Monthly Archives: August 2014

Book review: How not to calm a child on a plane


One of the best sessions I attended at Blogher ’14 was about screenwriting — how to break into it, how to learn it. Both the presenters were amazing and generous women, but one of them — Johanna Stein — especially resonated with me because she was dang funny. Then she showed some of her videos, like “Thanks Mom” and this PSA with the guy from Modern Family, and I literally died laughing. (Fortunately the SJFD came to revive me, although the paramedic who brought me back was not as hot as I had hoped.)

So of course when Ms. Stein offered up a free copy of her book, How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane: And Other Lessons in Parenting from a Highly Questionable Source, I grabbed it and demanded her autograph. I was really excited to read more funny from this funny, funny lady.

This is where I insert a spoiler alert and let you know that by the end of the book, I was embarrassing myself by laughing out loud in public, and that I ended up getting confronted by my kids to explain what I was laughing at, except I coudln’t explain what I was laughing at because they don’t know about Sophie’s Choice or fetishes yet. But before I got to the embarrassing public laugh-gasm chapters, I quietly enjoyed several chapters that did not make me laugh out loud. They were all good, but for me it felt like the book really picked up steam midway through, and then kept the hits coming through the end. I would like you all to read the book, and then return here and post the phrase “stinky drawers” in the comments so we can have a good, knowing giggle together. Continue reading

Sometimes the road is bumpy

On my to-do list this week has been to take my husband’s fancy-schmancy camera along on one of our walks/rides to swimming lessons at the health club just over a mile from our house. Every day for the past two weeks, the short round trip has been a highlight, thanks to the gorgeous views of San Francisco as we cross the bridge, the sun glinting off 1,000  splashes of water in the estuary, and watching my son become more proficient gliding his little balance bike along.

It’s been a highlight, until today. Continue reading

How I get deals on rental cars

People often ask me if I use City CarShare or Zipcar, those hourly car rental services that are supposed to make car-free life easier. My answer is, No, usually not, because I have found that renting a car for the whole day from a traditional rental company is usually a better deal.

This weekend, I’m attending the Travel Writers & Photographers Conference in Corte Madera, in Marin county, a very tough place to reach via public transit. On occasions like this, I throw my car-rental bargain strategy into action.

First, I browse prices on Priceline and Hotwire. Sometimes I also check and individual car rental sites, but I rarely find anything on those that beats Priceline and Hotwire.

Second, I make my “backup reservation.” Since car rental reservations are generally non-binding, I just make one for the cheapest car in my preferred class that I can find. This time around, my backup reservation was with Budget, booked through Priceline, for a full-sized car at $21 a day, $89.19 full price for three days. (The full price is more than $21×3 because of all the taxes and fees they tack on.)

Third, I start bidding for a better deal on Priceline. Priceline usually allows you to bid once or twice on the same car class each day. I started low — like $8 a day — and submitted a bid a day on full, standard, midsize and compact cars. I even tried a few bids on bigger cars just for the heck of it. When Priceline warned me that my bid was unlikely to be accepted, I increased it by $1 and then bid.

For the first few days, I was not successful. I tried up to about $14 a day. I did get one counter-offer from Priceline for a full-size car at $18 a day, but the price difference between that and my reservation was small enough that I didn’t take it.

This morning, I tried again, bidding $13 on a few car sizes. No dice. Then I tried $14, and successfully landed a mid-size car, “Chevy Cruze or similar,” from Avis. Price after taxes and fees for three days: $68.68. (Unfortunately, since I don’t have car insurance, I will have to pay an extra daily fee for liability insurance when I pick up the car, maybe as much as $14 a day. My credit card customer service has told me that they provide collission coverage for rental cars, but not liability. If you know of a credit card that provides better coverage for rental cars, I’d love to hear about it.)

I’m now locked into this rental, so my shopping is done. However, my bargain hunting is not. When I arrive (via bus) to pick up the car tomorrow, I may ask the agent for a free upgrade. Not that I need a bigger car to drive myself to Corte Madera and back, but since I might want to take my three kids somewhere when I’m not at the conference, a bigger vehicle would be nice. Actually, I might just stay quiet and see if the agent offers me a free upgrade, in the name of research.

So, if I end up having to pay $14 for the liability insurance, my cost will be about $37 per day to drive to the conference and back for three days, plus gas. When I used City CarShare in the past, it cost me around $60 to keep the car for about four hours. So this is a much better deal than car sharing.

It’s also a better deal than owning a car, for the amount of driving we do. Say we end up renting vehicles (at home, not on vacation) for 20 days a year. I think that estimate is probably higher than we have ever actually done in our two years of car-free living. Imagine it always cost us $37/day (sometimes I have actually gotten deals as low as $20/day, but sometimes we have paid a bit more for 8-passenger vehicles.) In that scenario, rentals would cost us $740 a year. I just did an online insurance quote at, and it said that I would probably pay about that for insurance alone every six months if I owned my own vehicle.

Two-Wheeler Update

Toth is getting along with his bike-turned-glide-bike, but I don’t think it’s going to be an overnight success. He has rolled along with the family on a couple of outings around town, but gliding with no pedals is not necessarily faster than walking, at least not so far.

Since our old way of traveling with the youngest in tow, the bike trailer, remains broken and unreplaced, this presents some travel challenges for car-free family.  For instance, starting yesterday, the kids are signed up for daily swim lessons at a nearby health club. The past two summers, we rode bikes there, but now I didn’t really want to bother with bikes if it wasn’t going to speed us up. Besides, I thought Toth might be tired enough to fall asleep on the way home, so I wanted to bring the stroller. Continue reading

More affordable ride sharing on its way


Today my former editor, Carolyn Said, published this interesting story in The San Francisco Chronicle: “Uber, Lyft, Sidecar try carpool service.”

The jist of the story is that these ride sharing services, which are typically slightly more expensive than cabs, are rolling out a lower-cost service in which riders could opt to share their ride with another passenger. Some rides within San Francisco could cost as little as $5. Continue reading

Getting with the program?


I’m very proud of how well my two daughters, ages 10 and 7, can get around town on their bikes. In fact, they ride so well that people are sometimes incredulous. When I wrote about car-free living on What to Expect a year ago, one reader said I had lost all credibility by claiming my 6-year-old could handle a 10-mile round trip. Well, she could, and I was a proud mama.

So I’ve a little consternated that my 5-year-old son, who has shown himself to be kind of athletic, has refused to learn to ride his 2-wheeler. I’m not saying he keeps falling when he tries, I’m saying he will not get on the thing. He wants me to put training wheels on it, and I (knowing that training wheels are not a very effective way to get kids cruising on two wheels) have refused. We’ve been at an impasse, and we have stayed that way for the past year. I didn’t really press the matter, since I had a trailer on the back of my bike that I could use to haul the little guy along wherever we needed to go. Continue reading

We rode the Ducks!

Just because we don’t own our own vehicle doesn’t mean that Car-Free Family doesn’t get around. As a matter of fact, we enjoy frequent excursions into San Francisco, one of the easiest places for us to get without a car.

This week, we went into the city along with some friends who had rented a minivan, so we didn’t take the ferry, BART or bus like we normally would. Our plan: A Ride the Ducks San Francisco tour.

Both we and our accompanying friend are originally from Wisconsin, so we are familiar with the World War II ambhibious vehicles used for a very popular tour in the Wisconsin Dells. Ride the Ducks San Francisco’s vehicles are actually newly built from the ground up, but they look like the DUKW vehicles used in World War II. The tour lasts 90 minutes and the guides are always really funny.

Our tour guide, driver and captain was Capt. Mike, who told us all about how his glorious education in graphic design led him to a brilliant career in Duck driving. The Duck itself was named Buttercup.


Continue reading