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Gimme 5 – Great Places to Stay in Sedona

I travel to Sedona fairly regularly for work (I know there are places that are a lot worse that I could be sent to…say, Arkansas), so I have had the opportunity to stay in many different places there. While most of the hotels in Sedona are fairly small, a couple of the ones that I highlight today are big, and all of them are great for a family reunion or vacation. If you have a work retreat or event to plan, consider Sedona, you won’t be disappointed!

  1. The Enchantment Resort – this resort is a little out of the way, but it is very quiet and exclusive (rumor has it that we passed Madonna’s place on the way out to this resort). It was a great place to stay when my husband could travel with me. (We stayed there on election night which didn’t make the Bush – Gore election any more palatable). It is an amazing place. The spa was fantastic; the food was fantastic; the exercise classes were fantastic, but our favorite part was the location. You can literally walk out your door and go hiking on many different trails. It felt like we were on the edge of the earth. While they do have a conference facility on site, mine was not being held there, so we had to drive every morning for 20 minutes or so to get back into town and get to my conference. For work or vacation, this resort can’t be beat!
  2. The Hilton Sedona Resort and Spa – this place is great! I have spent the most time here and at the Amara, but this one is a mix of regular hotel, resort, and fun place to be. The hot rock massages at the hotel spa were wonderful and relaxing. I felt 5 inches taller walking out of there. The pool closes early and the hotel security didn’t appreciate a bunch of people climbing the fence to try out the hot tub after a late dinner! My favorite part was the golf course and being able to wake up and walk the course at sunrise. Rabbits and all kinds of wildlife were out there to say good morning!
  3. The Sedona Rouge – the Sedona a Rouge is a nice, peaceful hotel despite being on the main road, 89A,  in Sedona. The rooms were generously sized and appointed. The spa is quite relaxing and the tea served in there was a surprise. Sedona is a sleepy town with little night life. We had to pay the bartender to stay open later for our little raucous  group after coming back from dinner. The hotel is a little separate and disjointed but that’s what makes it quiet.
  4. L’Auberge de Sedona – the name should say something to you – like – “With my French name, I am going to be very expensive!” It is, but it is built into a hillside and backs up to Oak Creek and is very, very worth it. It is located at the North end of town on 89A and hidden down its own driveway – it looks like you are going to drive down an embankment into Oak Creek. The views from this side are stunning. The balconies of each hotel room back up onto the creek and make for a very peaceful evening.
  5. The Amara Creekside Hotel, Restaurant, and Spa in Sedona – this one is my personal favorite. The Amara is right next door to L’Auberge but is much, much less expensive. In fact, when I drove across country last summer and decided to stay a couple of nights in Sedona, I threw my idea of camping out the window and we stayed here. My kids loved the pool and being on the creek. I loved being able to sit out by the fire pit and have a glass of wine while the kids raced each other up and down the pool. The rooms are simple and elegant. The balconies are small, but the common area around the pool and creek  were much better for hanging out anyway. I had the best hot rock massage ever at this resort (the masseuse was named John) and they have since expanded their spa into a separate area, which is very tranquil.

All of these hotels are in the nice to very nice range – the prices and service range wildly from reasonable to very expensive. But, no matter where you choose to stay the views will be stunning, the spas will relax you, and you will have good food!

If you have a favorite place to stay in Sedona – leave more information in the comments.


You Gotta See the Race to Nowhere Movie

After 4 previous attempts, I finally saw the movie Race to Nowhere last night and I later posted a comment on a Race to Nowhere share on Facebook:

Sonya L. Sigler I have been an advocate for no homework for so long – I wanted our school to volunteer to be a test bed for a “no homework policy.” I would prefer that my kids play sports or take music or do nothing or explore the park down the hill from us… and I was lucky enough to see the movie tonight in San Carlos, CA.

By this morning, I had been attacked for my opinion that supported a “no homework policy” that our elementary school district had merely discussed 4-5 years ago.

Susi Crowe OK Sonya, no homework for high school students, really!?? Explore the park down the hill with the girlfriend, a case of beer and country music playing…or let’s make sure kids have time to play, which nowadays means playing on the computer, the Iphone, the Xbox. Great productive plan that you have, let’s you off the hook from being involved w/ your kids homework and spending the time as a parent taking them to activities they are interested in, so YOU have more free time……

It was interesting to me to see that 1) all kinds of judgments had been made (I don’t do homework with my kids; I don’t take them to activities they are interested in; I hold this opinion about homework so I can have more free time; my kids listen to country music..I could go on) and 2) leaps to certain conclusions had been made without even asking for more information or an explanation of why I want my kids to do things other than homework or why I would think that volunteering our school to test the policy was a good idea. I had one comment of support:

Sarasota Homes ‎@Sonya – I LOVE your attitude and thoughts toward education. I was a high school teacher/coach for 16 years. I don’t want my kids “racing to nowhere” and that’s exactly where politicians (on both sides) demand they go…. Kids NEED to be kids. Great support here!

This “no homework policy” that I mentioned was merely a discussion that the school board had 4-5 years ago (three superintendents ago) and it hadn’t even been implemented.  As far as I know, not one of our district schools has tested a “no homework policy.” What I do know is that schools in our elementary school district (San Carlos) and high school district (Sequoia Union) have made strides to coordinate homework assignments and work loads. I posted a further explanation:

Sonya L. Sigler I have a little bit longer explanation about what no homework means in our family and with the school my kids go to AND what the “no homework policy” was that was discussed in our school district about 4-5 years ago. We, as a family, focus on music, sports, scouting, and visiting National Parks. So, it is different homework than busy work sheets and homework given because the teacher couldn’t get to the info in class. Then there are chores on top of that. My kids also go to a project based school so there isn’t a lot of busywork homework; most of the homework assigned is related to a project unit. The “no homework policy” that was discussed in our school district 4-5 years ago that I wanted to volunteer our school for would have looked at a few things: 1) coordinated homework among the teachers so that not every subject had an hours worth of homework every evening; 2) the homework time (targeted time to complete it) would vary by grade level; and 3) the homework was related to reinforcing concepts in the curriculum as opposed to busy work. Thankfully we do most of these at our school already. But I am sure there are improvements that we can make related to homework. My kids are in a K-8 school so we haven’t gotten to the heavy work loads in high school – however my philosophy remains the same for that and the high schools in our area are trying to coordinate the homework assigned among the classes.

I think there is enough work for our children to do in school and in class without giving them more than an hour or two of homework each night. One of the main points of the movie was that after a certain amount of time the point of doing the homework becomes ineffective — I think it was an hour for middle school and two hours for high school students. The high schools in our area ARE trying to coordinate the type and amount of homework given across the subjects. At SCCLC, we have targeted homework by grade level and I think that the time expected to be spent on homework is not excessive as it relates to each grade level at our school.

From a family perspective, it all comes down to managing priorities and choices. Everything is a choice. Spending 4 hours on homework instead of playing baseball is a choice. Spending time playing an instrument instead of doing busy worksheets is a choice. Spending time exploring National Parks is a choice. Spending time with Boy Scouts is a choice. It’s all a choice. We choose to have our kids play sports, play an instrument, participate in scouting, and explore national parks. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for homework, or as suggested in the snarky facebook comment, playing video games. BTW – We do limit screen time of all types – we don’t ban it, we just limit it to 2 hours on the weekends. And, even with a full time job, I do squire my kids around to activities that they are interested in…currently, for my three boys that list includes baseball, basketball, flag football, bowling, rifles, archery, 4H, Scouts, soccer, dance, and music lessons – I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of not being involved with my kids – some would say they are over scheduled and that I’m too involved. But, truth be told they are doing the activities that they choose to do.

Our family has chosen to concentrate our time on the activities that are important to us – sometimes that doesn’t include homework. The consequence of these choices will vary – sometimes my son has to wake up earlier to do homework or stay up later than usual to finish it. Sometimes he may have to spend lunch or recess time finishing up something. Sometimes he may not turn it in at all – this has led to an interesting discussion about doing extra credit work to cover times when he can’t finish his work or turn it in. But, at least we know what the choice is that we are making as opposed to blindly trying to do it all.

Re high school, my thoughts on homework are the same. Don’t kill yourself trying to do it all just because someone has assigned homework. Talk to the teachers, advocate for your child – or better yet, have your child advocate for themselves (or in a group of students)  when it comes to managing homework loads.

Part of what the movie was shedding light on is – take a step back and evaluate the situation. What is right for your child (and why)? The sky isn’t going to fall if your child doesn’t get into “a good” college. Taking AP classes just to get into “a good” college is a prime example of doing something for the wrong reason. Doing well in an AP course is a choice; does it mean that you have to read the entire textbook? No, it means you need to be able to understand concepts and understand the bigger picture – that is what is tested on AP tests. The point of an AP class is that it IS accelerated learning. It requires you to digest an enormous amount of information. If all of your child’s courses are AP courses – you are really saying that they should be in college – becuase those AP test scores translate into college credit. The point made in the movie is – look at what your child is doing and why they are doing it. If your child  is only taking an AP course because they think it will get them into the right college – rethink the situation and make a change, if necessary.

There is one scene in the movie that was particular poignant for me – it was the scene where a boy says that he wanted to quit school altogether because he didn’t get the grade he wanted and now probably won’t get into the college he wanted. In retrospect, I did a lot of things in high school because it would look good when I applied to college. I didn’t get into Harvard or Stanfurd, which were my top 2 choices, and those rejection letters were very hard to take. My mom didn’t even believe me when I called her at work to tell her I didn’t get in to Stanfurd. Ironically, I got into my back up school, UC Berkeley, on early admission, which was based upon my grades and test scores alone.  Granted this was in the 80’s and now admission to the schools in the UC system works slightly differently, but my point is that I survived and I went to a great college anyway even though it wasn’t my first choice. (As a side note – I really loved that there was a clip of the Cal Band in the movie – I spent a lot of time in the Cal Band when I was in college). Did I go to a school that matched what I needed (as the movie suggests)? No, I probably would have done much better at a school like Colorado College that does block learning on one subject per month, not 6 or 7 classes per 15 week semester. I think one of the most important points in the movie was to focus on finding what works for your child!

Many thanks to our San Carlos PTA Coordinating Council who sponsored the evening last night and worked hard to bring the Race to Nowhere movie to our District. I urge you to bring it to your school district! Have a panel discussion. Have schools explain what their homework policy is. Have kids explain how it is affecting them or how they are coping with the work loads. Proactively work at finding a solution for you and your child(ren). I urge you to see the movie if you have a chance.

If you have thoughts on this post or what can make the situation described in the Race to Nowhere better, please leave a comment.

Gimme 5 – Eating (for Success) in Airports

Gimme 5 – Eating (for Success) in Airports
I travel a lot for work and when I travel, my good eating habits tend to go right out the window. Over the last 18 months or so, I have tried to focus on eating more healthy  all the time, not just when I travel. When I went to Florida for a family vacation a couple of weeks ago, I had a rather rude wake up call about my efforts in this area. Most everywhere we went, the food was fried or greasy or in the carb category. Basically, the menus consisted of everything that I wanted to avoid AND have been trying hard to avoid for the last 18 months. Over this week of family/vacation travel, I thought about how eating and traveling can work with a healthy eating focus and I came up with a few tips for eating (for success) in airports.
1. Scope it out – don’t just stop at McDonald’s, Gordon Biersch or TGIFridays because it its the first thing you see or is close to your gate – check out a map to find a healthier alternative. One of my healthy favorites is the Jamba Juice store in the Charlotte airport. On this trip we found a new restaurant in the Phoenix airport in the US airways terminal (which is the award-winning Terminal 4). The BarFly had opened the day before we sat down for a meal before taking the red-eye. The BarFly menu contained interesting salads and grilled steaks – which we a better choice than fried shrimp! Although it was probably 1,00o calories, their Mac ‘N Cheese was fantastic – it was a grown up version of Mac ‘N Cheese with bacon or pancetta. To find this restaurant – we traveled the length of the terminal to check out  all of the food choices and then we decided on a place that had more menu choices than hot dog, hamburger, or fried “anything.” What ever your method of scoping out the restaurants, it will be better than just stopping at the first restaurant you find.
2. Be Picky – If you can find one of your favorite food places or a restaurant with healthy choices on the menu (for example, salads that go beyond the house salad of iceberg lettuce and an unripe tomato wedge)  you will have a higher likelihood of finding a healthy food choice! I tend to prefer Starbuck’s Coffee or Peet’s Coffee, because I can usually get yoghurt or fruit in addition to my favorite beverage. If I’m not picky about the place I eat, I usually find that the chili-dog at the airport bar looks great and goes with the beer I just ordered…
3. Drink water – Drink water when you are in the airport. Drink plenty of it! Go ahead…go ahead and drink tons of water while there is a big, convenient, and (usually) clean bathroom close by. It sure beats having to go in the tiny, cramped, and usually smelly airplane bathrooms! Besides you want to stay hydrated when you travel – it cuts down the chance of getting sick!
4. Small portions/take it with you – Eating successfully with a focus on healthy food usually involves eating less food altogether. I try to order something small if possible. If there isn’t any thing small to order small, consider ordering something that is easy to eat half of and then take the other half with you for a mid-flight snack. Half of a Muffuletta sandwich from the New Orleans airport is likely to be much tastier than anything the airline snack boxes have to offer! If I know I am going to arrive past 9 pm at my destination, I usually order a chicken caesar salad from Peet’s Coffee & Tea (in the San Francisco airport) and eat that for dinner. Unless I have gotten upgraded to a first class seat, I usually try to take something on the plane with me and avoid the snack boxes.
5. Choose one healthy item – If you are in a hurry, it can be rally hard to find a healthy choice. Most places have a few healthy choices. You can usually find yoghurt, fruit, popcorn, hummus and veggies, or hard-boiled eggs. Some places offer healthy sandwich choices – one of my favorites on the go is a Caprese salad sandwich.  The best Caprese sandwich I ever had was running to catch a plane to San Diego and there was a cart vendor outside the SFO gate with several sandwich choices and I just grabbed one because it looked good. Well, it turned out to be one of the healthier sandwich choices and it was fabulous! You can always find one healthy item among all of the unhealthy choices!
When trying to eat healthy in an airport – take a moment to think about it – just don’t get the first thing you see. If you do I guarantee you, you will pick something that sounds tasty but is NOT healthy. At least that’s how I am – because I will always end up with a carmel apple rolled in pecans from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory or something equally tasty, but not so good for you. Yeah, I know there was an apple somewhere in there under all that carmel… but I’m not sure that counts as healthy.
What is your favorite tip for eating healthy in airports? If you have tips for eating healthy while traveling, please share it in the comments below.

You packed what?!? In a carry on?

Can you vacation for a week with only a carry on?
After traveling so much for work, I finally put together a packing list for my travels. I also put together my briefcase and travel bag so that they are ready for any trip at a moment’s notice. Now it takes me less than an hour to pack and get to the airport. This practice has served me well for work, but it also comes in handy for vacation travels too. Most people tend to over pack for vacations (and in general) and after a couple of mishaps where my checked bag didn’t arrive when I did, I have downsized things. This downsizing led me to stop checking any bags and just use a carry on suitcase along with my briefcase. Now, I even do the same thing when we are on vacation.
I just took a week-long trip to Florida to see the shuttle Discovery launch. The weather near Orlando and Cape Canaveral was supposed to be warm, with a chance of rain. Jacksonville was supposed to be colder with rain likely – both of these things led me to over pack for warm weather and rainy, colder weather…
I’ll admit, my carry on was bigger than what I usually take for business because it was for a family trip and I wanted to have enough entertainment on hand to minimize the whining and fighting among my three kids. Usually I have my pre-stocked briefcase, but this time I had to recreate that with a slightly bigger bag. I used one of my Creative Memories scrapbook bags that was square and big enough to fit a 12×12 album – this turned out to be perfect in many ways. I know it wasn’t quite the Sharon Stone “run off to Paris at a moment’s notice with a LBD and a thong in your purse” strategy, but it worked for me this trip.
Carry On Contents:
  • Book 1 – for me – Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation (you’ll need the tissues on this list) – I finished this
  • Book 2 – for the kids – Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (the original) – We never touched this book
  • Uno card deck – We never touched these
  • Phase 10 card deck – We never touched these
  • Bandana – used once
  • Golf ball – good for rolling out knots when you travel – definitely used
  • Tennis Ball – good for keeping kids entertained no matter where you are, and its good for rolling out knots
  • Mini-nerf football – good for keeping kids entertained, this and the tennis ball ended up in the kids’ bag as the trip went on
  • Jabra hands-free speaker phone and USB charging cable (I have small ears and don’t like to use a blue-tooth headset, is I bring this mini speaker phone that attaches to the visor)
  • Toilet Kit (in its very worn zip lock baggy)
  • Tissues
  • Lip Balm
  • Lip stick
  • Mints, meds (all in same tin)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hand Sanitizing wipes (in a travel pack)
  • Gum (2 packs – in in carry on, one in purse)
  • Chocolate
  • Hand cream
  • Sudoku (a few pages from our daily calendar)
  • Small binder clip (must have come from my briefcase)
  • 3 pens, 1 highlighter (I like to take notes while I read)
  • Business cards – you never know who you will meet (and you need one anyway inside each bag for ID)
  • Knitting projects – 3 projects in their own zip lock baggies
  • 1. Socks that I had knitted and wanted to knit again slightly smaller (I really should have started these before I left because I needed to see the You Tube Video on the figure-8 cast on method to start these toe-up socks)
  • 2. A new sweater project to be knitted out of this cool Japanese silk and stainless steel yarn – it is knitted in the round and much faster than than those darn socks that I had to start 8 times.
  • 3. Hat – knitting it for a friend of a friend of a friend to replace one she loves. Tried this twice on this trip – one crochet, which I undid, and one knitted, which is part way done.
  • Knitting kit (in a cosmetic bag) – scissors, stitch markers, etc.
  • Tape measure – not sure why this ended up in there, probably just moved it from my knitting bag
  • All in one tool – ruler, paper clips, stickies, tape flags (all useful for knitting and note taking)
  • Camera (very nice, 15 MP camera)
  • Telephoto lens
  • USB reader for camera memory cards
  • Camera charger – vitally important on vacation
  • USB Cable – for kids devices
  • 6 Magazines from my reading stack (this is what I thought I could read on the flights out – but with a read-eye, I slept the majority of the time –  this just made my bag heavier later)
  • Other printed reading materials (for work and pleasure)
Purse (I fit my purse in the carry-on)
  • iPad and travel keyboard
  • IPad wall charger
  • Headphones
  • iPhone USB charger cable
  • Business cards
  • Latest pictures of my kids
  • Gift cards
  • Lip stick
  • Lip balm
  • Travel/disposable toothbrushes
  • 2 Safety pins, paper clips
  • USB memory stick (8GB)
  • Fountain Pen refills
  • Cash/Change (I always get more at the airport just in case)
  • iPhone (in its case which doubles as my wallet)
  • Cash/Card case
  • Extra memory cards (I even bought more while there)
  • Vitamins
  • Sand – this was unintentional
  • Receipts – this was intentional
Suitcase Contents
1. Small Outside pocket
  • Eye Shades (I put this in there each trip)
  • Ear plugs
  • Allergy meds
  • Computer power cord
  • USB connector for phone/ipad
  • Spritzer (for moisturizing my face)
  • Tea bag (or two)
  • Energy bar
  • Conference pin
  • Cards (needed only for travel – i.e. Hertz)
  • Airline drink tickets (these are also in my briefcase)
  • Hair band, hair clip
  • Pen (or two)
  • Fountain Pen Refills
  • Nail polish (in its own zip lock baggy)
2. Bigger Outside Pocket
  • Pen for journals (I use a specific one for journaling)
  • 4 Journals (mine and each kids)

There was no room left for the usual magazines or work files this trip (the paper goods in this outside pocket can make this bag heavy and front heavy…)

3. Mini zip pocket on the big outside pocket
Plastic bag, zip lock bag (This saved me once from having to give up my newly purchased Japanese cosmetics at a security check point in SFO when they were clearly  unsettled in how to enforce their ransom regulations on liquids – because at that point they were all making it up as they went along).
4. Inside the Suitcase
Little top pocket
  • golf tees, ball marker
  • nail polish remover packets
  • jewelry (trip related) – this time, 2 necklaces (which I didn’t wear)
  • ceramic nail file (which I bought on the trip)
Bigger pocket
  • Girlie things – tampons and pads, individually wrapped (so they can go in your briefcase or purse if needed)
Trip specific Clothes – (in addition to what I wore on the plane – which was long pants, long sleeved shirt, cardigan, scarf, closed toed shoes)
  • 2 pairs of shoes (flat sandals and heeled sandals)
  • Long-sleeved pajamas
  • 2 bras (I could have taken just one other or none)
  • 2 bathing suits (I could have taken just one, but didn’t even end up wearing any swim wear)
  • Bathing suit cover-up pants – these were definitely for a beach trip
  • Jeans
  • Light weight pants (didn’t end up wearing these)
  • Cropped pants
  • Shorts
  • 4 long-sleeve shirts ( could have used less of these and more short sleeved ones)
  • 3 short-sleeve shirts
  • Scarf 1
  • Scarf 2
  • 3/4 sleeve sweater
  • Linen hoodie-type pull-over sweater
  • 4 pairs of socks – didn’t need all of these because I didn’t take tennis shoes
  • 8 undies – I always pack an extra (and one in the carry on if they make me check my bag)
*I completely forgot my rain coat and straw hat… which I would have worn on the plane (for the coat) and smashed/rolled into my bag (for the hat).
*I stuffed the (empty until you are through security) metal water bottle and baggy of food in the kids backpack, otherwise, that would have been in my carry-on too.
I know this seems like a lot once its put down on this inventory list like this, but most everything in my carry on or purse is very small or travel-sized. I usually color coordinate my clothes so I don’t have to bring 7 of everything for a week long trip. I rolled everything in the bag so that it fit better in the bag and in/around my shoes. My favorite part of this bag, and I have never seen one like it since I bought this one on a lark at Tuesday Morning, is the computer pocket on the side – the computer slips into its own pocket and lays cushioned between clothes.
Have happy and safe travels – please share any of your own packing tips and tricks.

Remembering Birthdays and Anniversaries

This blog entry is inspired by my (dear) husband who forgot our 18th anniversary Monday. Our kids and I accurately predicted that this would happen. So, today’s blog is about remembering birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates and how you can help yourself!

Use a Calendaring Program – Using Outlook, iCal or something similar to track birthdays or anniversaries in your calendar is a great start to remembering those important dates. There used to be a plethora of websites to help you remember important dates, but I find that my address book and calendar work just fine together to show those dates. I like seeing those dates highlighted on my calendar  and automatically filled in from my address book. I love having them on Facebook. It makes it so easy to send that special person a message about their special day. It only takes a moment. If you are sending an actual card (or electronic one), you can set your alarms or alerts to remind you a week ahead of time to (get and) send a card.

I loved seeing my step-sister’s message to her mom and my dad on their actual  anniversary last week and I especially loved seeing the comments to her post. It was a sweet reminder that you never know what will work, and a not so subtle reminder that I forgot to send a card 😦 even though our family calendar has their picture squarely on their anniversary date of Feb 4th!

Start a Tradition – Traditions are important in helping you remember an event and plan for it – like giving everyone new PJs on Christmas eve, or serving breakfast in bed on your child’s birthday, or having your child (or spouse) wear a birthday crown all day on their birthday. I started a tradition for our anniversary of inviting close friends and those in our wedding party to dinner at our house on our anniversary (or the weekend before or after). This dinner tradition led to some pretty funny stories being repeated year after year – like my husband diving into the pool naked at one of his (supposedly) raucous parties before I met him. (We actually received a card with this picture on it one year for our anniversary, so I know he actually did that, but I’m still not sure about the veracity of the tales about the raucous parties.) One of my favorites was our 7th anniversary dinner where Greg’s best  friend and former roommate, Karl, gave us a meat cleaver with a message carved into it – G & S Happy 7th K & K and on the other side, “The Unknown Future.” The story behind that gift was that Greg and Karl had been roommates for a long time and that by our 7th anniversary, I was now the person who had lived with Greg the longest and the gift was Karl’s way of passing the torch (or meat cleaver in this case) to me. It was a funny reminder, and still is.

My friend Grace has a tradition of skiing on her (January) birthday. One year I played hooky at the last minute, left my house at 7 am, picked Grace up and made it to the slopes by 10 am. This year we had to postpone skiing on her actual birthday, but we did get to have lunch at a very cool place in Half Moon Bay and we will go skiing in a few weeks!

Be Vigilant –  It is important to not forget the little things that may have been started in jest or as a joke or just as a simple reminder of something fun or important. When my parents were married, I never, and I mean never, ever saw my dad give my mom a present. Paula, my dad’s wife (of 27 years now) doesn’t let him get away with that. He even sends me and my kids cards on Christmas and their Birthdays. I love that he does that! Now I just need to tell him that! In our household, my husband (usually) gets forsythia and tulips or freesias for me on our anniversary – these were some of the bulb flowers we had at our wedding. We also planted all of the flowers from our centerpieces at our wedding in our garden. When we moved, we dug up all of those bulbs and planted them at our new house (that was in 1994) and they bloom every year around our anniversary. On Sunday, during the Superbowl, mind you, my youngest child just went and picked them for me and put them in a vase – now that was sweet!

I’d love to hear what others do to remember birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates!

Confession of an iPhone App Addict

I must confess that I had an iPhone for about a year and a half without ever downloading a single App. I  was traveling a lot and just never had the time to investigate the App store. Then I got sick – I was down for the count for two days in a row. I didn’t even have the brain power to sit on the couch and watch TV or a movie. So, I crawled into bed with my magazine reading stack. I started reading through one of my indulgent magazines (Lucky) and I got to maybe page 10 of the magazine before spotting an ad for a shoe finder app. I thought, “Oh, I need to check this out. I love shoes…”

And it was hook, line, and sinker… all the way. I spent the next two days glued to my computer, exploring the App store,  and downloading (free) apps, starting with the Shoe Finder App from Lucky. Turns out, after I was back on my feet, that I had downloaded 96 apps and I had made  a list of 20 or more apps that I wanted but couldn’t find. Turns out some of the apps I wanted didn’t exist yet and had to be written (too bad I don’t know how to write code for these kind of apps). I then spent a lot of time organizing my apps into categorized pages on my iPhone putting like Apps with others that were similar – games, financial, news, fun stuff, food/exercise (I’m still not sure how those two topics ended up together), utility/organization, things to explore, etc. In the intervening three years, I have used many apps, forgotten about others, never opened some, and best of all, I have developed a list of time tested favorites.

My Favorite Apps:

  1. Starbucks Mobile Card – I typed in my Starbucks Card #s and can connect to my online account; with a press of a button, I can charge my Starbucks purchases to this card – I don’t have to carry around the cards any longer… and Starbuck’s just installed scanners to read these mobile card versions. No card, no cash needed. This App was the most used app when I drove across country last summer from San Carlos to Prince Edward Island because the App has a store finder built in it too! The only thing I haven’t gotten to work perfectly is the reload $ automatically feature.
  2. Scrabble – I actually paid for this App. We play Scrabble (and Sudoku, Tap Tap, and Dodge Dot) while waiting in lines, in the car when the kids just can’t stand each other any more, at boring meetings, etc. We like to play the live version at home too!
  3. Facebook – I use this Facebook App a lot (and Twitter) when waiting for other things to happen. It is a good way to catch up with friends, see what others are doing you haven’t seen in awhile, and most entertainingly, see what incredible (or sometimes inane) postings people make sometimes! (Related Note – I haven’t made as much use of the Twitterrific one – it is flaky on the iPhone.)
  4. Yelp – I use this to find restaurants (with Urban Spoon as a close second) or stores or other things. I have had the most luck with food related stores and establishments. For, example, I did not have good luck trying to find an orthodontist for a minor emergency while traveling – lots of info was old or out of date. But for restaurants, it works great!
  5. CardStar – I use this App so I don’t have to carry any cards – no hotel affinity cards, no grocery store cards, nothing. You type in your number and up pops a bar code. You can link to the proper website for each card (it is pre-populated with a lot of info for each merchant already). You can also link to your account online for some of the cards. They recently added a coupon feature which can be really helpful if you are looking for a hotel room and there is a hotel coupon waiting for you!
  6. Call a Cab – I used this all over. It uses your location and lists a bunch of cab companies with distances from your current location. Choose one and call it. They will send  a cab for you within minutes. Awesome when you are in a strange/foreign place and need to get back to your hotel in a hurry. Worked great the first time I used it, which was in Honolulu, Hawaii, and every time thereafter. (This one doesn’t seem to be in the App Store at the moment. The developer is Bitfire.)
  7. ShopShop – This App is a virtual grocery list. I no longer carry sticky notes around, stuck to me or my car in various places. You put in the item and it stays there until you cross it off. You can email or text the list to your husband while he is out shopping and can’t remember what you asked him to get 🙂
  8. OmniFocus – this App synchs with my desktop version of my projects, ToDos, and other items of note. I don’t know what I would do without it. Some people like GTD – Getting Things Done, but I found that OmniFocus suits me better. Another possibility is Things, which I am thinking of buying to try out.
  9. Mint.com – I love this App for its simplicity and alerts. I worked at Intuit for 5 years and they were working on Quicken Online at the time, but when it launched, it was a dumbed down version of the desktop version and never quite worked as robustly as I wanted for an online version. I really just wanted something I (and my husband) could see from anywhere and know that we weren’t going to bounce anything. Intuit has since bought Mint.com and souped it up a little.
  10. GoBears – I know this one seems like an outlier at first, but I really use it a lot – it has the latest schedule times for Cal Sports (football and basketball) and is great when they make last minute schedule changes. Go Bears! (This one’s for Cal Grad Aaron Rodgers!)
  11. xfinity mobile – this is Comcast’s newest App that allows me to control my voicemail, TV, cable, and internet from my phone of iPad. It’s totally cool! I just forwarded my home phone to my mobile phone and got our home voicemail on my mobile phone. I could go on. If you are a Comcast customer, I highly recommend trying it out. If you aren’t a Comcast customer, try finding one for your own internet/home phone/cable provider.

Please let me know what Apps you totally love (or don’t love so much)…

Just What the Heck is a PractiGal?

Well, to get to the point – PractiGal is the name I have chosen for my personal blog. But, you say still – just what the heck is a PractiGal – well – that’s what the rest of this blog post will attempt to explain…

When I had my first kid, I went out and bought things I didn’t need because these darn baby books had lists and lists of things you needed for a a new baby. Well, it turns out that you don’t really need all that much for a new baby. One example is the giant diaper bag I had bought and used for exactly ONE day. I used it for only ONE day because the latch was flaky AND because it didn’t fit under my stroller in the (very small) basket. So, I went on a hunt for another diaper bag, that would actually fit in the basket under the stroller. More about that diaper bag solution in another blog entry. After a few of these incidents, I told my mom that I wanted to write a book called the Practical Baby so I could tell people what the baby and mom really needed – not all this other stuff. She laughed and laughed, for a long time. When she stopped laughing she said, “There is no such thing as a practical baby!”

Well, she’s right – there is no such thing as a practical baby. But, there is such a thing as a practical mom who can figure things out and make them work better, no matter what the situation. That’s what a Practical Gal is. That’s me, and that’s what I write about.

Today I joined the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog and my first task is to write an elevator pitch. Now, I’m not a marketing person  by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, my same smart mommy that I already mentioned above, told me I need to take my lawyer hat off when I am trying to write marketing oriented stuff, otherwise I just get in my own way… We’ll see…

Day 1 Task: Write an Elevator Pitch for Your Blog

The practical mom with the unpractical kids and husband

Am I a super hero? Nope, Just a Practical Gal

Am I wonder woman? Hmmm.. more like ElastiGirl…
Or PractiGal – The practical wife, mother, and woman…

Just a woman trying to hold onto a shred of sanity with a job, husband, 3 boys, and many hobbies…

The areas I have/want to write about are:

4 Moms – products, ideas, work, family, me
4 Families – travel, recipes, food, places to visit, national parks
4 Fun – hobbies, books, movies, (and families too)
4 Green – products, ideas, gardening
4 Good – charity, fundraising

So, it seems like I’ve focused on finding a tagline more than an elevator pitch… Let’s try again…

PractiGal is a lifestyle blog focused on finding a practical way of doing things – from traveling with small children to cooking dinner every night to running your own business to planning your next vacation.

PractiGal covers practical advice for Moms, Families, Fun, Going Green, and Doing Good.

Welcome to the PractiGal blog – please share any practical advice you may have!