Category Archives: Personally Yours

How to Plan Your California Road Trip: From San Francisco to Los Angeles

I want to help you structure your California road trip on the pacific coast highway (PCH) so you maximize time out of the car, actually immersed in your surroundings.

But first, I have a confession to make. This Cali trip was intended as a solo expedition to prove that I CAN and not allow my single status to hinder life experiences. But all that changed due to budgetary and itinerary sacrifices I wasn’t willing to make, plus a parental throw down along the lines of “over our dead bodies are you going to LA by yourself”. I’ve learned that only when I don’t heed their advice, are they right and I couldn’t handle any more drama, so I listened.

Instead of flying between LA and San Fran (1 hour, $100), my dad met me for the coastal drive (4353835 hours, $100+ in gas) but it was so worth it. I think we both learned about each other – he says all you have to do is feed me every 3 hours (after two near starvation experiences in one day). I learned that he has difficulty tolerating me in my least perfect moments (road trips are stressful and uncertain).

What I said to a stranger: "he's my daddy, not my sugar daddy" #onlyinLA

What I said to a stranger: “he’s my daddy, not my sugar daddy” #onlyinLA

In truth, I felt a bit disappointed for needing accompaniment but I couldn’t tell if it was my soul or ego talking. At least part of my motivation was to keep up with the independent, fearless women of the Internet and sound badass at the water cooler. But enough about me, this is about you!

When to go to San Francisco / California Coast  & Other Practicalities

San Fran is at its best weather wise in September and October BUT daylight hours are more limited so if you can’t do the ideal itinerary below, go in June to maximize sightseeing. Also the ocean is warmest in September at the end of the season (71F).

In terms of planning a weekend trip to Yosemite OR Tahoe – I would suggest booking last minute after you’ve arrived and based on the weather forecast. Outkast says it best: “You can paint a pretty picture but you can’t predict the weather”.

If you want to do any camping, I’d suggest early to mid September as a sweet spot. I found tours that did 2 nights and 3 days with camping in both Tahoe & Yosemite (for $500) but that would be intense driving and cold at night. Yosemite single day trips are available, but involve 7 hours on the road.

Freezing my buns off in Tahoe - 5 degree freak show

Freezing my buns off in Tahoe – 5 degree freak show

The Drive Itself from San Francisco to Los Angeles (LA) & Other Practicalities

California is full of mountains from top to bottom, which are 50 shades of brown (likely due to the drought). There is no cell or radio reception in Big Sur so bring CDs or a fully charged iPOD for the journey. Roadside service stations didn’t exist – you had to bank on the next town for sustenance.

Also Americans don’t seem to believe in streetlights. I would invest in a data plan since Google Maps App saved us many times (better than GPS).  And while they say Canadians are polite, West Coasters are so nice, happy and helpful.

I’ve never seen so many active and fit people in my life, from those biking the steep and windy roads to jogging Runyon Canyon in 40 degree weather. They must not be eating in the restaurants where portions are massive. You can easily split an entrée and appetizer for two and save some dough.  LA had the most organic and gluten free options, plus juice bars (vegan treats were harder to spot). Whole Foods will rob you and Starbucks is the equivalent of Tim Hortons (no value coffee chain).

In terms of accommodations, prepare to spend $200 – $300 a night for a hotel, motel or AirBnB. I booked three AirBnB’s but can only recommend the one in Lake Tahoe (Rick Gunn is my idol). I was expecting a personal experience where you hang out with the hosts but that wasn’t the case. Plus you have to make your bed on vacay (boo).

An Ideal California Coast Road Trip Itinerary from Los Angeles (LA) to San Francisco

If I could redo the trip, here’s what I would change. Keep in mind that subjectivity counts. Also if you’ve already been to either LA or San Fran on a standalone trip, you can shave days off in both city centers, which is budget friendly.

4 – 6 nights in the Bay Area based on your Itinerary

  • 4 Days in San Fran area proper (including one nearby excursion i.e. Sausalito/Muir Woods or Napa for a half day). Stay in City Centre. I hear road to Muir is extremely windy. Sausalito was a diluted version of coastal Europe.
  • 2 nights / 2 days at either Tahoe or Yosemite (if you want to mimic my itinerary) but not both as they are 5.5 hours apart (learned that the hard way and lost a hotel booking). Tahoe is 4 hours away, 1.5 of which include ascending and descending 8,000 feet.
Full House Credits - all day every day. Everywhere you look...

Full House Credits – all day every day. Everywhere you look…

The California Coast:  3 – 5 nights (instead of 2)

  • 1 – 2 nights in either Monterey or Carmel. If you skip Santa Cruz and drive straight to Monterey for lunch, drive the 17 mile and head to Carmel for dinner/overnight.
  • 1 – 2 nights in Big Sur area – the windiest roads, with the best views and most natural attractions (parks for hiking etc.) Big Sur has limited options (camping, cabins or pricy motels/hotels i.e. $400 – $500 a night). Book this first and base the rest of the trip around its availability.
  • 1 night in Cambria – cute, small town, ocean front, and one of the first towns an hour after Big Sur. My dad and I crammed everything before this point into the same day. This was our first coastal overnight.
  • I would stop in Santa Barbara for an afternoon but I wouldn’t do an overnight there unless you want to hit up the Camarillo outlets without backtracking from LA (1 hour north on the 101). We did an overnight here and regretted it. Stay by State street. Morro Bay and Pismo Beach are worth skipping too, especially the latter.
The Magic of Big Sur. Worth the headache & drugs.

The Magic of Big Sur. Worth the headache & drugs.

3 – 4 full days in Los Angeles (Instead of 2) 

  • Malibu was underwhelming (The Real Housewives say hi) though we didn’t see Zuma Beach (supposed to be nice, no bathrooms). Paradise Cove charges $40 per car and loses sunlight rather early (#europedoesitbetter).
  • Talk shows only film Monday to Thursday and are a full day thing. Ellen gets booked way in advance.
  • Stay by the water, where it is much cooler and comfortable if you can. Also “heated” pools matter off season.
  • Venice Beach is tacky bordering on terrifying. There were a lot more homeless people too (Hollywood dreams gone wrong?). Santa Monica is nice, if you like to hear kids screaming on rides. 3rd street has a nice pedestrian promenade with shops & restos (check out The Misfit). Lemonade (the franchise) is awesome – let’s start one and get rich.
  • You can rent bikes along the water at Marina Del Ray, Venice Beach or Santa Monica (and likely other beaches too).
  • Runyon Canyon has no bathrooms and its all uphill when you get there. We learned that the hard way.
Santa Monica Fun #pplinLAmademenervous

Santa Monica Fun #pplinLAmademenervous

I’d go back to Cali but I would take on less, be more clear on “must have” experiences, go slowly, stay in hotels or with friends and I would do LA down to San Diego for more palatable beaches. It wasn’t as rejuvenating as Europe – just mildly disorienting and unfamiliar, without castles, ruins or temples to awaken your soul. But still a nice break from the routine of every day.

Leave your Cali travel tips in the comments – do you disagree with anything? Hidden gems I missed? Resto reco’s? 

Review: Stories We Tell and the questions it raises

Stories We Tell is a documentary on love lost and found. The subject matter is Sarah Polley’s vivacious, deceased mom Diane and her love as a wife, lover and mother. The stories are told by those she touched (all but Sarah) and expand upon the theme of love to include friends and acquaintances. At its core the film studies Diane’s love for herself and life at large, letting us gawk at one family’s dirty laundry. You can google reviews on proper filmmaking matters; this account is visceral and personal.

Stories We Tell

Through Diane’s life choices, we examine our own what ifs. What would make us leave or stay? How would we have handled divided loyalties? Would we rather hurt someone we love or ourselves? Would we label our heart and soul’s yearning as wrong?

How often have we created assumptions in our minds about how others would react to our truths? Too afraid to reveal our inner vulnerabilities and secrets, we stifle the truth and suffer the consequences. Which raises the question of how well can you ever really know someone? Have you seen them with their mask off for realz?

The part that really got to me is how you can die without ever really knowing your impact on someone else’s life, whether you knew them for 5 minutes, a day, 5 years or a lifetime.

Lately I’ve found myself mulling over the past and desperately trying to make peace with it. The guilt and shame I carried went largely unnoticed until experiences like watching Stories We Tell would trigger it, sweeping me up in a tsunami of suppressed emotions.

I was forced to develop compassion for my former self and the relationships I had in those self-loathing times. In the case of my former best friend, I was able to reach out and share my new perspective and it was such a lovely and healing exchange. In the case of my now married EX, I just have to trust that on some level he knows how sorry I am for past transgressions and that I’ve finally changed for the better (that’s the word on the street :P).

You see, the love I had for these people got caught up in my own shit until it was unrecognizable and I thought I was better off without them. I’m not even talking “romantic” love just “no name brand” human being love. On some level, the separations were necessary for growth. That’s just how life goes sometimes.

All we can really do is love ourselves a little more each day and try to apply lessons learned from the past to our present day relationships.

Like life, Stories We Tell is heartbreaking and victorious all at once. Definitely worth watching and deserving of the accolades it has garnered.

How well do you know yourself and those around you?

The year of WTF but also of new beginnings

2013 will be remembered as the year when everything I believed to be true turned out not to be. Only life can throw curve balls that teach control freaks like me to let go of the reins a bit, since it laughs in the face of plans.

When you feel the tide turning, no matter how strong you fight it, you sense your power dwindling. We like to think that sheer will power, tenacity and hard work can make anything fly, but sometimes you have to cut your losses and back away without viewing yourself as a quitter or the situation as a failure.

Putting good energy behind something that isn’t working is only exhausting.  It took a risky stock market decision, the demise of a two-year romance and the pursuit of an internship in production for me to realize this.

All those decisions were accompanied by a giant feeling of trepidation. I could not tell if I was running away from something or running towards something.  My body and emotions were screeching that something was off but I had trouble identifying the source and thus made somewhat random choices to stay, leave or start.

My life in 2013 - minus the paddle

My life in 2013 – minus the paddle

In 2014 I hope to:

  1. Better distinguish between a gut feeling that says “RUN FOSTER RUN” and a fearful mind. The goal is to listen to the former without second-guessing, while observing, thanking and respectfully ignoring the latter.
  2. Stop rationalizing decisions to myself; stop rationalizing actions to others.
  3. Only say yes to people and opportunities that make me say “F*ck Yes”. We are entitled to say no, when our hearts don’t sing.
  4. Try to keep an open heart and an open mind, without compromising my own values or judging others harshly for how they lead their lives.
  5. On that note, establish my core values.
  6. Put hard work behind meaningful pursuits. I secretly fear putting effort behind something and not getting the results I want in the end.
  7. Extend compassion to myself, especially during perceived falls from grace to others; extend to other by not always assuming the worst intentions.
  8. That being said, when it comes to others, actions speak louder than words. Observe the actions.
  9. Behave in a respectfully assertive manner, instead of oscillating between outbursts of aggression and bouts of doormat passivity. This will teach others how I want to be treated without all the drama.
  10. Engage in relationships where efforts are balanced, without keeping score
  11. Let go of expectations wherever possible; focus on the Now and flow with life. Trust that I can handle whatever comes my way. And stop asking others for advice and help in handling my sh*t.
Getting to spend NYE with this fine Greek import a.k.a yia yia!

Getting to spend NYE with this fine Greek import a.k.a yia yia!

2013 began with a list of goals and some of them happened, while others did not. I kept searching for things outside myself to feel fulfilled and at peace.  The real culprit was leading a dishonest life.

2013 ended on a quest for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, seeking out teachers and taking baby steps including cooking. I’m excited to have my life back again and time to give myself what I need. I tend to let romantic relationships rob me of that.

In 2014 I hope to get over the writer’s block that plagued me this year, by knowing myself better and accepting all facets of my psyche not just the good parts.

I hope to do something truly independent, be it solo travel, moving out or both. I hope for more fun and adventures, planned and unplanned. To become the partner I want to meet, you know, when the time is right. There is no rush.

Feeling grateful for the space and time to ponder all this next week on a beach. So tell me, what did you learn this year?  

Why Letting Go Of The Past Can Be Just As Sad As Hanging Onto It

Us 2 years ago, in brighter colours

Us 2 years ago, in brighter colours

I saw her after two years, thankful to still have the opportunity. She was smaller than I remembered; a new fragility present. Her huge trademark eyeglasses were missing, her blue eyes more exposed.

Those eyes.

Instantly recognizable like déjà view, with a vulnerability and expressive quality most adults manage to hide. At 90 years old, Zia Franca’s eyes spoke to me. She was, after all, my late grandfather’s sister.

In that moment, at her son’s house in the beautiful Canadian countryside it dawned on me. I haven’t seen those eyes in 10 years. Where did the time go and how could I have forget?

A sadness gripped me, a cocktail of guilt and longing, and maybe a few tears right there on the patio. Stomach clenched, I suddenly realized how much I missed his presence. Franca made him feel real and tangible again. She shared his child-like sense of humour, warmth and unconditional love.

We sat beside each other, drawn. She hugged me with surprising strength. I struggled to understand her broken English mixed with Italian. She struggled to hear me with her one good ear (he had a hearing aid too). She ate like a fiend and drank a glass of wine (he used to make it). With her thick accent, she told me she liked me.

I wondered whether he was watching.

Nonno rescued me from school bullying; his home was a safe haven when I was sick. I earned an education in TV on that couch, from I Love Lucy and Bewitched to The Golden Girls and 90210. He kept my secrets from Nonna, we were on the same team. Loonies appeared out of nowhere, corny jokes happened regularly and gardening was his thing.

Nonno an Italian Grandfather

I couldn’t find one of us together…

At the age of 75 he suffered an unexpected stroke and died three months later. I was 17.

I’m all for living in the present and letting go of the past. But sometimes we need reminders of where we came from. We need to remember our former selves and connect with that less tainted version. If only to realize how far we have come and how not so bad the past really was.

I have only hung out with Zia Franca a handful of times over the past 27 years, at least from what I can remember.  And yet there is something deep that has always connected us, especially after his passing.

At the end of our visit I promised to visit her in Toronto, where she still cooks and lives independently with some help. It wasn’t the first time I made her this promise. I only hope this time I follow through.

On Personal Development in 2012 and Attacking Goals in 2013

Sigh…there’s nothing quite like writing in a brand new notebook, cracking open page 1 of a delicious new book or wiping your proverbial slate clean for the dawn of a New Year.

“Out with the crappy old and in with the new!”, dozens of Facebook-ers proclaimed in unison on January 1st.  Oddly enough, those same people waxed poetic on their daily lives in 2012.

There are two things that turn me on: the truth and goal setting (click for a helpful template). I know I’m late to the party, but here is my honest 2012 year in review.

THE GOOD

  • I gave a new boy a chance and let our connection grow slowly overtime.  Try as I might to kill our romance through the act of over analyzing (my weapon of choice) we managed to celebrate our 1 year anniversary this weekend at St. Anne’s Spa.
  • I lost my surprise birthday party virginity thanks to my best friend, mom and boyfriend.
  • I nurtured my travelling spirit in Croatia, Italy and Greece, with travel lessons along the way.
  • I got my “screen” on at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference after selling my less relevant World Domination Summit ticket for a loss (this was a tough call).
  • I finally invested in this short film writing courseand created 3 short film concepts.
  • I won a ticket to the Innoversity Summit on twitter and got my employer to send me to Next Media to learn about the many faces of media.

St. Anne's Spa: only worth it if you get a last minute deal.

THE MEDIOCRE

  • I got stuck on page 60 of my first feature film and mentally beat myself up. In all fairness, I bit off more than I could chew…
  • I made half hazard attempts to cook but still spent a gazillion dollars eating out
  • I did not redesign this blog as planned. Instead I wrote less about my love life and more about my writing life. To my chagrin, my snarky tone was replaced with a more earnest one and I’m still struggling to find my true voice.

2012 was as bumpy as this beach-side Dominican horseback ride

THE UGLY

  • Everything stressed me out including yoga, travel, my boyfriend and friends. I couldn’t let myself enjoy “non productive” tasks and felt like an observer of my life, instead of a present participant
  • I didn’t get into a solid, consistent writing routine. I was maniacal about making time to write, which took the fun and inspiration out of it. I did not walk the talk.
  • I did not get promoted at work but my motivations were to shut my mom up, keep up with the business school Jones’s and make more money), so…

Screw the ugly! How I felt on Dec 31, 2012...not bad

On Being Zen, Believing and Deciding in 2013

These are the three words that I want 2013 to embody (see Chris Brogan for more on this annual ritual).

  • Zen: To indulge in life’s pleasures with less guilt. To keep calm in the face of pressure and stress. To compare myself less to others. To remove senseless noises and distractions. To enjoy the journey.
  • Believe: To believe in myself and therefore fear less so that I can write and do. To listen to my inner voice
  • Decide: the final step is to make decisions I’ve been toying with, take action and move forward.

I want to actually finish things that I start. To walk the talk and stop feeling like a failure. To define success on my own terms and live a more balanced life. To feel free.

What do you want out of 2013 and how can you set the wheels in motion? Which tools, Apps, Courses, rituals, people and attitudes do you need?