Jody Robinson

Jody Robinson

One of my favorite things about Salt Lake City is its abundance of trees. In fact, the University of Utah campus, on the bench of the city’s foothills, is a designated State Arboretum, with over 8,000 trees. Boasting 300 plus varieties, including almost 40 different types of conifer, the city, and the campus in particular are an incredible sight in the early days of spring as the beech, elm, oak, and Japanese flowering cherry trees begin to bloom.

Downtown Salt Lake CityDowntown Salt Lake City

It is said that you can experience all four seasons in a day, and that is certainly true if you’re planning on venturing up any of the myriad canyons that flank Salt Lake’s downtown sprawl. Sun in the morning and snow in the afternoon (winter into late spring) makes for beautiful days exploring all that the city has to offer: bookstores like The King’s English with its incredible storytime workshops; classic diners like Ruth’s with plates for the kids and biscuits as big as your head; or the gorgeous City Creek Center, with over 100 stores and eateries in a walkable open air floor plan. The Hogle Zoo’s Wildlife Connections give parents and kids alike one-of-a-kind animal experiences with interactive feedings. An events calendar that is positively bursting at the seams has activities for everyone: from Tot Tuesdays and Wild Wednesdays to Behind the Scenes Tours.

Salt Lake City TempleSalt Lake City Temple

Historic Temple Square tops the list of “must see” sights when in Salt Lake City. Home to the global headquarters of The Jesus Christ Church of Latter-day Saints (popularly known as Mormons), the 35-acre property contains more than 15 attractions, including the impressive Salt Lake City Temple (which took 40 years to build from1853 - 1893) and is one of the oldest attractions in the area, the Tabernacle - home to the world-renowned Tabernacle Choir, beautiful gardens, art exhibits in the Church History Museum and the Salt Lake City Temple.

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Completed in 1867, the Tabernacle is one of the most “acoustically sound and architecturally awe-inspiring buildings on earth.” Brigham Young directed the building should be designed so people could see and hear the speaker without impediment. To do this successfully, bridge-building techniques used to construct the roof so that support pillars were not necessary. Every Thursday evening from 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm, the Tabernacle Choir rehearsals are open to the public to view at no cost. Monday through Friday at 12 pm, visitors can enjoy a 30-minute organ recital by Tabernacle organists and guest organists.

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Built in 1854, the Beehive House was home to Brigham Young (Utah’s first governor) and later other Church leaders. The large representation of a beehive on top of the structure symbolizes the strong sense of community and diligent work ethic of the Latter-day Saints who settled in Salt Lake City.

“I’m bored” is a phrase you’ll never hear if you purchase a Salt Lake Connect Pass (visitsaltlake.com), which allows access to 16 of the region’s best family-friendly attractions at significant savings. From the Clark Planetarium and Natural History Museum of Utah to Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum, the aforementioned Hogle Zoo and Tracy Aviary, there’s no shortage of kid-friendly sight-seeing opportunities. A two-day pass runs $46 - $54 which saves you 50% - 80% off regular admission prices to the included attractions - from elephants to apes and sweeping mountain scenery to historic Temple Square, you can do it all at your own fun-filled pace.

DESTINATION DINING

From American classics to multicultural eateries, award-winning chefs and inventive restaurants, Salt Lake City scores on all counts. Located in downtown SLC at 418 E. 200 South, HSL (hslrestaurant.com) evolved from the restaurant group’s first establishment in Park City and features a carefully curated menu driven by the seasons - Chefs Briar Handly and Matt Nelson strive to source local and regional ingredients the height of freshness. The charcuterie arrived with a flavorful selection of artisanal meats, farmstead cheeses, pickles, signature sourdough, lavender honey and roasted hazelnuts. Popular dishes include a Hamachi Crudo with spaghetti squash, almonds and lemongrass ponzu; General Tso-style cauliflower accented by fresno pepper and sriracha vinaigrette; a delicious wild rice and quinoa tostada. Heartier entrees range from the Niman beef short rib (with molasses and maple jus, sunchoke and celery root, pickled romanesco and purple cauliflower) and New York steak (cipollini demi-glace, duck fat yukon gold potatoes and charred broccolini). For a great go-to for the kids, try the woodfired pizza (my plain cheese pizza-eating daughter discovered she absolutely adores pesto and burrata thanks to HSL) and you simply can’t go wrong with the eatery's signature fried chicken accompanied by salt and vinegar fries.

The Grand America HotelThe Grand America Hotel

In nearby Cottonwood Heights, we opted to expand our kids’ palates sampling Vietnamese "street food” at the newly opened Saola (saola-slc.com) (owners are putting the finishing touches on the space, which will showcase a beautiful sushi display and full bar, several semi-private dining areas and an expansive dining room). A fan of Pho? You’ll have your work cut out for you in choosing which of the three Hanoi-style rice noodle soups (house made versions here are simmered for 12 hours with their family’s special spice blend): Pho Beef (beef bone broth, choice of grass-fed brisket, rare round-eye beef or beef meatballs); Pho Chicken (poached chicken in chicken broth with fresh rice noodles, spices, ginger, onion, cilantro and scallions); Pho Vegan in vegetable broth with bean curd. Prefer a heartier meal? Try the Banh Mi (a stuffed baguette sandwich made in the French-Vietnamese style): the French Dip was filled with tender roast beef, melted cheese, grilled onions and a flavorful pho dipping sauce. Our son, who generally isn’t our adventurous eater, had two helpings of everything - Xien Nuong (traditional Vietnamese marinated and grilled chicken skewers), chicken fried rice and crispy pork spring rolls (rice paper, pork, bean thread noodle, carrot, mushroom and jicama) that are worth writing home about.

Accommodation of Distinction

If you’re looking for the perfect home base to anchor your stay in the Beehive State capital, The Grand America (grandamerica.com) has something for everyone. 775 decidedly generous with space, elegantly styled and well-appointed guestrooms await the entire family, with floor-to-ceiling windows for the best views in town. The Executive Suites offer an indulgent 880 square feet of warm, cultured decor (from plush down bedding to the rich tones of the thick English wool carpet to handcrafted cherry wood Richelieu furniture and Italian marble soaking tub and glass-enclosed shower). Elegant French doors separate the living area from the bedroom and did I mention two flat-screen televisions? So the kids can watch cartoons while their parents view their own favorite shows.

Grand America Hotel Indoor PoolGrand America Hotel Indoor Pool

Indoor (open year-round, this world-class pool provides a tranquil setting for lap swimming or relaxation in the whirlpool) and outdoor pool (open seasonally), an expansive fitness center with state-of-the-art cardio machines and a full array of workout equipment (accessible 24/7 with room key), grand lobby lounge for live entertainment and afternoon tea and luxury spa complete even the best of hotel amenities lists, but waiting behind the doors of the tallest hotel in the city lie some of the finest dining and kid-friendly activities you’ll find anywhere in the state.

Grand America Hotel La Bonne Vie Pastry Store DisplayGrand America Hotel La Bonne Vie Pastry Store Display

Ten minutes or less in any direction puts you at the Children’s Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Leonardo, or Clark Planetarium. Five will send you to one of Utah’s many award-winning theatres for an off-Broadway experience you’re not likely to forget. Extraordinary spring skiing, both cross-country and downhill, await at one of Utah’s seven world-class ski resorts: less than 45 minutes from the hotel. Indulging in an apres afternoon treat has never been so simple with La Bonne Vie. Pastel macarons, golden croissants, and creamy gelato all in one place. Order up to your room or have dessert before dinner while browsing beautiful gifts and unique trinkets including holiday decor, cookbooks and tea sets. Speaking of tea, tie up your stay with afternoon high tea, or brunch on Sunday with fare from the hotel’s exemplary food and beverage team. For the former, enjoy the a traditional English afternoon tea (seatings at 1 pm and 3:30 pm) replete with strawberries and creme chantilly, English scones with clotted cream, finger sandwiches and an assortment of tea pastries paired with English tea - a centuries-old ritual set in perfect European glamour.

To take advantage of a truly “Grand” experience for the whole family, all you have to do is contact the reservations department. There may not be as many varieties of fun as there are trees blossoming in the city, but a stay at the Grand America will certainly get you close.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever associated the word ethical with a law office before. Maybe with an animal shelter, or a non-profit dedicated to planting trees.

While ethical business tends to be fruitful, feelings of fairness, honesty, and equality don’t necessarily go hand in hand with child custody cases or marriage dissolutions.

Six years ago, that changed for Elisabeth Donovan. As a young attorney, she worked for a large firm, taking on case after case, learning all the things not to do when helping someone through a family law matter. “Immediately, I saw the need for a new generation of attorneys who took a more comprehensive approach to working with their clients.” Now, Elisabeth focuses on providing personalized and cost-effective representation to her clients in all areas of family law.

Visitation, guardianships, conservatorships, high net worth property division, prenuptial agreements. Going through a divorce or custody battle can be highly adversarial, “in a polarized system, and it is imperative to have counsel who will approach your case with long-term goals in mind.” Goals which include financial collateral - like college savings or retirement funds that can be quickly depleted in court.

“Coming from a high-conflict family, I understand the dynamics of a family in crisis. Highly contested dissolution cases often manage to damage everyone in the vicinity.” Licensed as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst gives her a unique insight into the financial effects of different settlement proposals. “Only through civil, ethical cases can children emerge emotionally healthy. When I became a lawyer, I wanted to make a difference in this world through my work. I sometimes wish someone had stepped in and helped my family while we were in crisis. Family law is the perfect fit as the culmination of my personal experiences.”

Practice means more than just law to Elisabeth. Yoga and meditation are regular staples in her routine, as well as traveling in the pursuit of mindfulness: Morocco and Iceland just two of the more recent additions to the list. Of the seven continents, she’s been to six, incorporating her natural curiosity and intentionality into each step she has taken around the world. Helping clients make it through a difficult time comes naturally, when one has found their way through their own story of anger, disappointment, and healing and come out the other side. “I’ve learned to cultivate a real sense of mindfulness, which allows me to be present and available: in each moment open to my clients.”

Her time in the courtroom has helped her achieve great results for her clients, but it is her passion that sets Elisabeth apart. Personally connecting with each person that walks in the door is the key to give them the best representation possible. “I work with each client personally to develop a cost-effective case strategy that won’t incur unnecessary fees, while obtaining the best possible outcome.” That’s where the word ethical comes in. Millions of families are faced with legal issues. “When I sit down with a client for the first time, I could see billable hours. But what lies in front of me is a problem to solve.” One that involves the past, present, and future simultaneously. Honesty and fairness must be the cornerstone.

CLIENT PERSPECTIVE

Review Elisabeth’s client testimonials and it’s immediately evident that these qualities are the bedrock of her practice.

“Divorce is never easy. It is scary. All I can say is thank goodness I was referred to Elisabeth Donovan by a friend,” says client Ben. “I have heard so many horror stories about divorce. The three things that I see in most divorces are: Lawyers push to litigate everything and jack up legal fees, can’t be trusted, and they drag the process out for years. My experience was the exact opposite. During my free consultation Elisabeth Donovan told me told me about what it would cost (given that my ex’s attorney didn’t push back on everything) and about how long the process would take. And it ended up costing exactly what she said it would (drastically less than friends had paid their divorce attorneys in the past) and she wrapped everything up in about a month less than she estimated. She really knows what she is doing and was very ethical (she talked me off the ledge a few times) and fair to both me and my ex. I trusted her and listened to her advice, and I can say with absolute certainty that she is the biggest reason why, at the end of it all, I have a good relationship with my ex-wife.

Areas of Expertise

  • Child Support
  • Child Custody
  • Conservatorships
  • Divorce & Separation
  • Guardianship
  • Restraining Order
  • Prenuptial Agreement
  • Step-Parent Adoption

If you are looking to “take your spouse to the cleaners,” find someone else. If you are looking for a lawyer you can trust to settle your divorce in a timely and fair manner, HIRE ELISABETH DONOVAN!!!!”

Another client, Kristine agrees with Ben’s assessment and adds “Elisabeth Donovan works hard and respectfully for each unique situation, and the affordability of her services was a plus. I am thankful for her and her ability to make you a priority … It’s very reassuring to know you have knowledgeable and qualified person by your side, one who is working in your best interest while going through one of the most stressful times in your life.”

“Whether a divorce is on the horizon, domestic violence has taken place, or your wife wants to move out of California with your children, your legal advocate’s primary objective is to put the well-being of you and your family first.” First, before money. Before power, or accolades or inter-office bragging rights. Civility. Equality. True advocacy at its finest.


DSC 0135 2Connect with Elisabeth directly by calling or visit OCFamilyLawAttorney.com

My entire experience with North Carolina up until a few months ago consisted of a vague knowledge of the sports teams the state boasts: Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, Charlotte Checkers, the Hounds, the NASCAR Cup races, and its Hall of Fame. That all changed when our family fell head over heels for Charlotte on a recent trip to cross the North Carolina off our “50 States List.” Headquarters to Wells Fargo, the city is the third-largest financial center in the United States. And to be sure, the city is chock full of bankable moments.

Nicknamed the Queen City, the city of Charlotte was honored with the moniker of the German princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who was head consort of Great Britain (and therefore Ireland); those among the first to establish a township in the region after the Catawba Native Americans population diminished. Nationally recognized for their interactive youth-centric activities, the Children’s Theatre and the Great Wolf Lodge are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the long list of “to-do’s” for long family-friendly weekend vacay. The Concord Aquarium, Sky Zone, ImaginOn, and Discovery Place (Science and Nature!) follow with a set of their own kid-friendly adventures.

The field guide to fast casual started in Charlotte, with a long and delicious list of southern barbeque options for everyone. From pimento cheese to biscuits and backyard smoked soul food, to staples like jalapeno-cheddar cornbread and fried chicken just like Mama used to make it. Kids down for the night? Hit up any number of eateries serving up craft beers and southern starters. Within a day’s drive are gorgeous wineries serving up the region’s most delectable vintages, but if you’re not keen on leaving the Queen City’s limits, the oldest rum distillery in the state lies within the city boundaries, serving up history along the banks of the Catawba River.

Charlotte Sign at The GreenRelaxing with a craft cocktail 19 floors above greater Charlotte might sound too good to be true, but the buzz of the city melds with the sleek elegance of its history within the four walls of the Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel (tryonparkhotel.com). An uptown Charlotte institution brimming with hospitality, and featuring a soothing blue and gray palette, the hotel takes seriously its place in a city fit for a queen. Each of its 217 guest rooms and suites are elegantly furnished, appointed with Italian marble, mahogany, crystal, and feature views of Romare Bearden Park and BB+T Ballpark or the sprawl of Uptown Charlotte.

Craft extends beyond cocktails at its rooftop Merchant & Trade bar - from music, punch, and tableside bar snacks to mixology and bottle service. Rent the space for your own event or just enjoy the indoor-outdoor flow, complete with lawn, terrace, fire pits, modern furniture, and lush foliage. Head downstairs to Angeline’s for straightforward Italian-American cuisine that greets each ready tastebud.

Seasonal southern ingredients are prepared with traditional Italian techniques, and every meal is the chance to reconnect with friends, family, and colleagues. Our family broke bread over a multi-course feast, full of antipasti, wood-fired pizza, and a post-dinner limoncello digestiva (for the grownups). The kids and I rose early for flaky European style pastries, and I brought an espresso to my deliriously comfortable husband in bed, before we ventured out for another day in the city.

Queen Queen Park ViewQueen Queen Park ViewSituated in the heart of what was once the mill town of North Charlotte (known today as NoDa), Haberdish (haberdish.com) is a pre-Prohibition era-focused eatery with a distinctive apothecary feel. This restaurant - popular with tourists and locals alike - elegantly melds history with nostalgia in everything from its ambiance to its menu of chef-driven family-style Southern comfort food (meats, vegetables and sides here are served on a jumble of plates). Think of it as a family potluck, but one where the spread is comprised of only your favorite foods. Inspired by the dishes served in the region during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the eats here revolve around what might very likely be “the best fried chicken in town” (brined, battered and fried), sides and snacks (think house pickles, pimento cheese ball rolled in spiced pecans, mac & cheese and my personal fave - kale grits) and seriously impressive, innovative craft cocktail creations (like a smoked mint julep that I can’t say I’ve ever seen on a menu anywhere else).

Merchant & Trade bar Merchant & Trade bar The hometown spirit is alive and well in North Carolina, beginning with the renegade nature of NASCAR, brought to life at the Hall of Fame (nascarhall.com). Celebrating the spirit of America’s favorite race, the Hall features exhibits ranging from the suits our favorite drivers have worn to the exact tilt and sprawl of each fabled track: from 0 to nearly 33 degrees banked. Realistic racing simulators and Race Week simulators help recreate the sport from all angles: pit to to driver’s seat. Watch a movie that traces NASCAR’s historic roots from the sandy beaches of Daytona to present day on a 64-foot wide projection screen in the 278-seat High Octane Theater.

Kimpton Tryon Park HotelKimpton Tryon Park HotelFeeling the need for speed after exploring the Hall of Fame? Explore the 1,300 acres of the world’s largest man-made whitewater river at the U.S. National Whitewater Center (usnwc.org). Our littlest adventurer’s eyes lit up when she saw the zip lines, ropes courses, and of course, outdoor climbing walls. Home of Olympic hopefuls and whitewater enthusiasts alike, the 30 miles of walking trails, stand-up paddleboarding, single or tandem kayaking, and guided rafting ensures a day full of outdoor excitement.

NASCAR Hall of FameNASCAR Hall of FameOpting for a more active weekend away over a more sedate experience, the all-access Activity passes at the Whitewater Center gave our family plenty of opportunity to play and experience the great outdoors. You can choose from 30+ activities to try something new, perfect a hobby or hop between activities to try your hand at several adventures for all ages and skill levels. Play on land with ropes courses, mountain biking and rock climbing, in the water rafting down rapids, flatwater kayaking or standup paddle boarding or in the air with ziplines.

National White WaterNational White WaterFor those looking to kick back, live music and outdoor festivals create a unique atmosphere of relaxation and community. The River Jam concert series takes place every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening throughout the summer months, in addition to nine distinct festivals throughout the year. The River’s Edge, Pump House Biergarten, Adventure Dining opportunities ensures no shortage of food and fuel throughout the day. Based on our kids’ excitement in regaling the tale of our day of adventure at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, we wouldn’t be surprised if this world-class outdoor recreation destination rises to the top of all of our friends and family’s “must experience” list when in Queen City.

As winter break was winding down, our family of four decided to coordinate a few fun days away. With two kids (ages 10 and 11) in tow, my husband and I were looking for a locale no longer than about an hour away by plane, with plenty of outdoor activities and indoor recreation, a temperate climate and family-friendly eateries. And it needed to be someplace ideally easy to get around in - on foot and via public transportation (so the grown-ups could spend less time behind the wheel and more time enjoying the environment). San Francisco proved to be perfect for a mini-vacay weekend away.

The City by the Bay

San Francisco is a manageable size - about six square miles - and although parking can be highly problematic, the ease of access and ability to navigate the city's public transportation system made it totally possible to pack in plenty of sightseeing and "playing tourist."

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Locals are used to San Francisco's somewhat wacky weather, which is influenced by microclimates (temperatures can vary by 15 degrees from one neighborhood to another) and by the "intermittent fog" that rolls in most days to provide postcard-perfect atmospheric photo ops of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Summer here tends to be downright unsummery. September and October are the warmest months. January can be a bit on the blustery side, so we packed plenty of layers and were prepared to don and shed them several times a day.

Water surrounds San Francisco on three sides, so there's no need to worry about getting lost. Just remember: Downtown is east. The Golden Gate Bridge is north.

If you're going to be doing a lot of sightseeing, consider purchasing the San Francisco CityPass, which includes entry into seven major attractions (including a 7-day Muni & Cable Car passport, Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, Exploratorium, Aquarium of the Bay and the California Academy of Sciences) for a flat fee ($89/adult, $69/child 5-17). Another benefit: You can go to the head of the lines (think of the time savings during high tourist season). If you're planning on getting around on streetcars and cable cars and visiting at least three of the seven sites that are included, there’s no better bargain.

Getting around

Cable cars aren't the fastest way to get from A to B, but riding these open, historic trolleys is a quintessential San Francisco experience and a pretty big bang for your entertainment buck from a kids’ perspective. There are 17 cars currently in service on three lines – we hopped on the Powell-Hyde line which starts at the corner of Powell and Market streets, rolls through Nob Hill and Russian Hill, and winds its way down to a turntable at Victorian Square in front of Aquatic Park, near Ghirardelli Square. If you’re looking for a quicker way to get around, there are six streetcar lines, designated J through N, running underground downtown and above ground on the streets in the outer neighborhoods.

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Because the following were located in the same general area (Fisherman's Wharf/Pier 39/The Embarcadero), we were able to experience several attractions in a single day (other than looking at the sea lions, which was free - admission to each of the other stops are included in the San Francisco CityPass:

Fisherman's Wharf/Pier 39 (Beach Street & the Embarcadero): If you've never been here, you might not believe it: Hundreds, literally hundreds, of fat, lazy - extremely noisy - sea lions lounging on the docks ... in other words, a really fun (and free) place to bring the kids.
Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise (Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf): Extremely popular 350-passenger sightseeing boats depart for a one-hour narrated cruise several times each day. The itinerary is a wide loop of the bay, motoring right under the Golden Gate Bridge, then past Sausalito and Angel Island, and finally around Alcatraz. Morning cruises are typically less crowded than those in the afternoon.

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Aquarium of the Bay (Pier 39): Perfect for younger kids, this small aquarium is the ideal way to while away an hour or two - ride the moving sidewalk or walk through a clear plastic tunnel right underneath San Francisco Bay for a close-up view of the marine creatures who live there-sharks, eels, rays, and lots of fish. Back at the surface, kids can visit three touch pools and get up-close and personal with small sharks, bat rays and sea stars. Very knowledgeable guides are available to answer all their questions.

The Exploratorium (Pier 15, 698 The Embarcadero): This hands-on museum is like one enormous, extremely interesting science fair. There are hundreds of exhibits here -from super-bubble blowing to a tornado machine to a computer that lets you fingerpaint and immensely popular Tactile Dome, where you navigate in total darkness using every sense except sight. Stop by the gift store for all sorts of great brainy games and toys.

Gray Line for Trusted Traveler Experiences Gray Line for Trusted Traveler Experiences

Since our first day was filled with indoor activities, we opted for outdoor endeavors on Day Two:

Gray Line San Francisco: The Gray Line San Francisco Grand City Tour (www.graylineofsanfrancisco.com) was a great way to tour San Francisco from the Bay to the Ocean with plenty of opportunity for photo ops and to get off the bus and see the sights. This fully narrated tour took our family from Twin Peaks (for an awe-inspiring 360-degree view of the city from 1,000 feet above sea level), through Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Land’s End, North Beach (Little Italy) and the city’s iconic Victorian homes in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to the once infamous Barbary Coast.

Coit Tower (Telegraph Hill Boulevard): Perched atop historic Telegraph Hill in North Beach, this round, stone tower sits atop Telegraph Hill and offers great views of the city (it's free to get into the city-owned monument, but if you want to check out the scenery from the very top, it's $9 for adults and $2 for kids 5 - 11 and $6 for ages 12-17). Into art? Commissioned by the federal Works Progress Administration, the murals that adorn the inside of the tower - painted by more than 25 artists in the late 1920s and early 30s - were completed in 1933 and are great fun to look at.

Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market (Ferry Building, 1 Ferry Plaza, base of Market Street on the Embarcadero): If you're in town on a Tuesday (10 am - 2 pm) or Saturday (8 am - 2 pm), this is a fun stop for local color and awesome fresh food. Hundreds of stalls are manned by local farmers and gourmet purveyors of all things yummy, which makes it a great place to pick up exotic non-perishables that you can't find back home.

Where to Stay

If you're searching for an unforgettable family-friendly accommodation - rich in amenity, thoughtful touches and a super convenient location perched at the edge of the Bay at Fisherman’s Wharf, Argonaut Hotel (495 Jefferson Street) comes highly recommended for good reason. Equal parts posh and posse-friendly, the hotel is housed in the historic Haslett Warehouse (a renovated early 20th-century fruit cannery warehouse that's listed on the National Register of Historic Places), a grand building built in 1907 of exposed brick, rough-hewn wooden plank floors, Douglas Fir beams and so much seaside character (think vintage steamer trunks and antique telescopes) that you feel as though you can almost reach out and touch the colorful Barbary Coast past.

Argonaut HotelArgonaut Hotel

Situated in the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park (a mecca for the city’s maritime history which both educates and entertains with a library, museum, and fleets of historic seafaring vessels), this sunny boat-inspired boutique property is further defined by Four-Diamond service and postcard-perfect view from most of its generously sized contemporary hotel rooms and suites- each characterized by white wooden blinds, textured walls, sea blue and grey furnishings, whimsical nautical styling and accents.

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Amenities include a 24-hour fitness center, business center and free bike rentals on a first-come, first-served basis. Right outside the hotel are walking/jogging paths along the waterfront leading into the lush green Presidio parklands.

Located right next door to the Argonaut Hotel is the Blue Mermaid Restaurant - a dining experience defined by an authentic, richly textured oceanfront ambiance accented with sea-faring touches like renderings of mermaids, rough-hewn timbers and thick braids of rope. Popular starters include three types of homemade chowders (crab and corn, New England clam and Manhattan clam), steamed mussels jumbo shrimp cocktail and a cheese and charcuterie board with toasted bread, dried fruit, nuts and honey (my personal favorite paired with a glass of fine wine).

Aside from its cosmetic beauty and picturesque waterfront location, this historic gem is convenient to everything you'd want to experience in San Francisco. And for our family, it boasted the added bonus of being in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf and within easy access to cable cars, streetcars and ferries and/or walking distance to a number of other nearby popular tourist destinations including North Beach (only a 20-minute stroll) and Chinatown.


All Day Dining Options @ Pier 39


BREAKFAST
Wipeout Bar & Grill
Something for everyone from specialty omelets (all-meat with ham, bacon, sausage and jack cheese; veggie or Western with ham, red and green peppers and jack cheese) and classic favorites (fluffy pancakes, eggs, French toast) to chilaquiles (fresh tortilla chips coated in red chili sauce served over black beans, two over easy eggs, queso fresco, cream, red onions and cilantro) and a chorizo & egg burrito (two eggs scrambled with chorizo sausage, jack cheese and potatoes, rolled in a tortilla topped with red chile sauce, melted cheese and sour cream).

LUNCH
Pier Market
This 3rd-generation family owned and operated establishment was voted "Best Seafood in San Francisco" by KRON 4 TV's Best of the Bay with good reason. In addition to its award-winning New England clam chowder and authentic sourdough bread (another quintessential San Francisco tradition, Pier Market’s is “voted Best on Fisherman’s Wharf"), Pier Market serves up an amazing array of seafood cocktails, shellfish, salads, fresh fish (delivered daily and hand cut by the restaurant's chefs) dishes, mesquite grilled meat and seafood and Pier Market Specialties, including the Jambalaya, which combines smoked pork, clams, mussels, shrimp and chicken simmered in a Creole sauce and served over Cajun rice.

Garlic Roasted Whole Dungeness Crab (on the menu at both Pier Market and Fog Harbor Fish House). Need I say more?Garlic Roasted Whole Dungeness Crab (on the menu at both Pier Market and Fog Harbor Fish House). Need I say more?


DINNER
Fog Harbor Fish House
Fare: 100% Sustainable Seafood

Atmosphere: The quintessential San Francisco waterfront dining experience

Owned by the Simmons family who developed Pier 39 (they also own Wipeout and Pier Market), Fog Harbor Fish House bears the distinction of being the first restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf to serve 100% sustainable seafood based on recommendations from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program and Aquarium of the Bay.

100% Sustainable Seafood Specialties @ Fog Harbor Fish House100% Sustainable Seafood Specialties @ Fog Harbor Fish House

Popular fresh fish and seafood entrees include a pan-seared Pacific Sole, pan-seared Pacific Cod or Anchor Steam beer battered fish with french friend and cole slaw (a favorite with the kids). More of a meat eater? Try the grilled-to-perfection Filet Mignon with Pt. Reyes blue cheese demi sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, pearl onions and sauteed spinach. House specialties include a local favorite - an aromatic and flavorful Cioppino - tomato-based seafood stew brimming with fresh fish, mussels, clams, shrimp and crab.

My entree was decided the minute I saw the "Garlic Roasted Whole Dungeness Crab" on the menu. Two of my favorite flavors - garlic and crab - in one dish? Done. It was a little messy eating, but wonderfully delicious and totally worth the work.

During winter breaks, our family has historically tended toward ski and snow activities, traveling with our kids (now ages 10 and 11) to meet up with our close family friends and their children of similar ages to our offspring. So time off typically meant a multi-family trip to the mountains. But after our amazing experience at the all-inclusive, family-friendly Grand Velas Los Cabos Resort last summer - which we raved about incessantly in the ensuing months - it didn’t take much coaxing for my husband and I to convince our friends to book a warm-weather winter vacation this year instead. This time around, we were excited to escape to one of the resort’s four sister properties - the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit.

Location, Location, Location

Nestled at the base of the Sierra Madre Mountain range, the Riviera Nayarit offers nearly 200 miles of sun soaked beaches, bucolic fishing villages, nature preserves and colorful culture. Adored by both locals and visitors alike, the region offers much in the way of world-class cuisine, golfing, ocean activities and luxury resorts - the crown jewel of which we believe to be the incomparable Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit.

Savor Italian-Mediterranean cuisine at LuccaSavor Italian-Mediterranean cuisine at Lucca

Tucked into the northern edge of Banderas Bay in Nuevo Vallarta with spectacular views of the Pacific, this premier luxury all-suite beach resort is ensconced in peaceful waterways, white sand beaches and infinity pools a short 25 mile drive from the popular travel destination of Puerto Vallarta. Each of the property’s 267 well-appointed accommodations (think goose down comforters and Balinese furnishings) are amenity rich, extremely spacious and characterized by the colorful Mexican art of the Huichol people. Many of its suites connect - ideal for families with kids or even multi-generational family members vacationing together.

In fact, as all-inclusive resorts go, the Grand Velas is hands-down among the best for families traveling with children 12 and under. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather not vacation where the only menu item is chicken nuggets and fries: but we knew from firsthand experience that the Grand Velas is a resort where there is something for family members of all ages - from its dining options, leisure activities and water sports to recreation and relaxation at its world-class spa. It’s worth a special mention here that Grand Velas’ culinary artists and renowned chefs work their magic on authentic gourmet dishes and casual fare at seven distinct and equally remarkable (including three AAA Four Diamond rated) restaurants (more on this later).

Kid-Friendly Fun

Grand Velas offers kiddos almost as many activities as are on the parent’s menu: sand castles to kite flying, kayaking, surfing, sailing, jet skiing, snorkeling, and their very own eco-shows. Open from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Kids Club and Teens Club truly offers playtime in paradise. Reserved especially for its young guests, the resort serves up an impressive, all-inclusive platter of activities for the kids to choose from in their very own 1,000-square-foot retreat (for kids ages 4 to 12) replete with storytelling, board games, arts and crafts, bingo, movies and more. Teens (ages 13+) enjoy their own space in a state-of-the-art 2,700-square-foot facility to partake in everything from healthy cooking classes, movies and foosball to Xbox and Wii. Each day’s worth of activities are tailored to the child’s age and interests, so there isn’t any chance of that dreaded phrase: “I’m bored.” Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., the Club is complimentary with the resort’s standard package, including dinner every evening and group activities that stretch well into the night hours.

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TEENS CLUB OK

Adult Endeavors

We plunged into the sparkling waters of the Nuevo Vallarta beaches while the kids played soccer and went on treasure hunts. What freedom; the feeling of everything and everyone all being taken care of at once! We couldn’t have imagined the smiles when we all met up for lunch and poolside snacks at the Grand Velas’ Selva Del Mar, bursting with stories after a morning full of activity. Later, when they’d gone back for more (cooking classes! Live interactive shows with local wildlife!) and we had a round of kayaking in the Bay, we ate dinner at one of the resorts many world class restaurants. Be it French, Mediterranean, or the perfect taste of local artisan cuisine inspired by the deep roots of Mexican heritage at Frida, everyone can eat their fill of chef-inspired, innovative flavors at every meal.

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The second-to-last day of our trip, we and our friends finally felt guilt-free enough to leave the littles behind for the afternoon to venture out to the Islas Marietas, an island chain most know by the fame of Jacques Cousteau. The sapphire waters met us with more calm than we’d had in years; snorkeling, freediving, and breathing in all the beauty we could possibly handle in one day. Knowing the kids were safely looked after and in the midst of creating kites and pinatas in the native tradition made our time that much more gorgeous.

With all that the Grand Velas has to offer in activities, amenities, services and dining, the delight of being there is ultimately of the atmosphere, and that comes down to two things: beauty and people.

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While hospitality professionals are by definition friendly folk, the staff at the Grand Velas are authentically warm and welcoming. So much so that either the resort has found hundreds of matchless thespians dedicated to guest satisfaction (from the seamless check-in process upon arrival to 24-hour in-suite room service) - or the Grand Velas’ team truly enjoy being there. I believe it is the latter. At the risk of overusing the adjective in this article, guest service here is incomparable and the Grand Velas’ personal concierge service sets a new standard in hospitality excellence.

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As to beauty, the Grand Velas Riviera Narayit is defined by a simply exquisite design with lovely spaces; starting with its majestic, tiered architecture opening out to panoramic views of the Pacific where the golden sand embraces turquoise waters, from the grand, fifth-floor open-air lobby to the well-appointed suites, you cannot escape a floor-to-ceiling sense of unrivaled beauty. And so at every turn you are inspired to tranquility and delight. Ultimately, that is how our family spent a few days away and what we’ll remember most – enjoying time together against what is arguably among the most resplendent of vacation destinations worldwide.

As the trip came to a close, and each of us sighed with regret, knowing we had to go home, we and our friends were already comparing calendars for a return trip to this inimitable resort on the sparkling emerald Bay. Or perhaps it’s time to think about coordinating our next vacation to one of the other (I’m sure equally incredible) Grand Velas properties.

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said “who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you’re saying.” Keeping this quote in mind has served me well over the years, particularly in choosing friends … and when seeing out the services of professionals. In my opinion, integrity isn’t a word heard often enough in the business world. Competitive, certainly.

But unfortunately phrases like “bottom-line oriented,” “unscrupulous,” even “cutthroat” have cropped up in the vernacular when hearing home improvement gone wrong stories from fellow homeowners. That’s why it was so refreshing to come across Jeff McCabe and his Orange County-based One Way Painting.
In business since 1976, Jeff and his team serve all of the OC and specialize in interior and exterior residential and commercial painting. They swear by the rules of professionalism: “no cutting corners. No cheap materials. We pay attention to every detail, and never call a job complete until the customer is completely satisfied.”

IMG 1309Some might call it good Christian values. Others might say it’s simply good business. But for the last 42 years, working from the heart has earned One Way Painting such a respected reputation in the industry that the vast majority of their work comes through repeat customers or referrals from repeat customers. The company’s success isn’t merely rooted in customer service though. Boasting a superior knowledge of available product on the market and hiring the most professional crews in the business also goes a long way.

“Our reputation speaks for itself; but if it didn’t, we have 16 satisfied employees on our permanent payroll who would put a hand up in defense of the standards we set,” says Jeff. Standards which were born and bred through a commitment to ethical business practices and hard work. In 2001, Jeff teamed up with seasoned professional Ron Bartz as a journeyman, then took over the company when Ron retired, and has been growing it ever since.

In 2009, Jeff took the pair of three-man crews and expanded the operation to encompass six crews, two office staff, and a project manager who oversees jobs, right alongside the man with the plan himself. “We currently have three vans on the road and I’d like a full fleet someday. I’d like to leave a legacy for my daughters, and that means more than just cans of paint and a warehouse full of equipment and materials.” To Jeff, it means taking care of his employees, taking care of his family: taking care of business. The hope is that One Way Painting becomes a household name, for its quality of work and quality of values.

IMG 2840 1My husband and I can happily attest to both. When we moved into our home in San Juan Capistrano five years ago, we acquired quotes for exterior painting from several contractors, but were particularly impressed with Jeff and his crew. Prior to starting work at our home, Jeff came by in person to go over what the job would entail and answered all of our questions. His team showed up right on time the first day - and each subsequent day - and at the end of each day everything was cleaned up before they left.

“We pride ourselves on working with a team of long-term employees - we do not hire off the street,” says Jeff. “We guarantee our work and do not require payment till the job is completed and the customer is completely pleased with our work.”

Jeff and his crew delivered on these promises and more than exceeded our expectations - the result was outstanding work, a job completed on time and on budget and defined by unparalleled customer service (Kelly in his office was hyper-responsive to our inquiries during the estimating process and followed up immediately upon completion of the job to ensure that we were satisfied with the results and our overall experience of working with One Way Painting). We were so pleased with the work that when we decided to update our kitchen by painting our cabinets and adding hardware (the job is scheduled to start two weeks from the date of this writing so look for a future testimonial feature), we were confident that One Way Painting would be the one and only call we would need to make.

Their attention to detail is found from start to finish. For exterior projects, they begin by power washing to clean and remove any loose paint, mildew or mold. Then the patching: with stucco, trenching around the foundations and priming with an acrylic. They’ll treat your wood siding, eaves, fascia, windows. Main doors, garage doors, trim. Even wrought iron, or other specialty surfaces like patio covers and fences. Most work depends on the client’s preference: semi-gloss, hi-gloss enamel, acrylic, or oil finish. Inside walls see flat, matte, eggshell, satin, semi, or hi-gloss. If you have natural wood cabinets and they need refinishing, One Way’s crew will see to it that they look new again. Also licensed and bonded as commercial painters, Jeff’s crew has been making businesses and their buildings look new again for 42 years. With a free on-site estimate, your custom needs are sure to have a custom solution. No deposits required, and “no surprises along the way,” Jeff is quick to add.

“I think at the end of the day what sets us apart is taking our time with each and every customer that comes our way,” says Jeff. “We run a business like every person we interact with is family.” They may not be the cheapest out there, but then that wouldn’t fly in Emerson’s eyes, and not in Jeff’s either. “Our business is based on the Christian ethic of treating every customer with honesty and integrity. Every job is done ‘as unto the Lord.’ Does this mean we’re perfect? No. It does mean that we strive to do the best painting job possible.”


Connect with Jeff, Roxanne and the One Way Painting team by calling (866) 986-9781, visit onewaypainting.com or Angie’s List for reviews.

A Q & A with Derek Mannion, founder of Alliance Eldercare

You think it might be time to consider options for your aging loved one’s future care and quality of life. Easier said than done when the mere thought of navigating the myriad of options - from independent senior living and board and care homes to memory care communities, long-term, hospice  Parkinson’s and more - seems a Herculean task.

Depositphotos 6596764 xl 2015That’s where a senior placement specialist can prove to be a tremendous resource … and available at no cost to you. Having said that though, you’ll want to make sure the professional you are working with has your family’s best interests at heart, is experienced with key relationships in the senior industry and will advocate for your loved one to find the best fit for his or her needs.

In the following interview Derek Mannion, founder of Alliance Eldercare, addresses frequently asked questions concerning options, the process and finding the right senior placement specialist to work with your family.

Question: How do I know when placement is needed? What are the signs that my loved one may benefit from placement?

Answer: There any many signs that someone may benefit from being placed in an assisted living environment. Some of the big ones for me are fall risk and fall prevention. Is your loved one safe to be left alone? Does he leave the stove on with an empty pot or pan? Wander and get lost? Is there a need for incontinence care or help with general cleanliness and personal hygiene? Are medications taken as prescribed or does she take a second dose, having forgotten that she already took her medication? These are all signs that someone could benefit for an Assisted Living environment.

Q: How do we determine the best setting for my loved one - what are the differences (assisted living, memory care, board and care, skilled nursing)?

A: To find the best care options for your loved one, we must first complete a Care Needs Assessment to determine the personal needs of an individual. We must evaluate the ability to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s), as well as the individual’s mental status. We also need to discuss what a viable monthly budget would be to work within the individual or family’s financial means. We can also look into Veterans Benefits and discuss any Long Term Care policies that the individual may have. Once we narrow down the options that work best for your loved one’s needs and budget, I personally tour the family. Sometimes there isn’t an exact fit for an individual’s needs. This is when we tour the options so your loved one and family members can see for themselves the differences between the types of facilities and options available and what each has to offer.

Q: What should I look for when working with a senior placement company?

A: Not all Senior Placement or Referral Agencies are the same. There are things that families should be aware of and want to have in place. Stay away from online agencies that want personal information in exchange for a list of Assisted Living Comminities. Work with companies that offer Free Guided Tours rather than companies that just want to give you a list of places. If the company offers personal tours, they are likely in the communities regularly. Ask how familiar they are with the specific communities that they are referring you to consider. Ask about their experience, training and relationships in the industry. Are they a licensed RCFE administrator? Ask if they will share your contact information or keep your information confidential. They should never share your information without obtaining your permission.

Q: Do senior placement companies find the best fit for my loved one or do they typically place individuals with the ones at which they have contracts?

A: Finding the best long-term solution is always my goal at Alliance Eldercare Senior Placement Service and should be the goal of any reputable senior placement company. For me, it’s about building a relationship with the community and getting to know the people who run and/or own the facilities. This gives me a better understanding as to what they can and can’t do (or sometimes won’t do). This allows me to better place someone in a Community that fits the individuals likes and needs. It’s not about contracts, it’s about care.

Q: Can a senior placement service work with our family if our family disagrees on the best care for mom or if our loved one has behavioral problems?

A: You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. Sometimes families don’t agree on things. This is why in our industry we recommend having one POA or decision maker if the loved one is incapable of making decisions for themselves. This is a decision that the senior needs to make while they have capacity. If the loved one has behavioral problems, I would connect them with a neurologist if they don’t have one already and work with the doctor to get the behaviors under control. Getting the behaviors under control can open up more options for care. We can discuss this further during the Care Needs Assessment at Alliance Eldercare.


IMG 8524For a FREE Care Needs Assessment, Derek and the Alliance Eldercare team can be reached by calling (866) 936-4241 or visit www.AllianceEldercare.com

Reno has its casinos and easy access to world class skiing nearby, Las Vegas has the neon lights, Carson City the capitol building and old silver mining fame. But bursting onto the scene is the bustling “silicon valley” of Nevada: Henderson (#WowValleyNV). Located just 16 miles from the Las Vegas strip, Henderson is a world away from the late-night parties. Focused on “a culture of opportunity,” this growing city is more interested in offering businesses a competitive advantage (Toyota Financial is located here and the NFL Raiders recently purchased 55 acres near the Henderson Executive Airport for its new corporate headquarters) and attracting families with its standout schools, an abundance of entertainment, dining and recreation options rather than than 24 straight hours of gambling (although they have plenty of gaming options as well).

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With a burgeoning start-up culture, the city made MONEY’s Best Places to Live 2018, for the wealth of planned suburban communities surrounded by golf courses, movie theatres, greenbelt parkways, and a population just pressing on 320,000. But it isn’t just attracting newcomers to settle down - folks who want to drop in, grab a local brew, and get outside have an abundance of outdoor opportunities to choose from. The Valley of Fire, Hoover Dam, Lake Las Vegas and the 34-mile River Mountains Loop Trail. That’s not even touching on the Cowabunga Bay Water Park (open during the summer months and opens again as Cowabunga Bay Christmas Town from the end of November to December 31st each year) and the Lion Habitat Ranch (lionhabitatranch.org) - the big cat sanctuary that provides a loving home to rescued lions (and emus, ostriches, macaws and Ozzie, Las Vegas’ first and only "giraffe-ic artist”).

Originally established for the lions related to the original MGM lions, habitat owner, designer and trainer Keith Evans acquired the sprawling 6.5-acre ranch in 1989 with the mission of “providing a loving home for all the lions in our care for the rest of their natural lives.” After the contracts with MGM expired, the nonprofit lion sanctuary opened to the public to view the lions and other animals. Voted by TripAdvisor as the No. 1 thing to do in Henderson, the Lion Habitat Ranch is now home to a number of the gorgeous big cats, including Barbary lions which have been extinct in the wild since the 1940s.

image1Upon paying a nominal admission, guests can wander the grounds to view the magnificent creatures in their enclosures. Our family wanted to take advantage of the opportunity for an even more up close and personal interaction with these amazing animals so we opted for a private “Behind the Scenes" guided tour, including a Q & A with a professional trainer (Sam is worthy of a special mention - super knowledgable and great with kids, she clearly loves her job … and the lions love her) to learn about how the ranch operates and meet some of its rescued residents (and take all the photos and video we wanted). It was a great learning experience and an unforgettable adventure for our entire family, particularly our kids, ages 10 and 11 …although I’m not sure who had more fun, the kids or me. I texted all my mom friends video clips and still shots to show their kiddos throughout the afternoon so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ranch experiences an influx of OC families in the near future.

As a nonprofit, the Lion Habitat Ranch relies on generous donations from private individuals and businesses - the annual feed of just one lion costs approximately $10,000 a year for a male lion while his female counterpart consumes about $8,000 in meat annually.

In the summer, Cowabunga Bay Water Park (cowabungabayvegas.com) attracts both locals and visitors alike for its water slides, children’s attractions, food and shopping opportunities. But in the winter, the park is transformed into a Christmas wonderland decorated with over three million sparkling lights and filled with holiday decorations, spectacular light displays, family-friendly winter activities (think Polar Express train, Jingle Bell Sledding Hill and Santa’s Cozy Cottage) and delicious holiday-inspired seasonal food and drink.

Maverick HelicopterMaverick Helicopter

My husband and son are something of adrenaline junkies, while my daughter and I are a little more cautious adventurers. I like to think I have a “healthy” fear of heights and I’m not the best air traveler. I fly because it’s the fastest way to get places, unlike my husband, who has his pilot’s license and hopes our 11-year-old son will develop this father’s love of flight. Having said that, we booked what might just be the “hottest entertainment ticket” in town - a Maverick Helicopter (maverickhelicopter.com) night flight aboard the ECO-Star helicopter over the Las Vegas Strip. We took off out of McCarran International Airport for an experience that couldn’t have been more memorable … or easier. The company sent a driver to pick us up at our hotel for a truly unique “limousine of the sky” perspective of the "Entertainment Capital of the World.”

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The "Vegas Nights Tour” is an amazing Las Vegas helicopter experience flying over the megaresorts of the Las Vegas Strip from the New York-New York skyline and the Bellagio fountains to the never-fading light of the Luxor pyramid and unparalleled views of Downtown Las Vegas’ historic Fremont Street, home to the city’s first casinos.

Where to Stay

If you’re looking for an oasis in the desert to relax for a few days, Henderson boasts in its luxury hotels - its crown jewel undoubtedly being the Mediterranean-inspired AAA Four-Diamond Green Valley Ranch Resort (greenvalleyranchresort.com). Modern luxury and perfect service await you within the beautiful resort, which opened in December 2001 as the first boutique luxury resort built off the Las Vegas Strip. In 2017, the property upped the ante with an array of large-scale renovations, including a completely reimagined all-new lobby, lobby bar, PERKS Coffee Bar and added amenities for VIP guests, along with enhanced suites. The new lobby features a separate resort entrance away from the casino floor and overlooks the property’s stunning eight-acre backyard pool area - where, I might add, our kids alternated between swimming and splashing in the “beach entry” sand bottom pool and soaking in the hot tub (the pool temperature was a little too chilly for their parents, but it certainly didn’t seem to impact the kids).

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With nearly 500 rooms and suites, the Green Valley Ranch Resort offers an elegant escape from the stresses of the strip. You can bask in the pampering and relaxation of its luxury 35,000-square-foot spa and salon, get in a workout in the state-of-the-art fitness studio, or try your hand at the newest slot, video poker or table games. Great options for adults, but when traveling with the younger set, Green Valley Ranch Resort serves up no shortage of family-friendly activities and attraction. The adjacent District showcases 50 shops, eateries and a movie theater.

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Award winning restaurants provide delicious eats to start or finish the day. Borracha features Mexican-inspired shareable plates, inventive burritos, entrees with made-from-scratch tortillas and super tasty tacos. Bottiglia offers sophisticated rustic Italian fare and herb-friendly cuisine. The Grand Cafe is open 24 hours for easy, family-friendly fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner … our son loved his fluffy “breakfast for dinner” pancakes.

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Our Superior Double Queen room provided plenty of space to stretch out ... appointed with modern styling, thoughtful details, and comfortable accommodations. Leaving nothing to chance, the staff will ensure your stay is as relaxing and memorable as possible.

Destination Dining

For family-friendly dining, buffets are the way to go … everyone gets exactly what they want and as much of it as they can consume (which may or may not be a good thing when you’re considering your waistline). Studio B Buffet in the M Resort (themresort.com) bills itself as “more than an all-you-can-eat experience” that “makes buffet dining exciting.” I have to say this buffet featured one of the most extensive and diverse culinary offerings I have ever experienced. A huge seafood aficionado, I had my fill of delicious snow crab legs and shrimp accompanied by popular Asian specialities while my meat-eating husband made a pretty good dent in several of Studio B’s carving stations (including prime rib available every weekend). Our kids indulged in their standard favorite fare - pepperoni pizza, pasta and one or two too many sweet treats from the array of desserts created by the restaurant’s award-winning pastry chefs. I recommend perusing your options before piling your plate - there are over 300 items, including a build-your-own taco bar, dim sum, calzones, a vegan station and … wait for it … complimentary beer, wine, espresso and cappuccino to your heart’s content.

For more information, visit hendersonnow.com

Looks can definitely be deceiving. From the road, Backstreet Home Decor appears to be a small storefront, its windows displaying beautiful decorative items, jewelry, handbags and accessories. Step inside, however, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll discover that you could literally spend hours looking at all of owner Susan Smith's wonderful offerings, which range in style from Old World to contemporary.

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Each piece is reflective of Susan’s keen eye for color, quality, texture, design detail and style - a fact not lost on the scores of professional designers who regularly shop here to decorate their client’s homes.

Homeowners who have taken advantage of Susan’s in-home consultation rave that she was able to suggest just the right furniture, decor, florals and color palette to create the look they were dreaming of - a fact that I can personally - and happily - attest to.

When our family moved from San Clemente to San Juan Capistrano, Susie’s showroom the first and only stop I needed to make for the decorative items and accessories that would make our new house a “home.” Susie’s vision of color, texture, line, shape, natural proportion and balance resulted in the beautiful floral arrangements and wall hangings that adorn our home, along with just the right accent and “statement pieces” to visually tie everything together.

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While everything in her store speaks of high quality, her prices are surprisingly affordable. Because of longstanding relationships with vendors from the top decor lines across the county, Susan is able to acquire furniture and accessories at substantial discounts - which she in turn passes along to her customers.

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“We only LOOK expensive,” she says. “What sets us apart is that all of our florals are custom designed on the premises. We work with our clientele to create exactly what they want. We really try to come up with the unusual - unique items that you just won’t find in every single store.”

Connect with Susie by stopping by the showroom at 307 N. El Camino Real in San Clemente, by calling (949) 498-2210 or visit www.backstreethomedecor.com

In-Home Care and the New! Senior Social Club & Stay Care Center in Laguna Woods Village

Over the past decade, there have been an increasing number of studies examining the effects of stress on the human body - from the immune to metabolic systems, to cell division, diet, hormonal changes, heart rate and of course, cortisol levels. Cortisol, after all, is what floods the body in response to stress. Its main purpose is more far-reaching than was once believed. Systemic effects play a great many roles to maintain homeostasis in the body: which, at a basic level, looks like a greater span of stress-free years. Experts at UCLA, Harvard and the University of Maryland all posit that lowering stress levels leads to healthier mental and bodily functions across the board, which is great for everyone, but can be particularly meaningful for men and women of an advanced age.

Founded in 2002, the professionals at Your Home Care, Inc. are dedicated to ensuring the individual care they provide will lessen the stress of everyday life for your aging loved one and their families. Between the two divisions of this Laguna Woods-based family-owned and operated business, seniors have the option of in-home care or respite at the Senior Social Club and Stay Care Center (applications are currently being accepted for participation).

In-home care

With loving kindness, trained caregivers provide exceptional general care and assist with the basic necessities of daily living in the comfort and safety of a senior’s own home. In-home care encompasses services tailored to the senior’s specific needs and range from meal preparation, medication reminders, doctor visits, grocery shopping, laundry, light housekeeping, dressing and incontinence care to Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related care.

“We have observed that those who are able to stay in their homes are more likely to remain healthy and free from common communicable illnesses, such as influenza and pneumonia that are prevalent in nursing homes and assisted living centers due to the high volume of residents and close living quarters,” says Boyd Warner, founder of Your Home Care, Inc.

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Understanding that the safety and security of your loved ones is of the utmost importance, the professional caregivers at Your Home Care undergo a rigorous interview process, from reference checks and background clearance to competency training. But that’s just the beginning … equally as important as each applicant’s credentials is their personal philosophy as Warner says “our caregivers want more than a job. They want to make a difference in the lives of those in their care. As a company, our job is to give caregivers the direction and tools they need to fulfill their personal mission of service, as well as our corporate mission of improving the lives of those we serve.”

We will be your resource for respite care which will allow family members relief from the emotional and physical strains of being a full-time caregiver.

Upon meeting the company’s strict selection criteria, caregivers are insured and bonded before completing a comprehensive orientation process to ingrain Your Home Care corporate policies and procedures followed by ongoing, specialized training on issues that help them develop as better overall caregivers, as well as deal with very specific situations. These issues include medication management and compliance, Alzheimer’s and dementia, osteoarthritis and mobility loss, hypertension/stroke recovery, diabetes, heart disease and cancer recovery.

“We believe that our focus on the individual and family is what sets us apart,” says Warner. “When you contact us, you will receive individualized care that will meet the needs of your family and your aging loved one. Whether you are in need of around the clock assistance, night relief or a short shift during the day to assist with ADL’s, you can rest easy knowing that we have your well-being and that of your loved one as our priority.”


Senior Social Club & Stay Care Center

While in-home care focuses on the one-on-one, allowing trust and friendship to flourish between caretaker and patient, the Adult Day facility follows a social model in a “beautiful, warm and inviting place for seniors to gather together and create new friendships and memories.” Different from many other day centers, the licensed caregivers at Your Home Care’s “Social Club & Stay Care” Center oversee all activities and are highly interactive with each visiting senior.

“In a typical day, our clients will arrive at the center, sign in, and enjoy leisure activities in the morning, such as enjoying our reading center, or watching a movie or playing a game with other participants and our caregivers,” says Warner. “We will also provide daily activities that will vary depending on the day, but you can expect to find on our schedule activities such as bingo, karaoke, and knitting caps for the newborns at local hospitals. We will also provide lunch at our facility.”

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Warner and his team encourage family members to stop by and tour the facility to see firsthand the advantages of participation.

“Our service will greatly benefit those who find themselves living in multi-generational homes, whose primary caregiver is stretched thin,” says Warner. “We will be your resource for respite care which will allow family members relief from the emotional and physical strains of being a full-time caregiver. Our mission is to provide a fun, exciting place for your aging loved one to participate in activities that they love and maybe even try something new. Further, this facility allows those who may be isolated from the world an opportunity to open up and create new friendships.”

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After interested seniors (or their loved ones) fill out an application for the program, they undergo a medical evaluation from their own doctor, and then a follow up visit with the program director at Your Home Care, Inc., to determine whether participation the adult day facility would be the best fit for their needs.

“We’re very serious about providing a compassionate caregiving service, preserving dignity, ensuring independence, and a higher quality of life,” says Boyd. “We want this to be as good a fit for you as it is for us.”

Taking stress off anyone’s plate is a loving act in itself. Yet, I can see how many selfless acts might feel like a double-edged sword. My mother is the primary caregiver for my 85-year-old stepfather who suffers from dementia. As a result, she has less time for activities she enjoys, spending time with her friends, going to the movies and the infinite other little things that seem to fill the cracks in a single day. When I emphasize the importance of also caring for herself, she brushes the thought away not wanting to be “selfish.”

“Taking advantage of a referred professional caregiver is not giving up on your loved one or being selfish,” says Warner. “On the contrary, you’re being selfless by bolstering your own love and support with professional, quality care while enabling you to spend more time enjoying their company.”

What could be more selfless (and scientific) than helping to lower cortisol levels (yours and your loved one’s)? Eliminating that unnecessary drain on energy can mean restored resiliency, greater access to memory, improved brain function. Selfish? Or selfless? Stress full? Or stress free? Through compassionate in-home care and its new adult day care center in Laguna Woods, Your Home Care is here to ensure that this choice is the easiest you’ve made in a long time.


Connect with Boyd and the professionals at Your Home Care, Inc. by calling (949) 215-0004 or visit www.yourhomecare.com.
The Senior Social Club & Stay Care Center is located at 24191
Paseo de Valencia, Suite B in Laguna Woods.