as in September not June or July, but this is when our city warms up. September through October are some of the warmest months here.

We hope you come visit our city and if you do, bring you dog. We have lots of parks and watering holes for you and your whole family to enjoy - starting with this one in the photo. Crissy Field in the Presidio of San Francisco is a great destination for first time visitors.

August 18, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - My Bali Memory

View from our driver's windshield - by Sharon Castellanos

August 12, 2010

San Francisco Free Fun - Boudin Bakery at the Wharf

A crunchy crab!
San Francisco can be expensive to live in and to visit. However if you look around there are lots of opportunity to find fun things to do at little or no cost any day of the week.

Sourdough Animals you can eat!

A name synonymous with San Francisco is Boudin's Bakery.  Never heard of them? Have you heard of sourdough bread?  They basically invented it!  Yep, in 1849!

Wild yeasts in the San Francisco air had imparted a unique tang to their traditional French bread, giving rise to “San Francisco sourdough French bread.” Today, the Boudin family's initial recipe lives on in the hands and hearts of our expert bakers, with a portion of the original mother dough still starting each and every sourdough loaf we make.

And the cool thing is that besides their stores and cafes, they have a large main restaurant on Jefferson Street that includes a shop and bakery where you can watch them in action!  They are walking distance from the Argonaut Hotel

It is fun to see and the bakers put on a good show.  During Golden Week, we took our visiting Japanese friends to Fisherman's Wharf and this was one of their favorite photo moments.

Fun and free! Their baker has a mike so you can learn too.
This is free to watch and you can wander around but if it is foggy and cold, like it is so often, you might be tempted to buy their famous clam chowder in a bread bowl.

August 4, 2010

San Francisco Mission District Murals

Mural across the side of a school along Folsom Street in San Francisco

What do you think of when you hear of or read about the San Francisco neighborhood called the Mission? Nowadays the stories are not as centered around the funky shops or even growing high-end rental property and live/work spaces. You don't see constant references to Dave Eggers, McSweeney's or his literacy project 826 Valencia with its Pirate supply store in tandem to each story about the Mission.

This summer what I have been pleased to see on every excursion to the Mission, besides all the colorful people and food - I see beautiful unexpected murals. There are lots and lots of murals all over the Mission District. You can find them on the sides of huge buildings or covering a small transformer box. Look down an alley and see one or along the wall of a play ground you pass by.

It impresses me that the people have the talent to create these large scale works of art. The murals tell a story, often a cultural story or slice of history.  Most of the murals are centered around the Latino community who also make up most of the fabric of the Mission District today.  I love walking down 24th Street from Dolores because from there until well into the Mission, each corner offers me a chance to glimpse this public art.

Recently what made me really excited?  I walked by a group of tourists taking photos of murals. What was once possibly considered graffiti and something to cover an eyesore, has now entered the art world.  To learn more or take a virtual tour, below are several great resources:

Mission Haiku by Gregg Schoenberg - A Polaroid guide To SF's Mission District Written in Haiku
San Francisco Neighborhoods - 24th Street/Mission
Precita Eyes - Murals of the Mission

August 2, 2010

Tokyo Where?

Wow. Now when I look back on my time spent in Japan as an expatriate, I guess it was pretty ballsy.  It was ten years ago. The internet was still a baby, especially in Japan.  Granted we got NTT Dokomo 3G clamshell design "kick ass" cell phones for USD $30 ten years ago but they were only good within the ISLAND known as Japan.

Good luck with that!
However what stopped me short recently, was finding this directory [the image above]. Inside the cover, it tells you in English, what to say and where to call in an emergency.  The directions are in English but they still direct you to say as much as possible in Japanese.  Seriously, they tell you to speak slowly and clearly. If at all possible to speak Japanese using their indicated patterns.  If you cannot make yourself understood properly, do not hang up.
  • Give your address the Japanese way: city, ward, street address and house or apartment number.  
  • Give a nearby landmark for reference - train station or store.
  • Give your name.
  • Give your telephone number.
Don't panic, even if it is a fire or an earthquake or traffic accident. Really? You are in a country where you have no extended family and for Americans, this is a non-Roman language speaking country of people who really don't care for foreign nationals all that much.  Do you know how hard it is to get a working visa?  And everyone gets lost, including cab drivers and local policemen so the landmark idea is a crucial NECESSITY.

On this list, they also have an Emergency Medical Interpretation Service.  This is for when communication problems would otherwise prevent institutions from providing emergency care to foreign nationals.  And as far as the police are concerned, just remember that their focus is on the traffic accident, robbery and ALTERCATIONS.  After having lived there, I can only look back and truly think this is code or translation for public drunkenness.

Finally because I love to end on a high note, if you were to consider living in Japan and you are from the United States.  Their Fire and Ambulance emergency number nationwide is 1-1-9.  Yep, the backwards version of ours.  Arigatougozaimasu!

P.S. Tokyo Doko translated really is Tokyo Where. I added the question mark.

July 11, 2010

Family Ancestry Inspires Travel

My mother's side of the family comes from a long line of hardworking people who lived by the sea.  In 1890 my great great grandfather sailed his ship to Washington state and stayed to raise a family.  Go further back to the 1700s and they could be found in remote areas of Maine and on Orr's Island.

[sketch from family book]

My first job out of college was for the Oceanic Society here at Fort Mason, in San Francisco.  It didn't pay much but one of the benefits was practically unlimited sailing opportunities.  I love being on or near the water.  Early on I only knew of my Washington state family history but a few years ago I was introduced to my great great grandmother.  My great great grandmother wrote a journal for each of her two daughters, and my great aunt's daughter gave me a photocopy.

I read a story of family that tells of hardship on the islands during the Revolutionary War to records of second marriages because of death by scarlet fever or because a spouse was lost at sea while out whaling.  My great great great grandmother could sew an entire sheet by hand in one day!! Keeping a journal is nothing new, only rather than a blog online it was kept on paper with a fountain pen. The copy I have includes watermarks, corrections in the margins and lines crossing out names of deceased or lost family members. 

The stories of early life in this part of our country and the tough women in my family, inspire me to get my butt across the lower 48 to explore Maine.  I've only been to Sabago Lake in Maine so I've got a lot of land and sea to cover.  I think in movies so I'm wondering in my head...will the experience be The Shipping News? Whales of August? Perfect Storm? Moby Dick (Gregory Peck version)??

July 2, 2010

My sister went to Europe and all I got was this sweet story.

My sister went to Europe and all I got was this sweet story.  Thanks goodness.  Truthfully my sister went to Europe and bought loads of souvenir t-shirts that said "My mother went to ____ and all I got was this lousy t-shirt".  However lucky me, they are for her kids and grand kids. Bullet, dodged.

It has been a few days now that everyone returned from the big three week trip.  My ears are burning from all the stories and my brain is trying to keep track of the different versions and who said what.  Here are 10 short highlights:
  • No one died
  • No one broke any body part or needed paramedics or late night pharmacy run
  • They had a great exchange rate for their dollars
  • British Airways didn't stop them at the gate or turn the plane around because of their drinking
  • Everyone took photos - but my mom never took her date stamp off the front of her pictures
  • My sister spent the most money on souvenirs and gifts
  • Except for a little inclement weather in Paris, they had fabulous temperatures
  • My mother stayed in her room to avoid everyone - only on the last day
  • My sister and mother only got into one real fight, over laundry
  • I've got loads of stories and photos to share with the world
 [My sister makes the BEST tourist. She poses, she asks to take photos like this & she buys the tote!]

Funny Family Stories:

My mom got pulled aside at Heathrow during their connection to Paris, for secondary inspection.  She clearly looks suspicious or maybe someone caught her giving her daughter-in-law the stink eye. Anyway she had to go downstairs and have all of her stuff gone through. Even with that, they still made their connecting flight without a problem.  Yeah, taking only carry on for a three week trip, really made a difference.

My brother, the CFO and classically trained nerd, had my mom and sister keeping track of their purchases.  He then had them convert them from Euro to GBP to US dollars and grouped into a dozen or more categories.  When they returned to the US, he had them fill out - in detail - the Customs form with the extra section for overflow items!  Seriously. Why, as my mother would say, "on God's green earth" would they need to give a detailed description of their stuff?  It's not like my sister has a shop in Salinas and she is going to sell those "lousy" t-shirts, or those ten Windsor Castle cloth ornaments my mom bought are going to bring in a tidy "undeclared" profit in Tucson.  Besides, anyone who brings back a few hundred US dollars in souvenirs, simply writes (in the four lines provided) Candy/Cookies $20 Misc Souvenirs $100 Burberry Scarf $175. Done. And you just keep the receipts in a Ziplock or something if the Customs officer asks.  Which of course he didn't.  Because my brother had her so worked up my mom told me three different times how surprised she was when they were just waved through to the exit.  Since he paid for their trip, maybe my brother felt justified and got some strange pleasure from forcing them to do all of that math?

My sister, after eating strawberry tarts and loads of bread and butter, actually lost 11 pounds. Not the GBP kind of pounds but weight.  She called me and was OVER THE MOON with disbelief and joy all mixed together.  All those stairs up and down Notre Dame, Edinburgh Castle and Arc de Triomphe paid dividends!  Getting up at the crack of dawn to take the train to Versailles before the crowds arrived paid off.  The swollen ankles will soon be a distant memory.  She burned off the daily bottles of Coca Cola and now she is pumped.  I'm so happy for her to see that the classic "burn more calories than you consume" model still works.  Especially since both she and my mom learned first hand that Large - XL on a label in Europe is usually a Small-Medium size for an average American.  Fortunately my mom has a friend she can give that black t-shirt with the crown outlined in sparkles to. Bullet, dodged.

Stay tuned for more family stories....until they stop me.

June 26, 2010

Digital Mama in Europe

Getting my mother a digital camera for her first trip to Europe was my good deed.  She got it early so she could practice shooting pictures and deleting the goofy or overexposed shots.  Being a very cautious lady she was concerned about running out of room on her memory stick. 

Even though we went through an exercise of calculating the average size image and how many would fit on her memory stick, her verbal panic on the phone and general worry of space after being in Europe for three weeks convinced me to buy her a second memory stick.  Clearly she didn't need it but if it made her happy and cost me less than $20, it was a small price to help her focus more on her sight seeing.

Recently I got a postcard from my sister describing her joy at being in Paris and how AWESOME it all was.  She made no mention of my mom or anyone else on the trip for that matter.  Now I have two postcards from my mother.  One is digital that my brother produced off of an iPhone App and the other a traditional card from a Paris gift shop.

She sounds like she is having a good time.  They will "van" to Normandy soon and they had a great river cruise on the Seine.  My religious mother who had many alcoholic family members even went wine tasting.  That is HUGE because she has a clear position on drinking and alcohol of any kind.  I thought she'd keel over in a faint at Thanksgiving several years ago while I had a martini.  

Wine tasting, taking lots of photos and feeling empowered to delete the worst ones - this sounds like my mother really committed to having a good time on the trip.  I can't wait to hear more when they return next week.  In person is always better.

P.S.  Here is my mother SMILING in the gardens at Versailles in France.  Notice her outfit?  Do you think she looks uncomfortable as my sister-in-law implied she would?  Her outfit looks pretty cute & neutral for an over 75 lady. Reminds me of older Japanese ladies I'd see traveling.]

June 24, 2010

Paris is Awesome - My Sister's First Postcard From Europe

My older sister is already half way through her first trip to Europe. After her eye rolling when I saw her last, it was weighing on my mind that she might be not having as good a time as she expected and hoped. Fortunately for me, and you, I have hard evidence now that she is having an AWESOME time.

If you can't read this scan, my sister is clearly EXCITED about Paris.  She climbed the the bell tower in the Notre Dame Cathedral and in Versailles.  She loved seeing the Louve, the Musee d'Orsay and Eiffel Tower.

Her joy at being in Paris and in France period is palpable from this postcard.  I love that she sent this postcard so early in her trip too. She arrived only three days earlier so jet lag must not have been a problem for her.

Want to know what made me really happy too?  She took my advice and printed labels for her postcards.  I knew her handwriting wasn't the most legible so it was a little selfish on my end - hey I wanted to be sure the handlers on that end knew where to send the postcard.  It's happened before where my stepmother addressed a postcard that took months to arrive domestically.  It was returned to her twice because the postmaster could not read the address.

My suggestion for the labels was also so she could be confident that she had all of her friends & co-workers addresses ready and that this stuff wouldn't take up any space.  Remember my sister-in-law in charge of this trip had their packing list stripped to the essentials so they wouldn't check any bags while flying coach.

I did get a phone call on Father's Day from a few members of the group and heard that my sister is also being bold and trying every form of protein in France.  Not sure what she loved but she tried all sorts of meats and even frogs legs.  I'm so proud.  The cutest thing and something that made me love my sister a little more is her closing "Au Revoir!"  If this means she is a little more open-minded and the next time I try to expose my sister to tasty dim sum she tastes it before ordering sweet and sour pork - this was a successful trip and I owe my brother and sister-in-law.

June 15, 2010

Family Travels #5 Bon jour Paris!

How cute do they look? Here are my mom and my sister (cropped because I never asked them if they cared about my showing their faces) in my brother's living room. Want to know how excited they are? My sister asked me to take their photo and my mother smiled in the photo! I know! I wish I could have shared that rare smiling image but you'll have to believe me.

At first I was surprised at these happy faces since my sister was rolling her eyes pretty hard when I arrived an hour earlier.  I wonder.

So here is the first funny part - see the blue tote bag? The initials ZF.  Dig this, my mother - as a form of caution and identity theft I think - used one of our dogs initials!  Yes our dog! Who passed away 30 years ago.  His name was Zorro.

Part of me thinks that she's brilliant, the other part of me thinks she is a little bit crazy - a 1950s, unspoken/suppressed, Cold War style of crazy.  That perspective should make for some interesting comments overheard in Normandy and probably Paris too, if my sister takes notes.

What made me happy more than anything here are the guidebooks in my sister's hands. They are the ones I bought her to keep as mementos - and she brought them with her!

Now the other funny thing here, my sister-in-law claims my mom refused to pack her suitcase "properly".  This means according to my sister-in-law that my mom is only able to take half the amount of clothes as my sister-in-law, because my mom bunched her stuff up and is taking sneakers that are too big.  Hmm. I didn't get a chance to see the inside of her suitcase, so I can't really comment on that judgement.  Also again, my mom has an unusual thought process and comfort level.  She may come out of this with only very happy memories about her wardrobe.  I will find out the gory details at the end of the trip when I see my mom's suitcase then and hear her recap.

My sister-in-law also criticized my mom's beige suit in the photo, and how dirty it will become.  Again I can't comment because in reality, it could go either way - I can't call that one definitively. No point given to either side.

Today is Tuesday, June 15 and they are in Paris due to leave first thing tomorrow Wednesday to Normandy. Since they are a party of six my brother decided to hire a car to take them from Paris and to ferry them all around the sights of Normandy, France.  They leave Friday night on a train from Lille to London.

I can't wait to get my first email or e-card.  My brother made my mom leave her cell phone here with me - I guess I shouldn't expect any late night calls from her starting with "Guess where I am?"

May 28, 2010

Family Travels - Final push out of the nest and into the air

My sister is like these daisies. Sweet and happy looking, with bright open faces.  With her first big trip out of the country almost here, we spent one more day together for final purchases.

She has been told that she can take jeans now so she wants a new pair. I thought of steering her in the direction of those Not My Daughters Jeans at Nordstrom.  With her figure they might be the most flattering.  I want to minimize her "freshman traveler" look.  However she could not be convinced.  Instead she got two pairs of Style&Co jeans at Macys, a brand she currently was wearing.

Fine, I gave up.  What I did convince her to buy was a pair of socks for the plane.  They are the therapeutic socks that will keep her blood from pooling in her ankles during the long flight.  She doesn't know where she is sitting so she could be stuck in the middle of a row for hours at a time.

We also decided that she should get a neck pillow. REI had one for $20 that was a simple deflatable model that also had a nice soft fleece cover to it.  This will support her neck if she falls asleep, which I doubt she is too excited.

My work is over now. I have given her maps and books, advice and a list of her favorite foods in French. She swore to me that she would take notes or at least try really hard to remember the good stuff that happens between everyone.  I love anecdotal moments the most.

I know that the dynamic and differences between the six of them has to be fodder for some sparks during meal time at least.  At most, we will have a melt down by one of them at some stage.  It's three weeks together

Now I guess I will just sit back and wait to hear how it all goes down when they all return. I am going to be on pins and needles until the end of June!

May 26, 2010

May 25, 2010

Plan Your Staycation this Summer

Relaxing Home Retreats

Staycations have become more popular as vacation savings shrink or dry up completely like so many have over the past few years. Granted for some of us travel that involves a plane ticket is a luxury any year.  The high price of gas might also mean this summer we stay even closer to home.

One alternative to feeling like a prisoner is to choose how you spend your vacation.  You can put all the same time and attention to detail, as you would a trip to London.  My sister has maps and books galore to look through before her European trip with my brother and mother.  Why not apply the same excited attention to your staycation?

Consider these tips:
  1. Decide on a theme: you go to Paris and your time there is all things French.  Maybe you want a spa vacation at home. 
  2. Prepare your home: you make a packing list for your suitcase, do the same at home. Plan what you want to have around you and clear out the clutter.
  3. Unplug!  When you travel overseas you often cannot communicate with friends until you get home. Do the same here.
  4. Bring a book:  You take your books & magazines on the plane or to the beach, do it here. Cut back (or keep off) the television and computer and have some fun reading material! If you are a member try Costco otherwise, check out your local library.
  5. Favorite Foods: You go to new places to try their food and experience their culture.  Consider picking up some new and exotic meals or ingredients to make dishes you have always wanted to try. Be adventurous!
Don't forget that this should be a getaway even if you are at home.  We tell ourselves we won't call into work or check emails when we have spent all this money to take a plane somewhere, be good to yourself and make that pledge here. 

Relax and enjoy yourself this summer because I imagine time will fly and soon enough you will be day dreaming in your cubicle about next year.

May 23, 2010

Brad Pitt and Tokyo Subways Make a Great Study Tool

Riding the subways and trains in Tokyo can not only get you from point A to point B but they also provide you with time to learn.  The few years we spent living in Tokyo, we did everything but drive.  We walked, rode our bikes, Rollerbladed, took taxis, rode the bus, subway, train and Shinkansen. We also rode in other peoples cars as passengers.

As you can see here, I collected many of the subway passes.  This one for about $10 was typical Japanese - cute and adorable image of a puppy. I can't tell you how many of these I brought home as keepsakes.

Usually my time spent on a train was trying to read the posters and listening to the announcements. As I studied Japanese, one of my favorite study tools was to read the movie posters on the train. I learned that all foreign words are spelled in katakana.  Once I started to learn katakana it was fun to translate popular movie titles like Eyes Wide Shut.

The worst time I had was with the movie poster for What Lies Beneath. It is a mystery movie starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer. For some reason I kept thinking that "lies" was "rice", which made no sense when I stared at the images on the movie poster.

The next time you are on a train or bus in another country, look around.  You might surprise yourself with what you can read and learn about the place you are visiting.  You might see a celebrity like Brad Pitt selling Edwin Jeans or Boss coffee in a can.

May 2, 2010

Shanghai Secrets Learned Just in Time for Expo 2010

One of my travel destinations that is near the top of my list is China, all of China. My Labor Day weekend spent in Hong Kong years ago only whet my appetite for more. Living in San Francisco, with our huge Chinatown and all of its people, restaurants and shops, keeps me thinking about planning a trip back too.

Today I just found out that the International Expo in Shanghai has begun. The newspapers and internet have in-depth coverage of the city and the Expo 2010. All I can is WOW, now I really need to plan a trip. I've always been interested in seeing Shanghai and its old neighborhoods. Remember the Spielberg movie, Empire of the Sun? It was so dramatic and captured my imagination forever!

It wasn't set in Shanghai but Bertolucci's The Last Emperor was the other huge movie (9 Oscars!) that made me want to know more about China and its history. There is a lot to learn about this city. I can see why it has been the setting for lots of well-known novels and movies. Did you ever see the famous movie Shanghai Express (1932) starring Marlene Dietrich?

Expo 2010

Behavioral adjustment squads have been deployed in Shanghai just in time for the many millions of expected foreign visitors. They sound more interesting than scary to me for some reason, certainly a reminder than one isn't in a regular democratic society. Their role is to be at metro stations urging people to stand to the right on escalators, to discourage spitting, line-jumping, pushing and shoving. Reports say that all of those habits are indelibly Shanghainese even if the government wants them to suddenly disappear.

These squads are also tasked with encouraging diners to take home restaurant leftovers, something that makes me happy since I know this is not so common in many cultures outside of the US. The squads will penalize smoking in public too, also a job I'm hoping remains permanent. My years in Tokyo probably scarred my lungs for life! I can't forget sitting down for dinner in a restaurant with an ashtray next to my fork! Then having neighboring diners stop mid-bite to take a drag off their smoldering cigarette. Bleck.

Pajamas in Public - Something I see around my neighborhood in San Francisco is apparently a well loved and well known habit in Shanghai, wearing pajamas in public and not just by the teen crowd. Ladies will match their handbag to their best pajamas for their shopping excursions! And maybe a not so attractive vision is those of the old men who like to wear only boxers out on the streets. Well, the Behavior Adjustment Squad will be out politely encouraging residents not to wear their pajamas in public, especially now that the Expo is here.

Most Desired Exhibit I Want to See at the Expo - The Dandalion! Okay that isn't what it really is but doesn't it look like one?!

April 29, 2010

Family Travel - Shopping Day With My Sister

I recently spent a day shopping with my sister. She has a long list of what she can take on her trip in June. Since it is my brother making the list, he has made sure to impress upon her that she should not deviate at all or face his wrath. For reals, whatever. He is older than her by a year, what is he going to do? She can take him anyway, at least I'd bet on that.

Anyway this list has my sister in a tizzy and so we decided to get together and see what we can accomplish. This turned out to be a good thing because she easily got distracted and I tended to refocus her on sale items so she'd stay on budget. She has time and since she lives in a town that sells more Wrangler jeans than packable travel pants, I figured she should head to the big city of San Francisco.

We started at Costco but struck out except for a box of Handi-wipes that she can take instead of liquid Purell which thrilled her. She just learned the 3-1-1 concept from TSA. Then we moved on to REI where we found a great backpack! This is one of my favorite outdoor stores. They have equipment for skiing, hiking, cycling, kayaking, you name it!

Don't tell her I told you, but at the front of the store my sister saw these miniature tents on the walls. She thought they were for dogs! Seriously! I snorted I laughed so hard. These Barbie size tents were just displays, with tags that detailed the available dimensions, how many they could sleep etc. It was a pretty funny moment and a reminder that she is a travel newbie.

At REI we decided to go with the JanSport backpack that had great shoulder straps (with soft silicone gel inserts!) and deep deep pockets. In the main pocket she can fit a pair of shoes, pants and shirt plus her camera and other gear with no trouble at all. It also has three other pockets for spreading out her magazines, hand-wipes and snacks. She can also fit this pack under the seat in front of her on the plane.

Here is a pack similar to what she got:

We didn't find any clothes or shoes for her there but we definitely looked and tried on several for fit and feel. Actually trying on travel style clothes got her excited all over again. It was cute. She loved the idea and feel of the shirts that take little effort to wash and don't wrinkle. She tried on shoes but they only had the hiking shoes which she didn't need.

We moved on to our final destination Nordstrom. They are well known for starting out as a shoe store in Washington State. The service and merchandise is worth checking out. We hit the restroom there and got lucky when we walked out and into the department we were looking for! Encore has their larger sizes for all the major brands including Eileen Fisher. That was a good sign. She loved discovering the Foxcroft brand that include wrinkle free shirts. She got one of these:

My sister wanted to make sure she had comfortable and well fitting clothes if she was going spend the money. We were there two hours. After trying on several style shirts and pants, we hit the jackpot when we found a knit top that she loved on sale. It fit well and Nordstrom had the second neutral color of navy ordered from another store and sent to her house directly. Love that service! So with the Foxcroft shirt and two pants we were almost done.

Before we left for home, we stopped at the lower level to check out the walking shoes. My brother specifically said she cannot wear sneakers. The salesperson put my sister into a pair of Munro shoes, basic black with velcro to make it easy on her. I know she is going to be worn out! This is the pair we decided on:

Aren't they cute? She will test them at work before we decide on the second pair. Besides all the advice, my parting gifts to her included two guidebooks and a map. She is so excited about this trip that she was anxious to get guidebooks that had lots of pictures and tips. They would be her souvenirs and part of the trip planning buildup.

Laminated Streetwise London map (a basic that won't die in your bag or tear)

This 2010 Eyewitness London Guide (she is here the longest so this made sense)

Top 10 Paris Guide (she is here for only a few days, so why not just the highlights?!)

I could have peeled her off my ceiling when we got back to my house and she did a show and tell for my husband. It is hard to imagine that my first time abroad was [gasp!] 25 years ago while still in college.

April 26, 2010

Unexpected Roadtrip: Richmond VA to LA

My 25 year old niece drove herself along with her surprise passenger, from Richmond Virginia along the southern route of the US before dropping her passenger off in Los Angeles. Since this sort of cross country trip is something that I have always wanted to try, I asked her to document her drive.

Her surprise passenger was her brother. He surprised her and everyone else in the family when he took a few days off work and jumped on a plane to make the drive with her. It was sweet and we all were happy that he rode shotgun.

I'm not sure if it is because I grew up in a law enforcement household or what, but I never would have considered taking that drive on my own. However I can tell you many friends of mine from the East Coast and Midwest have driven across country multiple times without any problems.

One of these days though, my plan is to follow Route 66 at least from end to end and document it. Then I could stay at the WigWam Motel in Arizona! Our theme song could be Johnny Cash, I've been everywhere man.

Okay I digress, this post is for my amazing niece and her roadtrip back to California! The Golden State and all of the family welcomes her return! Too bad she is focused on her career in the restaurant industry, these photos aren't bad - take a look along with her comments...

My brother and I stopped at Marlowe's Ribs and Restaurant in Memphis. It's right down the street from Graceland, and had some awesome BBQ.

Crazy snow storm in New Mexico/Arizona! Who knew it snowed in New Mexico/Arizona?! I certainly didn't!

April 22, 2010

Best brick I ever took on vacation

Trying to help my older sister decide what to pack on her first 3-week trip to Europe is tough. Her typical style of travel is getting in her Toyota Rav4 and driving somewhere.

She packs whatever her car will hold. Imagine a messy lumpy jumble - sort of Tetris and the wooden block stacking game Jenga.

I've seen her cram various sizes of tote bags, duffel bags and/or paper bags into the trunk and onto the floor of the car. For me, the worst part is her lack of planning and gasp, lack of a list.

Why do my sister's messy car trips matter? Because they show me where I am starting from with my sister and what she probably still needs to know about travel and packing light. Because you know she will need room for souvenirs. I predict we will have multiple conversations before June about electronics, specifically related to her camera and mobile phone.

My plan is to take her to people who I know can help with her questions. Since I've been a Mac and Apple person for years now, I have no idea what she needs to take for her electronics honestly. My middle brother is the PC geek and Microsoft C++ Programmer whatchamacallit "I stopped listening years ago to you when we were 11" guy.

What I know and care about today is this gem, pictured here. Technically this little square piece of equipment is labeled a power adapter, but everyone I know with any related Apple product that needs one calls it a brick or power brick.

What is magical about this brick is that it eliminates the need to pack a converter. On my last trip I took a small plug adapter for the Continent and for the UK. Both took up exactly three square inches of space in my luggage. Don't you love technology?

Wish me luck with my sister. She may call my brother for help, and that's okay. I plan to show her the benefits to owning an Apple iPhone anyway. She can think about it for her next overseas trip. I'm worried more about getting her to pack properly and to not take too many clothes.

April 20, 2010

Travel Tuesday - Sisterly Advice

My sister is coming to town tomorrow. We have decided to spend the day together trying to figure out what she needs to take with her on her trip to Europe in June, and what she should leave behind.

My sister is much more familiar with driving as the mode of travel for her vacations. She can drive hours and hours without complaining. I bet she loved that road trip Oprah did with Gayle.

My sister rarely flies and has never been out of the country before. On this trip she will be gone for more than two weeks.

She already is worried about what to use for carrying her gear and what the difference is between an adapter and a converter. Her style and needs are such that I bet stores like Sports Basement, REI and Orvis will be more her speed than the trendy Flight 001 in Hayes Valley.

Hopefully she will remember to bring her lists and her electronics. Unfortunately she is not an Apple person, which would make things easier for her but I am sure we can find the right converters and adapters for her camera and phone at Get Lost Travel Books Maps & Gear. They have knowledgeable staff who I know can help us.

It should be an interesting day together. I hope she doesn't get overwhelmed but I will try to inspire her about getting all this first time stuff out of the way. Once she knows what to take for this trip, the next trip will be that much easier.

And I hope she stays excited about the notion that this will be the first of many overseas trips for her. She loves traveling and I do not see why she can't do more world travel that is just for her and not because my brother planned it.

My sister really is smart and clever, she just doesn't always believe it, which is one reason why I plan to give her these resources for next time:

Women's Travel Club

Women Traveling Together

Women's Adventure Travel

I have never used them but groups like these can show her that she isn't alone. There are many like-minded women out there who she can travel with. My sister needs to get out and about. Her kids have grown and it is time she does more for her own enjoyment, and that is where I come in!

April 9, 2010

Missing in Sausalito

This time of year always makes me think of my long departed Aunt Dorothy. She lived across the San Francisco Bay in Sausalito since World War II until she passed away in the 1980s.

My Aunt Dorothy was a great lady who loved, absolutely loved, people. She owned a shop in the Village Mayfair near the Sausalito Harbor. Her tiny shop sold all sorts of items made by local craftsmen. Most of her customers were tourists.

Whenever I would visit with Aunt Dorothy, she loved to tell me about the people she met, where they were from and what they loved about her shop.

Her shop was called The Shoestring. She named it that because it literally was the size of a shoe string. It was very narrow. She also ran it on a shoestring budget. Her father was an shipping executive who got his ten kids and family successfully through the Depression by running a tight household. I think she paid attention and learned from him.

After I graduated college, she shared with me how much the building management had changed at the Village Mayfair. She explained the many changes in ownership and how the new owners cared more about revenue than the quality of merchandise being sold.

My Aunt Dorothy cared a lot about selling items that represented the Bay Area and its creative residents. She loved the notion of how she shared our beautiful landscape with people who didn't live here. I couldn't tell you how often I helped her wrap and send merchandise overseas because her customer couldn't take their purchase on the plane. She loved that part of the sale, as much as making the sale.

I wonder if she had been more mercenary, she would have lasted longer? She had her shop for more than 25 years. Every day you could find her 1955 White Ford T-Bird parked upstairs, covered with business cards of interested buyers. She didn't sell that car, which she had owned from the day she bought it, until the very end of her life.

After her shop was sold, my Aunt Dorothy slowed down. She knew she couldn't drive anymore, so she sold her pride and joy soon after she moved into assisted living. This time of year makes me think of my Aunt Dorothy because this is when I used to visit her.

In April the sun finally comes out more. The temperatures in Sausalito would be climbing so that we could sit outside on a bench together without freezing our legs off. The bay sparkles on sunny days, like it is filled with diamonds. We could sit for long periods of time and just stare at the bay and across the water towards San Francisco. Like most of her sisters, my Aunt Dorothy loved the water.

I love and miss my Aunt Dorothy. She was an independent woman until the end. After her second husband passed away in the 1960s she took care of herself. I admired her. She showed me you could travel, live a good life and be happy without being married. As a teenager and then in college, it comforted me to see her example in action.

Here's to Aunt Dorothy! I still remember her cute Hershey Kiss silver pendant that she loved to wear because of how fun it was, and a conversation piece for customers.

After her passing, my mother asked me if I wanted anything from Aunt Dorothy's belongings. I didn't think of the pendant but it was her sweet sophisticated Mademoiselle doll. The one who kept her company all those years in the store is the only gem I really cared about.


April 7, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Majesty

Photo: Sharon Castellanos

April 4, 2010

Travel First - Dipping my toes in the Mediterranean

I've been telling you recently that I have a sister and mother who will be leaving the country for the first time and that their trip involves their first passport.

My sister will be buying her first suitcase with wheels, her first TSA lock and she will exchange money for the first time. She will probably eat her real fish and chips and shepherd's pie, maybe even drink her first Guinness.

My mother will be hearing French spoken around her for the first time. She will use a lift for the first time and hear a real Scottish Brogue, maybe even hear a lilt in someone's voice for the first time. I expect she might also have her first real fish and chips as well.

Well since we are family, and I have been sharing their secrets I will contribute my own recent first. Back in November 2009, during a trip to Southern Spain not only did I go to the Rock of Gibraltar and Morocco, North Africa for the first time, I put my feet in the Mediterranean Sea.

I have been to Spain before but during that visit, even though we stayed at a well-known Barcelona hotel along the harbor, and ate seafood paella at the Marina - I never touched the sea. The other visit included driving through the Pyrénées mountains outside of Barcelona. Not very dramatic travel confessions but I wanted to come clean.

My time in Barcelona was spent focused on all things Antoni Gaudi and Picasso, besides eating my weight in tapas and Serrano ham. The Museu de Picasso in the old city was totally worth my morning. Being music lovers besides loving Gaudi, we toured Palau de la Musica. I spent more than half a day just walking and sitting (it was a hot day) through the famous Park Guell.

Another half day was climbing up/down the stairs of Casa Batlló, with its incredible façade that looks like it has been made from skulls and bones. So I hope you can see why I may have missed thinking about the ocean. Le pido perdón.

April 2, 2010

5 Cheap Souvenirs My Sister Should Consider

My poor sister. I can feel her excitement and exhaustion already. She is going on her first big trip outside of the country soon. Her need to bring back every goofy gift and soon to be covered in dust memento - is palpable. How can I help her? Should I help her?

She is my older sister so she will do what she wants after all is said and done. However, we have had our moments, when she gets that sweet look on her face and she realizes that I, her younger sister, actually knows something important and useful. And is willing to share it, for free. Unlike our childhood when I would have demand money or at least some sort of labor like making me some cookies.

However I am thinking about my sister, like many other folks out there who love bargains, love to shop and love to bring home stuff wherever they visit. How many ballcaps can one person wear? For my travel newbie sister and her two weeks in London, Normandy and Paris, I suggest she look for souvenirs like these:

  1. Dish towel – so often you can find bar towels and other pretty cotton dish towels that are functional besides being a cute keepsake.
  2. Photos – she needs to take tons of all sorts of photos and then there are inexpensive ways to print once she gets home (Costco and Walgreens have lots of bargains)
  3. Baby Shirts – if she must buy a shirt, make it appropriate for one of her two granddaughters. These are tiny clothes that are cute and more affordable, besides being tiny for her suitcase.
  4. Soaps – I know she loves nice smelling soaps for her bathrooms. Easy to find and easy to pack!
  5. Candles – Just like the soap, good smelling candles are easy for her to choose and pack home. Bonus – they will make her suitcase smell good too!
Hopefully she will listen to some of my advice. I don't think she needs another "collectible" doll. The yellowed Princess Diana Barbie from the 80's, stands next to the Spanish Barbie our dad brought home more than a decade ago. I don't think she really needs another t-shirt either considering how many Disney shirts she has where the Tazmanian Devil is climbing out of her chest pocket...but I am only her baby sister, so we'll see once she gets back.

In the meantime, I plan to send her a list of these neat flea and open street markets that she can try and convince my mom, brother and the rest to stop at:

Portobello Market
Camden Markets

Paris, France
Rue Cler
Les Puces (The Fleas)

March 31, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Horizons

Photo: Sharon Castellanos

March 28, 2010

Family Travel: Teaching my older sister the ABC's of packing

In a couple of months of my sister will be leaving the country for the first time. I'm excited for her and nervous for everyone else she comes in contact with. Don't get me wrong, I love my sister but she can say and do things that make me squirm.

My sister is a funny one. She loves to travel but won't go hardly anywhere without a companion. She will drive hundreds of miles to visit our mother or go to Hot August Nights vintage car shows in Nevada, but would never consider getting on a plane by herself even for a weekend in Vancouver, BC.

Since her divorce I think she would be perfect for solo travel clubs and excursions for lone female travelers. She could be the next Travel Betty! She is funny and personable, people love her down-home style. Our nieces laugh at her jokes.

My thinking is that her inability to pack or have the right travel gear is keeping her stuck on the ground. Something us regular travelers take for granted, a good basic suitcase and a simple packing list based on where you are going and how long you are away are both new concepts for her to really put some energy into.

Since I love her, I will do my best to help her, to teach her the ABC's of packing and give her simple travel tips to help her first experience in Europe be so good she wants to go back -- and because: (A) She will love seeing the sights (B) She will take pictures of everything, including her food (C) She will forget that she is in another country that might not speak English, but that won't stop her from looking at them as if they are crazy. Selfishly that means the family will have a goldmine of funny things to talk about at Thanksgiving and Christmas for years to come!

Here is what I will suggest to her:
  • 22” suitcase – because she can stuff the hell out of it on her way back and probably not go over her weight limit.
  • Zipper Tote – to carry on the plane for her magazines, snacks and neck pillow. Maybe a Sherpani...
  • Three pairs of pants – because that is her style, no sense changing it now
  • T-Shirts - long and short sleeves, maybe two of each
  • Windbreaker/Jacket - medium weight because she doesn't get that cold
  • Two pairs of shoes - so she can alternate and air them out after walking a lot
  • Underwear - enough for half the number of days on her trip since they will have a washer and dryer in London
  • Favorite toiletries
And that is it. She will want to buy t-shirts along the way and her style is casual so why pack something that isn't you? And besides, until she leaves she will be worrying about how to charge her camera battery...
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