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Thursday, July 31, 2008


If I leave my heart in San Francisco, the reason will be Petite Auberge, our Union Square neighborhood hotel ranked with good reason in by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the top 75 hotels in the United States. From the instant our taxi unloaded our luggage in front of Pete Auberge’s tricolor flag, we moved into the world of a French country inn. Petite Auberge belongs to a hotel group called joive de vive, and that is the attitude with which guests are treated.

Some months ago when I reviewed Peter Mayle’s book,
A Year in Provence, ( I was also looking for a San Francisco hotel so we could spend a few days after out Panama Canal cruise. Serendipity brought me to Petite Auberge and a series of reviews that made this boutique hotel in the center of the city ideal. In February I spoke so enthusiastically about the hotel (still sight unseen) that friends traveling to San Francisco a week after our stay also booked here. They won’t be disappointed.

Our room is lovely. The walls are papered in a flowered pattern. Bowed windows overlook the street below us. There’s a lovely fireplace, its mantel carved wood, its hearth tiled. On our antique queen bed across the room, a Russ teddy bear awaits in greeting. Live ivy plants, a personal library, and soft robes with the hotel’s logo await in the antique armoire, the top drawer converted to accommodate a swing-out TV. Two comfortable wingchairs and a small antique secretary with plenty of stationery complete the bedroom. It’s lovely and romantic.

Not only does the bathroom contain the usual soaps and shampoos but also cotton swabs and cotton balls. There’s even a large two-sided regular/magnifying mirror attached to the wall abutting the sink.

Downstairs is a lovely parlor complete with fireplace, loveseats and tables, a library and games, and 24 hour coffee (French roast, of course) as well as a selection of teas. Bottles of waters and soda jam the refrigerator. Everything is included.

From 5-6:30 each evening snacks and wine are served, again included, and we get to meet other guests. The wines are Fetzer selections, and there is a variety of cheeses, fruits, biscuits, and cakes. It’s lovely, relaxing and we meet guests from England, Scotland, France, and the U.S. in this warm, comfortable setting. This is an experience in itself and a restful way to end a day sightseeing in this city of seven hills.

Breakfast is included with our room, and beyond the downstairs parlor is a cozy dining area with doors leading to outside seating. San Francisco’s morning weather doesn’t seem to lend itself to using those tables too often, so the inside is painted as a patio. One wall has a mural of the outside of a home, and tucked into one of the roof tiles is a small bird’s nest. The posts are painted with vines winding up and across the ceiling, the ceiling is painted as sky and there are even birds flying overhead. The effect is charming.

Breakfast is more than charming. There are scrambled eggs, sausage patties and links, broccoli quiche, fresh fruit pieces—watermelon, pineapple, honeydew, and cantaloupe—freshly baked croissants, specialty bread, melt-in-your-mouth French pastries—and a crock of oatmeal (no instant here), butter and fresh apricot and raspberry preserves. Orange juice and cranberry juice, French roast coffee, and a choice of Bigelow teas round off the breakfast.

The tables are full as guests relax, open the morning newspapers they’ve found outside their doors, and talk to each other about their plans for the day. The hotel’s clientele come from all over the world. We exchange addresses with a couple from London who will be in NYC next year, and we have an enjoyable political discussion with a man from Southampton, England who is intrigued by our upcoming presidential elections. At two of the tables French is spoken. We also meet a Russian couple now living in Brighton Beach, New York. The result is a stimulating morning of invigorating conversation before we part for a day of sightseeing and climbing the hills of San Francisco.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? This morning before leaving, we left the front desk our flight and confirmation number, and we came back to printed boarding passes and airport shuttle reservations.

Beyond the lovely inn-like quality of the décor is the solicitous nature of the staff. They are available to help you in any way possible and to make your San Francisco vacation as satisfying as possible. Visit the website and you’ll discover ways to make your San Francisco visit more enjoyable, must-see sights and suggestions for tours as well as arrangements with a special group of San Franciscans who will take you on free personalized tours tailored to highlight the best of their city. BTW, for a different experience two doors down from Petite Auberge is the White Swan Inn, another Joie de Vivre hotel—this one an English Country Inn.


From the bargain book section in Barnes & Noble, I picked up Steve Doocy’s book, The Mr. & Mrs. Happy Handbook, to give to Rob as a light-hearted present. He hasn’t read it yet, but I have, and I must admit what started as a little joke turned out to a pleasant and often surprisingly familiar read.

Doocy is a morning TV anchor with a smile playing on his lips most of the time. He’s always mentioning his family, and though I hate to be duped into believing a celebrity’s on air persona, Doocy appears on the level, and on the conservative side of values.

Mr. & Mrs. Happy Handbook, seems to begin as fluff and anecdotes—personal and contributed. Pleasant enough, Doocy has a cute sense of humor and plays with his reader. He jokes about how odd some couples’ meetings, engagements, weddings, and honeymoons can be. He keeps it light and airy, At first I smiled but then began to find some of the anecdotes lol funny or surprising! But none of those tales reminded me of me.

When Doocy begins writing about in-laws, pregnancy, births, children and raising them, things became quite familiar. Here’s one example that struck especially close to home, and if you know our son Michael, you’ll understand why. When Michael was little, I didn’t want to buy toy guns for him.

Doocy points out about his own son, Peter: “…Later we discovered the urge to shoot things is programmed into boys at the factory, and by the time he was three he was shooting at squirrels in trees and rabbits in the yard with his fingers locked in a pistol-like pose; later he improvised a weapon from a bent stick and shot at the Good Humor truck.”

That’s the Doocy boy. We (really me) broke down and eventually Michael got a coonskin cap and a Davy Crockett rifle. I played old Fess Parker episodes of Walt Disney’s Davy Crocket. I hoped if the rifle were old fashioned, Michael wouldn’t make connections with more modern weapons. Duh… As I said, the anecdotes become eerily familiar.

Surreptitiously tucked away in this humorous book, however, is a whole lot of good advice. If Doocy is really talking about his family, he’s got a solid marriage and some kids with good values. Good for him.

So, read light, laugh, and learn when you pick up Mr. & Mrs. Happy Handbook. It’s a pleasant way to enjoy some reading time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

#1 Ladies Detective Agency--THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS

Alexander McCall Smith hasn’t lost his #1 Ladies Detective Agency touch in this ninth novel of the series, The Miracle at Speedy Motors. This book is as delightful a read as one can wish.

Precious Ramotswe’s homespun wisdom surfaces again as she observes life in her beloved Botswana. Her advice about how we treat one another remains universal and engenders harmony and peace. It’s advice worth taking.

In this novel, Ramotswe’s cases and life’s problems are often born of the same longing—searching for something missing which may be impossible to find. Isn’t that so often the case in life? Sometimes people think their search will need a miracle to be successful. But how does one define a miracle? In many ways, daily life is full of miracles even if we don’t always recognize them. One client, for instance, is anxious to find family members she suspects she has. What she finds is a story in itself. In another instance a real miracle must occur. Maybe it does.

Once again, Alexander McCall Smith allows the characters we have observed in the past to grow and to change. He does this well. They don’t change in leaps and bounds. It’s a matter of nuance.

Charley, the hapless, girl-crazy older apprentice emerges a bit more observant and a bit more loyal than one would have guessed.

Grace Makutsi’s relationship with her fiancé, Phuti Radiphuti, goes through some tests. Can one maintain a long-lived loving relationship without honesty as a basic component even if a little lie is meant to protect?

I like the way McCall Smith places his characters in everyday situations because those are the times real people are most tempted to act expeditiously thinking this is so small an instance it really doesn’t matter. The message is clear, however, it’s in our everyday lives, our everyday dealings with people, that honesty matters most.

If you’ve enjoyed the earlier books in this charming series, you’ll certainly relish this one, and as there is still so much room for growth, I hope Alexander McCall Smith has another #1 Ladies Detective Agency book in the works.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


The Crab Cooker
2200 Newport Blvd.
Newport Beach, CA 92663

Here’s a brief suggestion for a great little beachy place in Newport Beach, California—The Crab Cooker. The Crab Cooker has been around for more than fifty years and boasts it’s the only fish restaurant that keeps its fresh fish in a vault! Yes, the building was originally a Bank of America building, and the owners of the restaurant converted the vault into a refrigerator. Pretty neat; no tours, however. I would have liked to see that!

On the walls of the restaurant are old photos of fishing boats, signed photos of movie stars and mounted trophy fish including one impressive one hundred pound fish with the hook still hanging from its mouth.

We’re here for lunch with Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Jesse, and we want to keep it brief so we can get to the beach. My toes yearn for a Pacific Ocean dunk.

We’re also here for a bowl of some highly touted chowder. All four of us quickly learn the reason for the reputation. This tomato based chowder is brimming with fish and squid and vegetables. It’s highly seasoned and absolutely delicious.

In big jars on the table are freshly baked breadstick that taste more like a rich egg bread. There are also big bread nuts, crunchy and rich to add to the chowder.

The appetizers are so tempting that three of us order an appetizer rather than an entire luncheon platter which comes with a big main portion, slaw and potatoes.

Rob’s fried squid served with a creamy sauce (remoulade) is excellent. The batter is light and the squid is neither dried out not chewy. My steamed clams are also just right. Uncle Jesse opts for a very generous shrimp cocktail, shrimp done to perfection. Aunt Jeanne’s fried fish filet luncheon platter proved too much for her, and she took some of it home.

We didn’t linger for coffee. The sun and the ocean beckoned.

Newport Beach is one of two Crab Cooker locations. The second is in Tustin, California.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


If you do a lot of travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda--though not by air--the Passport office might have something for you. It's a passport card which fits in your wallet. It might make life simpler for you. If you already have a valid passport, you can apply as a renewal for a $20.00 fee. First time applicants pay $45.00. The card is good for ten years. The Passport Card contains a chip with the necessary documentation. There is no personal information stored on the chip. For more information, go to