Parenting & Travel Blog with tips, guides, reviews and honesty about family travel and parenting.

Monday, November 25, 2019

72 hours in San Francisco

Hey 'Frisco, wait - no, sorry. I meant Hello San Fransisco! Sorry, I think I just committed the ultimate faux pas about this California city, please forgive me. The rest will be all good things, because I think I love this city. It's not just because my team, The Toronto Raptors, won their first NBA Championship there. Oh wait, another faux paux committed. I'm sorry - truly.

We had less than 72 hours in this city, but I think we got a decent taste for all that San Fransisco offers, and it left us wanting more. I'm sharing our highlights - which basically was everything!

Day 1: 

We took a $50 cab (although ride sharing is huge here, because of course this is where it all started), from the airport to our hotel.  We landed on The Huntington Hotel on Knob Hill because it is part of the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts Program , and we like the benefits that we get with this program. (I wrote about these here and here).

Quick Review about the Huntington: It's a small, boutique hotel with charming details, although a little dated, but with wonderful staff and a quiet, central location.  The early check in and upgraded room definitely didn't hurt for making our choice a successful one. 

An Upgrade to a suite at the Huntington Hotel
A historic property

After settling into our hotel, we needed to find some grub. As big fans of Gotts Roadside Burgers in Napa, we found a location here in the city too. So we headed down the hill (the easy part) and walked about 20 minutes to Gotts Roadside Burgers in The Ferry Terminal building. Have you been to Gotts yet? If you are ever in San Fransisco or the Napa area, actually run! Grab your self a delicious burger and some garlic fries, oh maybe some tacos, and get it. So yum!

The Ferry Terminal building

You can spend time walking around the ferry building eating your way through yummy donuts, fresh goods from the farmers market and lots of other local delights. You can burn off all of the yummy food by trekking back UPHILL towards the hotel. Be warned, make sure you have comfy shoes and are dressed in layers.


Across from the Huntington Hotel is the stunning Grace Cathedral and the Huntington Park.

We were lucky enough to head over the bridge to Oakland to catch a playoff game (yay Raps!), but came back for a delicious dinner at Francis .  We found this charming restaurant by using the SF Eater Guide, in fact it was our resource for our last two trips in Cali cities when we were on the hunt for good 'grub.

Day 2: 

After breakfast at the hotel, we decided to put on our comfy sneakers and layer up our t shirts with jackets for a day of walking and sight seeing. Note: The weather can change quite quickly: one minute you can be lightly sweating while walking up the steep hills in the sun, and the next quite chilly with the brisk winds taking over. Dress in layers.

We took a stroll down to the kitschy and touristy Fisherman's Wharf.  It is worth visiting to take in the sights of the seals basking in the sun (and singing!), to pick up some salt water taffy in more flavours than you could have imagined,  see Alcatraz from over the water or take a tour over to the infamous prison via ferry (the tours c
an take anywhere from 2 hours to 5 hours. We opted to wait for the next time we come with the kids). There are lots of other attractions in this area to keep you busy, from the Aquarium of the Bay to whale watching tours to renting segways and bikes or just strolling the different stores and shops on Pier 29.

We continued on our walk to The Presidio which is a massive park on a former military post that offers great views (and access directly to) the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Stop off for a treat at the Original Ghirardelli store, you can't miss it in the Ghirardelli Square because of the massive sign. Then buckle up to head back up the steep hills folks!

We took the route back so we could see the famous Lombard Street - something I would never attempt to drive down! We meandered through the streets and just took in the different sights and sounds of the city before we headed back for a rest from all of the walking! (Tip: you don't have to walk, you can take an Uber or trolly car!)

The famous Lombard Street

We capped off our second day with drinks and apps at a rooftop patio 620-Jones and then a delicious dinner at Bar Crudo, highly recommended if you are into raw fish ( I mean that in the best way!)

Walking into 620-Jones

Day 3:

Ah Game day (spoiler alert, Toronto won). 

After grabbing some breakfast at the hotel, we hopped into the hotel's complimentary car (another perk!) and got dropped off as far as they could provide in their 3 mile radius and landed in Japan Town. From there we walked 20 minutes to see the famous "painted ladies." (note that the walk can take you through some streets that may not super friendly.) The famous Victorian row houses, dubbed the painted ladies, were on our list because our kids are fans of Full House. So we had to head up to see them for ourselves.

The painted ladies

Next we headed down to Union square ( a 40 minute walk - we needed to make sure we got our steps in!), where you can shop, shop and shop. It's home to all the high end shops and big department stores, as well as the Taj Campton Place Hotel. We stayed here on a quick trip last year as well, and loved the service, charm and location of this property. 

We wrapped up our last day with dinner (and a game 4 win!) in China Town at Mister Jiu's, a delicious high end Chinese cuisine in a historic part of the city! Get there earlier and walk around to take in the sights and sounds of China Town.

Chinatown at night

What are your recommendations for San Francisco? Share in the comments because I can't wait to go back!


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Winter Blues

It's happening. I can feel it in my bones. The first major snow of the season has blanketed our roads, lawns and driveways. The frigid cold is settling in (much too early may I add). The dwindling daylight hours are making it difficult to want to leave the house after 5 pm or to even get out of bed before 8 am.  The lethargy is slipping into my bones making it harder to move and a dim fog is settling itself over my brain, making me want to do nothing and just stay cozy. The winter blues are here.

Every winter, usually in December right around the winter solstice, I get the blues. Like a dark, stormy navy blue kind of blues. The winter blues can affect many of us, particularly those who live in colder climates like I do in Southern Ontario (but seriously don't let the southern part fool you). Sometimes, these blues can evolve into Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The disorder can zap you of your energy and affect your mood, and even start to cause depression. Other times the winter blues just makes everything around us blah. For me it can take away my creativity, dwindle my energy, blurry my focus and just overall make me miserable.

Which is why last winter I tried a revolutionary new treatment! I had done some careful research and was very courageous in volunteering myself as the test subject. I had decided to ditch winter for 9 glorious days and went down to Panama. Poor me, I know. Don't worry, I took the kids (and the husband) so it wasn't all roses and sunshine. Ok, it was A LOT of sunshine, you should see how much by reading my posts here and here and here (shameless plug). But the physical change and filling up on a large dose of Vitamin D and Vitamin Sea was exactly what I needed to get myself through last winter. Except that by March I felt depleted and needed an additional session of this therapy. Alas, my request (by my financial advisor aka my husband) was rejected. 

Since this winter, I have no prescription for a trip down south (although if anyone wants to get me a plane ticket, I won't say no),  I'm arming myself already with some tips that have helped in the past. 

What I do:
  1.  Light therapy: A couple of years ago I got myself a "happy light." We've probably heard about them and their benefits of helping to mimic day light without harmful UV rays. To be completely honest, I don't know if it actually works. But I do take mine out and plug it in by my desk and turn it on a few times a day starting in November. If anything it brightens up the room.
  2. Vitamin D: It is commonly called the sunshine vitamin, and I was advised by my family doctor to take 2000 IU/day - which means two tablets daily. (But please, consult your family physician first!)
  3. Talk to A Doctor: Before starting any therapy, even the light therapy or taking vitamins, go and speak to your family doctor. I usually schedule and appointment in Mid December to check in with her about how I'm feeling and to see what I am doing for myself to help those feelings of blahness. She's supportive and wonderful, and helps me monitor how I feel so the winter blues don't develop into something more.
  4. Move: Frankly, it's the last thing I want to do in the cold winter months when my body feels sluggish and cold. But I try to schedule in some group workout sessions a couple of times a week, pre paying for a class is a pretty good motivator! Plus working out with friends is wonderful for the soul. I also try to get out at least once a day for a walk (yes even if its freezing!. This is in actuality a lot easier than it seems. How you may ask? Get your kids a puppy and find out! (muahahaha - insert evil laugh)
  5. Lykke yourself: Yes I always promote self compassion and kindness towards yourself, and you should always 'like' yourself, but also trying "lykke-ing" too.  It is pronounces "Luu-Kah" and is the Danish word for happiness.  I had read "The Little Book of Lykke" last year and it helped to change some of my perspectives. Imagine a country where it can be much colder and much longer (ok, just as cold and just as long) as here in Canada, yet they have a way of enjoying the longest season of the year - and being happy with it! The tips in this book have helped me to (try) to enjoy winter a little more and to help change my perspective so I'm not just hibernating and waiting out the season. I'm trying to find happiness in my least favourite season. I'm getting outside and taking the kids outside to play, to skate, to toboggan, to hike and to take in the beauty that does exist in the frozen tundra that is Toronto.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Birthday Party Themes: Drake Edition

 Disclaimer: I am not a crafty mom. I am not a Pinterest mom. But I am a mom who gets suckered into throwing her kids a birthday party every year with some kind of theme.  EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. But I can't complain, it is fun, especially when I see the end result and I think to myself: "maybe I AM a crafty mom!" We all have our dreams.

So this past October for my girl's champagne birthday I threw her a party Champagne Papi style. I think she liked it, but with tweens ya' never really know. But I am convinced it earned me my cool mom badge. Here's the breakdown:

Cupcake Toppers: My not so secret trick when hosting birthday parties for my kids is to do cupcakes instead of a cake. It saves me from having to cut the cake and even from using plates and forks. Plus the kids just want to eat the icing anyways right? So I always look for cupcake toppers that are easy to decorate in the chosen theme. For this year's Drake theme I found these toppers from Etsy. They come as a downloadable file which I printed in colour onto cardstock, then I got really craft folks. I cut them out and taped them to toothpicks. Super crafty right? I should really have a YouTube channel for all this.

Decorations: I got a even more creative and made some signs using Canva referencing Drake's famous lines and album titles. I printed them out onto card stock and then just glued some sticks that I found from the dollar store and voila - the kids didn't use them for photo-ops but oh well.
I wanted to keep the colour theme light and cheery and age appropriate and I also didn't want to do much work (hey, I'm honest!), so I ordered this set from Amazon. The colour theme means that I can reuse them again.

Banner: I wish I could say that I have an online template for you for this birthday banner, but sadly I don't. But the good news! I do have a cheap(ish) and cheerful hack for making one. I bought a set of gold letters from Michaels (these ones are similar). I was going to trace them out to make the banner, but who has time (or patience) for that! So I hole punched the letters and strung them together with some string to spell out the sign. 

Loot Bags: Simple hack: I bought some gold paper loot bags and just glued one of the cupcake toppers that I printed out on them. Effective and EASY (ok and maybe a little lazy, but whatever.  Why you gotta fight with me at cheesecake huh?)

Other touches: You can create you own invitations on Canva or order these on Etsy. Adding some gold and black balloons are an easy touch, as well as bottle of sparkling cider to substitute for champagne and maybe a label saying 'Champagne Papi." My tween nixed that idea because it was too lame. But I'm not judging (it was the tween, she was judging.)

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