Jody Robinson

Jody Robinson

Who would have thought such a (relatively) small change could completely transform the look and curb appeal of a home? In just a few hours and for less than the price of a new entry door system, Norton and Vicki Canterbury, owners of The Beveled Edge, start with a homeowner’s existing door, cut out a portion and insert custom art beveled glass panels.

002 beveled edgeWhat was once a solid surface is now a stunning entry defined by light, beauty and instant curb appeal.

The San Juan Capistrano studio, showroom and manufacturing facility specializes in the aforementioned front door remodels, as well as interior doors and cabinet doors.

“Any door, whether wood, metal or fiberglass, can be transformed into a functional work of art,” says Norton. “The Beveled Edge also offers custom etched glass, architectural glass and heavy glass table tops.”

003 beveled edgeA former Marine, Norton has honed his craft for the past quarter century – starting with an apprenticeship at a stained glass studio in 1983, followed by the launch of his own business three years later in San Clemente and culminating in his current location complete with a showroom and manufacturing facilities.
What sets their business apart is the personal touch – both Norton and Vicki are “fully involved” in every job, working directly with each client to “make certain we create the vision they desire for their home.”

According to Norton, the collaborative design process includes the creation of full-scale templates for review by the client and glass selection, which may include just bevels and clear textured glass or full color. The privacy level that each customer desires in their leaded glass panels is discussed and implemented.

“It is this approach that we believe results in a large percentage of our sales come from repeat customers or are referrals from friends, neighbors, or relatives,” says Vicki. “Our business success can be attributed to honesty, hard work and providing uncompromising quality in each and every leaded or etched glass panel that is hand-crafted by our expert artisans. The workmanship is guaranteed for a lifetime. Our goal is to create custom art glass panels that will exceed your expectations in every way.”

To connect with Norton and Vicki, call (949) 582-1035, stop by the studio/showroom at 26131 Agenda Aeropuerto, Unit D in San Juan Capistrano or visit

Hospitality has its origins in antiquity, with the first records of guest baths in Greek villages in early biblical times. Over the last two thousand years, the simple act of offering care for others has grown into a massive industry: from the first French and English rural inns and stables for travelers, to the splendor of the Plaza Hotel in New York.

Caring for others can be complicated, or it can be simple: and the San Clemente Villas are looking to keep it simple.

Aileen Brazeau and her husband Paul own and operate the Villas, and they’d like to think that hospitality is simply about listening. Listening to its residents, namely. “If we are successful at providing superior senior care and lodging, it is for that reason - we listen closely to what the residents tell us.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, seniors will represent 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2030. As demand for senior housing rises, the Villas are ready to meet it with their signature recipe for success: hospitality.

Villas’ residents enjoy a level of service and care often missing from senior communities. Care plans are specifically tailored to residents’ daily individual needs, and with 24-hour assistance every day of the year, the center fosters as much independence as possible while still maintaining the highest level of comprehensive care. The staff, including an Assisted Living Care manager, Licensed Nurse, and Executive Director are involved on a daily basis with the well-being of each resident, ensuring that the safety, health and comfort of each resident comes first. “The first thing that Paul, I, and our staff focused upon when we opened our doors was that each resident has a story to tell, as well as unique needs. We are interested in their stories, and we care about their needs.”

Walking into the “grand hall” of The Villas is like walking onto lido deck of a cruise ship - minus the cruise director and napkins folded to look like chimpanzees. Clearly, Paul and his wife know exactly what they’re doing, and are excelling at it, as there are smiling seniors everywhere you look: chatting amongst themselves, or with visiting relatives or staff. If it isn’t Happy Hour on Tuesday or Thursday, there is bound to be a Luau, or Karaoke Birthday Party. And if that wasn’t enough to keep you entertained, The Villas host an annual “Villas’ Got Talent” show.

2016 0309Taking a peek into the kitchens is an experience in itself, where a team of chefs prepare several entrees, side dishes and desserts at breakfast, lunch and dinner. “Our residents look forward to every meal”, Aileen states, noting that it is not unusual to see a home baked pie or cobbler on the menu, following a fresh, home-style lunch or dinner. “Casual “cafe-style dining is available, as is formal. Residents can even reserve a private dining room for family visits”. But balance and moderation are keys to offering a tailored care experience, and so the Villas also boast an exercise gym and beauty salon, a library, and a game area. Nightly movies are one of the most popular venues for the residents, showing on the “big screen” in a roomy theater setting.

Like any five star hotel, the Villas rely on the services that an on-site concierge offers. Through telephone and personal interactions, the Concierge provides exemplary customer service: allowing the residents to focus on the meaningful moments they have throughout their days, instead of stressing about what the day’s schedule looks like, worry about how to pick up a prescription off site, or how to challenge themselves to keep mind and body active. The “cruise ship that never sails” couldn’t be more accurate a way to describe the Villas. As cruise directors, Paul and Aileen operate the fully-staffed community. She, her Executive Director, Jan McAlister, along with long-time Marketing Director, Sherri Saunders, work magic in the Public Relations, Networking and Marketing arena, often hosting events at The Villas that are open to local businesses and the community.

2016 0302On-site presence is what sets this community apart, and what keeps the ship afloat. Most senior residence communities operate through a parent corporation, run by hired representatives. Taking hospitality to the next level, Paul and Aileen have made it a point to keep their offices onsite at The Villas, and can be seen regularly participating in activities during the week. If you see them on-site, say hello, ask a question, and expect to be hosted like you are a part of the San Clemente Villas family.

To learn more about The Villas and its history, founding, beginnings or review a list of available services, be sure to visit the web site at

When you have your health, you have everything. At least that’s the rule the folks over at Laguna Niguel’s Druggist Pharmacy follow. Part of the community since 1972, and offering regular prescriptions, compounding, home health items, a gift store, and a USPS contract station all under one roof, The Druggist is your one stop shop for total health - which, in their eyes, is everything you’d ever need.

Owned and operated by Nihar and Kirti Mandavia, The Druggist was under previous management until 2014. Nihar saw the business in 2012 and knew he had to be a part of it.

“We strive to uphold the reputation that the pharmacy has built up over the past 40 years. We believe our service and attention to detail sets us apart from the chain stores, and we take care of our patients as if they were family.”

A graduate of the USC School of Pharmacy in 2003, Nihar grew up in the business. “My uncles and cousins were pharmacists. They persuaded me to join the family practice. I’ve been working as one ever since.” Under various settings, Nihar grew his business acumen, moving steadily towards his dream of owning The Druggist.

Servicing board + cares, nursing homes, and hospices, the pharmacy has the ability to formulate medications that aren’t commercially available. “This includes various strengths or dosage forms. We can also make medications without dyes, flavors, or lactose.” Being able to go straight from your primary care physician or specialist to the pharmacy is a gift that cannot be overlooked. Yes, having your health is the primary concern. But keeping it can often be another question entirely. So many chain pharmacies have long lines, waiting periods - or as I found recently, the enormous headache of needing to pick up a prescription in one location and a cane in another. With over 67,000 pharmacies nationwide, you’d think that having a prescription filled would be simple. So often, the contrary is true.

It was Henry David Thoreau that famously said “Our lives are frittered away by detail...simplify, simplify.” Emerson, snidely responded, “One ‘simplify’ would have sufficed.” I am certainly wont to agree with Emerson when it comes to shopping for medical apparati and having my prescriptions refilled. I have waited in enough long lines and gotten back into my car, to drive down the street to yet another chain- to fritter away any more of my life to such meaningless detail. Nihar and Kirti couldn’t agree more.

The Druggist offers prescription delivery as well as bubble packing. They’ll even fill your pet’s medications. Walkers and wheelchairs? Got ‘em. Pharmacist guidance was impossible to turn down, especially when it came to walking me through the cost-benefit of a generic prescription versus the private label over-the-counter. Participating in the Laguna Niguel Chamber of Commerce, The Druggist’s staff also volunteers in several events throughout the year. “We also try to have a presence at health fairs every few months. It helps us get to know our customers (and future customers!) by name.”

Donating their time isn’t enough, however. Contributing to local elementary and high school organizations in the community, The Druggist also donates excess inventory to a local charity in Laguna Niguel. Building relationships with anyone who works at a local service counter anymore is almost unheard of- let alone a 30+ year relationship with your neighborhood pharmacist. But if everything you have is your health, why compromise for any less than the best? Attention to detail, sound medical advice and delightful service: almost everything else you’d ever need. And certainly small business at its very finest.

The Druggist is located at 24022 Aliso Creek Road in Laguna Niguel. 
For information, call (949) 643-0740 or visit

All the jokes my husband makes about potentially living under the same roof as his mother-in-law aside, my 84-year-old mother knows she can always move in with our family if or when the time arrives when she needs extra help in her daily life.

I recently learned about Acti-Kare, thinking forward about what options were out there for those looking to take care of their elderly in-house: options to give you more dignity, comfort, and independence, not less.

An industry leader in providing highly qualified, compassionate, and trustworthy caregivers, Acti-Kare is dedicated to in-home care, and Lori Renaud, R.N., is at the helm in South Orange County, steering her team towards excellence. Especially when it comes to senior care. Acti-Kare offers affordable in-home care - both hourly and live-in services - including transportation, meal preparation, personal care services, companionship from professionals who are screened, bonded and insured.

“I began Acti-Kare in April of 2015. Working in healthcare provided me with the opportunity to recognize the value and benefit of high-quality in-home care,” says Lori. “Too many seniors only have a life of existence, leading to isolation and depression.” Indeed, for those struggling with recovery following a surgery, like a friend’s mother after she broke her hip, life becomes smaller and smaller. Until the house you raised your children in can start to feel more like a trap than a triumph.

Acti-Kare utilizes a collaborative approach in working alongside hospice and home health care companies toward the same client/patient goals through open communication and a commitment toward providing outstanding service. “Our caregivers go to the client’s residence, and we are daily achieving my goal of providing seniors the opportunity to have a life with meaning, and a more active, social, and independent lifestyle in a safe environment,” says Lori.

As a Registered Nurse, Lori takes each initial consultation herself, developing an individualized plan of care for every client, and checking back in regularly to provide personalized health assessments. The Acti-Vate Program takes customized care one step further, challenging the norm of an age-induced fatigue, and balancing mind, body and spirit to improve the wellbeing of clients holistically. The knowledge that your loved ones are in careful hands is priceless, and the understanding that those hands are leading your loved ones to a safer, more independent lifestyle in their advanced years is immeasurable.

“I can now sleep at night, knowing my mother is safe,” says Mary, a client from Laguna Beach. “Not only does my mother now have a constant companion, her laundry is taken care of, mail sorted - but if she wants to go out and run errands or meet a friend, her transportation is arranged.” Clients can still do their own grocery shopping; but if they’d rather not bother with the task of preparing and cleaning up afterwards, or perhaps are dealing with a restricted diet, “Acti-Kare caregivers can prepare meals that maintain a healthy diet, as well as monitor their daily nutritional needs to insure sufficient nutrition.” Unfortunately, a great many seniors fail to meet those demands, leading to frustration, and often, a heightened risk of illness.

“I educate the public on disease management and prevention,” says Lori. “But sometimes it takes the presence of a competent, compassionate caregiver to ensure that corners aren’t being cut on health in some of the most important years of your life.” Treating every client as if they were a family member of their own, Lori’s team is confident that their suite of senior care solutions will surpass your expectations for care - without committing to a long-term contract or minimum hour block of service.

My mother is in fine health now. But as she ages and has increasing needs, what a great option to see her in her own home, running her own errands, confident, dignified and independent in the care right at her doorstep.

My Photo 2015Connect with Lori Renaud, R.N. by calling (949) 558-2777 or visit

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that physical photos are a medium worth preserving. When I recently sat down to put together my daughter’s baby book, I thought of how printed images might at times seem like a thing of the past. But then I can’t imagine showing off my family photos by scrolling through all the images I posted to Facebook once upon a time.

Diana Schmitt of the San Juan Capistrano-based Accents Portraits by Diana understands the desire for individuals and families to preserve their most precious memories in more than merely a digital format. She has spent the better part of 30 years specializing in family portraits, wedding photos and capturing the most priceless of moments in all types of life celebrations.

With nearly 30 years of experience, Diana’s focus is families, and she always aims to deliver “extraordinary customer service.”

“Diana is amazing,” says Heidi Hitt. “She has taken so many special pictures over the years for me and my family. They all turn out so beautifully. I am so blessed to have someone I can trust to help me capture special moments in time. Everybody loves when we send out our Christmas cards; they can’t believe how beautiful the pictures are. Thank you Diana for all the beautiful memories.”

Accent Portraits by Diana and San Juan Photo and Digital is located at 32281 Camino Capistrano, Suite C-104 in SJC. They can be reached at (949) 661-6465 or online at

It’s always easy to tell a Bostonian. The accent, the big personality, the dry sense of humor can be amusing – even alarming – for we sensitive Southern Californians. But the Bostonian’s tendency to tell it like it is can be more than valuable in certain situations… say, for instance, when buying a car.

Paradise 2Meet John Paradise, a Boston transplant who eighteen years ago brought little more than his young family and his interest in cars to San Clemente, just to give life in the snowless part of the country a try. “A try” turned into “a home” when John started to fully appreciate the passion that Orange County residents felt for luxury automobiles. One car at a time, John found good deals and passed hassle-free savings on to a select clientele. Today, Paradise Automotive Group is a full-sized dealership, specializing in previously owned luxury vehicles and personalized, individual service.

“These days, clients are so well educated and aware of what is available for how much, we don’t get into the hassle of back-and-forth haggling over price,” says John, who far prefers the tell-it-like-it-is tack. “We price the car correctly and fairly, then focus on making it a good experience for our customer.”

It’s the Paradise Automotive service-first approach that inspires the trust that has kept clients coming back year after year, car after car. Many families are on their ninth and tenth cars purchased through Paradise Automotive, having met John years ago and deciding that they didn’t want to purchase anywhere else.

As an extension of their commitment to zero hassle, Paradise Automotive Group also provides full-service maintenance, detail and body shop repairs and paint needs on site, so customers can conceivably stay with one trusted entity for the life of their car. With ASE-certified technicians for all makes and models, Paradise’s unequivocal goal is to make you a customer for life.

Connect with John by calling (949) 347-2522, visit or check out the wide selection of affordably priced, quality pre-owned luxury vehicles at the Paradise Automotive dealership and showroom located at 32592 Valle Road in San Juan Capistrano.

In a day in age when most ten year-olds have their own cell phone, and are, at many schools, required to have their own laptop, the demand for true literacy is faltering; and therefore incredibly precious. So what are parents to do prior to age 10, when game apps and screen time take over, and many children’s love of books and reading falls by the wayside?

Tracey Pringle likes to think that instilling a love of literacy early on is the best way to develop lifelong achievers, and is betting her livelihood on it. With Club Literacy, Mrs. Pringle has turned a typical education center into a nurturing environment in which all children are encouraged and guided to reach their creative and academic potential. Dedicated to the development of lifelong readers, Club Literacy was born out of two Bachelors degrees, one in Speech Communication, one in Early Education - and eight successful years in the trenches of public school, teaching Kindergarten through Fourth grade.

“My proudest moments have been seeing my own children develop a strong love of literature,” says Tracey. “I’m a literacy advocate, through and through.”

Credentialed in both California and North Carolina, Tracey also travels internationally to research effective educational techniques. Offering both specialty summer classes and a full lineup for the fall, Club Literacy is gearing up for another reading year. “We start with the basics - we’ll meet those ABC’s any way we can!”

ABC Club, for ages 4-5 introduces to club members through fun and exciting books, fairy tales, fables, poems, and parodies. Students enjoy getting to build friendships with each other as they greet the world of letters. There is a special emphasis on multisensory activities in order to best match all students’ learning styles.

IMG 2296Specially designed for full and half-day kindergartners, Kindergarten Smart Start and Early Literacy both explore further the ideas and shapes of the ABC’s, building the foundation of reading readiness. Beyond simple recognition and sound links, students are provided with the opportunity to engage in cooking experiments, themed dress-ups, phonics games, creative dramatics, and even collaborate with the rest of the class to publish a class book. According to a 2013 study from the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 32 million adults in the United States can’t read. Stopping that trend before it starts, with tender, loving encouragement is a priceless gift, and Tracey and her team are proud to send students home with a wide variety of tools to succeed.

Kids progress through 123-ABC Math Journals and Book Bunch, where true-to-life mathematical situations are provided to explore and investigate. With reading, as with mathematics, the sooner a child can demonstrate their reasoning and illustrate their thinking, the stronger their confidence will be later on in school. “Many problems have multiple solutions, and by giving students the chance to work through them, we reinforce phonic skills, and basic word sight recognition. Simultaneously, writing skills are strengthened!”

As a mom whose elementary-aged daughter has attended Camp Literacy’s summer camps and reading classes, I can personally attest to the fact that while what Tracey provides is a focused learning experience, she does so in an environment of fun and creativity - my daughter absolutely LOVES everything about being a part of the Club Literacy “family,” from the camaraderie and encouragement to the educational activities.

IMG 1521Tracey, a 2010 recipient of the WomanSage Award for her work in Child Development, loves nothing more than getting buddies together and working towards success - and her Book Bunch is exactly that. “Their collective goal is to become great readers and writers, and by placing an emphasis on phonic skills and word recognition, students exploration of the worlds of pirates, mermaids, and sea monsters becomes an opportunity, not just a magic story hour.”

IMG 2833And before you know it - that child who would rather look at their smartphone will be saying the three little words every parent wants to hear (not “Mom, more dessert”). More. Books. Please.

Connect with Tracey by calling (949) 717-6624 or visit

I had been looking forward to the 2017-2018 school year for over a decade. It was the year that our son would be the 5th grade – the first year in which California students study American history. I had visions of showing him (and his 9-year-old sister) the places where all that crazy rebellion, revolution and nation-forming happened; places I had visited in the distant past and which I was eager to see again through the new lens of older eyes.

So we set about planning something more profound than a star-aligned school year: a fun-filled, educational family adventure that turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. It hit my husband and me the same way. We realized that we are in the midst of a very special window in time, wherein our children are old enough to really appreciate and understand what they see, and wherein they still think it’s pretty cool to hang out with their parents and, yes, wherein they are still subject to our schedule and our whim. That window is a narrow one. We are determined to make the most of it.

We believed the historic weight of Washington D.C.’s Constitutional establishment and Baltimore’s rich founding settlements would prove to be a real boon to our kids’ elementary education so at the start of their summer vacation in June, our family headed east. First stop: Baltimore.

Inner Harbor, Baltimore

Humanity is drawn to water. For survival, originally, then for industry and trade, and now, for leisure. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has been a haven for humanity since the city was founded in the 18th century. Named in 2009 as “the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment around the world” by the Urban Land Institute, the Inner Harbor in Baltimore is an attraction itself. Not just attracting ships for trade any longer, the waterfront was adapted as a focal point for public spaces, tourism, and housing. Now a historic port, the Inner Harbor is home to the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, the Port Discovery Children’s Museum and a short ride away, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore’s Druid Hill.

Boasting more than 16,000 animals, from sharks to sea turtles, the National Aquarium is a family favorite. Stunning exhibits attract guests from all over the world. A water taxi connects the harbor to attractions further off, including Fort McHenry and Fells Point. The renewal and transformation of the Harbor began in 1958, with the adoption and redevelopment of the 33 acre Charles Center by the City Council and Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro, and has continued since, directing the course of waterfront redevelopment with the successful additions of office buildings, hotels, and retail shops.

If the two-story dinosaur exhibits at the Science Center aren’t enough to keep the kiddos busy, and the pirate ships (ok, they’re really called tall ships) occasionally ported won’t suffice for the long days of summer, just head on over to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and you’ll be talking about the world’s most interesting oddities for days.

Revolutionary Inklings

Founded in 1729 and 1790, respectively, the cities of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. hold much interest in the line that extends from the British settlement, through the war for independence, up until the battle of 1812; when at the Battle of Baltimore, the valiant defense of Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to pen what would eventually be called “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Fort McHenry, BaltimoreFort McHenry, Baltimore

A decisive victory won by the colonists on September 13, 1814, the soldiers defending the Fort repulsed an attack from both land and sea following the burning of Washington D.C. by the redcoats. Named after James McHenry, a soldier and physician who served under Washington and Lafayette during the War for Independence, the Fort is star-shaped and red-roofed. Touring with one of the Fort’s rangers, we discovered what it was like to be soldiers during the Battle of Baltimore, witnessed a re-enactment, took in a twilight tattoo ceremony, and even saw the Fort McHenry Guard performing drill, musket and artillery demonstrations.

Open year round, and just a cannon’s trajectory away from historic locations such as Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Antietam National Battlefield, the USS Constellation Museum, and Gettysburg National Military Park.

Gettysburg National Military Park

The site of yet another turning point in the tide of American history, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania serves as a reminder of the devastation the Civil War brought to the front porches, fields and gardens of its residents. Every home turned into a hospital, and every farm a graveyard. Known as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion,” the National Military Park now remains as a marker to honor the lives given for freedom under the Union cause. President Abraham Lincoln commemorated the park with his famous eulogy, reminding those who listened to “renew their devotion to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

artillery at Gettysburg NMPFor me, this stop ended up being one of the major highlights of our trip. The entire battlefield is now a national park. You can walk the grounds and see it as the soldiers saw it. There are monuments on site from just about every state, because sons of just about every state bled there on that field. I cannot express with enough enthusiasm the experience of letting an expert historian and tour guide drive us around the battlefield in our own car, unfolding for us as he drove the events of those three heartbreaking days (visit The museum at Gettysburg is one of the best I’ve ever visited, and that part of the country is unspeakably beautiful.Gettysburg National Military ParkGettysburg National Military Park

USS Constellation

The USS Constellation is actually the third in the line of American ships dubbed for the configuration of 15 stars found in the original flag of the United States. With its own proud and distinguished record, “Connie,” as her crew calls her affectionately, has almost 40 years of service - through the turbulent waters of the Arabian Gulf to Yankee Station on the coast of Vietnam.

The first Constellation was built by naval engineers Joshua Humphreys and Josiah Fox, 165 years before rivets were put to metal on the USS Constellation’s proud lines. Immediately put to the test, much like her predecessors, the USS Constellation sailed out of harbor straight into conflict, as the first U.S. airship to launch strikes against North Vietnamese vessels and bases in August of 1964.

For the eight years following, Constellation returned to the South China Sea seven times, conducting air strikes, engaging enemy aircraft, and naval targets alike. Sailing under the motto “Spirit of the Old, Pride of the New,” Connie was the second ship in the Kitty Hawk class of aircraft carriers, and has hosted various dignitaries over the years on her illustrious decks, including U.S. Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan. Pronounced “America’s Flagship” by President Reagan in a watershed moment in the carrier’s history, the Constellation would go on to lead 21 successful deployments, with over 30 commanding officers, over 41 years of proud service to her country.

For centuries, sailors have navigated the vast waters of the world’s oceans by starlight, finding their way over the dark and dangerous seas. And for over 200 years, the Constellation and her legacy have guided seamen home to free shores, kept so because of its work abroad in unfamiliar waters; a guiding light of American freedom.

America’s Favorite Pastime

Now in its 25th season, Oriole Park at Camden Yards ( is considered one of the best stadiums in baseball, with its throwback atmosphere, accessible location, and variety of concessions. We were lucky to experience America’s favorite pastime at the retro-style downtown ballpark that has inspired many other stadiums since and cheer for the Orioles against the St. Louis Cardinals.Oriole Park at Camden YardsOriole Park at Camden Yards

Capitol Wanderings

Not to be outdone, on the grand tour of America’s history stands the Washington Monument, just an hour south of Gettysburg, and though currently closed for renovations, the 555-foot obelisk stands as a record of one of our first American heroes: George Washington. Part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, the Monument is administered to by the National Park Service, receiving approximately 24 million visitors each year.

Depositphotos 32863353 originalIf you’re one of those 24 million, and you’d like a tour of the White House, make sure you’re thinking well in advance: tours are scheduled through one’s member of Congress and requests can be submitted up to three months and no sooner than three weeks in advance). Like most of the famous National Monument sites, the White House’s draw is both culturally and historically weighty, housing the President of the United States since 1800. The President’s Park and its surrounding 82 acres offer myriad opportunities to step back into another time.

We contacted Congressman Darryl Issa’s D.C. office a few weeks prior to our visit and were offered a tour of the U.S. Capitol by a member of his staff who walked us through the Capitol Building’s historic rooms, including the National Statuary Hall, the Old Senate Chamber, and the Old Supreme Court Chamber.

During our “capitol wanderings” over the course of our stay, we got a glimpse of researchers working at the (stunning) Library of Congress, walked by the World War II memorial, touched the Vietnam Wall, stood in awe of Lincoln’s much larger than life (in reality and in spirit) marble figure, visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, strolled the National Gallery of Art and encountered Picasso, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Dali and others through works we had no idea were housed there.

For the kids, walking around the Mall was hard work. There were steps to climb, fountains to attempt jumping into, and I’m certain the takeaways seemed almost too grandiose to comprehend. The legends of American history brought into sharp relief before our eyes: Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR and Martin Luther King, Jr. From historic battlefields and modern day attractions to an all-American pastime, we started out chasing history but ended up making memories. We were lucky enough to get both. It only required a week away, a bit of forward planning and a realization that the window is open now, but won’t always be.

Incomparable Accommodations


It seems incongruous to describe a lobby characterized by soaring marbled staircases and crystal chandeliers as “playful” until you step across the carefully preserved threshold of the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Baltimore ( The entire experience was akin to playing dress up in the most exquisite jewelry and ballgowns as a child, only to find out that all the gems were real, and the dress was an Alexander McQueen original. The hotel does relaxing and luxury without the pretension behind it, and as such, has created a restful haven near the Inner Harbor. Ideally situated, the hotel offers amenities such as in-room spa services, and every suite is outfitted with a yoga mat, making your stay feel like a wildly relaxing version of home.

Kimpton Hotel MonacoKimpton Hotel MonacoComplimentary morning coffee and tea service elevate the experience even more, starting your day off with the right lift to get you out the doors and onto one of the Kimpton’s perfectly appointed custom PUBLIC bikes to ride around town. Back to the historic Beaux-Arts building for a lunch or dinner sourced from local farmers and purveyors at B&O American Brasserie will give your palate the ride of a lifetime. Once the headquarters of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the restaurant serves only the freshest ingredients, and boasts a buzzing happy hour with a craft cocktail program that makes it one of the city’s favorite hangouts: for both locals and travelers alike.

Kimpton Hotel MonacoKimpton Hotel MonacoJust a short walk or ride to the city’s most famous attractions, and a short skip into its historic neighborhoods makes the Kimpton Hotel Monaco a perfect jumping off point for any social event, business meeting, or quick, luxurious and truly playful getaway.


Sometimes, staying in the heart of the action is exactly where you want to be. But occasionally, a tree-lined street away from the sensory barrage of the city beckons with a Siren’s call. A quiet, boutique hotel nestled in Upper Georgetown, the Kimpton Glover Park ( offers beautifully appointed guest rooms above the canopy of Rock Creek Park. Easily accessible to the buzz and hum of Georgetown’s cobblestoned streets, the hotel finds a quiet confidence among the neighborhood, oozing relaxation after a hectic day of business meetings or sightseeing.

Kimpton Glover ParkKimpton Glover ParkWhether you just came from the Kennedy Center or Georgetown University’s stunning campus, life is good inside Casolare, a James Beard award-winning destination restaurant. Serving Chef Michael Schlow’s family favorites from Amalfi, Sardinia, Puglia, Cinque Terre, and Livorno, Casolare brings Italy to Glover Park. The eatery provides a vibrant selection of seafood, as well as wood-fired pizza and antipasti. Perfect for a large group of friends and family, or new colleagues eager for a taste of the city. Inspired by the neighborhood’s namesake, Charles Carroll Glover - a banker and philanthropist who famously helped reshape the nation’s capital with donations of almost 3,000 acres of parkland - the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel blends the urban edge with familial comfort and tranquility.

I had been looking forward to the 2017-2018 school year for over a decade. It was the year that our son would be the 5th grade – the first year in which California students study American history. I had visions of showing him (and his 9-year-old sister) the places where all that crazy rebellion, revolution and nation-forming happened; places I had visited in the distant past and which I was eager to see again through the new lens of older eyes.

So we set about planning something more profound than a star-aligned school year: a fun-filled, educational family adventure that turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. It hit my husband and me the same way. We realized that we are in the midst of a very special window in time, wherein our children are old enough to really appreciate and understand what they see, and wherein they still think it’s pretty cool to hang out with their parents and, yes, wherein they are still subject to our schedule and our whim. That window is a narrow one. We are determined to make the most of it.

We believed the historic weight of Washington D.C.’s Constitutional establishment and Baltimore’s rich founding settlements would prove to be a real boon to our kids’ elementary education so at the start of their summer vacation in June, our family headed east. First stop: Baltimore.


Starting a new tradition at Ricardo’s Place in San Juan Capistrano

When Ricardo’s Place invited us to learn how to make tamales, we couldn’t say no! While we didn’t learn the exact secret to their famous family recipe, we did see how to put it together.

Ricardo recommends using any of your favorite tamale recipes, and told us you can really make a tamale out of anything. He recommends using onions, garlic, cumin, black pepper, salt, and chicken. After combining those ingredients, pack them into pre-soften husks, with your choice of filling or in our case, corn mush and the chicken blend. Then, place the tamales into a foiled covered tamale pan over a stovetop for roughly an hour.

For our part, with so many wonderful options available at Ricardo’s Place, Tamale Thursdays is sure to be a hit - and one that is bound to be infinitely easier and decidedly more flavorful than trying to make tamales at home (you can order them for takeout to enjoy at home though). In addition to Ricardo’s traditional chicken, beef and pork tamales, the menu now includes a rajas and cheese tamal and the albóndiga (meatball) tamal - all covered with your choice of red, green or Rosa’s secret sauce.

Ricardo’s Place is located at 32082 Camino Capistrano in San Juan Capistrano. For more information, call (949) 493-4941 or visit

Donna B’s Bakery is about to celebrate 24 years in business this summer and I can’t believe I only discovered it last year.

Named for its founder, Donna Bielke Billman, the Laguna Niguel-based operation turns out what is arguably among THE best gourmet cookies, cookie dough, custom cakes, wedding cakes and yummy desserts in South County.

I just brought an assortment of her cookies home a few days ago and it was all I could do to keep my kids (and my husband for that matter) from eating them all in one sitting.

They are so good, it’s not surprising to find out that Donna’s entire business model started with her dough. As a single mother in 1987, Donna sold her cookie dough once a month to fellow employees in order to earn extra money to pay the bills.

We will be expanding in September and serving breakfast pastries, cinnamon rolls and coffee!
Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

Donna started out small, giving out samples at local nail and hair salons. Before long, she was so busy that she was forced to rent a space at a local bakery to fulfill orders. Not long after that, she bought the bakery and the rest as they say “is history.”
Donna’s business may have started with her signature cookie dough, but today, Donna B’s Bakery also turns out one-of-a-kind seasonal cakes, special occasion cakes, beautiful wedding cakes, “new home cookie boxes,” care packages and sweet treats for virtually every imaginable event.

Donna and her staff do cookie dough fundraising for local schools, churches, organizations and “anybody who has an entrepreneurial spirit who might need to make money.”
“I believe our business is different then other bakeries because I love to help fund raise our cookie dough and cookies,” says Donna. “I love to see people succeed by teaching them how they can raise money for their causes with our products. I believe what goes around comes around. When you give, it comes back to you tenfold. I don’t worry about being a millionaire on paper, but I would rather be a millionaire in my heart.”

In terms of growing a successful venture, Donna agrees that while having the extra money on hand would be nice, everything good comes in its own time.

“I think most businesses think that they should be making tons of money right away. I have tried to stay being a debt-free bakery. I try not to overspend and keep within my means,” she says. “I really want to expand to more cookie dough fundraising. I believe now after being in business as many years as I have, I could possibly franchise Donna B’s Bakery. I also think I am ready to go into the grocery stores and go nationwide into specialty stores.”

But for now, I have to say I’m pretty happy Donna B’s is so easily accessible for those of us lucky enough to live in South OC. Mention South County Magazine for the following specials: Buy Six Cookies, Get Three Free!; $5 Off a Tub of Cookie Dough; and 10% Off Any Cake Order.

Connect with Donna by visiting the bakery at 26022 Cape Drive, Suite B in Laguna Niguel, by calling 949.367.0100 or by visiting