Hedonism

SF Like a Local – Five Favorites on Fillmore

Fillmore Street in San Francisco has a reputation for being filled with fancy shops and restaurants, many of which seem out of reach for the average consumer. I live and work near this area, so I’ve had time to explore and find a few affordable favorites that I love to return to time and again.

If you find yourself on Fillmore for the holidays (or any time of year), here’s my short shopping guide:

  1. Boba Guys – my favorite fuel up spot on lower Fillmore (near O’Farrell St). I’ve become addicted to the boba tea. Who knew tapioca balls in oolong could be so satisfying? If I’m hungry, I’ll go for a little Sunday Bird chicken. 
  2. Asmbly Hall – a few blocks north (between Bush and Sutter) is a sweet little clothing shop that caters to both men and women. They feature local designers and are surprisingly affordable and always on trend.
  3. Sunhee Moon – just across the street from Asmbly Hall, this local designer for women’s clothing has savvy window displays that will draw you in. Simple lines and beautiful patterns, it is easy to build an entire outfit head-to-toe with perfect layers. 
  4. ModCloth – head on up the street (between Bush and Pine) to this “FitShop.” Featuring vintage-inspired women’s clothing in a full range of sizes (XXS-4X), the ModCloth experience is like ordering dim sum (one of each article of clothing on dispaly; select what you like using pencil and mark sheet and they pull it for you in your size to try on). Whatever you buy is mailed to you in a couple of days. 
  5. Credo Beauty – one more block up the street (near the corner of Sacramento) you’ll find a small storefront chock full of safe, non-toxic beauty items. Try out their testers of makeup, skincare and hair products. 

Fillmore Street only allows small chain merchants; some have just a few shops in select cities while others are local to SF. All have an online presence, so click on the links above to buy from your locale, wherever you are. Happy shopping!

SF Like a Local – Top 5 Treats + 2!

My (mostly edible) faves from local artisans – it’s a yummy topic worth re-posting. This year I’m adding two more to the top for those of you looking for cool gift ideas with a little more staying power. Like ART!!! And JEWELRY!!!

goldcriesandsilverdustslargeHilary Williams Fine Art

Hilary Williams is a Bay Area superstar. She creates fabulous fine art screen prints, mixed-media paintings and illustrations inspired by local scenes, both urban and natural. I’ve bought several pieces of her art – at all different price points – from a handful of postcards to a signed limited edition print. Check out her great stuffs!

 

MothBeetle2Bug Under Glass

I love anything made by local conservation biologist and designer, Kevin Clarke. Featuring ecologically-friendly sourced insects, his offerings include jewel beetles, sunset moths and Darwin’s favorite butterflies. Kevin’s real butterfly wing jewelry is just gorgeous – I’ve given several two-sided pendants as gifts. The framed insect collections always take my breath away. Bug Under Glass ships from CA to anywhere.

 

Ok, the rest of these are food. Or food-related. Nothing wrong with that! All of these delectable goodies are made right here in San Francisco, and these five companies have certainly won my heart.

IMG_4124L’ Amourette Chocolate

I have many local faves when it comes to chocolate (see my post, Confessions of a Dark Chocolate Snob), but this is the current winner. A $5-8 bar may sound extravagant, but oh so worth it as a slowly-savored treat. So far I have tried the Dried Fig; Shredded Coconut; and Sea Salt varieties. With over 20 bars listed on their website, I cannot wait to discover more! Candied Pomelo Peel, anyone?

 

firepepperSpice Ace

I just love going in this store. A feast for the senses. Cleanly stacked glass jars with white labels and lids line the walls. And inside these small jars? Pungent, fresh and delicious spices, salts, herbs, extracts. There are tester jars for each, so you can whiff away (and even taste, if you like). I find the prices to be very reasonable – mostly cheaper than what you see at the grocery store. My favorites so far: San Francisco Fire Pepper (pictured), Herbes de Provence Sea Salt (Sel Gris), Black Truffle Parmesan Seasoning, and the exotic Dukkah (an Egyptian blend of “Hazelnut, Sesame Seed, Pistachio, Coriander, Cumin, Sea Salt, Black Pepper”).  And you gotta get the Bacon and Onion Smoked Sea Salt!

songteaSong Tea

Around the corner from Spice Ace is another neighborhood wonder: Song Tea. I do love my tea. I’m usually buying good-quality teas, but this place really steps up the game. At first I was taken aback by the hefty prices (some upwards of $100 for 8 ounces). Whoa! I took a chance and bought the Gold Peony White ($22/2 oz) then went back and got the deliciously fragrant Longzhu Jasmine Green ($16/2 oz). I’ve been keeping track – because I can steep these leaves 2-3 times, I’ve been able to yield more than 45 cups each. So it works out to be about the same cost per cup as a $5 box from the grocery store. Score!

molinariMolinari Salami

I first discovered Molinari salami last year when I was looking for holiday treats. Someone posted on Facebook that Molinari Delicatessen had to-die-for ravioli. I had to investigate, of course. Bought the ravioli for myself, and a couple of links of salami as a gift. My taste buds have never been the same. I never cared one whit for salami, but that’s because I’ve never tasted the good stuff until now. Yes, now I know. I even dug up this LA Times article that explains why San Francisco is the salami capital of America.

ettaandbillieEtta and Billie

You may not be able to eat or drink these products, but you’ll sure be tempted – with heavenly scents and textures such as those found in the Grapefruit Cardamom Body Scrub, the Bergamot Ginger Body Lotion or the Citrus Poppy Seed Soap. I love the simplicity here, both in the packaging and substance. As soap maven Alana Rivera states, “My soap is made with real natural ingredients like Lavender and Coconut Oil, rather than irritating chemicals like Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Trisodium Etidronate.  And it’s handcrafted with care by a human being, not created by a machine in a factory. The choice seems pretty simple to me.” I agree.

So there you have it, my Top 5 + 2! If you’re not a local, you needn’t worry – all of these SF companies are available online. Now tell me, what are your top local favorites?

Make a Collage

Image 4Stunted in your creative growth? Angry about something (or someone)? Frustrated? Perplexed about a situation? Forget therapy. Therapy schmerapy, what you need is a good ol’ collage-making session!

Image 4_2I have followed the advice of two authors on this point: Sue Monk Kidd and Julia Cameron. One of my favorite books ever is Traveling With Pomegranates. This is a memoir by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor. I believe this book found me at a critical time: I was about to tackle a huge creative project – taking me in a new direction – which I found bewildering and scary. I related to Sue’s fear of writing her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, after years as a successful nonfiction writer. I made my first collage after reading about her experience in the Traveling with Pomegranates memoir:

“I started the collage soon after returning from Greece, searching through magazines, catalogs, postcards, photos and prints, cutting out whatever inspired me. I was supposed to be writing an outline for the novel, and I was cutting out pictures. It didn’t seem to matter whether I understood what the pictures meant or how they fit into the novel; it was enough to be drawn to them in some deep, evocative way. It was pretty much an unconscious process. I told myself I was being creative, turning my play instinct loose to roam around and find what fascinated it. Inside I was thinking: This is nuts.”

Nuts or not, the random assemblage of images helped guide her writing. She elaborates further on her website:

“I had a big notebook where I worked out the underlying structure of the book. I relied more heavily, however, on trying to conjure ‘madness,’ which I think of as an inexplicable and infectious magic that somehow flows into the work. [The] collage of images vividly caught my attention. They included a pink house, a trio of African-American women, and a wailing wall. I propped the collage on my desk with no idea how, or even whether, these things would turn up in the novel.”

Image 8 We could all use a little more madness in our lives. The unstructured play kind. When I recently found myself frustrated creatively, I turned to another source of inspiration, Julia Cameron. You may know of Julia’s famous book, The Artist’s Way (initially self-published, it has become a lasting best-seller). Lately I’ve been drawn to the sequel, Walking in This World. Just like The Artist’s Way, it is designed as a 12-week course to break through creative blocks.

While this is my second time through Walking in This World, I never actually completed the assigned tasks. Last week I decided to go back and tackle them one by one. Fortunately this included making another collage.

Task: You Want to Make Something of It?

“Set aside a stack of magazines with pictures. Buy a piece of poster board and some glue. Locate a scissors, tape if you want it, and give yourself a full hour’s time. Scan your consciousness for a situation you would like to understand more fully….Holding this theme loosely in mind, [pull] images that attract you and may feel connected to your theme.”

I find this process immensely satisfying. I can’t say why, exactly. Maybe for the same reason that coloring books were cited as a relaxation technique for adults in a recent Huffington Post article. Not only is collaging an aesthetically pleasing de-stressor, the finished product has a lasting, ameliorative impact.

photoThat first collage I made years ago (which, by the way, is the banner for this website) contains visual cues about my past, present and future. For instance, I randomly pulled a photo of the Pyramids, then got to visit there a few years later. I also ended up with a picture of a sculpture created by an artist who later helped me score an interview with a national arts magazine. See, this collage is prophetic and powerful.

As of today I have my own sequel, and I love it. At first I thought I would be like the monks with their sand mandalas – I arranged the pieces on the floor, took a photo, and planned on dismantling the collage. Who has room in this tiny apartment for another playful “school time” art project? But much like the first one, I love staring at this new bright and mysterious collage.

Image 3So up it goes on the back of the closet door, right underneath the original. My clothes closet/sewing room/office is the perfect place for me to have some communing time with my new personal piece of inspiration. Who knows what it will teach me? I’m glad to go a little mad like Sue Monk Kidd and “make something of it” like Julia Cameron – two very inspiring women, indeed.

I’ll end with these words from Julia and I hope you will be encouraged to try your own collage. Remember, go nuts! Ripping up paper is fun! Make a mess with glue!

“What you discover through this process may surprise and intrigue you….what you find through making a collage may not even address the specific topic you ‘worked’ on. Instead, a far larger and more holistic sense of healing may emerge.”

SF Like a Local – We Travel by Zip Line

What’s it like to zip-line? I’m proud to say that I now know the thrill of zipping through the treetops in a lush canopy forest. Quite different from last year’s equally-thrilling day trip hot air balloon ride. This time it was a cool ride all the way, baby.

So cool, in fact, that I have no words to describe the feeling.  Luckily for me, my friend rented a GoPro helmet camera on site. So here you have it – in less than 3 minutes – a first-time zipper’s experience on video:

Not scary at all (unless you have a fear of heights). I felt much more supported than the time I went parasailing. These zips only last about 10 seconds (we had 6 zip lines and 2 sky bridges on the 2-hour tour). In honor of the 10-second thrill, I’ll keep this quick and breezy:

ImageRed Canopy Tours by Mount Hernon Adventures in the Santa Cruz Mountains (about 1.5 hours from SF)

Excellent tour guides, beautiful views

Go, and rent the GoPro!

 

SF Like a Local – My Favorite Hike and a Cliff-Hanging Happy Hour

The best part about living in the big city is the all the workout walking. How better to end an indulgent dinner out than by having to schlep up steep San Francisco hills to get back home? Did I mention I never wear heels? For fear of tumbling down (or up) the block?

Ok, so walking city streets = good. If it’s your first visit, trust me, you will feel muscles that you never knew you had (as in “my shin muscle is on fire”). In addition to all the cross-town traversing, I invite you to follow me to the edge of the city for some stunning natural views and my absolute favorite Golden Gate hike.

IMG_5711I usually pick up the Batteries to Bluffs trail from Immigration Point in the Presidio (there is room to park along Washington Blvd, even on the weekends). I like this little-known starting point because you can avoid the bridge traffic and get right to it. And it makes for an easy return to your car after the hike.

ImageIf you don’t have a car, you can take the California 1 bus to Arguello Blvd, then walk into the Presidio to Inspiration Point. (Better yet, stay at the beautiful Inn at the Presidio and follow the short path behind it up to the Point.) Take in the city views, then continue on Arguello until you reach Washington (forks to left). From here you can stay on Washington or dip into the trails to catch a glimpse of the bridge towers at the National Cemetery Overlook. Eventually you will find your way to a campground that leads to Immigration Point. You can see a good color map of Presidio trails here.

Now that we’ve made it into the heart of the Presidio, let’s take that stair-step trail on the left down to Lincoln Blvd below. Here you will find many trail head signs. Follow the one that says Marshall Beach. This leads you to the “backside” of the Gate – basically you’re hiking all the way down to a tiny nestled beach that looks like the mythic home of a troll living beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Image 2Speaking of trolling, this secluded spot has a reputation for being a nude beach. Why on earth someone would want to expose their bits to the frigid weather here is beyond me, but it does happen. You may spy one or two nudists near the rocks – or even get lucky enough to have Naked Guy photo-bombing your pic of the bridge!

Hike back up (staying left at fork) then head left on Lincoln until you get to the batteries and Golden Gate Overlook. Take a seat on one of the new stone benches (built in 2012) and see the cars and people maneuvering below. Here the Golden Gate Bridge seems so close – as if we were seagulls hovering just above.

IMG_5710After a rest and a snack, explore the earthwork batteries to the left, built for seacoast defense after the Civil War. Climb the ladders, stand on top and take in the stunning views of the sea. Congratulate yourself on traveling a less-touristy-laden path to the Golden Gate, and imagine what it looked like over a century ago (long before the bridge was built in 1937).Image 1

All right, my trolls and seagulls! It’s time for our post-hike rewards, into the belly of the tourist beast! Pick up the car on Washington, turn south on Lincoln, wind through Seacliff past the Legion of Honor and keep heading west until you reach Lands End. Park in the Visitor Center lot or along the Great Highway.

Enter the Cliff House with some trepidation (this prime tourist spot is perpetually crowded). I often get lucky and snag one of the small tables in the lounge area to the right. This is perfect for happy hour – drinks/apps only – and the views of the sun-sparkled ocean are blindingly gorgeous. You may even see a whale swimming by Seal Rocks, as I did one afternoon.

IMG_4454I have never attempted the main dining area, but I have scored a table in the bistro (left of hostess stand). Here you can order from the full menu and may end up with views of Ocean Beach.

IMG_5693After hanging out at the Cliff, you may feel revived enough to explore the ruins of Sutro Baths (in view of the restaurant, below the Lands End Visitor Center). Bonus hike: take the Coastal Trail east to discover the Lands End labyrinth. The labyrinth is well hidden, but also well worth it!

That’s about it for the hike and the hang. So tell me, did I whet your appetite?

 

 

SF Like a Local – Top 5 Treats

My favorite local gift gems! Ok, so most of these are food. Or food-related. Nothing wrong with that! Consumables are an excellent gift idea, since most of us have too much stuff. All of these goodies are made right here in San Francisco, and these five companies have certainly won my heart.

IMG_4124L’ Amourette Chocolate

I have many local faves when it comes to chocolate (see my post, Confessions of a Dark Chocolate Snob), but this is the current winner. A $5-8 bar may sound extravagant, but oh so worth it as a slowly-savored treat. So far I have tried the Dried Fig; Shredded Coconut; and Sea Salt varieties. With over 20 bars listed on their website, I cannot wait to discover more! Candied Pomelo Peel, anyone?

 

firepepperSpice Ace

I just love going in this store. A feast for the senses. Cleanly stacked glass jars with white labels and lids line the walls. And inside these small jars? Pungent, fresh and delicious spices, salts, herbs, extracts. There are tester jars for each, so you can whiff away (and even taste, if you like). I find the prices to be very reasonable – mostly cheaper than what you see at the grocery store. My favorites so far: San Francisco Fire Pepper (pictured), Herbes de Provence Sea Salt (Sel Gris), Black Truffle Parmesan Seasoning, and the exotic Dukkah (an Egyptian blend of “Hazelnut, Sesame Seed, Pistachio, Coriander, Cumin, Sea Salt, Black Pepper”).  And you gotta get the Bacon and Onion Smoked Sea Salt!

songteaSong Tea

Around the corner from Spice Ace is another neighborhood wonder: Song Tea. I do love my tea. I’m usually buying good-quality teas, but this place really steps up the game. At first I was taken aback by the hefty prices (some upwards of $100 for 8 ounces). Whoa! I took a chance and bought the Gold Peony White ($22/2 oz) then went back and got the deliciously fragrant Longzhu Jasmine Green ($16/2 oz). I’ve been keeping track – because I can steep these leaves 2-3 times, I’ve been able to yield more than 45 cups each. So it works out to be about the same cost per cup as a $5 box from the grocery store. Score!

molinariMolinari Salami

I first discovered Molinari salami last year when I was looking for holiday treats. Someone posted on Facebook that Molinari Delicatessen had to-die-for ravioli. I had to investigate, of course. Bought the ravioli for myself, and a couple of links of salami as a gift. My taste buds have never been the same. I never cared one whit for salami, but that’s because I’ve never tasted the good stuff until now. Yes, now I know. I even dug up this LA Times article that explains why San Francisco is the salami capital of America.

ettaandbillieEtta and Billie

At last but not least, my only non-food item to make the list. You may not be able to eat or drink these products, but you’ll sure be tempted – with heavenly scents and textures such as those found in the Grapefruit Cardamom Body Scrub, the Bergamot Ginger Body Lotion or the Citrus Poppy Seed Soap. I love the simplicity here, both in the packaging and substance. As soap maven Alana Rivera states, “My soap is made with real natural ingredients like Lavender and Coconut Oil, rather than irritating chemicals like Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Trisodium Etidronate.  And it’s handcrafted with care by a human being, not created by a machine in a factory. The choice seems pretty simple to me.” I agree.

So there you have it, my Top 5. If you’re not a local, you needn’t worry – all of these SF companies are available online! Now tell me, what are your top five local favorites?

The Writer’s Blog Tour

Rebecca Pillsbury

Rebecca Pillsbury

Hey, I’ve been nominated for the Writer’s Blog Tour!

Thanks to Rebecca Pillsbury for the nomination. You can find out about Rebecca’s wonderful writing journey on her blog, Finding Ecstasy.

I’m thrilled to share my own writing process while highlighting some worthy and interesting fellow bloggers (see my two nominations at the end of this post).

Now on to my Writer’s Blog Tour interview:

What am I currently working on?

I’ve always got a lot of writing projects going at once. I write new songs when the muse inspires –  lately a dirge called Kindness is Fading Away. It’s about communal mourning and celebration; you know, the ebb and flow of life. I’m also working on a new music/art collaboration entitled Figure 8, which is a sequel to my book/CD project, Peace or Drama: A Journey Through Music and Art. When I’m not writing music, I write about my life as a singer-songwriter-performer and also write about more personal stuff here on the Alice blog. I started Alice and the Rabbit Hole as a way to share my interests in food, health, home and leisure.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

So I’m quite new to this genre of blogging about home life; I guess it’s different in that it comes from my own unique experiences as a “forty-something, married, no kids, two cats, small apartment in the big city kinda gal.” Living in San Francisco plays a big role in the writing, which may be different from other health and home type blogs.

Why do I write what I do?

I’ve been wondering why I feel so compelled to write. I see it as a welcome challenge and always savor the feeling of accomplishment, whether I’m crafting a song (much like a poem, searching for that perfect rhyme) or writing a piece of prose. I know my role is to entertain, but it’s also about connecting with my fellow human beings.

How does my writing process work?

Sometimes it hits like a lightening rod – must write now! Other times it has to be coaxed (I have set a deadline and it’s time to get busy). Usually one is a catalyst for the other. I do think it’s like sculpture – you keep whittling away until you have only the best bits left. It’s what’s meant to be there. I can work like a madwoman for hours, and then have to leave it for awhile before it’s time for revisions. Taking a walk (especially in nature) often leads to writing revelations.

Continuing the Tour

I nominate Tracy Baetz and Margaret S. McGraw to continue the tour. These are both prolific and gifted writers, so be sure to check out their blogs!

Tracy Baetz

Headshot_TBTracy is a nature enthusiast, avid traveler, longtime museum professional and amateur photographer…who—whenever possible—is accompanied by her incredibly personable dog, Tavish. Tracy’s award-winning website and blog, IntrepidPup.com, are standing invitations to vicariously accompany them to national parks, natural wonders and cultural attractions. Eager to take on the seashores, the mountaintops and all the woodland trails and urban jungles in between, they promote lifelong learning and an active lifestyle, make exploring fun, and inspire us to realize that it’s as much about the journey as the destination. It’s pure enjoyment: part wonderment, part discovery, and all about being out and about in the world with one Intrepid Pup. Come! Adventures await.

 

Margaret S. McGraw

MCoin_Profile_PicMargaret S. McGraw’s writing includes the prompt-writing blog WritersSpark.com, several short stories currently in circulation for publication, and two novels in progress: Mira’s Children is a YA science fiction adventure, and OceanSong is a fantasy begun in the 2012 NaNoWriMo challenge. She’s gearing up for NaNoWriMo 2014, to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Her imagination draws on her lifelong love of science fiction, fantasy, and anthropology. Her education and experience range from anthropology and communication through web design and IT management. Margaret lives in North Carolina with her daughter and an array of cats, dogs, Macs and PCs, and too many unfinished craft projects. For more details on her writing, follow Margaret on Twitter @margaretsmcgraw or visit her blog at WritersSpark.com.

SF Like a Local – Lyon Street, Bay Views and Pastry, Oh My!

Here is my Saturday ritual: teach a morning yoga class, walk the Lyon Street steps, reward myself with pastry. Whether or not you’re into yoga, the latter two actions are a true San Francisco treat. Here are the deets:

IMG_4386Lyon Street steps are heavenly or gruesome, or both – depending on your level of fitness. Let’s say the 288 steps spanning two city blocks can be a gruesome workout with heavenly views. But please don’t shy away, dear tourist! You can find your way here and merely take in the stunning views without having to leave level ground. If that’s your pleasure, head west on Broadway until it dead ends at Lyon (this is the at the top of the steps). There is usually available parking in this neighborhood, home to many mansions known as Billionaire’s Row in Pacific Heights.

IMG_4385

Hello there, Feinstein house

If you’re feeling more adventurous, head halfway down the steps to a plateau and garden in front of US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s house. Feinstein, born and raised in SF, once the mayor of our fair city, bought her current home with the stunning views of the bay in 2006. When in town, she also has views of the scores of runners and fitness buffs that stop to catch their breath on her front patio.  But hey, it’s still a far cry from those who live with the touristy mob scene on “crookedest” Lombard street!

IMG_4333

Entrance to Presidio at Broadway and Lyon

In fact, the Lyon Street steps are relatively unknown outside the fitness crowd, even among locals. This is why it’s such a gem. On a clear day, you can see the beautiful dome of the Palace of Fine Arts, sparkling blue bay waters and the hills of Marin. Not only that, but you’re literally standing at the edge of the Presidio, where you could waltz right into the forest and hike to your hearts desire. But let’s get back to these steps, shall we?

The good news is, there are many more plateaus along the way. The bad news is, it gets seriously steeper and narrower as you reach the second half of the steps (from Vallejo St down to Green St). Get to the bottom and you’ll be huffing and puffing, but try not to look back up – the steepness of these lower steps can be rather daunting. Distract yourself for a moment with the sprawling pinkish stuccoed house on the right that served as the setting for the high school in the Princess Diaries movie. Yes, that will take your mind off your burning calves and shins.

IMG_4383

Halfway back up

So I’m painting a picture of my personal preference here: I like to start at the top, go all the way down and come all the way back up. That way, I get the grand view on either end. And of course, my reward of pastry on the other side. I suppose that drives my eagerness to hike back up all those steps. If there really are 288 (accounts vary, and I’m in no mood for keeping track in the throes of stepping), that means 576 round trip. Yes indeed, guilt-free pastry awaits!

You’re back at the top, you’ve sated your appetite for gorgeous views and now it’s time to satisfy another appetite. Walk a few blocks over to “Divis” (that’s Divisadero Street) to find the hopping b. patisserie. Another local gem that you may not hear about – unless you’re one of those “foodie” sorts. I was traveling recently and read in one of those inflight magazines that a top Parisian food critic claimed b. patisserie in San Francisco had the best croissants in America.

That may be true, but I’m partial to their signature pastry: the kouign amann. I’ve never had this anywhere else; it took me a long time to figure out how to pronounce it (coo-ine ah mahn). But man, oh mahn – this is the stuff! Flaky crust with oozy sugar syrup in the middle. I drool just thinking about it….

IMG_4300Good thing it’s almost Saturday!

Wardrobe Wakeup Review

 

This is the perfect place to share my new love: a delivery service called Wardrobe Wakeup. Designer clothes delivered fresh to my door once a month? Yes, please!

d4f9a5aeb2d5296b615b2ab476725a35Before I tell you more about this wonderful idea, let me give you a little background on my clothing/shopping habits. I’m a petite woman in my mid-40’s who lives in a very hip, clothing-conscious town. A mere three blocks from my apartment, all the major designers have a boutique (or covet a spot) on the increasingly chic Fillmore Street. So I get to do a lot of high-fashion window shopping.

Most of these stores are well beyond my reach. Who has $200 to spend on a T-shirt? No, I prefer to look from afar and get ideas about how I can bring my own humble attire more in line with the current trends. I do hit the used clothing store on Fillmore quite a bit – a few weeks ago I saw Jeremy Irons in there with his wife; did I mention this is a swanky clothes kinda town?

So yes, I like stylish clothes; even though I’m cheap, I don’t like to look cheap. I also made a hard-and-fast rule when I was in my 30’s: for every new article of clothing that goes in my closet, something old has to go out. It’s a matter of space, really. I’m all full up here and I don’t like clutter.

I’ve developed a much healthier attitude about clothes once I realized it was good to make my wardrobe more “fluid.” I remember years ago listening to a behavioral scientist on TV (on Oprah, I believe) talk about buying patterns. He said that we all crave new things, but once we get them, the excitement usually wears off in about three months. Ok, so I don’t have to feel guilty about that shirt hanging in my closet that I used to wear frequently, but haven’t put on in at least a year (even though it still looks fine)? Instead I can see that it’s now time to sell it or give it away – and perhaps replace it with someone else’s gently worn cast off. The used clothing swap has been my most favorite way to recycle. Until now….

Wardrobe Wakeup is a new concept: designer clothes rental. Rent-a-swag, anyone? In this case, you can choose to get a top every month; a dress every month; or a combo of tops/dresses. I signed up for the tops only option. I pay $25 to have a new top mailed to me, which I can wear all month long. I’m into my third month, and so far so good.

WW screenshotThis requires an adventurous spirit. Thus far, I have not received one item that I would’ve chosen for myself. But that’s what I love about it – I’m being sent a surprise gift – a chance to play with something that doesn’t fit within the confines of my regular play-it-safe wardrobe. And it’s schooling me on how to look for more adventurous pieces when I do go shopping for myself.

Is it worth it? Consider how much you spend on clothes in a year’s time. I certainly don’t spend $25 every month, but I might spend twice that every couple of months when I want to satisfy that desire for something new to wear. And yes, I’m not keeping these pieces – but that’s the best part. I get eye candy while still keeping my closet lean, and then get to say goodbye before I have a chance to grow tired of it. Brilliant!

We all know closet purging feels damn good. So far with this service, I’ve been deterred from buying new (or new-to-me) stuff that I really don’t need. I’ll think, “I’ve only worn my rental twice this month,” and then go home and figure out a way to wear it a few more times. Because the clock is ticking, people!

I know, I know – you’re saying, “but what if it doesn’t fit and I can’t wear it?” This hasn’t happened yet, I think because they really pay attention to the measurements you send them. As I mentioned, I am petite – very petite, actually – I usually fall below the lowest size. I’m no skinny model waif, mind you: I have my own non-mannequin size concerns (narrow in shoulders, wider in hips). I’ve been amazed and very pleased with the fit of these tops.

So what did I get? In late July, they sent me a brightly-patterned Marc Jacobs sweater. That’s right, Wardrobe Wakeup is savvy enough to know that a wool sweater is perfect for San Francisco in July! I called it my super funky Cosby sweater – I felt very retro hip every time I wore it (which was 4 times).

ImageThe next month I got a Diane von Furstenberg wrap top, sexy chic and black. I have worn it six times and have to send it back in a few days. I considered buying it (WW gives you the choice to purchase at up to 90% off retail). I’m tempted; I got so many compliments on this one. But I’m not completely sold. Even though it looks great, the off-the-shoulder sleeves fall down a bit too easily (curses, narrow shoulders). So I think it’s going back, though I may regret it….

photo 2But wait, the next shirt just arrived in the mail today. New eye candy! I pulled it out of the poly mailer and my brain said “medieval vest from Game of Thrones” (would never have pulled this off the rack). But then I looked it up online to see how the skinny waif models wear it. Looks pretty good, I must admit. I tried it on with some skinny blue jeans and boots and voila! – hip girl will be hitting the streets again soon!

Yes, I am really digging this new-duds-for-awhile adventure. I don’t see how I can lose. Even if I get something that I don’t end up wearing much, to me that isn’t any different from when I buy clothes myself – sometimes I score an item that I’ll wear to death and other times I’ll buy something that rarely sees the light of day. I can’t explain it, but I’m glad I’ve learned to let that go. Bring on the revolving wardrobe – I’m a believer!

 

SF Like a Local – Day Trip Balloon Ride

Today I did laundry, chatted up the wild parrots on the back patio and checked email from my dining room table. A typical homebody day here in San Francisco. But a few weeks back, I experienced the thrill of a lifetime on my first hot-air balloon ride over Napa Valley. It’s time to share my featured Day Trip Tip of the Day: Napa Valley Aloft Balloon Rides!Balloon Ride

After researching different companies, I settled on Aloft – mostly because they limit the number of passengers to 8-12 (instead of 16-24). I’ll admit I had a fear of people crushing me as the basket hit ground during landing. This did NOT happen – though we did land in a tree. More on that later….

Aloft had great ratings on yelp. I also scored coupons for free champagne breakfast after the ride. The company and crew did not disappoint. My friend and I arrived in the dark at 5:45 am (ouch, says the non-morning person). Lift-off times are variable depending on the time of year (starting a little later in the fall/winter months). There was a big crowd –  I think five Aloft balloons went up that morning.

After checking in, we had to take a van to Pope Valley Winery because of fog (normally the balloons leave directly from the V Marketplace parking lot in Yountville). We got lucky, though, as the previous two mornings had been cancelled due to poor weather. Beware: this is a big concern in the summer.  If your ride is cancelled, they can usually put you on for the next day.

Giddy from the startWatching the grounded balloons fill with air as the sun started to peek through the valley was magical, the crowd’s excitement and anticipation palpable as we all started snapping pics with our phones. Then they put us into groups of three (each basket is divided into quadrants to hold 12 people plus space in the middle for the balloon pilot).

We climbed into the basket. It was close quarters for sure, but we felt secure. I couldn’t believe how solid it felt as we began to rise. Kinda like standing in your living room, only several thousand feet above the ground and with panoramic views.

Not much wind that day, so we moved vertically (like a slow-motion horse on a carousel) rather than horizontally. Our balloon hovered over a lake, which appeared to have an entire verdant forest just under the surface. We saw endless blue skies in one direction and a mystical band of fog creeping over the hills in the other. Pure heaven.

We floated peacefully over the valley for well over an hour in sight of the other balloons while the pilots communicated through walkie talkies. Balloon ViewOur pilot (Jay) was cheerful, reassuring and a real pro. Landing was probably the most pulse-racing part. We came down so close to the grape vines, I felt like I could reach out and touch them. As lumbering as we felt high in the sky, the ground moved fast underneath as we approached it.

To avoid crushing grapes, we aimed for a flat dirt road at the edge of the vineyard and just missed it, our basket coming to rest in a tree down the side of a slope. It wasn’t scary – we were in good hands. The pilot directed the ground crew (two strong guys) to pull on the rope until our balloon returned to solid ground. The perfect end to our adventure!

Actually, the perfect end was the champagne brunch with pilot, crew and fellow passengers. Excellent food and conversation at Pacific Blues Cafe. Afterwards we strolled through the shops of Yountville, picking up a bottle of local wine and some amazing pastry for later at Bouchon Bakery.

I give Napa Valley Aloft and the whole experience an A+. Here are a few tips if you are considering a balloon ride excursion from San Francisco:

1. Make it an overnight trip if you can. Getting up at 4 am in SF to navigate winding roads in the dark is a drag (especially since GPS to this location is reportedly not reliable and therefore reading Aloft’s elaborate directions in the dark is a double drag).

2. Be prepared for cancellation. These rides are weather-dependent (averaging 200 rides a year). Another reason to spend the night nearby – that way it doesn’t hurt so much if you don’t get to go. Would I have hurdled that 4 am drive two days in a row? Probably not. Stay close, go back to bed, then spend the day touring wine country instead. No biggie. Aloft has a weather hotline you can call by 4:30, but if you’re coming from SF, you will already be on the road by then.

Hot Air3. Wear layers: it gets HOT when the hot air blows into the balloon (feels like a strong heat lamp overhead). Travel light: there is really no room for anything other than three bodies in your small allotted corner of the basket. Bring a camera or camera phone and hold onto it (my biggest fear of the day was dropping my phone over the edge – I’m sure it happens).

4. Do the champagne brunch. Use the coupon and save $20 (which you can put towards a tip for the crew; yes, you will be encouraged to leave a tip at the end).

And my final tip for you here at the end: just do it! Yes, it’s pricey (at least $200 per person). But so worth it! Not as daring as parasailing with your legs dangling out over the ocean, but a different kind of thrill. The kind that makes you want to sing: “Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination…” – just like Willy Wonka in the Wonkavator, only with better scenery.

Balloon View