Jody Robinson

Jody Robinson

An Estate Planning Q & A with Martin J. Lombrano, AIF®, LPL Financial Advisor

Pence Wealth Management

I suspect I am not unlike most other people in that I prefer to do business with individuals who are not only highly qualified with a proven track record in their respective area of expertise, but also operate with integrity, personal attention and a straightforward “say what you mean, and mean what you say” approach.

These characteristics are all the more important when you are looking to a seasoned professional to help handle the finances of an estate and navigate the myriad of issues facing a surviving spouse upon the death of their loved one. That’s why it’s so refreshing to come across a financial advisor like Martin J. Lombrano who believes that success is all about being “others centered” – doing what is best for others, “having a strong moral compass, integrity, follow through, taking responsibility when something doesn’t go as planned, being clear with expectations, valuing relationships and taking the time to really know his clients and thoroughly understand their unique financial goals.

This philosophy has served Martin well in the 23 years since he initially became a financial advisor. Armed with a degree in Business Administration with a concentration on Finance, Martin has completed the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) curriculum at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), holds the Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF) designation and attends annual state and federal continuing education classes to keep all of his securities and insurance licenses in good standing.

In the following interview, we asked Martin to address some of the frequently asked questions facing a surviving spouse or family member upon the death of their loved one.

Question: Upon the passing of a loved one, whom do I need to notify?

Answer: Every situation is unique, however notifying the following agencies and individuals is a key step after a loved one has passed and each is very important: Social Security Administration, deceased person’s employer or former employers, insurance companies, credit bureaus, credit card companies, mortgage companies, post office, utility providers, creditors.

The Trust in particular is a detailed legal document that specifies every detail of the deceased loved one’s estate and how it should be handled, who should be in charge of handling the Trust, and how and to whom the Trust assets should be distributed.

Probate isn’t always necessary. If the deceased person owned assets in joint tenancy with someone else, or as community property with his or her spouse, or held their property in a Living Trust, those assets won’t need to go through probate.

Question: Do I have to file anything with the court?

Answer: After you have contacted the loved one’s attorney (if there is one) or at least spoken with an attorney or advisor experienced in estate or death administration, you should know which documents will be needed to be provided to the court if it is necessary for the decedent’s estate to go through probate court. Probate is a legal document and the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person, resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person’s property under a will.

Question: Do I have to find the will right away?

Answer: Typically one of the first documents to find is the Will or Trust. The Trust in particular is a detailed legal document that specifies every detail of the deceased loved one’s estate and how it should be handled, who should be in charge of handling the Trust, and how and to whom the Trust assets should be distributed.

Question: What should I do with the Will or Trust when I find it?

Answer: Ideally, you will want to take the Will or Trust to the attorney who originally drew up the documents. But if that isn’t possible, then finding an attorney or advisor that specializes in estate administration is the best avenue to pursue. You will want a professional on your side that can help make this process as cost effective and timely as possible.

Question: Do I have to probate the Will? How long do I have to probate the Will?

Answer: Probate isn’t always necessary. If the deceased person owned assets in joint tenancy with someone else, or as community property with his or her spouse, or held their property in a Living Trust, those assets won’t need to go through probate. The same is true for assets held in a Revocable Living Trust and accounts for which a payable-on-death beneficiary has been named.

If probate is necessary, then it must be initiated by the executor of the Will.  It’s typically a time consuming process which can last 12-24 months or more and can be very costly in executor’s, court’s and attorney’s fees. In general, it is best to plan ahead and avoid probate.

Question: What important documents will the attorney want to see?

Answer: In general, you, your attorney or advisor will need: death certificates, Wills and Trusts, insurance policies, credit card statements, investment accounts, bank accounts, mortgage statements, last two years of tax returns, marriage and birth certificates, an up to date credit report of the deceased and family member’s contact information.

Question: What if my loved one did not have a will? What do I do to settle his/her estate?

Answer: You can settle the loved one’s estate without having to go to probate court depending on the total value of their estate, and their ownership and beneficiary designations. If a probate is needed and there is a Will, then the named executor will typically initiate the probate court proceedings.

Question: How long does it take to settle an estate?

Answer: With a Trust, the typical estate can often be settled within a few months. With a Will, it generally takes 12-24 months, and often longer. Typically in California, if you own a home, are married, or have children, then you and your loved ones can benefit from having a Revocable Living Trust. Some of the benefits of a Trust are the avoidance of probate, your estate remains non-public information, and a Trust may substantially reduce costs and time to settle the estate.

Question: My loved one has named me the beneficiary of his/her life insurance policy. How do I go about collecting the life insurance proceeds?

Answer: One of the most daunting tasks of a loved one dying is having to find all their accounts and financial documents and contact each company to see what they will require in order to pay a claim and/or transfer ownership of accounts to the named beneficiary or successor trustee.

Having an experienced advisor can help make this entire process simpler as he can reach out on your behalf to the financial institutions. This can save you time and aggravation in a time of mourning.

Question: What taxes might be due after someone dies?

Answer: The loved one’s estate may need to pay off creditors, pay back taxes to the state or Federal government and in some cases may need to pay death taxes if the estate assets were significantly valued.

Having an experienced advisor can help make this entire process simpler as he can reach out on your behalf to the financial institutions.

If you have an estate plan in place, it should be reviewed every 3 years or with every major life event like birth, divorce, death, etc…

Question: What actions can a person take now to make this entire process simpler and easier for those family or friends who will be guiding the estate administration?

Answer: Either on your own or with an advisor, begin by making a balance sheet, a list of all your assets (what you own) and all your liabilities (whatyou owe). Be as detailed as possible with names, accounts numbers, phone numbers etc… for each entry. Make sure to review your beneficiaries on each account or asset you own including bank, retirement, pension, investment, insurance policies, and real estate to name a few. Most of all, have an up to date estate plan to help make this process simpler. If you have an estate plan in place, it should be reviewed every 3 years or with every major life event like birth, divorce, death, etc…

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor.

Accents and accessories to make a house your “home”

When writing a showcase on their respective businesses, it’s always nice to be able to get to know these individuals through the perspective of their clientele, but it’s even more fun when I can count myself among their customers.

Such is the case with this month’s cover feature subject: Susie Smith, owner of Backstreet Home Decor - the landmark San Clemente boutique on El Camino Real with a second high-profile storefront in the heart of downtown on Del Mar Street - a thriving business that evolved from a single mom’s desire to spend more time with her young children.

In 1978, Susie was working as a dental hygienist. But as rewarding as it was to have found success in the career path for which she had pursued her education and training, her full-time hours kept the young mother from being at home. For fun, Susie began making dried and silk floral arrangements for herself and her friends - her creations were met with such overwhelming response that she started selling arrangements out of her garage and as demand increased, she even began teaching classes in floral design.

“I was a mom, a single one and working full time,” she says. “I longed to be at home with my children and wondered if perhaps I could turn this hobby into a real business.”

With the encouragement of her friends, Sue “took a flying leap of faith” and opened Backstreet Home Decor and over the course of the following 35+ years grew from a 500-square-foot shop to the thriving business it is today. Between the two locations, Backstreet Home Decor and Backstreet on Del Mar encompass 5,000-square-feet of showroom space filled with fabulous fine furniture, lamps, mirrors, wall art and what is arguably the largest selection of the most stunningly realistic, gorgeous custom silk florals, trees and foliage.

Susie now has a staff of well-qualified associates that will provide in-home consultation specializing in full service, accent, accessorizing - as well as residential and commercial Christmas and holiday décor. This could involve “pulling together all the existing design elements in a home, or accenting a room with different picture frames, artwork, trees and florals, creating a new look or accent or designing a complete makeover.
“Client budget vary, of course,” says Susie. “Sometimes we do several rooms at a time, but for many clients, we just suggest that they start with a single room and then go from there. I like to start with the home’s foyer. When we get the right feeling for the entry, the rest of the process begins to flow from that direction.”

Looks can definitely be deceiving. From the road, the main location - located on El Camino Real - 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 Susan’s wonderful offerings, which range in style from Old World to contemporary.

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.

Beverly Stadler, past president of the Orange County Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, who has been buying Susie’s designs for her clients for nearly 30 years says “Susie is fabulous to work with. She has endless creativity and style. And her accessories and decor are fabulous ... and at incredible prices too! I recommend Backstreet to everyone - designers and clients.”

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 two years ago, 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.”
Friends and family have all complimented me on my “design style,” but I have to give credit where credit is due. Susie would be too humble to call herself an “artist,” so I’ll do it for her. Her 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.

“The ideas keep coming everyday from everywhere,” says Susan, when asked where she derives the inspiration for her designs. “Gardens, trees, flowers, photos, magazines and people. I have so many ideas and it’s such fun to work with my clients to make their thoughts and concepts into real pieces for their homes.’’ She credits her suppliers with providing the very best materials in the industry for her to work with, and is known by the design profession to have the best selection of silk florals and trees in the region.

The best testament to any business owner’s success are the comments that come directly from satisfied customers like Lloyd W. Glass of Coto De Caza who says “Susie is fantastic. She has done great work, with no problem, just great results since I met her years ago. She is the real deal.”

Cindy Caster of Dana Point echoes Lloyd’s sentiment and adds “Susie has a great eye for all styles and she is a joy to know and work with.”

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.

“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.”

Susie would like to thank all of her friends and clients for their business for over 35 years. “Because of your loyal support, my adrenaline is still pumping, my energy is flowing and I still LOVE designing! Thank you so much!”

If her gorgeous showroom and principled business practices weren’t enough to draw you in, Susie is one of the nicest people in town - genuinely passionate about what she does and more importantly, equally enthusiastic about building and developing long-term relationships with her clientele.

“The customer is most important, not what they are buying,” says Susie. “So many of my customers have become my good friends. I am blessed to have such wonderful people in my life.”

Connect with Susie by stopping by Backstreet Home Decor at 307 N. El Camino Real in San Clemente, calling (949) 498-2210 or
Mar 29, 2016

salon sauväge

Celebrating 25 Years in South County

Early in my writing career, I had the opportunity to interview many successful entrepreneurs for an OC-based regional business/lifestyle publication. While the scope of the featured businesses was diverse, the owner/operators all shared an unerring passion for their profession and a common belief that “if you love what you do, success will follow.”

In interviewing Wanda Kent, owner of the Laguna Niguel-based Salon Sauvage - Salon • Day Spa • Boutique, it’s evident that she is cut from the same entrepreneurial cloth.

I have to admit, I had a preconceived notion that artists aren’t typically expected to be good business people. Because they are so committed to the quality and originality of their ideas, I suspected artists might have a hard time switching gears between being creative and the pedantic requirements of owning and operating a business. Add to that the unique challenges of being in the business of beauty: an industry notorious for its drama and high turnover.

SalonSavauge 11I couldn’t have been more wrong: Since opening Salon Sauvage in 1991, Wanda has continually evolved her business by following a personal formula, whereby success would be the sum of working hard + staying on the leading edge of the industry + surrounding herself with talented team members + building a loyal base of “wonderful, supportive” people who are more “friends than clients.”

When Salon Sauvage first opened its doors, it encompassed a small, 1,300-square-foot, eight-station salon. In 2000, the business expanded to include skincare and offer the amenities of a day spa. Today, Salon Sauvage resides in a space three times its original size and offers services that cover the entire spectrum of hair, skin, health, wellness and fashion.

2016 0657I suggested that like most successful entrepreneurial endeavors, the longevity of Salon Sauvage might be attributed to the vision and direction of its ownership - a concept Wanda quickly dismissed. Instead, she credits all of the company’s milestones to “an amazing staff and incredible customers who have been with us through good times and bad.”

“I feel so blessed and appreciative of our loyal clients,” says Wanda. “They have been so supportive over the years - through our successes, through our growing pains and in the face of challenging economic times. We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”

This level of loyalty extends to all the members of the Salon Sauvage team as well. “Having Mireya Conroy as our salon manager to oversee the day-to-day operations has been invaluable to our success,” says Wanda. “I also can’t thank all of our staff enough for sharing their amazing talent in creating a company culture and atmosphere of ‘family’ that makes Salon Sauvage such a fun, awesome place to work.”

2016 0897 2As you step inside, you first enter the boutique: a marvelous glimpse of the magic the rest of the salon has to offer. Wanda’s brother Dennes hand picks their selection of the latest fashion trends for the boutique, including handbags, jewelry and clothing. Clients claim that Dennes has the “best taste of any man on the planet!”

Salon Sauvage consistently attracts the best stylists in the business who remain on the forefront of the newest and best techniques through ongoing education. Each stylist has a broad knowledge of industry trends in all facets of hair for men and women: styling, cuts, color, blending, straightening, smoothing techniques and extensions. Because each stylist also has expertise and experience in a specific aspect, there is someone on staff who will meet the needs of each individual guest - and every Salon Sauvage team member is committed to “working with our clients to create a look or style that suits them and their lifestyle because their isn’t anything worse than a haircut that is impossible to recreate at home.”

Before1181Salon Sauvage offers an array of traditional day spa services including facials, massages - including signature services like pregnancy massage and structural massage therapy for pain and discomfort, eyelash extensions and mani/pedis performed by award-winning nail techs whose skills have been sought after for the Emmys and Grammy awards ceremonies. Salon Sauvage also bears the distinction of being a true “med-spa” offering medical grade products and treatments.

Through Salon Sauvage’s skilled estheticians, guests are able to indulge in the most innovative face and body treatments in the industry, including radio frequency facials and body contouring, oxygen and hydrafacials. During a recent spa renovation, the salon added an infrared sauna, which has incredible health benefits ranging from lowering blood pressure to detoxification, pain relief and weight loss.

SalonSavauge 10As a member of the Salon Sauvage team for over 10 years, Dr. Michael Grossman is anti-aging rejuvenation specialist. Using breakthrough technology to reverse skin aging and to restore a younger appearance to the skin, he has garnered the reputation of “Artistry Excellence” in the Cosmetic Specialty Arena. Dr Grossman’s skill is to make you look naturally 10 years younger. Restylane, Juvaderm and Scuptra injectables, often used along with Profractional CO2, laser result in years of age reversal. For a natural looking mini non-surgical facelift “Bellafill” has long-term results with benefits lasting up to five years and “Kybella” permanently reduces under chin fullness without surgery.

2016 0852

Stay connected with Salon Sauvage through social media - “Like” them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram. Visit their online boutique at to purchase products and view and book monthly specials (services are automatically discounted when booked online).

2016 0626

Salon Sauvage is located at 31271 Niguel Road, Suites F, G and H in Laguna Niguel (at the intersection of Niguel Road and Clubhouse Road). Connect with Salon Sauvage by calling (949) 661-2055 or visit
Mar 29, 2016


Delicious dishes, an extensive - and impressive - wine selection and impeccable service defines this signature restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

The menu at this intimate, contemporary steakhouse highlights “sustainability-focused cuisine” - each grilled-to-perfection, mouthwatering steak comes from prime grass-fed, pasture-raised beef with no growth hormones or antibiotics. The organic produce used to create the inventive salads (think asparagus Ibérico salad with a poached egg and caviar crème fraîche) and side dishes (including the sauteed wild mushrooms and petite peas) is grown locally and harvested at the peak of the season, allowing for maximum flavor.

Everything is sourced from farms within 150 miles from the resort. The majority of the herbs are gathered from the resort’s organic garden.

Every meal starts with a complimentary pâté - on this night it was a chicken liver pâté accompanied by a multigrain ciabatta bread. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of pâté, but apparently enoSTEAK serves this acquired taste with aplomb because the aficionados at the next table raved about the taste and texture. Having said that, I loved the presentation - the pâté arrived on a custom “conversation piece” crafted from recycled wine bottles created by Elizabeth Gurklys, a Southern California glass artist.

For starters, enoSTEAK showcases artisanal cheeses and charcuterie - a curated selected of cured meats that are perfectly paired with a glass of a classic California vintage. Did I mention the extensive wine selection? This is clearly a restaurant that caters to the wine connoisseur - there are over 40 varieties on the dinner menu, but the master list boasts nearly 200 wines to choose from - the impressive decorative glass “wine tower” that serves as the centerpiece of the dining room holds approximately 300 bottles.

Chicken and seafood options are on the menu - the chicken is Jidori™, which means “chicken of the earth” and all of the fish is sustainable and either farm raised or pole/troll caught. But make no mistake: the steak here is king. Each handcrafted cut, including the Grilled Prime Bone-in New York Steak, the Grilled Prime Rib Eye Stek and the Grass-Fed Beef Tenderloin is from Niman Ranch, a farm that is committed to raising the highest quality breeds and is dedicated to caring for its livestock traditionally.

Accompanying the handcrafted meats and seafood are a selection of five signature compound butters including black summer truffle, roasted heirloom tomato, garden herb and garlic, 30i enoSTEAK butter and tarragon béarnaise sauce.
As delicious as the dishes are and as warm and inviting as the ambiance is, great service makes the dining experience here all the more memorable - each member of the team, from the hostess to the waitstaff, was extremely personable, attentive, knowledgeable and unobtrusive.

enoSTEAK is located at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, located at 1 Ritz Carlton Drive in Dana Point. For information or reservations, please call (949) 240-2000.

Feb 29, 2016

Shirley McDonnell

The Life Review of an Esteemed Educator, Mother, Grandmother … and Enthusiastic Dance Partner

Some say life review is like a movie screen in the back of our mind replaying pivotal scenes, points of conflict or glory or moments of regret. This article seeks to provide a snapshot into the life of Hospice Care of the West (HCOTW) patient

Shirley McDonnell as she shares meaningful moments, milestones she’s achieved and the people who matter most because “what is important at the end of it all is the people you love and who love you.”

Shirley 2A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Shirley originally came to California during World War II. Clutching her Phi Beta Key and armed with Bachelor and Master degrees in history from Occidental College and a Masters in Education from UCLA, Shirley began her teaching career at Herbert Hoover H.S. in Glendale, CA. There she developed an innovative program for gifted students in the 1960s. In 1968 she moved to Beloit, WI when she and her husband joined the staff at Beloit College. The program she had developed in Glendale caused the superintendent at a high school nearby to ask her to take on a similar task and to revamp the social studies department at Hononegah High School in Rockton, IL. Shirley stayed at Hononegah, where she developed interdisciplinary programs and courses in Advanced Placement History and Psychology, until her retirement in 1994.

After her own children went off to college, Shirley won a number of teaching awards. One of these took her to Princeton University where an experimental program was instituted to bring in top teachers from across the country to form a teaching team to instruct other teachers about better ways to teach history. Four teachers were selected for the first national team. Shirley was both the only woman and the only public school educator chosen.

Grandson Cole, age 12Grandson Cole, age 12For several summers the team traveled across the U.S. working with outstanding teachers to develop new curricula in subjects of national import: climate change, immigration, racial strife, women’s history, the use of primary documents among them. Shirley went on to become a Fulbright Fellow to the Netherlands and to become a scholar in residence at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina.

An educator for nearly 40 years, Shirley laughs as she recalls that growing up, both her son and daughter claimed they would never pursue teaching because it was a career path with too much work for too little pay. Nevertheless, both went on to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Son Brett is a law professor at the University of Minnesota and daughter Evelyn is a journalism professor at Loyola Marymount Univ. Both have received many academic honors and both use innovative teaching methods.

After her divorce in 1990 and retirement from teaching in 1994, Shirley decided to move back to Southern California where most of her extended family are located. In 1997, she moved into Laguna Woods. Within two months, at a clubhouse dance, she met fellow resident Gerald Pomeroy, also a retired history teacher. The two have been” inseparable every since.” Unlike her first husband, Jerry shares Shirley’s love of dance. Jerry is a ballroom dancer who particularly likes to tango. An avid reader, Shirley also counts aerobics, lengthy walks and yoga among her favorite pastimes.

Shirley & Jerry, Laguna Wood DanceShirley & Jerry, Laguna Wood Dance“I liked the small town feel of Beloit and it was a great place to raise my children,” says Shirley. “But I do not miss the five-month winters. “Laguna Woods has been a great place to retire.”
With daughter Evelyn and husband Bud living nearby, Shirley and Jerry are able to share quality time with grandson Cole. Jerry believes Cole is his best instructor in learning his I-pad. Both have birthdays rapidly approaching. Cole will be 13, Jerry will be 93!

An RN Case Manager for Hospice Care of the West, Gina Mendoza helps patients like Shirley manage the “comfort-related issues” that follow a patient’s decision not to pursue further curative medical treatment or when it is determined the further treatment is not an option.

“Shirley is an extremely intelligent, educated lady who possesses an awesome disposition and outlook on life,” says Gina.

“Gina also has such a great outlook that you can’t help but be cheerful around her,” says Shirley. “There were nurses who had told me that I shouldn’t wait to go into hospice and now I wish I had gone into this wonderful program sooner.

“Another wonderful aspect of having been in the teaching profession is that I have had the opportunity to have an impact – big and small – on so many individual’s lives,” says Shirley. “I have heard from so many people I have taught, many of whom have written such beautiful, moving letters, that it makes the end of a life easier to bear.

“Having made a difference in the lives of both your col- leagues and your students, being accepted in any community as a positive influence in the community, being asked by those in the community to serve in important, trusted positions and feeling highly valued – these things shine through in the letters I am receiving and it is making my son and daughter even more appreciative of their chosen careers because they know they are truly making a difference.”

For more information on Hospice Care of the West, call 800-405-1159 or visit

Lake Tahoe’s South Shore is one of my very favorite places on the planet. I’ve been lucky enough to visit many times over the years, but some of the best memories I’ve made have been from vacations our family has taken with our close family friends and their kiddos.

So I was really looking forward to our family/friend trip to South Shore last month. Our own kids – at ages 7 and 8 – were old enough to enjoy much of what Tahoe has to offer and because we rented a house together, had a ball playing with their friends from sunrise to sunset.

As anticipated, our recent sojourn more than delivered. Driving into the region, the views of deep gorges, craggy mountains and snow flocked tall green trees are singularly beautiful. The day after we arrived, Lake Tahoe received its first real snowfall of the season – the landscape was magically transformed into an amazing, wondrous wintry land – to which visitors descend by the scores each season to snowshoe, cross-country and downhill ski and snowboard to their hearts delight.

Spring skiing

Don’t give up on the 2015/2016 ski season just yet. Kirkwood, about an hour’s beautiful drive from Tahoe, has the geographical advantage of being situated at a higher elevation than most other Lake Tahoe resorts. It rests at the high point on the western slope of the Sierra, allowing the resort to take full advantage of powerful winter storms as they peel off the Pacific Ocean. This ideal location regularly results in Kirkwood receiving more snow than any other resort in the nation. The upshot? Snow that dumped in March will last a bit longer at Kirkwood than other resorts in the area. That means you still have a shot at the mountain.

Kirkwood is a true destination resort; just close enough to town to make it easily accessible, while being just far enough away to really take advantage of alpine height and all the powder that goes with it.

With over 2,300 acres of ski-able, ride-able terrain, Kirkwood is a great family ski destination, with a little something for everyone. Get a few hours in on the blacks and blues while your little ones get their skiing/riding legs with the help of Kirkwood’s friendly, expert instruction staff (snack breaks included). For the bigger kid in all of us, there are terrain features speckled throughout the mountain. And of course there’s hot chocolate waiting at just about every turn, and that’s a family snow sporting tradition to embrace no matter how far into Spring we get.

Find out more about Kirkwood by visiting or calling 209.258.6000.

Outdoor endeavors

A unique way to experience the lake is to take a daytime scenic cruise or an evening dinner cruise aboard one of the two spacious paddlewheelers - the M.S. Dixie II or the Tahoe Queen (800-23-TAHOE). Our group opted for the family-friendly Tahoe Queen boat tour of Emerald Bay – an absolutely must for amazing photo opportunities. Take in some of the most incredible scenery in the world, enjoy lunch, hot cocoa and a good dose of South Lake Tahoe history with the Captain’s live narration. The kids had a ball exploring the boat’s three decks while the adults sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the view.

For a more comfortable, cozy and convenient option to staying in a traditional hotel room, The Tahoe Keys Resort and Lake Tahoe Reservation Bureau ( or 800.698.2463) offers an extensive selection of rental homes, condos and cabins to suit your specific needs – whether you’re a couple looking for a romantic retreat, a family of five or a large group of friends.

Traveling with four adults and four children, renting a house for our long weekend stay was the perfect choice – we had plenty of space to stretch out, everyone had their own rooms to retreat to and we saved time and money by being able to cook our meals and dining in rather than eating out three times a day. The home featured here is ideally situated right on the water in the prestigious Tahoe Keys community within minutes to area attractions, the casinos and, of course, the lake.

This newly constructed 3000-square-foot luxury home located at 936 Glorene Avenue features four bedrooms - including a room with two sets of twin bunk beds which was a huge hit with our little travelers, a game room with a pool table and LCD TV (perfect to keep the kids entertained) and private hot tub – what better way to wind down after a day on the slopes?

For our part, we all agreed that the very best thing about this property was its proximity to nearby recreation - we could easily bike to the nearby beaches and the Camp Richardson area.

The Tahoe Keys Resort and Lake Tahoe Reservations Bureau

Orange County’s Acting Academy for Kids Rolls Camera

You may have met Stephen and Maggie Zygo, of the Acting Academy for Kids through these pages previously, and sitting down with them is always a pleasure. If you haven’t met them before, welcome. Either way, this time, we’d like to start with something a bit different. A little visualization.

Ready? Ok: Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Now, imagine this. Flashbulbs popping, crowds of adoring fans murmuring, a long, crimson carpet rolled out. There is a tall step and repeat backdrop for paparazzi photos set: all is ready for a Hollywood premiere. The first actors arrive...and step out of Mom’s minivan.

 1610083“My twin passions have always been teaching kids and acting,” says Stephen. Originally from Rochester, New York, Stephen earned twin degrees in Musical Theatre Performance and Elementary Education. Having directed over 40 youth programs, Stephen and his wife Maggie decided to create the Acting Academy for Kids (AA4K) in hopes of providing a high quality theater experience for children across Orange County. Since its inception in 2006, over 10,000+ students have joined the ranks of talented performers who make up the AA4K family.

The academy’s newest offering, and what is now the largest differentiator between AA4K and other acting programs for kids, is a fully-realized film program. Brian Stevens, an actor, writer, and filmmaker who resides in Los Angeles, has been with the Acting Academy now for four years, and has taken on the task of writing for and directing AA4K ‘s newest program. “Stephen asked if I’d be interested in doing a film project where the kids would be exposed to an authentic

“Hollywood” experience of being in a feature film. I was a bit skeptical about the potential success of such a program because I wasn’t sure how much interest we would have. I wrote the script hoping to have a dozen or so kids interested enough to audition and we ended up with 46 students vying for the roles. My other expectation was that since these were musical theater kids, the transition to film wouldn’t be seamless. But I was wrong again - I was floored by the innate talent these kids have.”

Seeing as the Acting Academy has garnered accolades such as “Best Children’s Live Theater” and “Best Theater School”, one might think that they’ve earned a break from creating new, unique programs - but a break is not on anyone’s mind: let alone Stephen or Maggie. “We are laying the foundation to create an on-camera acting school that will be a premier experience in South Orange County - a program that will be distinguished by our focus on nurturing the young actor. It is our goal to challenge and help our students continually grow and achieve even greater success in whatever paths they choose,” Stephen states. And grow they do. The film experience is focused on giving the kids the information they need to be successful in the real world while providing the care and support parents have come to expect from AA4K. While the Acting Academy’s summer camp is the “perfect ‘test-drive’ for a child who’s interested,” says Maggie, the film program is a full immersion experience. From auditions, to call backs, to a full day on set, the film projects culminate in a local screening for friends and family and each actor receiving a credit-named role on the Internet Movie Database. The Academy’s first foray into motion-picture magic? “Oh Imperfect Night”, a short film which premiered at The Regency Theater in San Juan Capistrano.

“We want kids to experience the real deal,” says Stephen. “Hands-on cooperative learning helps kids understand that each role is vital to the success of a show.” With a cast of over 60 voice artists, and 300+ crew and animation experts on board to make a film like Inside Out, learning teamwork in a real-world environment is imperative for kids who want to see what life as a performing artist is really like - and, to remember that sometimes it takes an army to ensure that the show must go on.

And the most rewarding part? “Watching the performers sitting in the movie theater seats in anticipation of their film debuts. Regardless of their role in the film, every child had their moment to shine and it was really something to see.” When developing the working scripts, Brian tries to write the roles for ages anywhere from 7-19. “I have a rough idea of what I’m shooting for in terms of ages and genders, but that’s always subject to change - you might have a person coming in to read for a certain role, but end up being the perfect fit for another.”

How AA4K evolved

IMG 5914As both founders hold Master’s Degrees in teaching, they not only bring a dedication to the craft of performance, but an unflinching drive to bring on the best teachers in town - a combination that attracts instructors who are both trained performing artists and credentialed educators. Live Scan screens, 1st Aid & CPR are also requirements to join the AA4K team.

When Stephen and Maggie took a leap of faith and followed their passion to create an environment where kids were free to explore musical theater, acting, voice, dance, and instrumental music, they were simply following a dream. Now, their summer camps, musical theater productions, voice lessons and private after-school acting classes give kids from all over Orange County the ability to follow their own dreams - without having to trek to LA in search of a like experience. And the kids are ready to work. “The moment you walk in and you are laying the scripts out, [and the kids] come in and are fully prepared and so excited to get to work, when the kids share that excitement, that’s when you know you have a really good thing going,” Brian notes. “Watching the kids on the last day of shooting and seeing the sense of accomplishment - what a great moment - you can’t overstate it enough.”

2016 049And the parents agree: Brynn Rydquist, whose son Noah, 9, participated in the Academy’s first film project, “can’t say enough about our experience at the Acting Academy for Kids. I love that Noah is involved in such a creative, encouraging environment with such talented professionals...The staff are all great mentors, super involved with the kids, and they make every child feel special.” Beyond that? The American Alliance for Theatre and Education notes that students involved in drama performance improve reading comprehension, verbal, and nonverbal communication skills, improve school attendance, and reduce dropout rates.” And, in addition to building overall communication and social skills, “involvement in drama courses and performance has been shown to improve student’s self-esteem as well as their confidence in their academic abilities.” Noah’s experience at the Acting Academy seems to back that up, as his mom notes he doesn’t have “an ounce of fear in presenting reports at school or anywhere he needs to be up in front of people.”

Film isn’t the only way to experience the real show-biz deal, however. The Acting Academy’s Musical Theater Series casts, produces, and performs a new popular Broadway musical every 12 weeks. Bringing a full-scale production to life on stage is no small feat, combining professional lighting, sets, and sound. Their home base at the Camino Real Playhouse in San Juan Capistrano (and satellite location at the Cabrillo Playhouse, San Clemente) allows singers, actors, musicians, and aspiring set designers to test their skills in actual working theaters. Knowing your way around a stage is becoming of greater value nowadays as well, with television shows such as Glee (2009), Smash (2012), Make It Pop (2015), and the new School of Rock TV adaptation airing this year increasing steadily in popularity. Not to mention the Hollywood blockbuster productions of Pitch Perfect (2012) and its hit sequel Pitch Perfect 2 (2015). Musical Theater is at the forefront of pop culture, and the AA4K is leading the way in preparing today’s talent for tomorrow’s opportunities.

IMG 7679Opportunity, as it turns out, is not far off: Mary Desmond, 17, was a successful contestant of American Idol’s 15th season, (currently airing), and earned a role in a new documentary about bullying called “Someone to Save Me.” Since she “learned at [age] 13 that the Acting Academy “was holding auditions for a stage production of “13”, and couldn’t wait to audition,” she has taken acting lessons from Stephen, whom she credits with “teaching her so many important lessons”, including audition advice that she attributes her career success. “He told me to ‘be remembered’ - ‘be loud and show them who I am’. This advice has served me well.” But being a part of the AA4K is more than just success, more than being known in the industry, more than developing public speaking skills or rounding out a child’s musical talent. It is a mentorship, and a community, and a family. What better place for a child to find their voice?

Giving each child a chance to raise that voice, the Academy also offers Performing Arts camps all summer long. Providing their signature immersion experience, campers can sign up for a single week, the entire summer, or any amount of time in between. If your child is at the top of bottom of the age range for Summer Camp, not to worry: ages are split into smaller groups of 4-7, 7-10, and 10-13 year olds (contingent upon enrollment). That being said, each program fosters open communication and teamwork among age groups, and the kids love it. Jessie-Ruth, 15, came to the Academy “not knowing a soul”, her mother Blair notes. Since then, she has participated in both musicals, like Mulan and The Little Mermaid, along with the film project, and will be the first one to tell you that “I have so much fun being here. I’ve learned so much and have made so many great, lasting friendships.”

Looking for more information on upcoming projects, shows, and auditions?

For the first few years of our little ones’ lives, my husband and I avoided long-distance trips, opting instead for shorter jaunts and weekend excursions to (relatively) close-to-home destinations. Now that the kids are older, they are more “seasoned” travelers who are pretty well behaved on planes, on trains and in automobiles. So earlier this year, we thought we’d stretch our travel horizons with a trip into Toronto, Canada.

Toronto is a high-energy, vibrant city abuzz with activity - home to some of the world's finest restaurants, happening bars, clubs and eclectic festivals - along with an abundance of attractions and recreation that are not only accommodating for the younger set, but in some cases are specifically designed with kids in mind. In fact, there are so many family-friendly options to consider that the challenge isn’t in finding “what to do,” but rather in narrowing your choices.

Having experienced it firsthand, I believe that bar none, the best way to get the lay of the land and see the sights (both the standard tourist fare and the more eclectic "locals only" hangouts and hideaways) is by coordinating a small, private city tour with Urban Expeditions ( This innovative tour company offers four seasonal tours designed to "help travelers get their bearings while experiencing the unique elements of the city: the pedestrian, the arts, the cultural and the green. Each four-hour adventure always includes transportation, refreshments and a knowledgeable guide. I'm sure any of their guides are great, but if he's available, ask for Founder and CEO Peter Odle - we left our entire itinerary in his capable hands and ended up on a particularly animated and knowledgable excursion - experiencing sides of the city we are certainly we would never have seen otherwise.

Urban Expeditions Founder and Tour Guide Extraordinaire - Peter OdleUrban Expeditions Founder and Tour Guide Extraordinaire - Peter OdleMore than a traditional tour company, Peter and his team pride themselves on being in the "business of storytelling" and helping business and leisure travelers "build an authentic local relationship with the city." What that meant for our family was to view

the city from a local's perspective and learn a bit about its history, geography, art and food. And because each adventure is set up for a small groups of six or less, it truly is a personalized way to bring the city to life - we learned more in our time with Peter than any guidebook or self-guided trek could reveal. Our day began with a leisurely stroll through a lush, expansive forested park situated right in the center of the urban landscape. Stops included wandering the cobbled streets of the Distillery District where our family learned that Toronto is a city built on "bricks, pork and booze" (a oft-repeated fun fact that our kids delight in sharing each time we've shared details of our visit). The revitalized 13-acre plot is rumored to contain the largest collection of Victorian-era architecture in North America. From the Distillery district, it's a casual walk west toward St. Lawrence Market, site of Toronto's first official farmers market and municipal government - the block was destroyed in the first Great Fire of Toronto.

Where to stay

When we were looking for the ideal hotel accommodation for our family of four, we hoped to find a property that was within easy walking distance to kid-friendly dining and entertainment and provided an amenity-rich retreat spacious enough for the adults to relax and the kids to enjoy downtime in their own space. The iconic Chelsea Toronto ( more than delivered on every count.

Chelsea Hotel, TorontoChelsea Hotel, TorontoAs Canada's largest hotel with 1,590 guest rooms, the Chelsea Hotel, Toronto, is centrally located in the heart of downtown and just steps from the city's best shopping districts, world-class theatres, vibrant nightlife and exciting attractions. A full-service urban resort, the Chelsea Hotel has room types to suit everyone and the hotel offers four restaurants and lounges, separate adult and family recreation areas and pools – including the "Corkscrew" - downtown Toronto's only indoor waterslide, where our kids expended excess energy and had an absolute ball for the better part of each afternoon. As a premier family destination, the hotel offers a full range of services including the Family Fun Zone with Camp Chelsea, Kid Centre, Club 33 Teen Lounge and free WiFi hotel-wide.
The hotel's Market Garden restaurant offers all-day dining and it's breakfast buffet was the perfect start to each day - fresh local ingredients are all part of the menu planning and each day a different themed buffet celebrates the foods from around the world.

A Pirate's Life

John Jeevanathan May 28 2015Our kids are still young enough to be mesmerized by fairytales so the "Pirate's Life" interactive family theatre and pirate boat cruise adventure ( on nearby Centre Island was a particular treat. They joined the company's "scurvy crew" - rummaging through a collection of pirate attire - and having their faces painted to emerge as authentic, albeit pint-sized marauders of the high seas set to board a 45-foot pirate ship called the "Island Rogue" in pursuit of adventure and perhaps sunken treasure. Once aboard and cruising around the islands, the kids discovered the mystery of Treasure Island, encountered friend and foe, fired water cannons and hauled up loot. Arrgh! Departures daily May to October.

Dec 10, 2015

Total Floor Care

One of the perks of publishing South County Magazine is that I am provided a venue to share with our readership personal experiences with local business owners like Jose Bautista, owner of the South County-based Total Floor Care.

Jose helped restore our granite kitchen countertop to like-new condition (after someone who shall remain nameless left a can of cleaner on top of the counter long enough for the chemicals to mar the surface with a glaring white ring).

When we moved into our new home a few months ago, we called Jose again – this time to see if he could work his magic in restoring the dull marble and travertine flooring in our entryway and master bathroom.

And again, his work more than exceeded our expectations – the results were such a dramatic improvement and we can’t speak highly enough of the care and time he put into the projects … you would have thought he was restoring stone in his own home.

For Jose Bautista, owning and operating his own business is a true “family affair.” What started as a part-time position at his brother’s tile and carpet cleaning company nearly two decades ago has evolved into his own thriving business serving all of Orange County’s stone and granite repair needs.

Because Jose worked his way up through the ranks to become main-tenance and distribution manager for CBM Carpet Cleaning and Handyman Service and eventually took over as the company’s opera-tions manager, he has firsthand ex-perience in every facet of the industry. As CBM grew, Jose re-ceived continual ongoing educa-tion training and earned his certification in order to be able to hire and personally train the com-pany’s technicians and worked alongside several flooring fran-chisees in the testing of products.

For Jose Bautista, owning and operating his own business is a true “family affair.” What started as a part-time position at his brother’s tile and carpet cleaning company nearly two decades ago has evolved into his own thriving business serving all of Orange County’s stone and granite repair needs.

By 2012, Jose was spending much of his time on the road overseeing installations and restorations and wanted to work closer to home to spend more time with his family and Total Floor Care was born.
Jose specializes in “preserving your stone’s natural beauty and maintaining and/or restoring your flooring to like-new condition.” His scope of services include stone and granite repair, granite countertop polish and sealing, concrete stain-ing, marble/natural stone cleaning and polishing, flagstone and pavers and tile and grout maintenance.

“With proper care, we can extend the life of your flooring invest-ment,” says Jose. “I pride myself on customer service and believe that’s what sets Total Floor Care apart. I provide free demos to ensure there’s a clear understanding of ex-pectations. I also provide multiple options to customers and try to ed-ucate them on proper maintenance after the floors have been cleaned or restored.
“I don’t leave until the job is well done and the customer is happy with the results. Big or small, every job is important to me.”

To connect with Jose and Total Floor Care, call (949) 637-6840.


Quality care and stellar customer service characterize this full-service koi pond maintenance company

When we moved into our new home last year, the property came with a very pretty pond stocked with colorful koi and goldfish. But for someone who can barely keep a potted plant alive, the prospect of being responsible for the livelihood and longevity of these beautiful fish was daunting – I don’t have a clue about the right ratio of additives in the water or the importance of algae or how to combat fish disease.

001wather in the gardenAkoi pond is clearly much more than a backyard water garden feature. It is a living, breathing eco-system which requires the expertise of a pond professional.

Thankfully, we also inherited the services of Glenn Cecil, owner of the South County-based Water in the Garden.

A koi pond is a living, breathing eco-system which requires the expertise of a pond professional.

He had maintained this particular pond for the previous homeowner for several years and it was clear from our first meeting that he was committed to quality care and customer service.

Serving Orange County since 1999, Glenn specializes in “total koi pond and water garden maintenance,” repair, construction, pond and filtration design and consultation.

Aside from feeding the fish, Glenn literally takes care of everything during his weekly visits, including removing excess debris and dead plant matter, inspecting the pond equipment for proper function and making adjustments as needed and inspecting the fish for signs of distress or disease. He also tests the water quality, back-flushes the filters and adds bacteria or other agents as needed and offers 24-hour emergency service. In short, he keeps our pond looking beautiful and our fish healthy and happy.

Aside from feeding the fish, Glenn literally takes care of everything during his weekly visits
To connect with Glenn directly, call (949) 872-3833 or visit