Surefire Way to Save on Hotel or Rental Accommodations

This strategy isn’t for the faint of heart. This is for all you OCD types who are willing to take risks and take great pride in stretching your hard-earned dollars.

I have been itching to go on vacation ever since we flew back home from spending Christmas and New Year’s in the UK. As fun as that was, I have been dying for some R&R in the sun!

We bounced around Palm Springs and Los Angeles as options, but decided it was best to stay local and opted for an easy jaunt to wine country. Securing a luxe hotel reservation during spring time in Napa or Sonoma is like trying to score a same day reservation at French Laundry. It ain’t gonna happen, especially if you’re looking to book only a week or two in advance.

This is where renting a place online has really alleviated a lot of stress when it comes to finding a place to stay. There are so many beautiful, well-maintained properties on, or You’ll always find a handful that are available. In fact, there were a couple places I was really interested in that showed no availability, but I emailed the owners and they said it had either recently become available or they had another property available. Here are photos (credit of places I was negotiating with.

This is the best time to negotiate, when you know they’re hoping to rent their property, it’s just a couple days out, and their property is still available. BAM! Hit them with your terms. You want a free night, you don’t want to pay tax or the cleaning fee, and you’re ready to submit payment in full immediately. Not a single no. All 3 property owners I emailed agreed to my terms.

Now even though these were all gorgeous properties, I consulted with my hubby (the true decision maker, ahem, cough). And he insisted that to make this feel like a true vacation, we needed to be spoiled and sitting pool-side. Hence, a discounted last minute booking opened up at the Lodge at Sonoma—at a price similar to what I was looking at for rental properties—and I pounced on it.

Here is our home (photo credit for the next few days. Heaven!

LA: Huntington Gardens

We’re in LA for the long-long weekend. Took Friday off as well. I sucked it up and over-paid for last-minute flights since we haven’t gone on a proper vacation in forever.

First stop: Huntington Gardens

Bye ’11, Hi ’12

A few favorite memories from 2011:

Having my parents over for brunch and playing Scrabble

Celebrating the Feast of St. Catherine in Siena, Italy

Watching the sunset from our balcony in Positano

My birthday in wine country

Picnicking by Lake Edith in Jasper, Canada

Burning Man: biking late night with Colin all the way to the trash fence and discovering art in the deep playa

The BBQ we hosted in LA

Ordering half the items on the menu at the Shake Shack, then dancing with Keith until 2:30am at the Industry Bar in NYC

Taking my nephews shopping at Toys ‘R Us

Belting out tunes at a piano bar in Phoenix

I’ve given quite a bit of thought to my resolutions for 2012, but the list keeps growing and I’m already starting to get overwhelmed. That’s not good!

I want to read more which is a cinch because I’m a fanatical reader to begin with and 2 book clubs keeps me busy.

We’re planning a trip to Morocco in the first part of the year and I’ll be in NYC in May for work, but I want to do so much more. I’m trying to get the ball rolling with friends and asking them for places we can go together fairly easily. Anyone else up for Portland, New Orleans, or Austin?

I say this every year, but I swear, we’re going to volunteer this year. I’ve got action items scheduled in my calendar to ensure that we do that. We’re a couple blocks away from Glide. Plus I’ve had my eye on an organization that does outdoor activities with mentally-challenged kids on weekends to give their parents much-needed time off.

Last time I went to the doctor for my first physical in years, the nurse asked how many hours a week I exercised. I told her I didn’t exercise. She furrowed her eyebrows, no exercise? No. I run a race every quarter so you can say I exercise, I dunno, an hour every quarter? Not sure how hard that is to write down in my medical record, but you’d think I’d given her a quadratic equation to solve. So on that front, we’re locked down for a couple races already. I’ve also ratcheted up my flexible health spending dollars so I can do acupuncture consistently. Loving that.

As much as I love eating and trying out all the new hot spots, I’m on a mission this coming year to discover all the places that are yummy that are inexpensive. Yesterday, I discovered a coffee spot one block away that also serves the BEST banh mi vietnamese sandwiches for $3. I’m already thinking of hitting them up every morning before I go to work. Fresh Brew Coffee at 882 Bush Street. TO-DIE-FOR. Park in front, stick a quarter in the meter, and get your meal to go.

But the one thing that I’m resolved to do is this: practice. In my formative years, I was always practicing something: piano, dance, a foreign language. Every day, I want to practice something, anything. And that’s where I’m getting confused. Should it be writing since I could surely practice that craft more.

I thought about learning the very practical Spanish language, but someone told me (and I fervently agree) that to really become fluent in a language you must move to a country where that is the main language. Otherwise, you’ll never really get it, or you’ll lose what you learned because you’re not ingrained in it, so that’s a waste.

I thought about taking an art class like painting, but I’ll probably be more frustrated than interested.

Also thought about taking up dance, but to practice, you need a big open space and our small apartment wouldn’t make that easy.

Lastly, I discovered a singing class two blocks down taught by an actress who teaches in SF and LA. Get this, she has all her students take singing classes first even if all they want to do are her acting classes. Something about how singing helps you project and become more aware of your body. Fascinating. We’ll see how much she costs.

So many options…so much ahead for 2012. Extremely excited.

Queen Mary

Before heading back home from LA, we took a tour of the titanic-like Queen Mary in Long Beach. Beautiful weather. Great way to spend the afternoon. And perfect scenery to take pictures.

Lazy Sunday in LA

Back to our trip to LA. All the pictures have finally been downloaded and compiled! You can take a look at my Facebook profile and find the LA photo album for a complete set of pictures.

On Sunday, we rented a beautiful home with an awesome backyard so that we could host a BBQ for our Southern California friends! We had such a great time entertaining that I’m now on the hunt for a local home that we can rent occasionally for BBQs here in the Bay Area.

Dean and I had friends from high school, college, and Burning Man come by with their family and friends. We mixed mojitos, grilled hamburgers. Joe brought his addictive homemade chocolate chip cookies. And let’s not get started with the massive variety of Klondike bars and drumsticks.

The only mishap was that the BBQ grill caught on fire. Still not sure how that happened. But otherwise, great food, great company, good times!

The rental home came with a resident boxer named Lola. What a delight! The precious doggie warmed our hearts as you can see from these pictures. We can’t wait to go back, have another BBQ, see our friends again, and hang out with Lola!