Sunday, August 31, 2008


I went to Eric & Irene's wedding today, and beaming through the mechanical, electrical, and emotional stutters, was the beautiful radiant joy of a couple in love. It was a small ceremony; most of the guest were related to either the bride or the groom, so those of us who were not part of the clan felt honored to be included as family. I think that one of the main reasons I like going to weddings is to see lovers in love celebrating their union; it is heartwarming and inspiring to witness happiness.

A word used several times in the ceremony was Bershert. Bershert is a Yiddish word which translates to mean "It was meant to be", sometimes people use it to mean their beloved.

May we all know the experience of bershert.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Therapy Dogs

I have been afraid of dogs nearly my entire life; when I was about 5 years old, (a very long time ago) a big German Shepherd chased me on my way to school and I had to hide between a tree and a fence to get away from him. Since that experience, I have been so afraid of dogs that I would cross the street if someone with a dog (on a leash) was walking towards me on the sidewalk.

Gradually I got to know some dogs (it seemed most of my friends owned dogs) and I grew to realize that some were gentle and kind (just like people). I finally progressed past my fear enough to pet a dog after I had known her for a few months. Eventually I even got comfortable enough to befriend a great Dane (who weighed as much as I do); he used to sit on me to show his affection for me.

Today I may still be a bit reserved when meeting a dog, but I allow my senses to tell me whether he is friendly or aggressive instead of automatically assuming he will try to bite me. It's been a long process, but I've met some wonderful dogs along the way who have taught me that my first experience is not the only experience possible. I got "dog therapy" from the calm and friendly dogs who taught me through their presence how to trust a dog.

I learned today that there are Therapy Dogs who go to disaster sites, nursing homes, and childcare facilities to help with the emotional, physical, and social well being of people; they bring joy and love to people who either can not receive it from other people, or don't receive enough of it from other people.

Dogs are wonderful healers and teachers, after all, it was the kind and gentle dogs of my friends who have taught me how to overcome my fear of the one who chased me decades ago.

Friday, August 29, 2008


It's my birthday today, so I'm taking the day off to shop, eat, and play.

Join me in treating today as if it's your birthday, and do what you love to do:)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Spago Beverly Hills

My friend Cindy came into town to have a birthday lunch with me at Spago's in Beverly Hills. Yes, the Spago's that is the original Beverly Hills hot restaurant (now on Canon Drive).

They are remodeling the exterior, there is construction on the street, and the valet parking is only available if the marked valet spots are unoccupied when you pull up, so getting into the restaurant is the most challenging part of dining here.

The interior bar and dining areas are beautiful; I especially like the outdoor patio with the fountain and umbrella shaded tables. Everything has clean artistic lines and the service is very attentive with an almost European attention to details (like serving portions on the plate from a copper pot).

Spago's is famous for its' food and even now decades after it first opened, the food is fabulous. We had the Artic Char with a ginger soy medley of Asian vegetables and the Lobster Cobb salad that was presented with picture perfect rows of each ingredient (even the boiled egg was seperated into stripes of whites and yolks). It's rare to have food that can shine with stellar surprises to your palate after years of celebrity; Spago's manges to do it and do it well.

We chose the peach cobbler for dessert from their summer menu. I've never had a better one; the peaches were perfectly warmed with a nice raspberry syrup and fresh raspberries, and the pastry was buttery, flakey and light at the same time. All this was served with a raspberry gelato and a sliver of meringue, and after we managed to finish it, they bought out an additional complimentary plate of luscious cookies, petits fours, and a truffle for my birthday.

Two desserts for lunch and I managed to somehow eat them both. Does that mean I get two wishes tomorrow?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Southwest Airlines is well known for their great low fares which do not add on extra fees for baggage, and they will email you (as will all airlines) their latest sales promotions. Wouldn't it be nice if instead of scrolling through all the offers, you were instantly notified when offers for discount fares to your preferred destinations showed up on your desktop?

Ding! is the newest Southwest innovation; it's an application that you download onto your desktop. You select the destinations you travel to, or want to be notified of discounts for, and you will literally hear an audible "Ding!" with an icon showing you when there is a discounted fare available. The Southwest system notifies travel agents when fares change instantly on their computer reservation systems; this way you get the changes too, as immediately as the agents do, but without requiring that you check your email or call the airline.

Making your travel life easier while saving you money on your trip is the mark of great service; having your computer do it automatically, with no cost of time or money, is the best service.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Another Consolidator, Another Choice

If your travel destination is not served by Apple Vacations from yesterday's post, then try C & H which offers nearly every other destination you could imagine (as far as I know they do not offer travel to Antarctica...yet). Since my friend Shelly is getting married next year and trying to figure out where to go on her honeymoon, I checked into what C & H offers to Bora Bora, Tahiti. Of course the best flights are through Air Tahiti Nui (see earlier post) but for a consolidator package at the five star Bora Bora Lagoon Resort and Spa, C & H offers air and hotel for $4065 for a week in June of 2009; to give you an idea of how good this deal is, the "special deal" offered at the hotel website has the lowest priced rooms starting at $700 per night, so the C & H deal is about $2500 cheaper than booking it yourself (you save $1000 for the room and about $1500 for the airfare). Yes, it is still very expensive, but Bora Bora Lagoon Resort is the stuff of dreams, with 50 of it's 80 bungalows over the water, first class accommodations, and service that even offers your own private beach picnic complete with private chef and server. This is epitome of the dream vacation, so if only the best will do, this is the place to live your dreams.

If you don't have that kind of budget, or would like to return from your dream vacation with some great memories and some money for other things, like food and shoes, then check out Club Med. Yes, Club Med has a beautiful classy resort in Bora Bora that actually caters to honeymooners and couples (many couples from Japan marry in Tahiti). They also have bungalows over the water and they are the resort with access to the famous and fabulous Motu Tapu (the island you see in every travel brochure of Tahiti) only 5 minutes away. Since everything is very expensive in Tahiti, an all-inclusive Club Med vacation makes sense for anyone who wants to eat and drink well without worrying about paying $8 for every glass of orange juice.

Bora Bora is not a great place for single people unless you are a writer like James Michner, a hermit, or so comfortable being alone in a sea of couples that you don't care, but with all that being said, I would go back again just to play with the fish as they swim up to the beach on Motu Tapu tomorrow. Is it tomorrow yet?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Take an Apple on Vacation

A friend of mine just came back from a trip using the vacation consolidator Apple Vacations. Vacation consolidators buy packages in bulk, whether it is hotel rooms, airfares, or both, and they pass the savings on to their clients who benefit from their expertise in finding better accommodations and flights than they could book on their own.

The best consolidators know what a good package includes, like a hotel for 7 nights in a plantation mansion in Lahaina, Maui, with direct access to the beach (the only resort with this feature), and then combining that with airfare from LAX for $1554.

For my friend Wendy, who was going to Costa Rica to check out jobs there, they have a package for 7 nights at the Flamingo Beach resort (rated four golden apples, meaning this is an excellent resort) with flight from LAX for $836.

They also offer just hotels or just flights to destinations ranging from Budapest to Tortola, so check with them after you check online and see what a consolidator can do for you that you can't do for yourself.

Sometimes it is best to have someone else do the work while you enjoy the fruit (apples) of their labors:)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jennifer Lin

Jennifer Lin performed on Oprah and amazed me (along with Oprah and probably everyone else in the audience that day). Like Emily Bear in yesterday's post, Jennifer is a piano prodigy (she is 16, so about 10 years older than Emily) who composes melodies on the spot, and plays them with a concentrated flow of fingers and heart, both dancing in perfect harmony. As with Emily, a large part of the inspiration that Jennifer evokes comes from her own joy as she plays. Perhaps that is why we say that people play music; the joy of music is like the joy of play and both are intricately linked.

To more linking of people who love to share their joy as they play; maybe one day Emily and Jennifer will play in concert and make the whole world smile as brightly as they do.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Emily Bear

It inspires me to see and hear of children who bring hope and joy to the world; in the case of Emily Bear, she is the epitome of a shining soul. I first saw Emily Bear on the Ellen show last year; Emily is a 6 year old piano prodigy who writes songs in 5-10 minutes. You can watch her play one of he compositions while she was on the show (and she even wrote a song for Ellen, called Ellen's song). Yes, she not only plays classical and jazz songs, she also composes her own.

Her sense of joy radiates through her compositions; if you are not smiling as you listen to her play, you will by the time you hear the end of the piece. If you are lucky enough to live near Chicago, you can go to one of her live performances (she played the opening piece of music for the Thanksgiving Day parade in 2007); you can also enjoy her melodies by buying one of her CD's from her website. Even the sales of her CD's is inspirational because a portion the sales from Ellen's song (and sheet music) will go to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Along with her obvious talent, the facet of Emily Bear I love the most is her pure joy in sharing what she loves; may we all know that joy.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tender Greens

Since many of my friends eat only healthy food and several are vegetarians, I am always happy when I find a restaurant where carnivores and vegetarians can both be happy eating together. I had a great lunch yesterday with several of my vegetarian and omnivore friends at Tender Greens in Culver City. Although the restaurant is easy to miss, it is worth looking for it (it's next to Ugo, which is easy to find); there is no parking in front of the restaurant, but there is free 2 hour parking in the public lot behind Bank of America. With a comfortable outdoor patio, a friendly staff, and fresh menu of both raw and cooked foods, Tender Greens has all the ingredients for a delicious meal; add to that very reasonable prices of about $10 for everything on the menu (you order at the counter, and carry your own tray to you table) and everyone ends up happy.

I chose the Ahi Nicoise salad (several slices of nicely seared Ahi, fresh haricots verts, fingerling potatoes, kalamata olives, and a tasty vinaigrette, dressing baby greens), one of my friends opted for the grilled vegetable salad, another got the baby spinach salad, and the other non vegetarian go the Chinese chicken salad; it was a warm day so salads were the preference of the day, but they serve nice "hot stuff" too, like grilled Angus flank steak with Yukon gold mashed potatoes. For raw food lovers, they even have a raw plate with eight vegetables and raw nuts served with a living vinaigrette. Everyone enjoyed their meal (we all cleaned our plates) and no one had room for dessert, but that just means we'll have to go back...darn!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Next Trip

As I was thinking about what to give myself for my birthday, I found the travel site Gate 1 Travel. It intrigued me to learn about their 10 day river cruise tours through Europe for only $1299; that's less than most hotel rooms, not to mention that the cruise includes all meals, wine, tours and entertainment! I looked at the boats and thought I might actually be able to spend time on these boats without getting seasick (mostly because the routes are along rivers like the Prague).

Although the passengers all looked to be older (50+), this type of travel would be ideal for anyone who is looking for a leisurely scenic trip. River cruises are a bit like rail trips; you see scenery you would not be able to enjoy otherwise, you get amenities (like food, sleeper cars, and time to snooze), and you arrive refreshed at your destination.

The other Elaine wrote about her mother offering her a trip to Thailand, so I looked into a trip to Bangkok and Phuket on the Gate 1 site and found they offer a package of $1559 for 8 days, including air and land, all meals and transfers. Hard to choose between Thailand and a more independent package to Bali for $1189. They also offer packages to Greece (I've always wanted to go and tried several times but have not yet been there) and the islands of Santorini, Crete, and Mykonos.

Decision decisions, decisions. My solution may be to do all of them....just one a year; now I just I have to choose which one for next year:)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

4 Birthdays and a Wedding

In the next three weeks I will be celebrating 4 birthdays (one is mine:) and a wedding, so it is gift shopping season. I wanted something special for my friend who will be 50 and the couple getting married, so the usual gifts of wine, tickets, or iTunes cards just did not fit the bill. Since personalized gifts take time, from the shopping to the actual delivery, I started researching on Google with the only parameters being "wedding present" or "birthday present". Unfortunately over 500,000 results came up with everything under the sun from Tiffany to singing Toucans. Fortunately I narrowed down my search by deciding that a personalized flask would be a great gift for my friend's 50th birthday, since he loves to eat and drink; I thought this way he can drink what he likes when he likes.

Wholesale Favors
offers everything from bridesmaids and groomsmen gifts to prom gifts at a discount; the best part is they will personalize all their products free. Whether you are searching for the perfect pen for a graduate, or a cake server for a wedding, they carry it (along with personalized ID tags for your pets). I found something for the couple getting married here, and I considered getting more than one of the birthday presents here, but I like to spread around my shopping dollars:) They have a great customer service option that allows you to tell them when you need your gift so they can ship accordingly.

The hardest birthday present to shop for is actually the one for myself, so to all my friends, if you wish to give me a present, please just make a donation to one of my favorite charities (listed at the bottom of this blog) and that would make my wishes come true.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vara's Thai Massage

My friend Pel told me about a Thai massage place in the Valley that she said was wonderful; Pel should know, she lived in Thailand for some time and she is a massage connoisseur. Unfortunately, she couldn't remember the name of the place and only knew the general area, so she told me to meet her at Vara's (which is where she thought she had gone).

It is said that all things happen for a reason, and I guess the reason is that we were supposed to discover a new place together. For those who have never had a Thai massage, it is similar to interactive yoga; you wear loose clothes (scrubs are provided by the spa), lie on a futon/mat and the therapist stretches you and walks on you. It is good for people who love pressure (they will tone it down if you want less), and also a good style of massage for those who do not like being undressed for a massage.

Vara's is very clean, very hospitable, (the kind and polite culture of Thailand translates to Thai businesses in the U.S.) and very professional. My therapist Ann did a good routine (I would rate her work a 6.5), and Pel's therapist Da did some good deep work (she rated her work a 7), so the therapists are well trained. I am as picky about my massages as I am about my food, so my ratings are as tough as Olympic judges (who haven't been paid off-I have never gotten paid for a post about a company or service). Your therapist may not speak English very well, so make sure your preferences are clear before and during your session.

For only $39 per hour (longer sessions and varied styles are offered at higher prices), it is definitely worth trying traditional Thai massage if you haven't yet. Now that Pel has remembered where she wanted to take me originally, we plan to try that place next week.

Stay tuned for next week's ratings....

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mint for Money

Money is fun, but managing your personal finances is not; trying to keep track of all your accounts and entering in all the information every time you want to access your latest bank or credit card statement is time consuming and tedious. Mint is a free personal finance program that allows you to consolidate all your information in one place after taking only 5 minutes to complete your information. This is a great free alternative to those who are not already using Quicken. They will get all your credit card, bank, investment, and bill information and put it into your account so you can see your latest balances. The nice thing is that they also offer email or text alerts when you get hit with a late charge or overage. Think of Mint as your free personal finance secretary.

They make their money from advertisers who will offer you better interest rates on your savings or credit cards; this could be a great thing if you are paying too much on your current accounts, but it can be a nuisance if you already have a great deal, so you can look at the offers as confirmations that you have chosen a good bank. They also offer an easy budget module and their graphics show how your money is being spent; it is easier to make changes when you see that your shoe budget is equal to your rent!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rose Garden

The Huntington Gardens are composed of several gardens; go for one of the tours (free with paid admission or if you are a member) and learn about what is blooming and how the garden are maintained. There are fourteen gardens to explore: the famous Japanese Garden, which has doubled in numerous films as Japan; the Children's Garden with its' interactive exhibits; the Lily Ponds showcasing serenely floating lotus flowers; the Botanical Conservatory, which houses the beautiful plants which provide our cocoa and vanilla; and my favorite, the Rose Garden, which has more roses in one place than I have ever seen in my life. To be amid hundreds of roses when they are blooming is a sensuous and heady experience.

Beauty is inspirational; a beautiful garden is one of the best kinds of inspiration.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Lake Shrine

There is a hidden treasure on Sunset Blvd. far from the stretches of multimedia billboards that line the Sunset Strip. Hard to find, and only open until 4:30 pm most days (and closed on rainy days), it is like Brigadoon; you must be lucky and/or willing to find it. The Lake Shrine was dedicated by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1950, and is a ten acre garden that welcomes all faiths in the spirit of peace. There are swans and ducks, beautiful trees and flowers, a small meditation barge on the lake, and even a Gandhi Peace Memorial on the property. It is my favorite secret treasure in Los Angeles; my favorite secret place within this treasure is under the huge tree on the alternate path to the right of the gift shop. There are meditations and services at the Self-Realization Temple directly above the shrine if you are so inclined, but I love just breathing in the air of a sanctuary built with love to promote peace.

They say peace begins with you; the Lake Shrine is the perfect place to create your peaceful world.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Gaslamp San Diego

Wandering around the Gaslamp district of San Diego, I walked past Chianti, a warm and inviting restaurant on restaurant row. There were literally restaurants shoulder to shoulder in this area, but Chianti stood out simply because of the welcoming vibe of the owner and hostess. There is a delicate balance between being a pushy salesperson and being so aloof that you can appear snobby; this is especially true when inviting strangers to try a restaurant. The first impression really is key, but I wandered all along the street twice just to see if there was any other place that would beckon me to "Eat here." Nope. And on the second pass, I got the same warm and hospitable vibe from Chianti, so I went in and ended up very pleased with my choice.

The server, Kenny, was the perfect balance of present when needed and invisible while I was enjoying my meal. His recommendation for wine was based on knowledge of wines (imagine that!), and even my preference for how I liked my pasta (capellini instead of spaghetti, and red pepper flakes instead of parmesan) was met with an attitude of "Of course, no problem." The food is rustic Italian, with a nice balance of flavors from the spinach salad with fried pancetta, mushrooms and tomatoes, to the pasta putannesca with kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. A nice touch was the owner coming by to wish me buono appetito when I received my main course. It seems all the servers are as efficient and friendly as Kenny because the table next to me got shopping and travel recommendations from another waiter for both San Diego and Catalina Island. Chianti was definitely as tasty inside as it was welcoming on the outside.

Jacques Lelong/Mango has two stores in the heart of the Gaslamp that carry very cute clothes for that chic boho look for under $100. The sale rack has even better deals with some dresses under $35. It's not high end designer stuff, but it's made well enough to last for more than one outing.

Dinner and a dress, my perfect combo.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Old Town New Things

Lacey's is a tiny boutique in Old Town San Diego which carries the most unusual jewelry and accessories from all over the world. They carry silver earrings, bracelets and necklaces from Mexico, colored gems from Thailand, Bali and India, and African bead work pieces. You will not find anything here duplicated in any mall store; the pieces are original either from the country of origin or created by Lacey herself in her studio. Her motto is "Friends don't let friends wear conservative jewelry"; my motto is, "Friends tell other friends about Lacey's." Whether your taste is ornate or intricate, you can find something you will love here somewhere between the skeleton Dia de los Muertos earrings and the lotus silver pendant.

Up the street right next to the Living Room Cafe with it's great outdoor patio under the trees, is an artist collective which sells handicrafts from Tibet, Nepal and Burma. (The collective is a bit hard to see/find, but just follow the narrow alley next to the Living Room Cafe and you will find a winding path with shops along the way.) Besides the beauty of the crafts, from hand thrown pottery to hand made wall hangings, is the motto of the collective which states that all profits after paying the bills, goes back to the artists. It is fair trade art, and it makes everything for sale even more attractive.

Finding new things in Old Town was fun; now on to find new places in the Gaslamp.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Better Transportation

I recently drove 160 miles to San Diego, and after parking at my hotel, I was too exhausted to fight morning rush hour traffic, figure out directions, and try to find parking, so my friend Pel (who used to live in San Diego) told me to use the Trolley , she said, "Try it, you'll like it." She was right. For only $5, I rode all day, stopping directly at both Old Town and the Gaslamp district, not having to think twice about either how to get there or where to park. Parking alone at either tourist destination would have easily cost me more than my ticket, and the beauty of a trolley is that traffic stops for the trolley so it is usually faster than driving.

Everything was pretty self-explanatory from buying the tickets to understanding the transfers; I only got lost once, but other riders showed me where to transfer lines at the 12th street station. Service on non peak hours are every 15 minutes (7 minutes during rush hour) and the trolleys are clean, quiet, and cool. In all the years I have been going to San Diego (about 30 years...yikes!) I never tried the trolley and now I will probably never drive there again, especially after I found that the Orange line stop at the Gaslamp district is directly in front of Nobu! My favorite line is the Blue line which begins and ends at Old Town and the San Ysidro border; you can literally walk across the border, get on the trolley, and be back in Old Town in about 20 minutes!

Since I was down in San Diego, I wasn't worried about any medical care I might need, but if I was traveling further down into Mexico, I would be concerned about wanting to come back to the US for urgent medical care, except for dental which is wonderful at Washington Dental, (see earlier post), so I would consider a medical jet service. Usually medical jet services cost between $10,000 to $75,000 to evacuate you to the hospital of your choice by jet, but if you travel abroad to exotic or rural locations, you can rest assured that you will be taken care of should a medical emergency arrive with Medjet. For an annual fee of only $175 domestically or $225 internationally, Medjet Assist is an insurance program that you can buy just for one trip or for a year depending on your travel plans and your needs.

Better transportation should be easy, comfortable, less expensive, and practical, both the San Diego Trolley and Medjet Assist fulfill all the criteria. Now to find a pair of shoes that fulfill all those same criteria...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sofitel Inside and Out

When I lived in Northern California, I used to go to the Sofitel in Redwood City for drinks after work; the Sofitel is a beautiful hotel with live piano during happy hour and a very calming view of a lagoon from the large windows of the lobby. Because I lived nearby, this hotel was always a favorite gathering spot with co-workers for the inventive drinks and the delicious hors d'oeuvres. Because this is a member of a distinguished French chain of hotels, there is a European flair to the menus and the ambiance.

I remembered the Sofitel on my last trip to S.F. because there was a convention in town and no rooms were available at any of the major hotels; thankfully there were rooms at the Sofitel (it is located between Silicon Valley and S.F., about 10 miles south of SFO airport). Having never stayed here before, it was a pleasure to discover that the ambiance that I loved so much during Happy Hour in the lobby translated to marvelous rooms with an understated elegance. The rooms are spacious, light and airy, many with views of the lagoon. The beds are as comfortable as hotel beds can be, and the room service was punctual and professional. It was good to find everything inside the rooms as well done as everything outside the rooms.

It helped that there is a French General Manager who trained in Europe, but the entire staff during my stay was hospitable, courteous, and friendly. It's always good to find that the inside matches the outside, especially when it comes to hotels where you will be spending the night. If I had known how nice the rooms were I would have happily spent the night after happy hour.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Traveling Lighter

Now that airline are charging for your luggage and making you wait as they screen the contents, it makes sense to ship and pack your bags the way you would any other package. One of my friends never travels with any luggage other than his carry-on (containing only a pillow and some snacks); he ships everything else via Fedex to his hotel, so he never has to hassle with either the latest airline security regulations or paying extra for any heavy bags. Since he has someone to help him pack, he requires nearly no preparation for his trips across country.

For those of us who don't have a Fedex account or an assistant to help us pack, there is the Flylite alternative; Flylite will not only send your bags to your destination, they will pack them for you too, preparing each suitcase for the activities and weather at your destination according to your needs and preferences. It's like having your personal closet delivered to any hotel in the U.S.; the interface is very straightforward and simple to use, so once you set up your preferences, one click will tell them to send "the usual" or "the winter" or "the vacation" suitcase to the destination of your choice.

Traveling lighter has always made sense, now you can travel with sense and no luggage.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What is Love?

Chuck Spezzano's says "If It Hurts, It Isn't Love" Elizabeth Gilbert had to "Eat, Pray, Love", Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks recommend a commitment to "Conscious Loving", and Piero Ferrucci postulates that "The Power of Kindness" is one of the most loving powers humans can share.

I believe that like great art, you know great love when you feel it.

Love someone today and everyday.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Love Foundation

Leo Buscaglia is an author perhaps best known for his book "Love" which is based on the course he taught at USC on the subject. His books range from insights gleaned from disabled persons and their families, to a cookbook, and a photo essay on love seen through the eyes of a four year old.

His Foundation is based on the principal of giving and sharing with others so that they may in turn give and share for the betterment of all.

He says it best, "Only when we give joyfully, without hesitation or thought of gain, can we truly know what love means."

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Better Way to Read

Yesterday's post on dictionaries and the compact electronic versions inspired me to write about today's subject, the Kindle. If you haven't heard of it or own it yet, you probably will soon, especially if you are an avid reader. The Kindle is truly a better way to read, and it will pay for itself if you buy 10 or more hardback books a year.

Imagine over 200 books, 350 blogs, national and international newspapers all available with no monthly fee, no WiFi hotspot required, and no cables or computer. The Kindle is to books what the iPod is to music. You can download hundreds of thousands of titles all for only $9.99 each onto a screen that looks like paper, and the entire unit weighs only 10.3 ounces and is thinner than most paperbacks! So now instead of hauling all your books with you in your suitcase, you can carry the Kindle and read news, novels, and blogs everywhere you go. The connection is based on the same technology as wireless phones, so there is no worry about trying to get a signal in an airport or taxi.

The Kindle has some features that regular paper books don't have, like instant dictionary access for any unknown words, and adjustable text size (for those of us who need reading glasses but are too vain to wear them). The best part is the long battery life which allows you to read for a week before you need to recharge (and a full recharge only requires 2 hours).

Now if someone can invent a self-driving car, I can read while driving....

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Wise Words

I admit I'm a bit of a word nerd; I love dictionaries and ever since grammar school, I have been known to actually read them just for fun (I warned you; I'm a nerd). I recently bought a very large, very heavy French-English Larousse Advanced Dictionary with 400,000 translations that I love. It's the kind of reference book usually found in libraries; weighing in at about 5 pounds with a 3 inch spine, this volume will need a sturdy bookshelf.

As much as I love my heavy duty dictionary, I also love the Franklin pocket sized electronic dictionary my friend Allison gave me, which has definitions for 100,000 words and 500,000 synonyms. They make versions that offer translations as well as definitions for travelers who want a personal translator for their trip. For people with specialized needs, they also have versions with medical definitions and test preparations so students can study on the go. Word games are included, so you can sharpen your word skills, and they even offer personal organizers so one unit can multi-task for you. You will never misspell a task again!

Words can be used to create wonderful novels, plays, articles, and blogs, so use them wisely.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Educational Kid Stuff

Sometimes the kid in all of us wants to play, and having a kid in tow makes these places even more fun because discovering new things can be both entertaining and educational.

If you love to see what the cars of the future will look like, then head over to the Petersen Auto Museum. You don't have to wait for the annual auto show to see concept cars. They are all here, along with old hand crank cars in beautiful vintage condition.

There are always interesting exhibits at the California Science Center. The current attraction that is drawing kids and adults alike is the Human Body exhibit which has skinless bodies on display for a slightly morbid and fascinating look "inside" human (and animal) bodies. There are also other exhibits that are scientific without being creepy if you don't want to have nightmares after you leave.

If stars and planets are fascinating to you, then the Griffith Observatory's new renovation will enthrall you. With newly updated exhibits and a face-lifted building, this is the place to dream of traveling through the stars to planets beyond.

The best way to learn is to be entertained; go entertain yourself with educational kid stuff!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hollywood Kid Stuff

I have only babysat once in my life, for about half an hour, for a child who was eight, so my experience with children is just slightly more than my knowledge of music (see my post about music). Because my friends have children, I have had to think of things to do with them when they come to visit me with their parents (my friends). The challenge is to find things that would not bore them and that would still be enjoyable for the adults; it's like a balancing act on a high wire, one false step and you land in an embarrassing fall. Hollywood is a great place to begin a Kid Stuff day, with entertainment galore in the place where movies and magic mix.

One no fail option is the week-end brunch at the Magic Castle which is the only time anyone under 21 is allowed into the private club. It is the most casual attire requirement for the castle (no jacket or ties for men), but you will still need an invitation from a member to attend unless you spend the night at the Magic Castle Hotel (see earlier post).

While in Hollywood, another great place is the El Capitan Theater across the street from the new Hollywood and Highland complex and Grauman's Chinese Theater. There are always some interactive activities for the current Disney movie, including props and sometimes live actors doing plays or scenes from the movie.

If you want to feel like you are really on a Hollywood set, then head over to the Hollywood Museum which has everything from the jail cell of Hannibal Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs" to "Planet of the Apes" costumes and "Rocky's" boxing gloves. A little of everything for movie buffs of all ages.

For the starstruck kid or adult, Hollywood can be a fun discovery.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Santa Monica Farmer's Markets

One of my favorite things to do in France is to shop for the ingredients for my meals at the outdoor markets in the neighborhood. I love the fresh produce arranged like artwork, the smell of the cheeses, and the variety of meats and fish displayed like cornucopias. I think my favorite part of shopping in a neighborhood market is the friendly banter from the proud merchants who have all grown or produced their own products; there is nothing like buying fruit from the grower, or eggs from the farmer. Nothing is packaged in plastic wrap or hidden by containers; every color and smell is nakedly displayed so you can see both the blemishes and the beauty of what is locally grown and produced. Farmers literally bring in their vegetables and fish or meat in the morning to set up their stalls and by nightfall they have gone home to their farms to harvest or prepare for the next day's market. It is both a simple and seductive way to sample the best of the region.

Here in the U.S. we tend to shop for our daily food in super chains, with a few select stores for items rare enough or expensive enough to sustain a specialty, like the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills or Petrossian for caviar. But for everyday fruits and vegetables, fresh from local farmers, there are very few choices.

Santa Monica is one city that has embraced local farmer's markets; they have farmer's markets three days a week in different locations throughout the city, all selling locally grown or produced foods, some are even organically grown. Not only do you get fresh locally grown produce, but the prices are also far less than you would pay in a store because the stands must be non profit entities sponsored by the farmers. The same or similar vendors make the rounds at the different locations, but there will always be fruits, vegetables, an assortment of breads or pastries, and a few cooked items (if the sight of all the produce makes you hungry, you can eat some roasted corn or a chicken sausage sandwich). The latest addition to the Virginia market is a shell fish vendor who sells fresh clams, mussels and oysters. So far I have not seen any meat or poultry vendors, but fruits and vegetables with shellfish are a great start. All the locations also have fresh flowers for sale to brighten up your home for far less than you would pay at a florist (and which will last far longer than flowers you buy in a super chain).

The only caveat to shopping at one of the farmer's markets in Santa Monica is that you must go early or you will not find parking (i.e., go before 10am) and you will be left gazing longingly at the stands from your car as you circle endlessly around full parking lots.

The markets are open rain or shine and sometimes there are live bands which perform, so check the listings. Go spend the day out in the sun shopping for fresh food; it's an old concept that is new again.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Iyanla Vanzant is an inspiration who is perhaps best known for her books like "One Day My Soul Just Opened Up" and her appearances on Oprah where she would say to audience members, "Save yourself!" as she told them to stop their self-sabotaging behaviors. She has lived what she teaches, having survived abusive relationships and behaved in very self-defeating ways. It is one thing to be preached to, and quite another to be scolded by a friend who knows what you are living through (because she has lived it herself) and has only your best interests in mind; there is no judgment and condemnation with Iyanla, only an honest and supportive shake to wake you up from any complacency or denial into which you may have settled.

Spiritual teachers who teach through humor and with love are the most effective (IMHO) because their methods nudge us through the winding paths and up the inclines without adding more pain and fear to the already challenging process of growth.

Iylanla's name may not be the easiest to say or remember, but the unusual people, places, and experiences are the ones who stay with us because they teach what we did not expect to learn, and those are the most valuable lessons of all.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Amusing Doctor

It is week-end inspiration time, and today's inspiration is Dr. Bernie Siegel who was the commencement speaker at USM when I got my Master's in Spiritual Psychology. I consider him to be my best birthday present that year (commencement day was also my birthday).

I am glad I don't need Bernie Siegel to be my doctor, but I am glad he is a doctor for his patients and for his readers who like having an MD credential (Bernie was a surgeon who worked with cancer patients) for spiritual subject matters. His book "Love, Medicine & Miracles" recounts his experiences with his miraculously brave and inspiring patients who healed themselves (or not) with their intentions and perseverance.

They say a doctor merely amuses the patient as they heal themselves; Bernie is a great animator.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Planes & Trains Instead of Automobiles

Many airlines are now charging for extra bags, curbside check in, and extra fuel charges, but Southwest Airlines is not, and to put an extra cherry on top of it, all they are offering special fares within California for only $49-$59 (plus taxes and fees) each way! Depending on the car you are driving, that may be less than what you would pay for gas to drive. One way to Chicago is only $129, so even with a hybrid and today's price of gas running $4.23 a gallon, you will save not only money, but time and your back by flying. If you want to take advantage of the offer, make sure you book early to get the flights you want.

Trains are another alternative to driving that I always use in Europe; now with gas prices here at European levels (well, almost, gas is running about $8 a gallon there now), trains are becoming a more popular choice here too. Trains are always a better option if you hate freeway traffic (and who doesn't?). Now with Amtrak's special rates, if you book through August 8, you can get a $15 fare between Los Angeles and Palm Springs with no added fees or taxes good for travel from September 2 through December 11, 2008. Not only will you save the aggravation of time and traffic, but you will also enjoy two hours to read or snooze.

Who would have ever imagined that planes and trains would be a wiser choice in both dollars and sense than automobiles?