Jody Robinson

Jody Robinson

Mention ski season to me, and my eyes glaze over. Not in the way they would if I was a sixth grader watching a documentary in history class with the lights dimmed, nearly into waking sleep; like I can hear the shush of powder between my skis on a run through the glades with no one around for what feels like miles. That said, for a skier, it would take a passion bigger than powder to get them off the slopes during ski season, and into an office.

For Stephanie Frisch, that passion has become helping individuals and families find their way in the incredibly confusing world of health insurance. Hard to believe? After all, who would give up a season of perfect days on the mountain for conversations about Medicare and the oft topsy-turvy world of Social Security, monthly adjustments, and aging in (or out) of the myriad plans on the market? Hear it straight from the source: “I’ve been a skier for 45 years now, but the Medicare enrollment period falls at the same time of year, so I’m turning my focus going forward.” Having her ability to check out and go skiing isn’t as much of a sacrifice as she thought though, when looking at the big picture. “I started as an agent in 2006, and established my business, Insurance 101 Services, in 2008. There is an epidemic of unawareness around the Medicare system. I’m dedicated to finding a cure for my clients.”

An ailing medical system can be just as detrimental to its population as the actual health issues. With Medicare, those that turn 65 and are eligible are as at risk of confusion as those who delay enrollment because they or their spouse have continued to work for a large company and receive benefits from it. “Another common situation I’ve been remedying is helping families whose loved ones have moved into an assisted living or board and care facility: and now they need to change the way they have access to benefits.” Stephanie has an incredible wealth of knowledge about the system, a high degree of experience with the plans available on the market, and has focused her attention - and intention - on becoming a trail guide to those stuck on the bunny hill, as it were.

Stephanie stays abreast of all things Medicare, not just the plans offered by the companies that she is contracted with. There are steps to activating Part B for the first time, steps to paying the Part D premiums. “People that make incomes higher than the benchmark set by Social Security also tend to pay more - I can explain how that all works, what the amounts are, and how they can avoid responsibility for that extra amount if there are certain life events, such as retirement.” Only about 10% of clients Stephanie assists, she estimates, know about the level adjustments on premium pricing (or Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amounts). “We can lay down an estimate for how much my client can expect, and a detailed trail map as to avoiding the penalties entirely.”

Stephanie serves over a thousand clients, and her list keeps growing every year. Keeping her notes on conversations saved for each one on the latest software and phone syncing technology helps.

“When a client calls, I greet them by name, even if I haven’t seen or spoken to them in years,” says Stephanie. “I completely personalize my service by keeping your records up to date, including current plan, doctors, medications, and so much more. I might have stepped off the slopes (and recently, onto the green), but I’m not slowing down when it comes to the level of commitment and dedication I show each person that I come into contact with.”

In the following interview with South County Magazine, Stephanie addresses some frequently asked questions and recent trends in the industry.

South County Magazine: I’ve heard that there is a longer enrollment window for Medicare starting this year, is that true?

Stephanie Frisch: Well, yes and no, and I fear there will be a LOT of confusion regarding this at least for the first few years. The “Annual Enrollment” period (also referred to as the Open Enrollment period in past years) runs October 15 to December 7th. The 2019 plan details for Medicare Advantage and Medicare drug plans are released to the public October 1st, but applications can’t be accepted and/or submitted until 10/15.

CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) is bringing back an enrollment period that they have utilized off and on in the past to help those Medicare beneficiaries who may have made the wrong choice in picking their Medicare plan(s) during the Annual Enrollment period. This enrollment period will formally be called, “Open Enrollment”. It will run from January 1st to March 31st, and during this time period, Medicare Advantage enrollees will be allowed to dis-enroll from their current plan and move to a different Medicare Advantage plan. Or, they can move back over to Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and B) essentially dropping their MAPD plan. OEP isn’t an extension of AEP. It doesn’t provide the same flexibility as the AEP where you can make any changes you want. To clarify: During the 2019 OEP, you’re able to make “like plan” changes (The same plan change you made during AEP). So that would be: MAPD to MAPD; MAPD to Original Medicare and a Part D; Original Medicare and a Part D to MAPD.

SCM: I’m always hearing about the so-called “Donut Hole” for Medicare drug plans, what can you tell me about that?

SF: Drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries didn’t become mandatory until 2006. At that time, the Federal government and drug manufacturers began subsidizing the cost of medications. Four different stages were established; Deductible, Initial Coverage, Coverage Gap (Donut Hole) and Catastrophic. For several years it has been publicized that the “donut hole” was going away in 2020. But recently the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 moved up the date for closing the so-called “donut hole” for brand name drugs to 2019.

Carlos Aguilar, Insurance 101 Services Associate and licensed insurance agentCarlos Aguilar, Insurance 101 Services Associate and licensed insurance agentSo, in 2019 the standard benefit requires the beneficiary to pay 25% of their prescription drug costs between $415 (the RX deductible in 2019 if the drug plan has one) and $3,820. This amounts to about $850.00 annually. Then, for 2019 and every year after, the beneficiary cost sharing for brand name drugs after the initial coverage limit has been met, is 25% -- Same as in the initial coverage stage, so hence, there goes the “donut hole”! How did the government make this “magic” happen? Well, part of the drug costs in the “Coverage Gap-donut hole” – are absorbed by the drug manufacturers providing a 70% discount on brand name drugs. Future drug plan premiums may show another way the “donut hole” was eliminated, but that is my personal speculation, not fact.

There is still the “Catastrophic stage” however. In this stage the Medicare beneficiary has nominal costs. Once beneficiary expenditures (which include those big drug manufacturer discounts) reach a total of $5,000, the beneficiary is through the coverage gap and reaches catastrophic coverage. On any future prescriptions the beneficiary pays either a co-pay of $3.35 for generic drugs or $8.35 for brand name drugs or a co-insurance of 5%, whichever is greater.

SCM: Last year you brought on Carlos Aguilar as an associate of Insurance 101 Services, what is his role in your company currently?

SF: Carlos is a very valuable asset to my business. There are no longer enough hours in the day for me to help everyone that contacts me, so I rely on Carlos to help those individuals and families so that they get the timely assistance and personalized service that I pride my company with providing. His focus in assisting me is helping individuals and families under age 60, and those more comfortable in learning about their Medicare and insurance options in Spanish.

SCM: I know you’ve had your office in San Juan Capistrano now for four years, but do you still make house calls?

SF: Sure, but most of my house calls now are a result of assisted living facilities such as Atria San Juan and “board and cares” learning of my free services from Dr. Haga and Dr. Yang.

Over the last several years we’ve started helping each other to get Medicare beneficiaries settled in and comfortable in their new homes. It’s a difficult process moving a loved one into one of these facilities for many reasons and eliminating as much stress as possible is crucial. I help guide the families down that path, letting them know the steps to take with Social Security. We also look at making changes to their loved ones current Medicare plan(s) so they are able to receive care in their new home. If the individual is moving from another county or state and on a Medicare Advantage plan, they will lose that coverage within a few months, and we need to put them on an Orange County based plan that best suits their needs, re-evaluating their drug plan coverage is also very important.

Let’s play a quick game: I’ll say a word and you write down the first thing that comes to mind. Ready? Beer. Now, I’ll bet you a pint that you immediately imagined some Oktoberfest, flush with icy cold brews and brats grilling in the background.

But while beer has a colorful history indeed in the cloisters and taverns of Germany, the story of beer actually began a few thousand years before the Reinheitsgebot. Since its earliest days in ancient Sumeria, the art of brewing has come a long way. The simple act of allowing water, malt, and hops to ferment coursed through many different iterations before landing in the age of “craft,” when more than 150 beer styles and 20,000 plus brands exist on the market, all for the simple enjoyment of drinking.

IMG 0070As of early this year, more than 6,000 separate breweries hold the recipes for all the craft beer in the United States. No longer bound to Germany’s “Purity Law,” you’ll find ingredients in brews today ranging from avocado honey to hemp. Andrew and Kim Reed believe there has never been a better time to appreciate the craft, and as such, opened the doors to The BrewHouse in 2014. The premier spot in Orange County to learn about beer and experience a range of flavors, Andrew’s “beertenders” are more than happy to show you some of the raw ingredients, introduce you to the Digital Pour feature, and serve up a (giant) signature pretzel, which, the last time I checked, was as shareable as it was delicious and accompanied by a Bavarian and classic yellow mustard for dipping. Try a panini, hot from the sandwich press, complete with locally sourced beef jerky on the side and your choice in kettle chip.

IMG E0063Not feeling up to an entire pint? Let Andrew and Kim set you up with a flight of flavors, from breweries all across California. Santa Monica to Moorpark, San Clemente to Santa Ana, Buellton to Boonville to Torrance and back. A four-beer flight is just 20 ounces, and you’ll be covered with The BrewHouse’s range of flavors: light and tart sours, dank IPAs, malty golden ales, rich stouts and more. With a rotating selection of food trucks on Wednesday and Friday evenings and trivia night on Wednesday, there’s never a shortage of entertainment to be found. Let’s play that game again.

Ready? Beer. I’ll bet you an icy-cold-rotating-tap-locally-sourced-pint your first thought was The BrewHouse.

IMG 5395For more info, stop by 31896 Plaza Drive, #D3 in San Juan Capistrano, call (949) 481-6181 or visit www.thebrewhousesjc.com. The BrewHouse is located in what just might be one of this historic city’s “best kept secrets” for fine furnishings, unique retail, health and wellness: The Capistrano Center. These speciality retailers are situated along the back side of the Plaza Del Obispo Shopping Center at the corner of Del Obispo and Camino Capistrano.

OC Pharmacy LongWhen you’re feeling under the weather and need your prescription filled, there is something said for speedy service that is professional and above all: caring. Chances are, you’ve spent more time than you wanted to in the waiting room at your doctor’s office, you don’t feel well, and the last thing you want to do is stop somewhere else to fill your prescriptions.
All of it is enough to make you want to call your mother to come take care of you. Well, that’s exactly what the folks at OC Pharmacy had in mind when they opened for business.

“It’s about being family. It’s about offering and delivering a higher standard of care for our patients,” says MJ Kazemi, owner of San Juan Capistrano-based OC Pharmacy. “OC Pharmacy opened in August 2008 on the premise that patients are people, not prescriptions. Big drugstores pressure pharmacists and their staff to increase their daily prescription count. We’re not about that here. We want people to feel welcome and comfortable when they walk in. Because we are so specialized in care, we make the time to listen to your needs and address any questions you might have. It’s also our duty to make sure you get a good deal for your medicine.”

A traditional pharmacy can only dispense commercial drugs from large brand and generic drug companies (such as Pfizer, Teva, Greenstone, etc.) – referred to as “Big Pharma” in the industry. A compounding pharmacy, on the other hand, can dispense those commercial drugs in addition to creating customized doses and combinations of drugs within a lab at the pharmacy.

1809SCM 22As an example of what a compounding pharmacy can do that a traditional pharmacy cannot, MJ states, that “If baby is born with organ failure. The doctor wants to prescribe a drug that doesn’t exist in a dose safe for newborns. MJ can take the tablet form of the prescribed medication and make it into a solution of a lower, baby-safe, dose. The next problem is that many medicines have a coating that masks the flavor of the medicine and helps with digestion. When these tablets are crushed, the nasty bitter flavor is exposed. Through trial and error (or the baby’s parents’ input), we become aware of the baby’s favorite flavor and are able to create a pediatric dose of a medication in solution form. They can then provide a special pacifier that will deliver the flavored medication to the baby without any fuss.”

“Some patients suffer from painful conditions where their nerves “fire” too fast, sending constant pain signals to the brain,” says MJ. “Most physicians will prescribe narcotics for the pain, but that doesn’t really address the problem. We can make a topical pain cream that both helps quell the pain and calm the nerves down so they aren’t firing so fast. With that type of compound, we address the problem – the nerve – and over time the patient requires less pain medication - thereby avoiding oral narcotic addiction. There are cases where patients will even self-taper from oral narcotics while using topical pain management compounds.”

To create a particular pharmaceutical product to “fit the unique needs of each individual,” MJ combines and/or processes appropriate ingredients, according to a physician’s prescription, utilizing various tools in the compounding lab. This may be done for medically necessary reasons (i.e. changing the form of a medication from a solid pill to a liquid), to avoid a non-essential ingredient that a person may be allergic to, or to obtain a specific dose of a particular ingredient, or combination of ingredients, and dispensed in way that makes it easier for the patient to ingest or apply.

The core of OC Pharmacy’s customer base runs the gamut from infants to seniors and everyone in between, for every imaginable ailment or disease condition that can be better treated with custom medications (compounds).

“People going through menopause and andropause see magnificent benefits from bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) compounds. Older folks with arthritis can find solace in our topical arthritis compounds. Diabetic patients can form painful open sores on their feet – sores that can heal much better with custom compounds designed to keep the wound clean and promote faster healing,” says MJ. “Fussy babies will take their medication with ease when it’s flavored and dispensed through our special baby-binky dispenser or baby bottle dispensing devices. Many young athletes who are hurt on the field can use topical pain compounds instead of taking oral narcotics (and potentially heal faster!). Men and women who suffer from sexual dysfunctions can use customized compounds to help them resolve things in the bedroom.

“The possibilities are endless. The sky is the limit. We believe compounding is the way medicine should be. Doctors don’t dole out the same diagnosis to everyone, nor do they recommend the same dose of a drug to every patient - so why should our medicine be standardized?”

Medicare enrollment and your local pharmacy

Plans change every year, even the one you currently have. So to help their customers navigate the process, the professionals at OC Pharmacy have teamed up with local Medicare insurance specialists, Stephen and Denice Merrill. Together, they will sit down with patients, beginning in October, to review their 2019 Medicare insurance options.

“We will walk the patient through the entire plan selection process, from comparison of pricing, services, when they might fall into the Medicare gap (aka donut hole), even whether they will be forced to mail order or not,” says MJ. “They’ll make the Medicare enrollment call here in the pharmacy with one of our employees. At the end of the process, the patient will know exactly how much they’ll be paying out of pocket for 2019, and the pharmacy will have the new Medicare insurance information, in addition to helpful information such as whether a patient will need to switch to an alternative drug to save money. These time savers let us work with the doctor, months in advance, to make sure the transition to 2019 is smooth for the patient, the doctor, and the pharmacy.”

As an added bonus, OC Pharmacy is offering this Medicare enrollment service at no charge through year-end 2019.

Customized care and uncompromising customer service

Before mass production of medications, community pharmacists with compounding experience were more common. Today, these specialists are fewer and far between. But luckily for those of us who live in South County, OC Pharmacy is truly our “neighborhood” pharmacy with all the “extras” and personal attention to detail you won’t find in a chain-store experience.

1809SCM 15Add this to their free local delivery service (in San Juan Capistrano) and the large number of insurance companies they deal with, and you are sure to become a lifelong fan. Even if you don’t live locally, they deliver for a nominal fee and will also ship to California addresses.

“We wanted to bring back the tradition of providing quality healthcare,” says MJ’s son, Omeed Askari. “Because of this, we have grown so much and it’s our ultimate goal to be the top, if not only choice of personalized pharmacy in the area.”

Speaking of growing, OC Pharmacy has their happy patients to thank for that! Word-of-mouth advertising has reached many local households, and people rave they have never felt more cared for and listened to than at OC Pharmacy. In addition to its stellar service, OC Pharmacy also offers immunizations (see sidebar on flu shots), diabetic supplies and durable equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers.

The OC Pharmacy family consists of pharmacists who hold PharmD degrees from excellent schools and are registered pharmacists (RPh) in the state of California, Certified Pharmacy Technicians and an administrative team largely comprised of MJ and her family members.

1809SCM 18In addition to always “striving to go the extra mile for the patient,” Omeed adds that OC Pharmacy is part of a professional organization called the Professional Compounding Centers of America (PCCA), which allows MJ and her staff access to thousands of compounding formulas, ideas and resources.

“Some ingredients we use can only be purchased from PCCA, and to do that you must be a member,” says Omeed. “The organization is constantly researching and developing new medication delivery vehicles that helps put us on the cutting-edge of industry knowledge to better serve our clients. Because patients and their specific conditions are unique, each individual’s medicine should be uniquely created for them.”

State of the Industry

While compounding pharmacies offer patients the alternative of a more effective, customized medicine, the industry itself is currently in a state of upheaval and uncertainty, according to MJ.

1809SCM 17Many national chain pharmacies are owned by insurance companies who wield influence with politicians and drug companies. As a result, local, independent compounding pharmacies are finding it increasingly difficult to compete in an environment of unfair pricing and reimbursement practices, she says.

“It’s imperative that patients who wish to have the option of customized medicine make their opinions known to their local representatives and state policy-makers, otherwise having the choice of using a compounding pharmacy may be another casualty in today’s ever-changing healthcare industry.”

Because flu season is predicted to be long this year, Omeed has taken steps to prepare the community: “We are scheduled to receive our vaccines late August/early September. At the final San Juan Summer Nights event on September 19th, we will offer a flu immunization clinic. Attendees will get a special discounted rate of $20, as opposed to $30 in-store. Patients who have egg allergies, who typically cannot get immunized, should contact us for information about an egg-allergy free version of the vaccine. All of our vaccines will be preservative and latex-free.”

Speak to the experts at OC Pharmacy today by calling (949) 429.5326. They are delighted to answer any questions you might have. OC Pharmacy is located at 31654 Rancho Viejo Road in San Juan Capistrano. Visit www.ocpharmacy.net for locations, hours and more information. Check them out on Instagram and Facebook (via links on their website) where MJ (owner and pharmacist in charge) will be posting more videos about pharmacy topics, suggestions, reccomenations, and reminders, while responding to questions submitted via Instagram.

Friends are good for a great many things. Laughing with you, getting out of tight spots every once in a while, bringing hot soup when you’re sick, makeovers: the list is almost endless. Advice, however, is one of those beautiful friend-offerings that can literally be life-changing. For Deb Massey-Arnold, a friend’s recommendation that she look into Rodan + Fields changed the trajectory of her career.

Drs. Rodan and Fields first gained international recognition and acclaim for PROACTIV, the incredible anti-acne miracle. The brand brings to mind commercials with fresh teens splashing cool water on their faces: free of pimples thanks to one of the most popular skincare products of all time. In 2004 Drs. Rodan and Fields went back to the laboratory to work on solutions to issues they found in their private practices. The developed the #1 Premium Skin Care Redefined. After their success with Proactiv, they sold their product to Estee Lauder to distribute in high end stores. When they the did some research, they realized that it was by word of mouth that women were buying their products. In 2007 they purchased back Redefine and completed the line of 4 skin care regimens. In 2008 they opened up in the Direct Marketing arena.

Screenshot 1Though she got her start in 2015, there were a few setbacks. “My daughter was finishing her last year in high school, my mother passed away, then my family relocated from San Jose to Orange County. It took a while to get settled back in.” The following year, Deb took her business to social media, meeting new people in the Rodan + Fields family. “I am truly blessed by the people who have supported me physically and virtually. Everyone is so positive and uplifting!” Negativity has little place in a business that has grown exponentially since its inception. 2017 saw the launch of Active Hydration, which uses 3D3P - to provide a reservoir of moisture for the face. “It was a breakthrough to aging in reverse!”

Screenshot 2A follow up to the Active Hydration Line, Bright Eyes kicked off Deb’s business. Reducing the appearance of puffiness, dark circles, and tired looking eyes, the products that Rodan + Fields are creating aren’t just remarkable, they’re groundbreaking. Starting with their online solution tool, you can find a personalized skin care regimen. From there, take your routine on the road; whatever and wherever. The promise Deb made is to ensure that her clients can take the healthiest, most beautiful version of themselves wherever they want. Noticeably softer, smoother, and more nourished skin is nothing to brush off, and like a good friend’s advice, goes further than you’d think.

“Our company was established on the principle that living better in your skin means living better in your life,” she says. "We believe everyone has the opportunity to make a difference in their own lives - and in the lives of others.”

No stranger to making an impact in the lives of others, Deb is deeply invested in her community, supporting the Prescription for Change Foundation, and Build On. Helping youth in urban areas that are underperforming in school, they ignite an interest in students to engage in their community by focusing on their grades, in order to help others.

“To speak with these students is a blessing; to see how their thought patterns have changed, and how they are reaching out - out of the county, out of the country. Building homes and community centers.” Another reason for Deb’s love for Rodan + Fields? The organization raises millions of dollars each year specifically to match nearly all the money raised by its consultants to give back to the causes closest to their hearts. After all, giving back is what friends are for.


IMG 0004To connect with Deb directly, call (408) 250-3439 or visit Debluvsmassage.myrandf.com

There is no question that San Diego’s Wild Animal Park has taken the concept of safari to the next level. A constant on the leaderboard of fascinating family-friendly activities in one of the prettiest cities in North America, the Safari Park has upped the ante even more, introducing each park goer to a live experience alongside nature, by removing the glass walled enclosures and getting us ever closer to the animals we’ve only ever seen on television.

Boy and Guide Feeding Giraffe Courtesy SDZ Safari ParkVisitors can embark on an exciting expedition aboard the Africa Tram, a guided tour that travels along a ride path around some of the field exhibits to give guests a chance to connect with the animals on a closer level or take to the skies in a tethered hot air balloon that can hold up to 30 passengers for unbelievable views of the Sargenti shared only by the birds.

Safair Caravan Courtesy San Diego Zoo GlobalWant to even more personal with your favorite African Plains animals? You can add a customized safari experience: travel in the back of a covered, open-air safari truck to visit at least two field enclosures with an opportunity to feed giraffes (Caravan Safari); meet and greet the star of Cheetah Run - where the sleek cat races on a straight 330-foot-long track that allows it to really stretch its legs and reach maximum speed of about 70 miles per hour (Cheetah Safari); climb like a monkey on a challenging rope-course adventure (Jungle Ropes Safari) or amp up your adventure by adding a dose of adrenaline as you take in a bird’s-eye view gliding along a 2/3 mile zip line over vast animal exhibits (Flightline Safari) or spend the night during a special camping adventure (Roar & Snore Safari).

Cheetah Outpost Attraction Courtesy SDZ Safari ParkTaking things one step further, the park just opened its doors to the wilds of the Australian outback with the Walkabout Australia safari in May. Following a backcountry trail through bottlebrush blooms and eucalyptus trees transports you to walkabout down under. Kangaroos, wallabies, cassowaries, tree kangaroos, magpie geese and all the varied plant life of the Australian plain greet each curious pair of eyes along the many trails through the outback.

After our day on “safari," our family looked forward to winding down at the newly “reimagined” hideaway at Hotel Karlan San Diego (858-672-9100) - a Doubletree by Hilton property. Truth be told, our kids couldn’t wait to check in when they learned of the hotel’s signature welcome: a decadent warm chocolate chip cookie. Conveniently located right near the Safari Park, the Hotel Karlan San Diego’s new design is particularly apropos of our visit as it brings a touch of nature indoors.

Kids and Trainer with Cheetah Courtesy SDZ Safari ParkSet among rolling hills and palm trees, the property features 174 stylish and super comfortable guest rooms and suites distinguished by oversized sleeping quarters - each with a private balcony or patio, two onsite restaurants with indoor/outdoor seating, fitness room, tennis court and outdoor pool. The Asado Grill showcases a delicious array of sustainable seafood and gourmet contemporary American culinary creations. Popular entrees range from a seafood mixed grill (kebab of shrimp, salmon, scallops, farm fresh veggies, aside aioli and served with cilantro rice) and Napa Valley beef short rib (in cabernet sauce and paired with pappardelle pasta) to the signature Asado burger made with 8 oz. of angus, aside aioli. lettuce, pico, avocado, pepperjack cheese and bacon.

Hotel Karlan San DiegoHotel Karlan San DiegoThis property was the perfect pick for our family weekend away - we couldn’t have asked for a more convenient location, spacious accommodation, dining with something to appeal to every palate (I love seafood, my husband is a meat eater and the kids always opt for kid-friendly eats, of which there were plenty of menu options) and a staff populated by extremely friendly, courteous folk.

karlan balcony 51721 working yellowdrinkSavanna is no longer simply synonymous with the roar of a lion or the wild gait of a giraffe. The zoo’s Safari Park welcomes you into the home of its many bright eyed, keenly aware multi-legged friends. Enjoy a caravan, cheetah, or jungle rope safari, and take in the bird’s view of the park on its ⅔ mile zip line through the park. Whatever the experience you’re looking for, San Diego is sure to make it a wild one.

Defined by Exceptional Service and Personalized Attention

As a female, I may be feeding the stereotype when I pen this, but my first thought when I have to take my car in for service (even for something as simple as an oil change) leads me to feelings of anxiety. A mechanic once told me with a straight face that the reason it felt like my tires were out of alignment was because the Earth was round. I took the car to a family friend a couple days later who has a small shop and he confirmed what I thought originally: that my tires were actually out of alignment.

It’s no wonder then, that I was a bit skeptical when I first learned of the Paradise Automotive Group nearly a decade ago, and the supposedly stunning service they offer to each one of their clients. No auto shop or dealership could possibly live up to a moniker like Paradise, in my mind. But John, Paradise’s President, literally lives up to the name: in fact, it’s his family title, and he wears it well. A Boston native who decided to give the Golden State a try 20 years ago thought he might stay when he found that Orange County residents had more than a passing passion for their cars: in specific, luxury automobiles.

002 Paradise AutomotiveStarting one vehicle at a time, John passed along his own passion for customer service, grew the business, and turned an island of an idea into an archipelago of phenomenal associates giving personalized attention to each client who walks through the doors. Glen McDorman, the on-site Service Manager, is no stranger to the concept of the idyll. A purveyor of the outdoors, he loves to head to the mountains with his wife and two boys for backpacking, fishing, snowboarding and mountain biking. Bringing in a healthy attitude curated outside, Glen counts each of his customers like he would his own wife and sons.

“We understand that everyone makes a choice when they bring their vehicle to us, and if we don’t meet their needs, we may never see them again.” Over the past 20 years, Glen and his team have seen a great many customers come back time and again when they have repair needs, and know that the secret to keeping them around is to go the extra mile: every single time.

“It isn’t just a secret of fishing or backpacking that when you head around that last bend in the trail or walk that extra foot into the river that you’re bound for a better view that you had before, or hook the fish that has been eluding you all day,” says Glen. “The trick to customer service is the same.”

051 Paradise AutomotiveBuilding a culture of honesty and openness is no small feat. “We give our customers fair advice about repair options, letting them know that even some repairs can wait until a future visit. We never recommend a repair that a customer doesn’t need.”

Specializing in one-stop shopping also makes it a simple equation for their clients. “Folks know they can have it all done here: from buying the model they’ve always wanted - be it hybrid, domestic work truck, or exotic - and then having everything taken care of over the course of the car’s lifespan.”

Paradise Automotive Commercial Photography011aOil changes, powertrain management diagnostics, transmission overhauls? No job is too large, or too small for the factory trained, ASE certified expert technicians working underneath Glen. “We only use the latest diagnostic tools and software. That coupled with decades of experience and training lets the techs diagnose and repair vehicles in an incredibly short amount of time. With no hassle: and nobody telling you the reason your car pulls to the right is the Earth’s spherical shape. Sounds like paradise indeed.


Paradise Automotive Group is located at 32592 Valle Road in San Juan Capistrano. For information, call (949) 347-2522 or visit www.jparadise.com

It would be difficult to put Nashville on the list of must see places if you didn’t have some kind of appreciation for music. Dubbed the “music city,” and named one of Traveller U.K.’s “cool places,” Tennessee’s capital city is home to legendary venues, publishing houses, gorgeous hotels, vibrant nightlife, and sprawling college campuses; like Vanderbilt and Belmont University. Founded by James Robertson, John Donelson, and named for Francis Nash (the Revolutionary War hero), the city grew exponentially during the 1970’s, and then again in the 90’s, when urban renewal became the city’s priority, and a handful of urban landmarks were constructed and revamped.

generalJacksonDowntownAmong the monuments the city chose to renovate was the Country Music Hall of Fame, a museum dedicated to the legends of twang. The first members; Hank Williams, Fred Rose, and Jimmie Rodgers were inducted in 1961. Since, the country music’s trade created the accolade to recognize “significant contributions to the advancement of country music by individuals,” and has ranked among them the likes of Gene Autry, Garth Brooks, and Johnny Cash. Nashville’s downtown area features also an enormous assortment of entertainment, dining, and architectural attractions alongside its love of country music and musicians.

Metonymic with the industry it homes, it is no wonder that the city’s most popular tourist diversions involve the music scene. The Ryman Auditorium was home to the Grand Ole Opry until 1947 when the show moved on down the road to the Grand Ole Opry House, where it has since played several times a week, except for the winter run, (a limited edition, if you will): at the Ryman. If the Opry is what interests you, the best stay in Nashville is the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center (www.marriott.com). Less than ten miles from the airport and a ten-minute walk from the Opry itself, the accommodations and amenities qualify for an adventure in themselves while exploring Nashville.

197747 extractedA world away from the usual stuccoed hotels and motels along the usual strip of tourist trap attractions, the Gaylord Opryland is a step back in time. Boasting both indoor and outdoor pools, nine acres of indoor gardens, cascading waterfalls, an on-site spa, golf course and salon, there is no shortage of luxury to be found. 700,000 square feet of event space guarantee that the resort can host your most elegant, unforgettable meeting, conference, reunion, or reception without blinking an eye. Add to that the superior rooming, dining, and fitness opportunities on-site, and you might not actually ever leave the Opryland’s grounds.

Why would you, when you can take a boat tour on the indoor river, schedule a massage at the spa, or let the kids decide which one of the three pools to jump into first. The fitness center features your typical free weights and cardio equipment, just in case you’ve indulged in one too many Southern BBQ experiences, but also boasts 3,500 square feet of circuit training and a full body spa indulgence for your cool down. The choreographed show the Delta Fountain puts on is nothing short of spectacular, a feat of engineering that melds the beauty of light, water, and of course: music.

SummerFest featuring Music, Magic & Memories

Through September 3rd, the Gaylord Opryland Resort features SummerFest, an array of kid-friendly activities and attractions geared toward the property’s young guests. There are free events like the Hootenanny Hoedown (where DJ Tyrus gets you movin’and groovin’ with line dancing, limbo and kids karaoke), summer fountain shows (choreographed water, lights and music), a outdoor pool party complete with a summer playlist and the Learning Log (a giant fallen tree, hollowed out and made safe for exploration - crawl inside for a close-up look at the learning terrariums). An array of activities for a fee range from the Haunted History Tour (a PG-rated 40-minute narrated tour of the region’s spookiest tales), Junior Chefs Camp and “Music, Magic & Memories,” Live Atrium Show showcasing music, water, lights and extraordinary performers unite in a heart-pounding extravaganza. Our kids had an absolute ball becoming Tennessee trivia insiders on an interactive adventure exploring the resort to discover all the surprising hidden fun facts to turn in their completed booklets for a special prize.

Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention CenterGaylord Opryland Resort & Convention CenterIf the kids somehow grow tired of the river tours, pools, and fountain show, look no further for city history than Centennial Park’s Parthenon. The pinnacle of architecture in the ancient world, Nashville’s version is a gorgeous, full-scale replica, complete with the 42-foot statue of Athena, built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Expo.

The ParthenonLeaving Athena’s home base, travel to Hermitage: the home of America’s advocate for the common man, and the 7th President of the United States: Andrew Jackson. Built solidly on 1,120 acres of farmland, the mansion features tours led by costumed docents, seasonal walking tours through the estate’s state of the art museum, and horse-drawn wagon tours. Our young history buffs were enthralled by “The Duel - Art of the Southern Gentlemen,”a 30-minute new visitor experience and actual dueling demonstration by Hermitage’s historical re-enactors.

Gaylord Opryland Resort Stepping back even further into the past, visit the Italian-style villa and residence of Tennessee’s own steel magnolia: Adelicia Acklen. Constructed in 1853, Acklen’s estate is drenched in history, from the ornate Victorian furnishings, to the history behind the Union’s headquarters during the Civil War.

Country Music Hall of Fame and MuseumCruise through time with the Delta Riverboat Company on a guided tour of the Gaylord Opryland’s 4.5 acre indoor garden. Build up an appetite along the way and indulge in The Old Hickory Steakhouse, and see your fill of water attractions, working both with and against gravity. Three waterfalls, an 85-foot fountain, and a ride through Nashville’s most beautiful resort await.

Andrew Jackson’s HermitageWater not really your pace? Trade in for a unique combination of music and transportation with the Old Town Trolley Tour. A 1.5 hour guided roll through the streets of the Music City shows you straight to the heart of Fort Nashborough, the Cumberland’s fur trade, and each musicians heart wrenching dream played out from the steps of the bus to the streets of Broadway. A real “transportainment” delight.

GooGooShop exterior frontFrom Ryland Auditorium to the steps of the Grand Ole Opry, tour music history and get the backstage story of each musician to walk the stage. Cross paths with the nation’s own country music superstars, and see just what happens behind the scenes of the show that made their names!

GooGoo Choc Class KristinLunaThe Goo Goo Shop and Dessert Bar

Our kids had a ridiculous amount of fun (and consumed an insane amount of chocolate and other sugary confections) during a hands-on chocolate class and dessert sampling where we all had an opportunity to make our very own version of the Goo Goo Cluster. The world’s first ever combination candy bar as imagined by the Standard Candy Company was created right here in Nashville in 1912. The original version is a roundish mound of caramel, marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts and rich milk chocolate. Our kids’ iterations also included oreos, pretzels, sprinkles and pecans and were a gooey-chocolate-y delight the effects of which lasted well into the evening and made for one of our most memorable activities while visiting Music City, USA. The Goo Goo Shop and Dessert Bar is located 116 3rd Ave. S in downtown Nashville (googoo.com).


Woolworth on 5th

Calling itself a "welcome table of southern roots and rhythms,” the building this reinvented restaurant resides was originally built in the 1890s and opened for business as one of the country’s first iconic “five and dime” stores in 1913. Today, Woolworth on 5th (woolworthon5th.com) is a registered historic site which honors the history of space with an upbeat atmosphere with food, music and dancing for all. The menu here explores the roots and history of Southern culinary arts, with ingredients and techniques that can be traced all over the globe - and the beverage program is inspired by the building’s previous life as a diner, where guests can order fro a menu of accessible, soda fountain-inspired cocktails, wine and beer. The basement level is home to the “New Era Ballroom,” which hosts a variety of regular music and performances - with emphasis on the sounds of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

In the past decade, public attention has shifted to focus on the matter of how we obtain our food, and what exactly is going into the making of our favorite meals. While not a new concept to the chefs we hold in high esteem, diners’ focus has made those chefs offerings more and more coveted. It isn’t just ambiance or candlelight anymore: it is locally sourced ingredients, quality extras, artisanal cheeses and handpicked wines. Located in the gorgeous Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel and designed in the spirit of a time-honored classic American steakhouse, enoSTEAK pays as much attention to its decor as to its fare.

264221 extractedThe elegant eatery harkens back to an earlier era - a time steeped in tradition and attention to detail. Its interior is defined by rich wood, marble flooring and upholstered furnishings. With works by critically acclaimed painter Sandra Jones Campbell adorning the wood-paneled walls, everything is intentional: everything is intimate. An ambiance that pairs beautifully with its exquisite culinary offerings and expansive list of highly-rated California vintages (on impressive display as the centerpiece of the dining room is a floor-to-ceiling glass wine cellar).

RCLAGUN 00212My husband, Tim, and I recently met with friends here to celebrated his 50-something birthday (enoSTEAK is consistently his special occasion restaurant of choice). We all indulged in a glass of fine wine and beautifully presented, delicious dishes made from the highest quality ingredients … including what are arguably among the best steaks in Orange County featuring prime and grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. The organic produce is locally grown and harvested at the peak of the season. The majority of the herbs used to enhance each specialty appetizer and entree are gathered from the resort’s organic garden. The fish is sustainable and either farm raised or pole/troll caught. enoSTEAK also highlights artisanal cheeses, charcuterie and of course, the aforementioned selection of varietals.

RCLAGUN 00443The menu changes are based on the essence of the season. enoSTEAK’s menu in May featured noteworthy starters, including its signature cheese and meat board enhanced with farmer’s market accompaniments, beef tartar perfectly flavor paired with goat cheese, crispy salsify, watercress and horseradish and the Dungeness crab beignet that is as delicious and decadent as it sounds.

RCLAGUN 00337When given the choice, my husband almost always opts for meat-and-potatoes and he didn’t deviate on this night. He selected the prime filet (grilled to a perfect medium rare and accompanied by a spring onion gratin). I, on the other hand, typically steer toward seafood selections and opted for the butter basted scallops with carrot puree, charcoal and snap pea.

Other showcased entrees range from a 42-day dry-aged 18 oz. prime ribeye chop and coffee-rubbed Wagyu NY Steak (a more marbled cut than the filet) to pan-seared Una’s salmon and Mary’s roasted chicken with polenta cake and marsala reduction.

enoSTEAK oystersAccompanying the handcrafted meats and seafood are a selection of five signature compound butters including creamy horseradish, herb and garlic butter/truffle butter, cognac green peppercorn, béarnaise and enoSTK sauce. Enhancements to the entrees include sherry cream sauteed mushrooms, truffled white cheddar cavateli (the chef’s inspired spin on “mac and cheese), Yukon potato mash and Caesar brussel sprouts.

Highlighting the light end of the dining spectrum is enoSTEAK’s Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel counterpart: 180blu. Offering breathtaking views of Salt Creek Beach over 100 feet below, the outdoor dining venue gives restaurant goers a lounge-like setting in which to relax into the heady Southern California evenings. Featuring small plates and desserts from Raya, and the culinary mind of acclaimed chef Richard Sandoval, 180blu’s culinary offerings showcases sustainable seafood, local produce, natural and organic meat dishes that draws inspiration from California and Asian cuisines.

180blu complements the focus on intentional quality with handcrafted beverages from the bar’s expert mixologists. Views of the sunset go down almost as smoothly as their signature cocktails, offering the quintessential Laguna Beach experience to all who indulge.


The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel at One Ritz Carlton Drive in Dana Point.
For more information or reservations, please call (949) 240-2000 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com/lagunaniguel

Relax, Reconnect and Retreat to the Bernardus Lodge & Spa

Someone once told me that Carmel was about the “same driving distance from Orange County as it is to Mammoth Lakes.” What they failed to mention was that this picturesque seaside city but is a world away from the rugged peaks of the Eastern Sierra - particularly when planning a romantic retreat defined by gourmet cuisine, fine wine, panoramic ocean views and a languorous pace.

BernardusLodgeRoomsRRP 1Situated on the southern bend of the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel is 120 miles south of San Francisco, and is an historic nod to the independent and creative spirit of California’s early residents. The last time we visited the region a few years ago, we spent time in Monterey with a mind toward family-friendly fun and the town’s arguably incomparable aquarium. This trip, however, wasn’t about the area’s early inhabitants, cultural significance or family attractions. This was an escape - for grownups only. Pure and simple.

On foot, or by car, there is no lack of activities in Carmel - a quaint, seaside town chock full of fresh air, quaint breakfast nooks, boutique shopping, art galleries, and antiques: all tucked into corners lined with California Cypress or tracked through by cobblestone pavers. The Scenic Road - just off the far end of Ocean Avenue - offers views to transfix, of both stunning homes and the Pacific seascape below.

LuciaSo we set our sights on the 28-rolling acre estate that is home to the Bernardus Lodge & Spa in Carmel Valley (bernarduslodge.com), for a taste of romantic perfection. Rooms replete with seagrass wall coverings, bathrooms with heated floors and ash wood throughout were just what the doctor ordered. We would achieve our slow ambulations through the Lodge’s gardens and vineyards, and enjoy a VIP wine tasting, farm-to-table fare and garden-to-glass experiences (Bernardus produces its own honey and wine to give its food and drink menu an added personal touch - take a guided hive walk in the property’s new apiary, flush with 180,000 Italian honey bees). Because Bernardus Lodge & Spa has an extensive range of organics on site, from herbs to veggies, vineyards to fruit trees, the estate produces much of its seasonal menu on-site: a dream for a couple of amateur foodies.

Chef Cal Stamenov’s farm-to-table California country cuisine - where Old-World Craft meets New-World CreativityChef Cal Stamenov’s farm-to-table California country cuisine - where Old-World Craft meets New-World CreativityLucia Restaurant + Bar, named after the eponymous mountain range that runs southeast from Monterey County, features an eclectic and airy space, perfect for afternoon drinks or in-between meals, and a bar chock full of craft cocktail specialties. We enjoyed a round of drinks in the bar, and followed it with a hearty entree from Chef Cal Stamenov. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Cal moved across the country to test his skills at New York’s famed Four Seasons, then worked his way west again to perfect his talent in restaurants all along the coast. At home in the rustic-ranch decor of Lucia, the communal table is never bare of a local, artisanal favorite straight from the garden.

Spa Pool 028Indulge in the VIP Experience at the Bernardus Winery - an exclusive private tasting with a personal host of Bernardus’s smaller production vineyard designated wines paired with three of my favorite things in life: Artisan cheeses, charcuterie and chocolate.

Scallops 01KGThe city of Carmel might well be a photo reference for Merriam-Webster’s definition of “intimate” - and the property at Bernardus is no different. We were consumed by the solitude, and not at all surprised by the fact that the valley was recently named one of the top ten most romantic places in Travel + Leisure. The roaring surf nearby, more than 300 days of sun, and world-class amenities at hand were more than enough to set all of our cares aside and soak into the weekend. Having a spa onsite where we could practice yoga, surrender to all-natural treatments at the salon, and relax poolside was almost too decadent. Needless to say, we somehow managed. We’re looking forward to our next visit - to enjoy another glass of wine or two out on the bocce lawns. I’m owed a rematch anyway.

Lucia Restaurant & BarLucia Restaurant & Bar

When I was 24 and planning a trip with a girlfriend to Cabo San Lucas, our families thought the idea sounded, well, fine. They didn’t know much about the destination other than it was resort town, and that some people they knew owned a timeshare there. So as we boarded the plane to fly down, my friend and I had little inkling that we would spend much of the next decade reminiscing about Cabo as one of our best vacations ever. Annoying, it must have been, to hear all about the pools and the sun and the hammocks and the food. At least that’s what my husband told me. Right up until he suggested that we take our kids.

Our just-turned 10-year-old daughter is still obsessed with Disney’s Moana, so we had to fudge a bit when we were explaining that while it wasn’t Hawaii, we would be swimming in the same ocean (and we could definitely still sing “You’re Welcome”) while sunning on the sand under the palm trees. Our 11-year-old son is excited about anything involving the ocean and when he learned that there would be a “kids” and “teens” club chock full of age-appropriate activities, he was beside himself in anticipation. Cabo, on the razor’s edge of sand and surf, offers an inspired, elegant destination vacation a quick two hours by plane from Orange County. As such, the Los Cabos Corridor has become a prime escape year round. And the AAA Five Diamond Award winning Grand Velas Los Cabos (grandvelas.com) might just be its crown jewel.

Offering beachfront vistas from the balcony of every luxury suite, its tranquil setting on the shimmering shores of the Sea of Cortez makes simple work of forgetting the bustle and vibe of Cabo San Lucas, just beyond the Carreterra Transpenninsular. This is the fifth resort in the Velas Resorts family of hotels. Once here, you feel utterly removed from your everyday life. That utter removal can be of just about any flavor – we were making a four-day family vacation with a focus on adventure, rejuvenation and simple togetherness, but golf aficionados, outdoor enthusiasts, couples, girlfriends and foodies will all find something exceptional at the all-inclusive luxury beachfront resort.

Incomparable accommodations & amenity

The resort offerings include 304 oceanfront suites (with more than 100 connecting rooms - ideal for families with kids or even multi-generational family members vacationing together).

▶  SE  Spa Hydrotherapy▶ SE Spa HydrotherapyFor spa enthusiasts, the Grand Velas offers one of the most luxurious sanctuaries for the spirit. Naturally it features a comprehensive menu of holistic, wellness-inspired treatments, cleansing facials and therapeutic massages, based on age-old rituals and treatments; but it also offers a world-class experience, with 20 spa suites, a lavish Water Ceremony, beauty salon and spa boutique - in an environment defined by the breathtaking beauty where the desert meets the sea on the Baja Peninsula.

▶  Azul Terrace▶ Azul TerraceThe dining experiences at the Grand Velas stand on their own and are likely the reason that many travel long distances to visit. Seven on-property dining venues offer something for every taste, mood and interest. For more sophisticated palates (by that I mean parents vs. younger children), the Grand Velas features an incomparable pair of dining destinations: the French-influenced Piaf and the resort’s signature restaurant - Cocina De Autor, a elegant-casual dining experience for guests 18+ led by celebrated Two Michelin Star Chef Sidney Schutte of the Netherlands and characterized by “creative cuisine” - each meal an extraordinary culinary journey - presented with exceptional service.

▶  Serenity Pool▶ Serenity PoolFamily-friendly eateries include Azul (casual buffet and a la carte menu), the pool-casual Cabrilla for ceviche and seafood, and a trio of resort casual eateries: Velas 10 (steaks and seafood), Lucca (Italian-Mediterranean) and Frida (gourmet Mexican). From its restaurants to its in-room dining, from its robust wine program to its seasonal menus, the Grand Velas has something for every epicurean.

All about perspective

▶  Teens Club▶ Teens ClubMost adults think of Mexico and see visions of bikini’d spring breakers, but I knew better. My 24-year-old brain took me immediately back to the magic of paradise- and that, without the built in amusement of Grand Velas’ Kids Club and Teens Club. Reserved especially for children, 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 for the younger set. Teens (ages 13+) enjoy their own 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 summertime 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.

▶  Boutique▶ BoutiqueAll-inclusive resort and babysitting on-site? My husband could truly experience the incredible paradise of one of my favorite vacation destinations, and our kids could too: with the added bonus of anytime activity at the Club. We took full advantage, discovering the Baja outback, and explored all that Cabo had to offer we two novice oenophiles (read: wine lovers) while our kiddos formed new friendships and played at the Club. They had no clue that Mom and Dad (during part of our vacation anyway) were busy soaking - literally - in red wine, red wine leaf extract, and post-winemaking grape marc in warm water. The antioxidants and bath temperature provide the body with penetrating nourishment and revitalization that seeps into each and every pore. Perhaps next time we’ll take advantage of the Wine Lover’s Getaway: hopping on a private jet transport to Baja California’s top wineries to make our own vintage.

▶  Two Michelin Star Chef Sidney Schutte▶ Two Michelin Star Chef Sidney SchutteThis time, though, was largely about family bonding and adventure so we scooped up the kiddos and experienced the surf and sand together, letting our imaginations run wild: pretending that Poseidon himself was the king of the resort, but mostly just imagining what it would be like to never come home. Not hard to pretend when sailing, scuba, snorkeling, fine dining, fitness, and fishing charters are the theme of the day, nor when the family suites feature private terraces, bathrobes and slippers in mini sizes, and kid-friendly evening turndown. Perhaps never was there a resort that actually understood the need for families to get away together, and still have ample time and space for personal reflection and relaxation.

Ambassador SuiteAmbassador SuiteWith 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.

GymGymWhile hospitality professionals are typically welcoming, the staff at the Grand Velas are authentically convivial. 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. The personal concierge service here sets a new standard in hospitality excellence.

Grand Velas Los Cabos LobbyGrand Velas Los Cabos LobbyAs to beauty, the Grand Velas is simply an exquisitely designed place with lovely spaces; starting with its majestic, tiered architecture opening out to panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico 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 magnificent of backdrops.