A British Christmas in San Francisco-Don’t Miss it!

The last of couple of years, my friend and I have made it a tradition to attend the Charles Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco. Every year, the Cow Palace, which has been home to everything from gun shows to rodeos (yes, even in San Francisco) gets a transformation which needs to be seen in order to believe it. If you’ve never experienced it, definitely go and try to drag those who wouldn’t be caught dead going to something like this. You know who I mean. The boyfriends and friends who reduce anything with a ribbon on it down to a craft fair. I’m not very crafty so I admittedly avoid any run-ins with doilies myself, but this is so much more than that. This is truly a trip back in time, in Victorian London where you leave feeling like you escaped for the day. In short, here is why I love this fair:

The Participants-Everyone who participates in the fair has to remain in character the entire time. That way it stays authentic and you don’t feel like you’re at a decorated carnival. It’s an experience.

The Food-They offer up everything from English bangers, Greek food, hot toddies, roasted chestnuts, and a variety of other goodies. Going back to the bah-hum-buggers in your life, maybe entice them with one of their various pubs found around the “village.” They have varieties of ales as well as hot buttered rum and champagne, among other beers and wines to choose from. Did I mention the bar maids? I could care less but every year they seem to find authentic bar maids who represent what I think were the original Hooters girls. (I usually just get my hot chocolate and leave. Fighting men to get to a bar at the Dickens Fair for hot chocolate becomes silly at some point.)

Entertainment-The entertainment is fantastic. They have full entertainment schedules throughout the day including my favorites, the Irish cloggers, as well as others such as the singing drunken sailors.

Gifts-My favorite part of going to the fair is because of the fabulous gifts I find every year without fail. I have been able to find quality gifts such as handmade silk and faux fur scarves, beautifully made hats, Christmas ornaments, wooden gift boxes, and other goodies that have made for special gifts for loved ones.

Whatever you fancy, take some time out from the dreaded holiday shopping to enjoy yourself!

To see my post from last year, click here.

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Black Friday- I don’t get it!

Come on people. Let me hear it. Let me hear from you if you seriously got a deal worth all of the trampling, fighting, hair pulling, swearing, and camping in line when you should have been having turkey. Somebody has to justify this madness to me. I like a discount like anybody but do you seriously come away with a 48″ Sony tv for forty dollars? If so, did you have to kill somebody to get it? Please, inquiring minds want to know.

Earlier tonight, in the middle of a second piece of pie, the news came on and showed two guys who had camped out in front of Best Buy for HOURS waiting to get in on a great deal on electric toothbrushes. That’s right, TOOTHBRUSHES!  I remember the days when my cousins and I would get up early the next morning and run off to the mall just to get a start on Christmas shopping but this is a whole different animal all together. Now, you have people barreling through the front doors of anything from Walmart to Macys, but I’m not really sure of why. My friends went to Walmart last year at midnight, knowing that the Black Friday sale didn’t start until 6:00a.m. but the store was still open for business. They saw people in the camping section…..well………camping. In Walmart. Waiting for the sale to start.

I was getting out of bed when my friends came home with a nice amount of wares from their shopping excursion. When asked if it was worth it, they responded that they were happy with what they got but they saved about twenty dollars per item on average. Hey, twenty dollars is twenty dollars but that is not enough for me to go into Jackie Chan mode in order to survive a shopping spree. So please. Enlighten me. What have you been able to show for your Black Friday shopping experience? Anything worth boxing over?!

Last Minute Gift Idea!

Every Christmas Eve I’m out there getting last-minute Christmas gifts. It’s my own personal tradition. Anyone who needs a last-minute gift idea might want to consider the gift of travel. Seriously….. travel can be given as a gift!

If you still haven’t found the right present for that special someone, go online or run to your travel agent if they haven’t already flown off on their own holiday. Think of where your loved one(s) have wanted to vacation and give them the gift of a trip. Here’s what to do:

1)   Get your hands on a nice brochure or print off a beautiful photo of the destination they want to go to. The photo or brochure is the actual gift so make sure it’s brand new and nicely printed.

2)  Pick a date well in advance. Maybe they have always wanted to go to Mexico in the Spring or experience Carnevale in Venice, Italy. The point is to pick a specific time period so it doesn’t look like an idea that is never going to come to fruition. None of this, “someday honey, we’ll go on that cruise.” Uh-uh. Pick a date and stick with it.

3)  Figure out your budget for the holiday and see if you can put a deposit down with an option to pay the balance later. Hey, it’s a last-minute gift. Understandable if you don’t have an American Express Black Card to whip out for that fabulous trip to Tahiti. A deposit means you are committed, you did the homework, you spent some moolah without going into poverty, and you are going to be king or queen of a small hill after they realize that you’re taking them somewhere. Please note: if you get a receipt or itinerary from your travel agent or website of some sort, make sure the price is not on there. Having a printed itinerary makes it a very real gift but you don’t want the price to print out! Be creative if necessary.

4)  Throw in a couple of travel books of that particular destination. Maybe get one practical book and one fun book such as a DK Eyewitness book for the history, museum, and practical information, or my favorite, Rick Steves, and perhaps a shoppers guide or dining out guide for the fun stuff. You could also throw in travel goodies such as luggage tags, inflatable pillows, a Bucky eye pillow, a Louis Vuitton carry-on case, o.k, I’ll stop. You get the idea.

5)  For God’s sakes, if you go through all that, please make sure your brochure or printout is a presentable gift. You don’t have to put a brochure into a Tiffany box but there are plenty of pretty bags and tissue, or a simple, flat box with a pretty bow on it would suffice. If you decide to add the extras mentioned above, it might be fun to have them unwrap the goodies first and have your brochure or books and photo be revealed at the end. A nice, decorative card would also add to the presentation. TRUST ME. I’ve arranged this type of gift during more Christmas Eves than I care to admit. Go for it……it’s a fantastic gift!

Happy shopping and good luck out there!

As with all travel plans, please ALWAYS read the fine, infinitesimal print with the various rules and regulations. You always want to know what the cancellation policies are with tour operators, hotels, resorts, airlines, cruise lines, tug boats, you name it. Nobody will be dying to let you off the hook if you cancel so please travelly people, always cover your ass…..ets!

Dickens Christmas Fair-San Francisco

I love this time of year and an annual event I love to attend is the Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco. This year it will end December 19 so this is your last chance to step back in time and enjoy a Victorian Christmas in old London.

Held every year at the Cow Palace, the transformation is a miracle. The first year I went, I was totally unsure of how an event center that is usually home to everything from dog shows to rodeos could be transformed into merry old London during the time of Charles Dickens. However, the moment you enter, you are greeted by an extensive cast of characters who remain in character during your entire visit. No detail has been left out. British flags can be seen throughout, and gentlemen with top hats and ladies in Victorian dress are strolling about at every turn. Little boys dressed up as messengers, run around ringing bells yelling out messages and announcements in their best British accents (though they are probably from the Bay Area!)

One thing that I can count on every time I attend, is spending a chunk of money because the shopping is so great. If you like to find unusual, good quality gifts, I would recommend going for that reason alone. Since I have been going for the past few years, I now have favorite shops and merchants I like to go to for gifts and goodies for myself. I bought a really cool puzzle box for someone who collects unusual boxes, and I seem to always stock up on beautifully made hats and scarves for myself that you just wouldn’t find in the major stores. One shop that seems to get a lot of attention every year is the Dark Garden Corsetry which always has unique display windows with live models sporting their couture corsets.

The food and bars are a lot of fun to experience. They have typical British food such as bangers, meat pies, and fish and chips among others, but you can also find pizza, sandwiches, and quick snacks to enjoy while taking a break. However, they also have restaurants where you can sit and have tea, as well as pubs and bars, which serves drinks such as hot buttered rum, champagne, mulled wine, Irish coffee, among other delicious drinks. The bar maids seem to always have a ton of customers for some reason. (Just like the corset shop. Duh.)

The entertainment is nonstop and there are various stages throughout to enjoy a variety of shows. One in particular that I love to watch is the Scottish and Irish dancers show, which seems to always be packed since it’s like a taste of Riverdance in an intimate setting. A full schedule of the shows, descriptions of the shops and where to find everything can all be found on their website. http://www.dickensfair.com

You know me. If there’s a way I can escape for a day, I will. This is truly a treat where you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to experience a taste of a Victorian Christmas. Though I go to many street fairs during the summer, I’m pretty particular about events such as this. I have to admit, that I’m not really a “crafty” person and can feel overwhelmed by too many doilies. The Dickens Christmas Fair however is an event that has become a tradition in San Francisco, with participants who are passionate about creating an authentic atmosphere for those who wish to truly get into the Christmas spirit. I love it when you can find something for everyone. The Dickens Fair has plenty for the kids to enjoy as well as adults who want to have a hot toddie or find quality, unusual gifts for that special someone.

Happy Christmas!

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!
~Charles Dickens
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Dickens Christmas Fair

Running through December 19

Cow Palace-2600 Geneva Ave.,  San Francisco

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Ghosts of Christmas Lists Past

I guess when I hear the Charlie Brown Christmas music start playing, I can’t help but reminisce about all of my cool toys that I HAD to have as a kid. Of course, I drag out the family recipes and get together with family during the holidays but with the barrage of  “gifts you have to buy” commercials, every year I catch myself thinking, what did I absolutely have to have as a kid? What were the IN things that my friends, cousins, and I had to have? It’s pretty scary to look at what we had in the 70’s, in comparison to what kids receive today. The Generation X toys are probably thought of as really lame to this generation, considering that this generation of 5-13 year-old children, with today’s video games, are fighting wars and entering high speed car chases from the cops. I’m sorry…..did I say video? Just for fun, if Black Friday were as hot in the 70’s as it is today, these are the items that were on past Christmas lists that my parents would not have had to pay full price for:

The Crissy Doll

Baby Crissy

The Crissy Doll was one of my all time favorite toys as a kid. To be accurate, The Crissy Doll came out in the 60’s, slightly before my time. In clearing the cobwebs from my brain and remembering that I always called her “Baby Crissy”, there was indeed a Baby Crissy doll that was released in the 70’s during my reign of terror on the toy world. The identifiable element on the Baby Crissy doll from the original was a string on “BC’s” back that you had to pull in order to make her hair short. It’s scary what gets burned into your six year old brain.

As far as I’m concerned, even today, every American kid should have the America Sings album. It’s all of the Americana classics that are fun for kids to sing and it came with a really cool picture book to go with the songs. I know there are new and improved variations on this but this was the original. I loved it!

The Easy Bake Oven. All I can say is, my poor dad. I have no idea what kind of astronaut food they included with these ovens but I was always shocked that anything turned out. I think my parents were as well.

Easy Bake Oven

Was there anything more fun than spreading Silly Putty on the Sunday comics just to see the comics on the silly putty? I always loved that the color comics transferred over as easy as the black and white comics. (Why wouldn’t they?) Then you could stretch and contort the faces and bodies however you wanted. That’s creativity for you. I got this stuff in stocking-stuffers, birthdays, you name it.

Silly Putty

Though a 50’s creation, I was always mildly entertained by The Slinky and everyone else had one so I of course wanted one. It’s kind of a silly toy but there was something very entertaining about tossing it down the stairs and watching it walk it’s way down. It always sucked if it got stuck in the middle step because you had to take it back up and start again.

Of course there’s what’s her name and her endless supply of crap that followed for YEARS. Another 50’s creation that constantly changes with the times, during my day I had the Malibu Barbie along with other Barbies whose names I can’t remember. I also had the shorter, more disappointing little sister, Skipper. I didn’t have the Barbie Dream House only because my best friend had the house and the Corvette but I had all the clothes so between the two of us, it worked out very well.

Malibu Barbie

That is of course until I caught on to the 70’s message that women were ass-kicking and self sufficient. Then I demanded to have the Bionic Woman doll and didn’t want her to be without her boyfriend Steve Austin so I also got the Six Million Dollar Man doll. So much for being a tough woman. I still wanted her to have a boyfriend.

Don’t forget about the Charlie’s Angels playing cards. I thought I was going to grow up kicking butt in a leotard while having great looking hair like Jaclyn Smith. I got the cards in a pack of gum, not for Christmas, but since I’m going on about my favorite things, here they are.

Other items I HAD to have Santa bring me:

Hungry-Hungry-Hippos

Sneaker Skates

Twirler

Lite-Brite

Mr. Potato Head

This doesn’t even make a dent in the endless supply of things I had to have in the moment. But for some reason, I still love having had that stuff. During the holidays, while out shopping for an Xbox, Wii, ipads, iphones, laptops, cell phones and other items for your 5 year-old, take a moment and think back to what you put on your own list to Santa, or your parents.  What was it that you couldn’t live without that still puts a smile on your face when you think about it? Hanukkah kids, Kwanzaa kids, everybody……that means you too. What cool stuff did you get during the holidays??!!

Toys for Tots http://www.toysfortots.org/

Warm Coat Programs http://www.onewarmcoat.org/