Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year Forecast

It is fun to get a planetary glimpse of what lies ahead as everyone looks forward to all that the New Year will bring. Susan Miller is a world renowned astrologer with a website called Astrology Zone which offers free monthly forecasts online for every sign. You can help support her Astrology Zone writing if you enjoy the free forecasts by subscribing to her daily forecasts (also available for your cell phone for a small fee by sending text AZP to 75777), or her podcast.

For the next two weeks (until January 15, 2009), you can get a free audible download of your horoscope onto your iPod, MP3, or computer. She also offers calendars, T shirts, and personalized charts, so even if you are not interested in astrology, you can offer a gift to someone who would like to receive Susan's in depth masterful work.

May the New Year bring you all more happiness than you can imagine.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Diamond New Year

If you don't have plans for the New Year yet, you might want to start it off with a Diamond; Neil Diamond is performing in Las Vegas at the MGM on January 2, 2009.

Because tourism to Vegas has been so slow lately, MGM is offering a really great deal if you book your stay with them to go to the concert; $184.99 for two nights AND two premium tickets to the show! Just call them at 800-929-1111 and give them code MKT213 to take advantage of this deal.

It's not often that you can get a Diamond for two for under $200!

Monday, December 29, 2008


After several hours of loading and sending all my holiday pictures to my friends, I got frustrated; after all, why reload and resend the same pics to everyone when I could just post a photo gallery and have everyone simply link to see their pics?

Kodak has a free gallery feature which allows you to upload ONCE (yeah!) and send the link to everyone on your email list (the storage is free for a year as long as you make one purchase a year). It takes awhile to load, but since you only need to do it once, it saves time in the long run. There is even software that allows you to upload pictures from your camera phone into a gallery. All this is FREE and there is a handy Firefox toolbar installation that allows you to upload pictures directly from your browser.

If you want actual prints, you also get discounted prices (and a free offer for 75 prints when you sign up for the photo gallery). If you want your own printer, they have a new printer called the ESP3 which sells for only $129, prints, scans, and copies, and best of all the ink cartridges cost about HALF of what cartridges for other printers cost ($10 for black, $15 for color), so again, in the long run, you save money.

Holiday pictures the easy way; now if I can get get someone to do the photography too...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Par Bar

It's not often that a sports snack tastes good and is good for you; even better if it is meant to sustain you through a long activity, like 18 holes of golf. A sport nutritionist and registered dietitian named Sarah Walker, created Par Bars and Sun Valley bars for anyone who wants something good to keep their bodies going without a sugar and caffeine buzz.

Flavors include Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Cranberry Almond, and Goji Lemon. All the bars are made with raw seeds, organic oats, and nuts; they are recommended for people with type II diabetes, and they contain nearly 10 times the potassium found in a serving of Gatorade!

The bars cost about $2 each and they are running a discount on boxes where you can save 25-45% off samplers of all or certain flavors. Since there are no preservatives in the bars, they are best if consumed within 9 months, but I bet you will deplete your supply before the "best by" date even comes close!

It's nice to have something that is good for you actually taste good!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Soul to Sole

It is getting to be that wonderful time of the year, when sales start appearing on all the items you wanted for Christmas but did not receive. In this slow economy, stores at the beach are struggling to stay afloat until the weather warms.

Every January I head down to Laguna Beach to visit my best friend Cindy, and to shop at all the stores which have "local" sales; about the only people in town and shopping in January at the beach are the locals, so the savings are a nice bonus for being an all year resident.

Soul to Sole has two locations within walking distance of each other in Laguna; the Beach Street store has the higher end designer merchandise, while the Coast Highway store has a little of everything, including the funky fads that are a one season or one occasion buy.

The little local secret is that the second week of January the Coast Highway store has a $12 shoe sale where nearly every pair (a few window display items are $50) is $12. Yes, you read that correctly. The shoes range from Jeffrey Campbell, to Kors and Blowfish; designer shoes which retail for about $100 normally, so we are not talking about the ugly, cheap, hurt your feet shoes that are truly only worth $12. A bargain is only a bargain if you receive value and use from your purchase.

So act like a local this year and head to Laguna for some very satisfying sole food.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Do you take so many pictures with your digital camera that you could make your own flip movie book*? Are you a frustrated Director who wishes you had the time and energy to actually learn how to produce your own high quality video? Do you need to create a professional presentation for your product or company, but don't have the funds to hire a video production company? Do you have a family get together coming up where you would like to show everyone the birthdays, sports games, or entertaining moments from your life?

Animoto is the answer to all the above questions. And best of all it is free to produce your own 30 second video clip; of course you can upgrade to get more time or get a business package for ongoing professional needs. The program allows you to put together your photos into a video and the software will automatically sync music to go with the flow to create a unique video. A nice bonus is the music is already set to be used without you having to worry about the rights to use it. It's easy and looks great because it was created by people who used to do television and film work.

Easy and free; it's the best of all worlds.

*For those of you too young to remember, we used to have books of pictures that you literally flipped to create a kind of mini movie.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

May you all receive more than you wish and live with more ease, peace and happiness than you can imagine.

This year's gift went to Amnesty International, so that people everywhere may know peace, freedom, ease, and happiness.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Laptop LoJack

Wouldn't it be nice if your laptop had a system that works like LoJack for cars? Wouldn't it be nice if it could actually take a picture of the thief to help you and law enforcement capture the culprit? Wouldn't it be nice if all this was free? It must be Christmas (actually it's Christmas Eve, but that is close enough), because all this IS free and available through Open DHT.*

Adeona (Adeona is the Roman goddess of safe returns) was developed by some very smart Ph.D students and faculty at the University of Washington as part of an academic research project to provide everything you always wanted for your laptop security. It works as a download that only the owner can access, tracking the IP address and location of your laptop, all while remaining invisible to the user. If your laptop is a MAC, it will even take photos of your thief with the freeware tool isightcapture.

Christmas is early this year!

*I would recommend that you wait for the new enhanced version they are working on, due to be released soon; sign up for their RSS update feed so you can get it as soon as it comes out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tofu Ya

Trying to find a good Asian restaurant open all afternoon is one of those challenges that tests both my compassion (the restaurant workers should get a break) and my low blood sugar (I must eat regularly or I begin to shake).

Thankfully, there is Tofu Ya on Sawtelle, open all day and evening from Monday through Thursday (they are closed Friday to Sunday). As their name implies, they have plenty of options for vegetarians with various versions of Soon Tofu, a literally boiling hot bowl of soft tofu with a mild to spicy sauce, into which a raw egg (which cooks immediately in the hot broth) can be added. All the tofu dishes are served with typically Korean side dishes like kimchee, bean sprouts, clear rice noodles, rice, spicy cucumbers, and a tofu skin salad. The Seafood Soon Tofu, with shrimp, clams, and oysters, in a satisfying spicy soup, was perfect for a cold rainy day. For meat eaters, they offer Korean BBQ (cooked for you and brought out to your table), from the tender and tasty Galbi, to the boneless Bulgogi, all served with the same side dishes and a hearty accompaniment of sliced raw onions.

The service was very friendly and efficient, even though they only had 2 people serving and clearing dishes for the entire restauran (and they were full). The waitress said it is even busier at night so come by for lunch (they have discounted lunch specials if you get there by 1pm) and enjoy some of the best Korean food on the Westside.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Go U Go

I like to research before I travel and I Go U Go offers worldwide guides in an easy to navigate form, including a place where users post their pictures and thoughts on their trip. Even though I love to travel, I haven't been able to get away as much as I would like lately, so it's nice to have other people who have been (or live) where I haven't been, writing about the hotels, restaurants, and tips for their locations.

I Go U Go is like Tripadvisor with more options on entertainment, events, and personal anecdotes. The database has more than 8,000 destinations, and after looking over the Los Angeles section, I found that the restaurants mentioned are good choices, not tourist traps, and the hotels span the range from five star to inexpensive airport motels. They also have a handy compare tool for airfares and hotel rates which links to the major travel sites (Orbitz, Hotwire, Kayak, etc.) so that you can put in your desired date and destination while they search the rates.

Center'd is like a community bulletin board for various cities all over the US, so whether you are traveling or staying home, it's a nice resource for what is going on wherever you find yourself. They have a listing of holiday events that I found helpful just around Los Angeles, from where to find carolers to how to get tickets to the Tournament of Roses Parade.

It's always good to get information on a place where you don't know anyone; it's like having a friend show you around town to the hot (or cool) spots while avoiding the dangerous (or merely boring) ones.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Best Prices on Hotels

It is hard to know what price to bid on a room, as anyone who has used sites like Priceline, knows. Where is the point at which you are able to get a hotel to accept your bid, yet still get the best deal? On Ebay, you can watch a few sales before bidding to see what the item ends up selling for before you bid, and now you can do the same thing with Bidding For Travel when you bid on Priceline; they will track the successful bids for you in the cities and neighborhoods you want so that you can see what price to bid on your trip. It's good to know that the Sofitel Beverly Hills accepted a bid of $115 (the regular rate is $335) for it's beautiful centrally located property across the street from the Beverly Center, and walking distance from Melrose Avenue.

If you don't like bidding, then go directly to the new hotels geared for budget conscious, but style savvy travelers, like the Jane in NYC, which offers single rooms with communal bathrooms for only $99 a night. There is even a deal in Paris at the new Club Med cousin, Mama Shelter in the 20th arrondissement, designed by Philippe Starck for only $114 a night.

Style and value don't have to be mutually exclusive concepts in hotels.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I have always loved renting from VRBO (vacation rentals by owner) because I like having the options of an apartment in a city I am visiting; it makes me feel more like a native when I can shop in the local markets, and hang out in a living room as opposed to a hotel lobby with a constant stream of guests coming in and out.

Roomorama takes the concept of vacation rentals by owner to another venue. It takes the rental concept to rooms in a home or an apartment, like the original idea behind the B&B concept. One of the best benefits is the space for the money; a penthouse loft with floor to ceiling windows near Union Square was going for only $189 a night (about half of what a nice hotel room would cost in the same area).

If you have an apartment or home in a desirable area, you might want to swap through Home Exchange or Intervac, but I like renting without having to worry about someone in my home while I'm away.

Part of the price of a vacation is peace of mind and I don't mind paying that very modest price.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Santa Fe ReNew Year

The Inn at Alameda in Santa Fe has a deal for anyone who wants to start the New Year off with a discount and some pampering. From January 5-February 28, 2009, you can get three nights with daily breakfast, wine & cheese in the afternoon, and a 50 minute massage (per person for a double room) for only $447 (that works out to $149 a night, or $74.50 per person per night).

For discounts to more places, check out Travel-Ticker which compares hotel, air, and package deals; they recommend which one to book for the best value. One of their best deals is a 6 night stay at the Hotel Waldorf in Rome including air from NY for $699 per person (taxes not included). For a bargain close to home, they also had the Fairmont in Scottsdale for $149 a night (a 45% discount).

No matter where you decide to go, it's good to have options for this year and the next, so have a Happy ReNew Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pets on Vacation

Since I don't have a pet (or live plant), I am free to travel anywhere, any time I wish, but many of my friends have pets and must plan their trips by factoring in someone to pet sit or find a place that will accommodate pets. Even Oprah has based her stays at certain hotels on whether or not they will allow her dogs to stay with her, so places which cater to pets on vacation are an invaluable service (her hotel chain of choice is the Four Seasons).

Best Friends Pet Care has boarding facilities all over the US from San Diego to Florida, with concentrations in popular family destinations, like Walt Disney World Resorts in Florida. They offer a wide range of choices from private doggy suites to cozy kitty condos. For a small daily fee they will even give one on one private play times tailored for your pet from active ball tossing to cuddling for older pets. If you live near one of their locations, you can also take advantage of their doggy day camp, grooming and training options.

If reincarnation exists I want to come back as one of Oprah's dogs, or at least as a dog who gets to stay at a place like Best Friends Day Care.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Pssst! Wanna get a big fat check for shopping online at places you already shop?

Go to Ebates and sign up (you get $5 just for signing up for the service). I checked out the stores which are part of their network and although some of the rebates at their partners are nominal (like 6% cash back on Disney), rebates at places like Drugstore or Petco, are at a 10-12% rebate, and over time that can save you a nice sum. If you shop for necessities that you use daily, weekly, or monthly online, you might as well do it through a site that gives you money back for some of what you spend. The most impressive rebates were for products that I rarely see discounted, like A/X, Godiva, Sephora, and Dean & DeLuca, all at 8% cash back. They even have Murad products at 11% cash back, and they have additional coupons to save on specific products. They accumulate your savings until you reach $5.01, then send you a check within three months of your purchases.

There are exceptions to qualifying purchases, so read the rules before you buy, and don't assume that you are getting credit on everything (he basic exceptions are if you order directly from the company without going through Ebates, or for certain name brands which are excluded from qualifications).

Consumer Reports rated this site as the best for rebates that actually pays, so shop and get paid for it!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Paris Pastry

Rarely does it get cold enough here in Los Angeles to warrant putting on warm boots and scarves, but this week we will get to use our umbrellas, cold weather clothes, and heaters. The cold, gray, and rainy weather right now makes me homesick for Paris in the Winter, and one of my favorite things to do in these kind of times is to get a steaming cup of hot chocolate and savor a flaky buttery croissant.

These days there are a few places that offer very nice croissants all over the city, from the ubiquitous Pain Quotidien cafe to the ones at the Urth Cafe. But when nothing but the best will do, it is time to head over to Paris Pastry. There is a reason why they are the supplier of choice for breakfast menus at the many high end restaurants around town. Their croissants are delicate, flaky, rich, and light, all at the same time. One or two will definitely do for one person. Good things should be shared, so you might want to invite your friends to a very luxurious breakfast party with choices from the bakery case which include brioche buns, pain aux raisins, and of course pain au chocolat.

The most difficult part of breakfast will be deciding when it is time to actually go back out into the rain to start the day; who says breakfast can't last all day?

Monday, December 15, 2008

St. Thomas Getaway

My friend Donna retired to St. Thomas in the USVI years ago with her husband and daughter. It is a great way to live an island life with all the amenities of the US.

Since Donna worked in Real Estate here in California, she started dabbling in Real Estate in St. Thomas, and she now has two vacation rentals there starting at only $80 a night! As she says, it may not be a luxury hotel, but their studio has free WiFi, cable tv, DVD player, telephone, beach towels, linens, double size murphy bed, coffee maker, toaster, stovetop, silverware, microwave, and a refrigerator; the 2 bedroom, one bath option sleeps six and (starting at $100 a night) offers every room a spectacular view of the Caribbean Sea.

On a clear day you will be able to see St. Croix. Each morning and evening you can watch the cruise ships as they sail in and out of the harbor. Walk out your back door to the pool and deck to have fun in the sun.

Now that airfares are so affordable to the USVI, go visit my friend Donna, she will make your stay comfortable and fun. She may even convince you to retire and become her neighbor!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An Apple Berry Better World

It is the middle of the holiday party season, the time to put on the sparkly clothes, high heels, and festive smiles. What outfit would be complete without a classic red lipstick? What if you could buy a lipstick (for only $13) which donated 100% (yes, ALL) of its' profits from the sale to change the lives of women and girls around the world? You can help create a brighter safer world by putting your money where your mouth is and sending a kiss of support to someone who needs it.

Mary Kay is already famous as a company founded by a woman to help women become financially independent, but it is also a company committed to ending domestic violence. All the profits from the sale of their Apple Berry Creme Lipstick will go towards funding educational programs and providing Break The Cycle DVDs to teach teens and young adults how to build better and healthier relationships for themselves and within their communities.

The world can be made just a little bit better, one Apple Berry at a time.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wynning Encore

The new Encore hotel is opeing this month and they are offering a deal in January 2009 for either the Encore or the Wynn. Use code RHHED07 and get either the Wynn for $129 a night or the Encore for $149 most days of the week (Friday & Saturday rates are an additional $30 per night respectively). As an added bonus, if you spend at least 2 nights, you can also take advantage of a $50 dining credit with the code EXPDINE.

For everyone who loves the Wynn hotels (The Mirage, Bellagio, and Treasure Island were all built by Wynn before he sold them), this latest version will include 5 restaurants (one with walls which actually move and another named after Frank Sinatra), 7 bars, 11 retail shops, a nightclub, spa, and salon. The signature gardens and open naturally lit public spaces will once again be highlighted in this new resort.

They say practice makes perfect, I look forward to Steve Wynn's latest try at perfection.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Animal Rescue Site

During this season of giving, animals need help as well as people, and it's not often that you can help a charity without having to give your money, information, or more than a minute of your time.

The Animal Rescue Site is having trouble getting people to simply click on their site to meet their quota of getting free food donated every day to abused and neglected animals. It takes less than a minute (about 20 seconds) to go to their site and click on the purple box that says "fund food for animals". This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors and advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate food to abandoned and neglected animals in exchange for advertising.

Remember it's free, the site doesn't doesn't ask you for any personal information, and you can help feed and care for abused and neglected animals.

Here's the web site! Pass it along to people you know.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lobster Dinner Deal

At the end of the year it seems there is always so much to do that cooking usually ends up taking a back burner to the plethora of preparations, from decorating to entertaining. It's nice to take a break and go out for a meal to savor a nice meal without the stress of shopping, preparing, and cooking a meal; all the better if the meal is healthy, tasty, and a good deal.

The Enterprise Fish Company has been around for so many years that I remember going there in the 1980's. It is still in the same place, right off Main Street in Santa Monica in a building that used to house narrow gauge streetcars, just a few blocks from Venice beach.

They have a fantastic deal on live two-pound Maine Lobsters on Monday and Tuesday nights; it is steamed in the shell and served it with hot drawn butter for dipping, clam chowder or tossed green salad, rice or potatoes and warm sourdough bread for only $29.95 (reg. $23.95/lb). If you want to go any other night, there is always a nightly special with choices of fresh fish like Mahi-Mahi or British Columbia Salmon, all served with two sides and upgrade options for under $25.

Their Happy Hour (Monday to Friday 4-7 pm & Sunday from 8-10pm) offers great deals on drinks and seafood, like oysters for only $1 each and beers for under $3. Their drink menu includes $9 Martini specialties for every taste from the puckery Peppertini (Absolut Peppar Vodka and pepperoncini juice) to the sweet Tiramisu (Skyy Vodka, Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, Espresso Liqueur, and Bailey’s Irish Crème).

Eating, drinking and being merry before the holidays is always more fun when someone else does the cooking and cleaning for you; be sure to get someone else to do the driving for you too if you imbibe too much alcoholic cheer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

World of Good

For anyone shopping for holiday presents, you can both save money and support fair trade by buying your gifts at World of Good. They have a wide selection of gifts from clothing to jewelry and ceramics. Their philosophy of fair trade extends to fair trade coffees and teas, packaged in gift sets with mugs or teapots.

Nubius Organics also offers clothing, shopping bags, and metal (reusable) water bottles with a green bent serving artisans and conscious consumers alike. Through Saturday, 12/13/2008 enter Coupon Code ECOTOYS at checkout to save 20% on kid's toys and accessories.

We can help create a climate of global awareness and responsibility by putting our money where our hearts lie. The gifts we give of time and of money reflect our values; spend what you have wisely.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Craig Ferguson

If you are a night owl like me, you probably know who Craig Ferguson is (a very funny Scottish actor who hosts a late night talk show), and you have watched his Late Late Show. The show airs at 12:35AM PST, so you can record it to your DVR or TiVo if that showtime is past your bedtime.

The first taping of a television show I ever went to see was Craig's show several years ago. Because I actually signed up and showed up on the reservation (which you can make and print online), I am now on the list for new shows which need audiences, and when the Late Late Show needs audiences, they contact me! It's nice to be wanted by a TV show, even if it is just to be in the audience. I loved the warm up comedian Chucky (who really does throw out free candy to the audience, just like Craig says in his monologue) because he makes the wait before the show so much fun, it's like going to see two shows.

Tapings are free (do NOT buy any tickets for a taping), and there is street or studio lot parking; since the studios are about one block from The Grove and Farmer's Market, you can have lunch or dinner before or after the show nearby. Going very early will only have you waiting at the gate because they do not allow you onto the CBS lot before the time marked on the tickets, but make sure that you allow time for traffic and parking. To save time coming out of the studio, leave your cell phones in your cars; the longest wait is the one to reclaim cell phones at the security gate outside the show.

I recently got an email requesting audience members for all of the Late Late Show tapings until the end of the year, so if you have relatives or friends in town for the holidays, go see a show and give them a true "Hollywood" experience.

You could be spending the end of the year with Craig Ferguson, so go enjoy his show!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Signing Time

If you thought that you could never learn how to use sign language, then watch Signing Time or buy their DVDs. You can do it; the stars of the DVDs range between 3 and 5 years old, and even younger children begin signing after just a few minutes.

Signing Time is both a show on PBS and a series of DVDs which teach American Sign Language. The show was created by the Colemans because their daughter Leah (now one of the stars of the show) was born deaf. They started teaching Leah how to sign as soon as they learned, and at 18 months, Leah's communication skills surpassed those of her peers. They made a DVD for their friends and family to teach them sign language so that they could communicate with Leah, and the rest as they say, is history.

Small children find it easier to communicate with signs than language; it improves and enhances their verbal skills. Maybe if we all learn how to sign, we can all learn how to communicate better.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cards That Give

It's that time of year when those of us who still use snail mail to send Holiday Greetings begin our purchasing, writing, and mailing process. There is something really nice about receiving mail from someone who cares about you during the holidays, so I send out my wishes to all my friends and loved ones every year.

If you are like me and send out cards, you can buy cards that support a charity for this year's mailing from Cards That Give. You can pick the charity, cause, or design that you prefer from their list of charities (charities range from the ASPCA, to Heal the Bay, and the New York City Library) or from their gallery of designs. They include information about the percentage that actually goes to the charity and whether all or a portion of the card costs are tax deductible, so you can choose according to your own criteria.

I have a charitable tradition that I started about 10 years ago; I give an annual year end gift to a charity* instead of buying things for people I know (who get gifts from me all year). I write about my donation in all the cards I send out and encourage people to do the same instead of buying me a gift.

Start your own charitable tradition with just a card.

* This year my annual donation went to Amnesty International.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Secret Millionaire

I don't watch much television. Most of the time I simply have the television on the in the background as I am doing something else (like writing this blog); there are very few shows I follow, and even fewer which I make a point of watching on Hulu if I have missed an episode.

Since I write most week-end posts about something inspirational, the fact that I am writing today's post about the TV show Secret Millionaire is in and of itself a testament to how fascinating and inspiring this show is to me. The premise is that someone wealthy (sometimes a family) spends a week living on welfare wages without revealing their true identity, and at the end of the week they must give away at least $100,000 of their own money to people they have met during the week. In the two episodes I have watched, the millionaires have given away MORE than $100,000 and they have had epiphanies about their own judgments and lifestyles.

The show is a financial version of the Beauty and the Geek series, or the 30 Days series, where people from completely different circumstances learn from each other and help each other understand a foreign perspective. My friend Gloria suggested that perhaps we should have all politicians go through this kind of experience so that they know how their constituents live with the decisions they make; maybe someone could create the show Regular Citizen.

Consciousness can be an expansive experience, and in this case, the more the better.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Amandine Cafe

After our Asian lunch at Zu Robata yesterday, Cindy & I went next door to Amandine Cafe for a French dessert; we created our own version of a fusion lunch.

This cute cafe with two outdoor patios (one facing busy Wilshire Blvd., the other behind the cafe facing their small parking lot), offers beautiful slices of berry tartes, creamy lemon tartes, and various cheesecakes, pastries, and cakes. During breakfast and lunch hours, they also have a full menu of omelettes, sandwiches, and salads, so you can eat your meal here along with your dessert.

We tried the Tarte Citron (lemon curd) and the Tarte Rouge (raspberries and blueberries) and although we intended to only take bites, we ended up devouring both slices. The crusts are baked with real butter, the berries were fresh, and the creamy lemon curd was tangy without being too tart (how Cindy likes it). Even their hot chocolate and latte were made with skill (they do a barista design on their espresso with milk drinks).

They offer free WiFi, so this is a good spot to hang out while surfing or working; you can take a latte or cappucino break here anytime you wish by just going up to the counter for your caffeine or sugar fix.

Going to Amandine sure beats going to a library to study.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Zu Robata

I had lunch today at Zu Robata with my friend Cindy, and we were both very happy with everything from the efficient service to the delicious fresh food.

I like it when a restaurant reconfirms a reservation made several days earlier; it's a nice reminder for me and I get the chance to either modify the time or ask questions about the location when they call. Zu Robata called me this morning to confirm a lunchtime reservation and I remembered to ask directions while forgetting to ask about parking (street meters). Service during the meal was just as friendly and organized as the reception and reservation.

The food was presented with nice simple white plates that mirrored the freshness of the food. We had the mixed green salad, a sushi roll, and a sashimi bento box. All the fish was fresh and nicely plated; even the green tea rolls served warm before our meal with side dipping choices of their special duck butter (deliciously imbued with the flavor of five spice and duck) or citrus garlic oil, were good.

For meat eaters they have a Robata Grill of various meats like Lamb Cutlet with Garlic Kimchi Sauce and Daikon Quiche, or a Grilled Quail with Plum Wine Dressing. If you prefer your seafood cooked, try the Grilled Scallop Skewers with Chili-Garlic Sauce and Wasabi Peas, or the Salmon Tempura with Mixed Greens, Avocado, Chili Paste, and Ceviche Dressing. For a daring main dish try the Turbot (Eastern Halibut) with Yuzu Kosho, Wasabi Mashed Potatoes, and Mushroom Sauce.

The prices were very reasonable for the quality of the meal and the calm caramel colored space; they offer a daily lunch $20 Omasake for three courses and Bento Boxes starting at $12.

With the variety of creative offerings, the relaxing decor, and the very modest prices, Zu Robata is my list of places to revisit and retaste.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Online Outlets

If you are one of those who went out at 4am on Black Friday to shop, this post may help you get some beauty rest next year.

There are several outlet stores online which offer great deals without you having to get up before dawn and drive to a store. The beauty of outlet shopping online, especially when there are crowds galore and limited sanity, is that you get to shop the deals from your computer. No need to schlep from store to store looking for the best bargain; you do it all with a couple of clicks, and a cup of coffee, from the comfort of your home.

By now most people know about Overstock for everything under the sun (although the discounts vary greatly from very little to a great deal) and Bluefly for designer shoes and clothes. I recently discovered Outlet Buy and it's now on my list of go to places for everything from Dolce Gabbana and Fendi purses at 30-45% off retail, to Aerosole shoes at 56% off. If you sign up for their newsletter they give you an additional 10% off every order within a 60 day period, and their current holiday special offers another 15% off with the code HOLIDAY. I ended up paying $57 for a pair of leather boots from Aerosole that I saw in the store for $99. The discount is actually even better for those who live outside NY because there is no sales tax, and with free shipping and a 100% guarantee, you don't pay extra for the convenience of ordering online.

For those with a fatter wallet and some connections, get a member of Gilt Groupe to invite you to join; it is an by invitation only luxury apparel sample sale site which hosts about 20 sales a week with specific start and end times with everything going for flat rate discounts of up to 70%. One sale had a pair of Banfi Zambrelli boots that retail for $900 going for $250, or LuLu D.K Matouk linens for which retail for $1,400 selling for $560.

Designer shopping is a little less of a guilty pleasure if you do it at a deep discount while saving both gas and aggravation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dream Cars

With today's emphasis on finding alternatives to gasoline powered automobiles, it is heartening to know that by the end of next year there will be several sexy electric sports cars available; I know sexy and electric don't usually describe the same car, but in this case, they describe two cars built on a Lotus and a Porsche platform respectively.

The first one is a 100% electric sports car based on a Lotus platform called the Tesla. The Tesla goes from 0-60 in 3.9 seconds, uses no oil, goes 244 miles per full charge, and is already in production. They are building a plant near San Jose, CA to produce a sedan version due to be available by 2010. Yes, they are building a green car in a green plant here in California; that in and of itself is reason enough to invest (about $60,000) in this new car.

If you prefer a design based on a 911 Porsche, there is the eRuf, which goes from 0-60 in about 7 seconds, has a range of 200 miles, and goes up to 160 mph with only one gear. This model is made by Alois Ruf, who has been manufacturing Porsche based supercars for 31 years, so they know what they are doing. These are built in Germany with an estimated price tag of about $175,000, so save your Euros to get one when they become available in late 2009.

For everyone who wants to drive or own a sexy electric car, go take a tour of the Petersen Automotive Museum to give you some inspiration. As the makers of the Tesla and the eRuf know, to live it, you must first dream it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Virtual Puppy

I have never wanted a dog; even as a kid, the joys of playing with and petting a dog were far outweighed by just the idea of having to pick up dog poop everyday. I enjoy other people's dogs because I get all the benefits of a pet without any of the responsibilities. I now have a virtual puppy (which is about all I can handle), named Godiva and have been enjoying her so much, I wanted to share how I got her with anyone else who wants a virtual puppy.

By now nearly everyone has either a Facebook or Myspace account or both (I have both under the user name Elainetravels). My friend Darrin (a real friend, as in I actually have met and known him for more than 10 years) on Facebook introduced me to his virtual puppy, Dagwood, and asked me to adopt him, which in turn introduced me to the application Pokey created by Bonehead Labs. The application is slightly different on Facebook and Myspace, with the Facebook version offering more choices of puppies, and more general possibilities for play, so if you want more options, sign up for the Facebook version. Although the application takes awhile to load, once it is loaded, you can play smoothly (it has trouble loading on Firefox, but works fine on Safari or Explorer with the latest Flash Player).

In both applications, you can pet, play with (throw a frisbee or a tennis ball), feed, and decorate your pet's environment. (I have made my puppy an indoor pet with a nice bed and cute doghouse.) You get credit (bones) for having your puppy catch what you throw, for feeding your puppy, and for petting or feeding other pups. You can also earn bones by buying products or doing an endless customer survey, but I prefer simply having the puppies go fetch bones.

I learned that even even with a virtual pet, you must give it water and food every day, or it will get very thirsty and hungry. I guess even a virtual pet requires some responsibility, but that's ok because my virtual puppy is poop free, and that is only possible in a virtual world.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Zico Coconut Water

The first time I had coconut water I was amazed that it was so different than coconut milk; it is literally as different as water is to milk. All the fat and creaminess associated with coconut milk is like cream being associated with skim milk. Among the benefits of drinking coconut water are all the nutrients like potassium and electrolytes, without any fat.

I tried Zico, a pure coconut water from Brazil, today and I love it for its' taste, its' purity (no added sugar or fat) and the container, which is a compact paper carton with a foil pull top. You can literally take it anywhere. It is being marketed as a sport drink alternative since it is loaded with five essential electrolytes, more potassium than a banana, low acidity, no fat, no sugar added, and no cholesterol. Because it is 100% pure coconut water, it is very light and has only the flavor of coconut, but no sweet taste, so Zico has several fruit juice blends for those who want more zest. It's sold online and in various retail & yoga studios, but I found the best price ($1.49) was at Smart & Final.

It's not quite the same as drinking it out of an actual coconut, freshly taken off a tree (truly the best way to drink coconut water), but if you close your eyes and drink, you will get a taste of Brazil to tide you over until you can get to the source.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Crepes & Champagne in Manhattan Beach

Sometimes when good things in life are combined, great things are created; a creperie which serves wines and champagnes by the beach is one of those great things. There is of course the Cafe Crepe in Santa Monica, right on Third Street Promenade (see earlier post), but if you are in Manhattan Beach, there is La Creperie Cafe.

Service was a bit slow, but when we heard that several people did not show up for work the day after Thanksgiving, we felt extremely well served by the one waitress handling the entire restaurant by herself! The manager said that those who did not show up would be replaced, so hopefully the new hires will show up for the upcoming holidays.

The food was very good; from the tasty French Onion soup to the fabulous merguez sausage sandwich with harissa, served with a side salad and wonderfully garlicky french fries, everything was well presented and prepared. The bonus here are the Lavazza coffees and the wine list, both of which provide a variety of choices in quality at very reasonable prices. Lunch for two came in under $35 with drinks and tip; that in and of itself is a rarity in Manhattan Beach in the heart of the boutique/pier area.

The decor is very ecletic and fun, with red walls and fanciful seat covers, this place is definitely comfortable and fun. This is the perfect spot for breakfast, lunch, a nice afternoon snack, or a late night date of drinks and dessert at the beach. Hmmm, I think I'll have a glass of Champagne with a nice cinnamon sugar crepe on my next visit-a good combo for anytime of day or night!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Free Music From Oprah

This Thanksgiving I want to thank all of you who read and follow this blog; I am very grateful for all of you and for your continued interest in my posts.

Today's post is very short so I can head over to spend Thanksgiving with my family of friends. For anyone who missed the show or lost the link, here is some free holiday music from Oprah which you can download and copy onto a CD or MP3 player (it's only available until November 28, 2008, so download it today).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Costa Rican Free Massage

I have friends who love the adventure of going to Costa Rica (can you say eco-tourism?), but since my idea of camping is no room service, I have hesitated to go and stay in treetop or rustic mountain cabin accommodations. There is an alternative at the Guanacaste Resort, for everyone going to Costa Rica looking for an adventure with American amenities, this is the place to land. The 25,000 square foot free flowing pool with private alcoves is reason enough to visit, but add on the 23 treatment room spa and 18 hole golf course adjoining the property, and you have something for everyone. It's also a JW Marriott resort, so if you are a member of the system, you get points for your stay that count toward future visits to other properties.

With promo code CNP, your stay is only $249 a night (a 40% discount), includes a deluxe oceanfront room for two, and a complimentary one hour Swedish massage for two. The offer is good from December 1, 2008-December 18, 2009 with a 3 night minimum stay and certain holiday blackout periods.

Maybe it is time for a visit to a rich coastal resort that doesn't cost realms of money.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pandora's Box of Music

How would you like your own free personalized internet radio station? Pandora's Box does that with very simple questions, like what artist or song do you like? Once you type in your response, the system will automatically find similar song qualities and allow you to select what you want played on your new station!

Pandora's box grew out of the Music Genome Project®. The project analyzed 400 distinct musical qualities to capture the musical identity of of song and help define why listeners may like certain characteristics. This project was started by musicians and those who love music, (about 70% of the 60,000 artists currently featured on Pandora are independent musicians) and they continue to enhance and evolve as they add new music of every genre to the project.

It is like Apple's new Genius application for your iTunes library or your iPod; Genius figures out what you like to listen to and then suggests songs for you to purchase. The twist at Pandora's Box is that you create your internet station for free! If you have a mobile phone on either the AT&T (the application is included on the iPhone) or Sprint network, you can even listen to your internet station on your phone!

The name Pandora means "all gifted" in Greek and that seems to be a fitting name for a service which provides the gift of free music from talented independent musicians to us all.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Office Spaces with Childcare

If you work part-time out of a rented or shared office space, and you pay for childcare while you are at work, you might want to make your life a little easier (and less expensive) with the Cubes and Crayons solution.

Cubes and crayons was created by a new Mom (who else?) who wanted to spend as much time as possible with her new child with as little distance as possible between her work and her childcare facility. It's the next best thing to working from home; all the offices have built in WiFi access, a conference room, lounge, and library of business resources; all the childcare facilities are in the same building, with art, reading, games, and a host of other activities for the kids. The cost of $600 a month for 40 hours of use includes both the office space and childcare, so you save hundreds of dollars a month, not to mention saving your time and peace of mind.

So far they only have one campus open at Menlo Park, in Northern California, but they are opening one in San Francisco, and another in Boston, so if you want one in your area, contact them.

Growing a business while enjoying your children's growth is a combination worth supporting.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Free Book Swap

If you are still reading paper books, i.e. you haven't bought your Kindle yet, how about swapping out the ones you have read for some ones you want to read? What if you could swap out your books for the cost of postage?

There is a free service called Paperback Book Swap which coordinates the exchange; members pay for postage (the cost is about $2.25 to ship one regular sized/weighted paperback) to ship the books to other members, but remember that when you receive your books, you pay nothing, so this is truly an even swap. It works a bit like a book version of Ebay, but without the bidding process; swappers simply ask for the books they want and those who have them ship them out, so everyone is both a buyer and seller at the same time. The only restrictions are that you must be over 18 years old, not incarcerated, and have a valid email address and USPS shipping address in the Continental US.

There is a handy postage label link on the site so you can simply drop your book off at a mailbox if it weighs less than 13 ounces. You are not limited to paperbacks; you can swap audio books, DVDs, and video games using the same system. They will even give you 2 free credits (each credit is equal to one book) when you sign up.

Swapping your books and CDs for free won't last long (will paper books and CDs still be here in 10 years?), so take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy our old fashioned ways while we make the transition into electronic medias.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


One of my friends sent me to Youniverse and I had so much fun on the site that I had to share it here. The site uses something they call visual DNA to define what type of personality you are based on your choice of pictures. Instead of a written response to a question, you pick a picture that represents what you most closely feels matches your response. There are some blank/gray pictures in the choices so that if none of the pictures are close, you may chose the blank choice. I found the results very accurate and the whole process was fun; who would not like picking their favorite activities, movies, and art from an array of interesting photos? The results also show how your choices compared percentage wise to others.

The site seems to be a completely free social networking type site with a different twist for getting people to "meet" with similar or compatible styles, tastes, and personalities. You can try it as a guest here to see what it's like, then go to my group, so that you can see my results.

Try it, you may like it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Freebie Friday

It is nice to find freebies in times when airlines are charging for checked bags and restaurants are charging for delivery. But there are services which are truly free, with no obligation to prepay and get reimbursed, or worse yet, sign up and require a cancellation to stop lifelong charges to an account (as anyone who has ever signed up for a gym membership already knows). Finding the truly free services requires some work, but isn't that why you read my blog?

For free credit reports that don't require you to put in a credit card number and then cancel, go to this consumer site set up by the government to provide data from all three major agencies; the only restriction is that you can only do it once a year and they charge to give you a FICO score. The reports are very helpful in determining whether or not you want to get more information or update ancient history (one of my reports had me still living with my ex-husband whom I divorced over ten years ago!).

Suze Orman is famous as the financial guru who had invaluable advice in these uncertain times. She is an avid supporter of same sex marriages (as am I), so she has made her Will & Trust kit FREE to the LGBT friendly readers of The Advocate. All you do is click into either the Advocate site or her own site and choose the Will & Trust kit, then enter in the promo code ADVOCATE under the orange promo/gift code. You fill out the forms online, then take them to a notary public or witnesses to complete the process. All for free because Suze believes same sex couples should have the the same protections as different sex couples. Hooray to Suze for putting her money literally where her beliefs lie!

It is always a bonus to get free WiFi service, expecially when you are traveling or waiting in public places like airports, so the service at WiFi Free Spot helps you find the free spots around town, from local businesses to public places (like parks and libraries). They also have a great information page which explains (and warns) about usage of passwords in ANY public place, so feel free to surf the net, but don't do your banking in the park or airport. The same rules apply online or offline; don't share any personal financial or private information in anyplace where strangers may overhear (or oversee) you.

Always use your common sense for any service you use, whether it is free or paid, so DO NOT check your credit report or fill out your will at a free hotspot; freebies are good, but like chemicals, it is not always a good idea to combine them!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Preview Your Hotel

Ever wonder what it's really like to stay in the hotel where you are planning a trip? Short of a personal recommendation or a previous stay at the property, the only way you can see what is in store is to go to either the hotel website or a travel website; but the pictures that are posted may be as old as the day they broke ground for the building, and you have no idea of the spacial relationship between the photos (is the bathroom one foot or five feet from your bed?).

There is a video site called TV Trip which has up to date videos of hotels around the world; from the exteriors to the bathrooms, all the videos give you a real sense of the space and aesthetics of everything from the lobby to the rooms and views. It is as if you sent out a scout to film the property for your approval. You can choose different parameters for your search, ranging from the region to recent deals. I checked out a few places in Paris on their site that I know and the videos do give accurate views of everything including the exteriors, the lobbies, the sleeping areas, the bathrooms, and the artwork in the rooms.

If movie previews are a good way to decide if you want to go see a movie, then hotel previews are a good way to decide if you want to spend your time and money in an hotel.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Divine Design

Everyone knows the best time to shop for gifts is weeks before the holiday crunch, yet no one wants to solider through the crowds the Friday after Thanksgiving, so what is the solution?

How about shopping the week after Thanksgiving for designer items at 50-90% off retail while helping Project Angel Food provide meals for the ill and homebound? Divine Design is an event that takes place yearly to meet the needs of both holiday shoppers and conscientious citizens. This year it will be held December 4-8 from 11am-8pm at the former Robinson's-May store at 9900 Wilshire Blvd, in Beverly Hills.

You can hobnob with celebrities before the opening if you purchase the VIP tickets for $375, or just go online and get a ticket for a $15 door entry. Either way you will get access to designer items from Smashbox, Nanette Lepore, Theory, and Tadashi Shoji for prices that you won't see elsewhere.

There is also a drawing for a new Prius, so you never know what you could end up with simply by doing something good for your friends, family, and community.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Once Upon A Wish

The news has been so sad lately; between the burning fires here, and the chilling financial climate worldwide, I wanted today's post to be about two heartwarming people who may inspire and remind us all that there is joy in the world.

No matter your job or ability, everyone can brighten the lives of others. My friend Susie sent me this video about an imaginative grocery bagger named Johnny that was so inspirational, I had to share it with everyone here. It is about how one small act of heartfelt service can start a ripple of goodwill.

I have written about Emily Bear, the 7 year old piano prodigy, in an earlier post; she was on Ellen yesterday and played a song she wrote for Ellen's wedding. She said that she called her song "Once Upon a Wish" because Ellen got her wish when she was able to get married. The album of the same name will be released November 25, 2008, but you can order it on her website before the release date. She has written all the compositions on her new album and a portion of all her sales goes to charity.

Maybe the inspirational acts of both Johnny and Emily will make us all think of heartfelt ways to share some joy with others, after all, this is the season to make wishes come true.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Half Price Air to New Orleans

With all the cold weather over the Winter months (except here in Southern California), a nice warm Southern trip is a good idea, and it's even better when it's to New Orleans.

Southwest is having a New Orleans fare sale. If you buy your ticket between November 16, 2008 and November 18, 2008 for travel December 3, 2008 through February 11, 2009, just use the code FLYMSY, and get 50% off your fare! From Los Angeles roundtrip INCLUDING fees and taxes, that works out to $216 per person!

Laissez les bons temps roulez!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Foreign Words or Just Photos

It is inspiring to learn that people around the world all have common bonds, whether through spoken, written, emotional, or visual links. Because I write my blog in English, many of my French speaking friends can't understand my posts, so today's post offers both a multilingual international news source and a photo blog.

Seeing the vision of the world through the other people's eyes is always educational, so here is the link to a multilingual international news site France 24, which features stories about people and places around the globe (when was the last time you saw or read anything from an American news source about anyone or anyplace outside the U.S.?), and a link to a photo blog where there is no need to read (the captions are in French). Reading or looking at the perspectives of people who live a continent away only shows us how we are all citizens of the same world, just living in different neighborhoods.

Let's find more links that bring us together.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Do You Hulu?

For those of us who are not complete couch potatoes, but who also love to watch certain shows, there are several options. Most people these days subscribe to either their local cable or satellite DVR service or use the ubiquitous TiVo. But what if you are in between the old technology of VHS and awaiting to buy your own DVR when the prices go down under $300? Now you no longer have to use your old VCR or pay for a subscription with your cable company to use their DVR.

The solution I use is Hulu; and yes, it is all perfectly legal and FREE. Hulu has most of the popular shows online, from Jon Stewart's Daily Show (and of course the related Colbert Report), to Burn Notice and Lipstick Jungle. They even have classic shows like the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lost In Space for those of us who feel nostalgic. For kids there is Sesame Street and movies like Liar Liar. Oh, yes, you read that correctly, they also have FREE streaming movies! Full episodes or clips can be sorted by most popular, latest air date, or most highly rated, so if you missed last night's episode, you can watch it here with limited commercials (you can even rate the commercials). An hour show is about 40 minutes on Hulu, so sometimes I actually prefer to watch on Hulu than at the regularly scheduled time (shows are usually available the day after they air).

No matter what your tastes, if there is nothing you want to watch on TV right now, there is probably something you want to watch on Hulu; even if you are just looking for a recipe from Giada on what to cook tonight.

Just be careful that you don't become a computer chair potato.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Freelance Work

There are numerous sites which offer employment, but if you are an independent contractor or want only a short term job, then try Elance, the online resource for freelance workers. Whether your field is web design, programming, sales, legal, engineering, administration, translation, or finance, you can check out the current postings and bid for a contract.

The job bidding process works a bit like Ebay, so the more qualifications you include (verification of your credentials, taking their standardized tests for English proficiency, etc.), the better your profile looks when you bid for a job. For jobs which require stages or time, there are safeguards in place for approvals and revisions so that both employers and freelancers get their needs met within a neutral framework. Money is held in escrow for both parties so if there are any disputes, mediation decides where the funds go based on performance and feedback. It's a bit like hiring from a temporary agency; the job goes to a chosen candidate, but the agency governs the payment to the candidate, so if either the employee or employer does not perform as specified, the agency grants the appropriate party the payments due.

Elance is also great for people who need work done from freelancer; say you want a new logo or someone to do your books while your regular bookkeeper is on maternity leave, Elance will allow you to select a candidate from the bidders without a long term commitment.

In this new economy, it is nice to have options for employment that are flexible and reliable at the same time.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Local Turkey & Stuff

For people who like to plan ahead (like me) for Thanksgiving, this is the time to start ordering the turkey. You can always go to your local mega market and pick up a frozen hormone and antibiotic ridden version, but if you care about the health and taste of the food you ingest, buy your pastured, Heritage, organic bird from Local Harvest. Not only do they specialize in locally farmed products, but they offer great deals for the other Thanksgiving dinner fixings like nuts, cranberries, eggs, cheese, herbs, chocolates, and even the flowers for your table. Even if you just want to get some gifts for the holidays, you can shop here for soaps, books, teas and coffees, fibers like alpaca wool (to knit), and even pet food.

You can choose to shop from your zip code so you get only the suppliers who are near you (diminishing your carbon footprint by buying less food that is flown in from across the country or from another Continent). If you want to lessen your carbon footprint even more, Local Harvest also has a list of your local farmer's markets, co-ops, and grocery stores which stock local produce and meat. If you don't cook, you can check out the restaurants that serve food from local suppliers. For those who truly want a local food experience, buy some seeds from Local Harvest and grow your food at home; that is about as local as you can get!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Public & Private Transit

Although I know the public transit systems for several US cities practically by heart, when I travel outside the cities I know, I am as lost as any tourist to a foreign place. Hopstop helps anyone traveling to New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC, or Chicago to use the local transit systems like a native. With maps of subway and bus systems for every city, this is the transit information center for your metropolitan trips to the most transit friendly cities in the US (Los Angeles is not included in the cities served).

When traveling outside the US, many countries offer superior (to US) public transit systems, but when you are heading to a chateau or a beach far from the other tourists, you must drive (or be driven). Via Michelin has all you need to navigate the roads of 61 countries all over the world, from Albania to Zimababwe and you can get the information sent directly to your GPS (in your choice of miles or kilometers). They even include information on the fees you will pay for tolls and gas.

Now if there was only a way to teach me how to read a map without having to turn it constantly...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wow Hotels

Would you like to stay in an igloo? How about a railway car or a Wigwam? Perhaps a converted library or monastery is more your style. For those of us who love the unusual, there is Unusual Hotels of the World. You can stay in an underground cave, a floating boat, a tree house, a castle, a prison, a plane, or an ice hotel.

You can choose your hotel based on the wow factor, for creative and artistic merit, the sheer outrageousness, or the location or type of trip you desire; impress your partner with a romantic fantasy trip where you stay in an art gallery or a tree house in a rainforest. Staying in a church or a bullring will make your vacation memorable even if you do nothing else during your entire stay.

You may choose according to location, price, type of destrination, or wow factor, so decide what is most important to you, and choose wsiely.

Monday, November 10, 2008

International Reviews

Hopefully everyone knows to check Tripadvisor reviews when traveling anywhere in the US; they have hotel and restaurant reviews from frequent travelers (yes, I have contributed on several occasions) on places all over the United States. But what if your passport is making your palms itch with anticipation of an unusual or faraway destination?

I-Escape is the international equivalent, with reviews of places from Brazil to Vietnam. You can choose a destination by geography or interest, so indulge in Ayurvedic treatments treatments in India, or vacation with the celebrities at Parrot Cay. All the reviews point out the good and the bad of all the properties, so if the pool is too shallow to dive into, or the air conditoning is too loud, you will know before you book. The places reviewed range from the economical (under $100 a night) to the luxurious (over $350 per night), so do some research here and find your (nearly) perfect vacation spot; I think I found mine at Cocoa Beach in the Maldives, see you there!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Languages with Class

People always ask me how I learned to speak French; I always respond that I took lessons for years in school, but it was not until I traveled to French speaking countries that I actually learned to converse in French. (Imagine someone arriving in the US after only reading and speaking from books that taught phrase like "See Jane. See Spot. See Jane and Spot run.") Every language has its' own rhythm, slang, and references that are completely ignored in formalized lessons. After many trips to France, Martinique, St. Bart, Quebec (another kind of French entirely), and of course, Tahiti, I can now say I truly do speak French.

For those who wish to learn sur place, there are courses in Sancerre, France which include some fun vacation outings and treats along with language lessons. Coeur de France Ecole de Langues offers wine and cheese appreciation along with language courses. Imagine taking your courses in a 400 year old mansion in central France's famous wine region, where you can sample locally made cheeses at the farmer's market. You don't have to make a year long commitment; they offer courses from 1-12 weeks long and you can learn as a group, with your family, or as a couple sharing an educational vacation. Prices are very reasonable and you get discounts for the longer you stay and the more people you enroll.

Gather your friends or family together for a fun way to pick up an educational souvenir that will serve you for future trips.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Real Ease

Sometimes the simplest inventions are the most effective; I've been using Dr. Riter's Real Ease cervical support (priced under $30) for years. It suddenly dawned on me today that many people have never seen or heard of it, so I've posted a picture of mine.

It's made for those of you who have sore or stiff shoulders and necks (most commonly caused by sitting in front of a computer too long, or driving too much). It's really simple to use and it helps almost immediately. All you do is lie on the floor (knees up or on a pillow) with this support under your neck for 10-15 minutes. I find that a bed is too soft for this (unless you sleep on a wooden board), and although the instructions say you can use it in a sitting position, I don't feel my neck relaxes fully unless I am lying down on it. Just make sure your neck is not on the white plastic part (it is meant to support your head) and don't fall asleep on it (you might roll off it).

Of course the best remedy for a stiff neck or shoulders is to stop doing whatever causes the condition, but for those of us addicted to computers or driving, this provides some relief as we work towards moderation. Signing off now to go lie on my Real Ease.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tahiti Souvenirs

With the prices of airfares and hotels so high (even with deeply discounted end of the year prices), many people are postponing or shortening their travel plans. Even if we have a trip planned for next year, how do we give ourselves a boost now? With Winter approaching and the chill and gray encroaching, we can all afford to at least look at pictures of the warm tropical places we love. With the holidays around the corner, buying a few calendars can serve the dual purposes of warming your own heart and sharing that warmth with others.

Pacific Promotion offers calendars full of beautiful photographs of all the islands of Tahiti (and of the women if you prefer to look at people rather than scenery). I have been ordering the wall calendars for years because every month is another reminder of the clear waters, green mountains, and white sands of French Polynesia. One of the reasons these are my favorite calendars is that all the days and holidays of Tahiti are noted in English, French, and Tahitian. I recently got a mini pocket agenda, so now I can carry Tahiti with me in my purse. If you prefer other souvenirs, they also offer stationary, posters, coasters, postcards, screen savers, and video.

If you want to give these as gifts, be sure you allow plenty of time; my last purchase took over a month to arrive. All good things are worth waiting for, but if you plan a bit in advance, they will arrive when you need them.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Berry Sweet

Berry Sweet's motto is "Making life a little sweeter..." and the moment I inhaled the plumeria scent, I knew I was in for sensual pleasures. Their products range from solid perfume, shampoo and travel massage bars, to cuticle balms which double as eyebrow tamers. They make a boo-boo balm that is good for pimples, cuts, bug bites, and scratches, and it's a product that you can even use on your canine friends (but not feline ones).

Besides the great products, I love that this company was created by a new mom who sought to make a living at home while raising her children. All the products are made with the highest quality ingredients with a minimal amount of any synthetic stabilizers, and none are ever tested on animals. This is a truly small personal business; products are tested on family first and none are offered for sale unless they pass the family's scrutiny.

The headquarters is in Honolulu, and Berry Sweet says that they put the "Ahhh" in Aloha; once you sink into a tub of their Plumeria bath salts, you will probably agree.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Angels in Waiting

~We Are All Angels With Only One Wing And We Can Only Fly By Embracing One Another ~

The foundation Angels in Waiting was created to provide care for medically fragile preemies, infants and children. Linda Conforti is a nurse who started to care for these precious beings in her home; she quickly saw that she could not take care of every one who needed care and began a foundation to bring them into residences with licensed and registered nurses who would provide medical care for them as their foster parents. Linda has a deep understanding of what is needed and knows how this foundation can impact and change countless childhoods across America.

Angels in Waiting has been given a top placement on Global Giving, the world's largest online philanthropy and donation site. One of Global Giving’s criteria to obtain a permanent position on their site is to have 75 unique donors donating to Angels in Waiting by November 21, or they will lose this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Donate (even $10 would be greatly appreciated) to help Linda in achieving her goal to save countless childhoods; we will all fly higher when we embrace one another.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bellagio 3 for 2

Although I love the Wynn is Las Vegas, I also like the Bellagio, and I got an offer that makes it worth your while if you want to stay at the home of the fountain and atrium attractions. If you book before January 6, 2009 you can get three nights for the price of two. Just call them at 866-453-7117 and give them code 3N169C or go to their website. The deluxe room rate starts at only $169 a night, so if you take advantage of their offer, your room rate goes down to $112.67 a night!

One of my favorite things about the Bellagio is the in room synchronized music to every fountain show; be sure to tune in to the fountain channel when you are in your room when you watch the fountains. My favorite is the the 8pm show of Andrea Bocelli singing "Time to Say Goodbye"; it was the first fountain show I saw, and like all great loves, you always remember your first.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Schwab Bank

Almost everyone has heard of the brokerage firm, Charles Schwab, but it wasn't until recently that I learned about their banking services. They offer MORE services than most other banks when it comes to their High Yield Investor Checking Account. The banks are learning that nickel and diming customers keeps them away; free services that add value to a checking account goes a long way to getting and keeping the cash reserves that they want.

Not only do you earn more than in a money market account (currently the yield is 1.75%), but you also get FREE checks, FREE ATM usage worldwide (they reimburse you for any fees), FREE bill pay, a FREE Visa check card, overdraft protection, FDIC insured balances (up to $250,00 until then end of 2009), NO minimum deposit and NO service fees. They send you postage free envelopes so you can mail in your deposits, or you can set up a recurring deposit from a linked checking account.

Nothing is perfect; the only annoyance I have found with their service is that they are still working on an online link so you can transfer money into or out of your account from an outside bank. Until the beginning of 2009, you must call them to make an outside bank transfer of funds, but the nice thing is that in spite of this annoyance, they will credit you immediately for the transfer and you start earning interest on your deposits the day you make the call.

It is in your interest to save your nickels and dimes so you can watch them grow into dollars by putting your money into fee-free checking.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Free E-Waste Disposal

We may love to take advantage of all the technological upgrades available, but what do we do with all our old stuff? Many communities will fine you for dumping electronic waste like old computer monitors and televisions, so unless you pay someone to haul away your bulky monitors and old analog televisions, you are stuck with them.

If you live in or near Los Angeles, there is a company called E Waste Center Inc. which will come pick up your old tv and/or monitors for FREE and dispose of them properly, recycling any parts that can be recycled. They also help charities by collecting everything electronic from old PDA's to playstations for a specific cause. If you want to drop off your old electronic waste, they also have a drop off location, so go clean out your desks and drawers, and drop the load off knowing you are being green as you clean out your clutter.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Erase Hate & Build a Company

Love & Pride sells a pendant that says "Erase Hate" ; all the proceeds go to the Matthew Shepard Foundation which supports diversity programs in schools and organizations so all children can be themselves and feel safe. It costs only $59 for the simplest titanium version (they offer deluxe versions made with diamonds and gold) and 100% of the proceeds go to the foundation.

What would you do if you could build a company for $25? Kiva does that by making a loan to the world's working poor. With a 98% percent repayment rate, this is one smart investment in today's economy of uncertainty. Unlike the deals made by some banks and investment companies to people with no vested interest in the value of the collateral, these loans are made to build businesses in the communities where the money is invested; the best business oversight is a small community. It is rewarding to know that you can finance the growth of a business that will become self-sustaining; it's like buying a fishing pole for someone to fish so they will not go hungry.

A diverse safe world full of entrepreneurs is possible if all of us help to build it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Free Google Ads

When I started this blog I signed up for Google's Ad Sense program. I figured that since I was putting my time and energy into writing this blog, I might as well take the opportunity to make a few cents for anyone who clicked on their ads. I limited the number and scope of the ads to subjects related to my posts and made the ad space very small so my blog would not feel like an advertisement for Google's ads.

As I started telling people about my blog and more and more people started reading and following this blog (a big thanks to everyone), I started generating more clicks. This month I saw that my revenue was finally getting close to the $100 minimum Google requires to send out a check (after 6 months of posting daily). I was excited to actually receive something from Google besides the pleasure of a place to write.

Two days ago the ads on my blog disappeared and Google wrote me saying that they needed to "protect" their advertisers because the clicks on my blog were "not within accepted parameters". I suspect that Google is simply trying to save money by not paying out while taking advertiser money for clicks at the same time. Like the Wall Street wizards who sell nothing for something, Google sold me the promise of a check, but delivered nothing. Perhaps the parameters they use is to simply shut down accounts when they get close to the $100 mark so they never have to send out payments.

I have always written this blog for the pleasure of writing, so I will continue; unless of course Google decides this post is also "outside accepted parameters". So now all the ads are gone from my site, and it feels cleaner. In a way Google helped me clean up my act by making my blog a pure advertiser-free space.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Angels, Sheep, and Penguins

I love candles and have several throughout my home; they give off a soft glow and fragrance that warms both the space and my heart when I see the flickering flame. Finding good candles is like finding good candy; you want to get every flavor, size and color. I found there is a candle that smells of angel food cake made by Illume which also benefits Project Angel Food. For only $45, you can help get meals delivered to home-bound or disabled people affected with serious illnesses. You can literally light up someone's life with a candle!

For only $50, you can purchase a sheep for men and women living in poverty around the world; other dollar amounts provide other animals, like camels or cows, and one animal can help a family make a living (off the wool or milk), so this is truly a "living" gift. If you would prefer, you can also donate 500 trees or an entire forest! Oxfam America Unwrapped, takes care of the delivery and you can even make a donation on behalf of someone.

For those who love animals and want to help them survive in our often cruel human world, you can help raise a bear cub or clean up an oil-slicked penguin with a donation to Animal Gift. They rescue animals that have been abandoned or lost due to natural disasters like hurricanes, and they also raise awareness about baby seals and elephants being killed or poached in their natural habitats.

Who knew angels, sheep and penguins had so many friends in common?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

JBL On Stage

I love the ease of having all my music on my iPod, but I still had my stereo system at home to play old fashioned CDs (who ever thought one day CDs would be old fashioned?). I finally made the move to let go completely of my stereo, but to do that I needed to find speakers that would fill my home with music without taking up an entire entertainment unit.

JBL On Stage caught my eye from the moment I saw it. It is so small and sleek, it can easily be packed for trips. The quality of the sound is the deal maker; it sounds better than the stereo system I had bought for hundreds of dollars. It has a teeny little remote control (2.5" x 1") that allows you to control both your iPod and the volume even from another room! All this for under $100 at most retailers (and for much less on eBay if you bid wisely; I got mine for $50 brand new in the box).

Sometimes moving into the new electronic age is not only easy, but enlightening; I got rid of 15 lbs of stereo and got better music, now the only question is how to apply that kind of enlightenment to every other aspect of life.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Swift Financial

In today's climate of credit market meltdowns and escalating costs, it is a breath of fresh air to find a bank which caters to small businesses and offers FREE services. Swift Financial is FDIC insured and they were recognized by J.D. Power for outstanding customer service, so you get the security of knowing that your money is safe and that any questions you have will be handled professionally; valuable commodities in today's banking environment.

Swift Financial is an online bank which offers free online banking, no transaction fees, and a free check scanner. The free check scanner alone is worth opening a business account with Swift; imagine being able to process your customer's checks without having to make a trip to the bank! You save gas and time by scanning checks at your business (even if your business is at home). Never again will you have to rush to the bank before they close; with a simple plug into your computer, you can make your deposits anytime (deposits will of course still post only during bank hours on banking days).

With so many of the brick and mortar banks in trouble, many of the online banks are thriving because they stayed away from the risky business of mortgages and CDO's; instead, they invested in the backbone of cash flow; the small businesses and savers who have gambled on their own products and services.

Everyone is learning about financial value and risk these days. Bring value to your business by saving time and money, and risk spending your time and attention on your customers; your long term dividends will surely bring you great rewards.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Timed Discounts

Some offers are truly for a limited time, so I'm writing this post early enough for you to take advantage of them before they expire.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the Kindle is to reading what the iPod is to music. For anyone who missed the Oprah show last Friday, Oprah loves it so much she gave one to everyone in her audience along with "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" loaded onto it. In partnership with Jeff Bezos of Amazon, everyone can get $50 off the $359 regular price through this Friday (10/31/08) by using the promo code OPRAHWINFREY on the Amazon site for this revolutionary device. The promo code also gives you 10% off the book "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" so you can start evolving into ebooks.

The Palazzo in Las Vegas has a deal on their luxury suites for only $119 per night; because the discounted package includes $50 in free slot play, and $50 to use at Lavo, their new nightclub-restaurant-bar, you end up paying only $19 per suite (plus taxes and fees); just use the code EPOOCTO on their website, or by phone, and book by November 3, 2008. It's a great way to try out this new hotel adjacent to the Venetian (it's older cousin) and the Wynn.

And finally, the one offer that is timeless; Fare Compare allows you to get advance notification of discount fares along your favorite routes BEFORE they are announced on the airline websites. Just sign up for their alerts and put in say $50, so that when fares to your destinations drop by $50 or more they email you.

Discounts are wonderful, but only if you know about them, so now that you know, use your knowledge!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bowen Therapy/NST

I have been getting different types of bodywork and massage therapy since 1980, but I have found less than a handful of therapists I have liked enough to rebook. Because I am trained in the work, I am as picky about my massages as I am about my food; it's as rare to find five star food and service as it is to find a therapist whose work is both healing and nurturing. There are some wonderful therapists (Jessie, Jemuel & Shelly) who work on me and whom I work on; one of the traits that all of us share is our quest to continually educate ourselves so we can improve what we offer to others. There is always room for improvement on our skills and refinement of our energy.

I had an introduction to Bowen Therapy yesterday and I am still basking in the glow of the work I received. It is a technique developed by the Australian Tom Bowen which has evolved today into NST (Neurostructural Integration Technique). The main principal is that the body knows how to heal itself, so the therapist facilitates the healing process with a series of soft tissue manipulations that range from 5-45 minutes. Equally effective on newborns, the elderly, and animals, this process is done with the recipient fully clothed and focuses on a series of deep rolling energetic touches that specifically target groups of muscles, tendons, and nerves in our connective tissue. Key energy points are addressed so that your body can integrate and balance any blocked energy flows while releasing any trauma or dysfunction. The pressure can be adjusted from very light (for newborns) to deep for people with large muscle mass, and with one to three treatments, many symptoms are resolved completely. My therapist was Gary Stuart 800-361-2692, but you can find one near you at NST.

The best thing I can say about NST is that after my session I felt as if I was floating and a day later (today) I still feel as if I am on a cloud of good energy. The one caveat is to schedule your session as late as possible because you will probably want to do nothing more than to sleep afterwards.