Road Trip: Next Stop – College

GOOD LUCK with the college visits. My heart is soaring and sniffling for you, my friend Julie emailed me before we left for our Memorial Day weekend college tour road trip. She nailed it. (As she always does.) In one year and two weeks Chandler will be graduating high school. Two months after that he’ll be heading off to college. Out of our home forever. Or at least until Thanksgiving break. My heart is indeed soaring and sniffling all at once.

Teaching him how to tie his shoes, how to cook (or at least how to make a grilled cheese sandwich), and (especially) how to properly clean a toilet has all led up my casting him off into the world to survive and thrive outside of our household. It’s enough to make me want to vomit. Happy vomit of course. If there is such a thing.

Thursday afternoon, right after the kids got home from school, we left on a 1400+ mile, three day road trip to visit three universities. Go big or go home right? (Or rather stay home in this instance.)


First Stop UCSC

Chandler wanted to start off driving so I buckled down in the back seat with a semi-cranky why-do-I-even-have-to-go-on-this-stupid-college-tour-trip Marley. We battled Santa Barbara traffic, chowed on Double Double’s in Atascadero, and arrived in Santa Cruz about six hours later.

Hangin’ in the back.


We can’t afford two rooms -in fact this was a budget travel trip with coolers packed full of sandwich-makings and our rooms booked on Priceline– so we slept boys in one bed and girls in the other since our children refuse to sleep together. We weren’t expecting much from our $50/night 2-star hotel, but it was clean, had enough towels, and the free breakfast included a make-your-own waffle station, so we deemed it a success. (Even though the coffee -if you could even call it that- was incredibly weak.)

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the university and didn’t know if Chandler would really like it or not. We chose UCSC because of the D3 athletic program (Chandler wants to compete in college athletics, but isn’t sure he want to at a D1 level), the majors it offers, and the beautiful location. But it has a reputation for being a bit of a hippie school and Chandler is 0% hippie. Well, he’s an environmentally-minded liberal, but a buttoned-down, rule-following, environmentally-minded liberal.

The campus was amazingly beautiful. It felt more like a mountain resort than a university.

This feels more like a vacation than school!


“I think going here would be great,” Chandler said to me halfway through the tour. “I love everything about this school, except for this view.”

UCSC Beach View
Yeah, this view sucks!


“You’re crazy,” I told him. “The view is amazing.”

“Yeah, but the school looks like it’s in a forest and the view of the ocean doesn’t really fit.”

(Have I ever mentioned that Chandler is a little quirky?)


UCSC trees
Trees like this cover the campus of UCSC.


In my world forest meets ocean equals perfection. But apparently in Chandler’s world forest meets ocean breaks some kind of rule. And as I said, he’s a rule-follower. Wow, is college going to be an eye-opening experience for him.


Second Stop Humboldt State

You might think that taking our 0%-hippie, rule-following, buttoned-down, quirky son to Humboldt State with its reputation of schooling hippies with a capital “H” an odd choice. Possibly. But we do want Chandler to consider a state school. And since he has expressed a possible interest in environmental studies, apparently wants to go to school in some sort of forest, and would like to attend college out-of-state, we though that Humboldt -which is an environmentalist’s wet dream, has a 20,000 square foot forest attached to it, and is closer to Seattle than to Los Angeles- deserved a look. Plus we thought the idea of embarking on a seven hour, 356-mile journey that included driving through San Francisco at 5PM on the Friday of a three-day weekend sounded like lots of fun.

The two things (semi-cranky why-do-I-even-have-to-go-on-this-stupid-college-tour-trip) Marley requested of this trip was to see the Golden Gate Bridge and to swim in a hotel pool. Of course it is our goal in life to bitterly disappoint her (just ask her), so we made sure that even though we had to cross the bridge she couldn’t really see it.



We arrived in Arcata close to midnight, two hours after the pool closed, screwing Marley once again, and headed straight to bed.

Our tour of Humboldt didn’t start until noon, so after more waffles and weak coffee we decided to check out the town of Arcata and happened upon the 45th Annual Kinetic Grand Championship taking place in the town square.

What is that you ask? It is a 3-day, 42-mile bike race over land, sand, mud and water. Which means one must convert their “bike” to be able to successfully handle land, sand, mud and water.

kinetic sculpture bike


And the crazier the conversion, the better.



Coincidentally I went to this race with my mom and brother 31 years ago with a “why-do-I-have-to-go-on-this-stupid-trip-on-a-holiday-weekend” attitude and ended up having an incredible time, so I was thrilled to happen upon it again. Unfortunately Marley was even more determined than me (at the peak of my teenaged surliness, I might add) to hate everything about our trip and sat on a bench claiming the kinetic sculpture race lame. But she later told my mom it was “kind of cool,” so while not as big a win as make-your-own waffles, I’ll take it as a minor victory.


This sculpture was called “Bite Me.”


After our tour of Humboldt, Chandler met with a coach and liked him a lot. He also liked the dorms.

Yeah, I could see Chandler living here.


Marley loved Humboldt and decided she must go there. Plus we went to a really cool record store where she bought two posters (bonus – one of them I absolutely hate) and we both claimed the Ryan Gosling doppelganger who rang us up super cute.


Third Stop: UC Davis

After leaving Humboldt we drove three hours to Red Bluff with me taking most of the time behind the wheel. We got there in plenty of time to enjoy cheap delicious Mexican food from a place called La Corona (thank you Yelp) with a big ol’ margarita for me (hazzah!) and plenty of pool time for Marley after dinner. (So, Marley found her future college, talked to a cute -way-too-old-for-her- boy, and got to swim all in one day. Maybe Dave and I aren’t the worst parents in the world after all.)

It looks a little toxic, but it was pretty damn good!


Chandler popped out of bed at seven o’clock on Sunday morning ready to head down to the make-your-own waffle station before it got too crowded prompting us to get shaking and get started with our day. He was mostly excited to visit the Capital in Sacramento, but our first stop was Davis. I think he may have been overwhelmed by its size. And while there were plenty of trees, it was certainly no forest. He did not love it. But they have a viticulture and enology major (translation wine making), so it is my new goal in life to change Chandler’s mind and have him go to Davis. I think he owes me that.

UC Davis
The Mondavi Performing Arts Center at UC Davis

After touring Davis we took a tour of the Capital building and Chandler was in heaven. I know I’ve stated that he’s expressed an interest in the environment, and that is true, but he loves history so much, I think his calling is probably political science. With a minor in viticulture and enology environmental studies. Maybe.

After touring the Capital we had a (very) late lunch at a dive bar on the Delta called Wimpy’s where I was once accidentally abandoned Home-Alone-style by my family when I was a teenager. (That is a true story, but a story for another time.)

Then we headed home.

We’ve now toured five colleges total. I hope to have Chandler tour at least five more. This next year will no doubt, like his entire childhood, go by at warp speed. Six months from now his college applications will be complete. Ten months from now all of the acceptance (and rejection) letters will have arrived. Eleven months from now his decision will have been made. Fourteen months from now my son will be going off to college.

My heart is soaring and sniffling.

Planning my Dream 20th Anniversary Vacation with GoWithOh

In March Dave and I will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. In the early years of our marriage, I pictured celebrating our 10 year anniversary in Vegas renewing our vows with an Elvis impersonator. (Fat Elvis – duh!) Instead we set up camp in two beach houses with my family – about 15 of us total, dining on chili cheese dogs and sleeping on an air mattress; all the hoopla reserved my for nephew’s first birthday celebration instead of our ten year union.

Life never really does turn out as planned, does it?

For our 20th wedding anniversary I’ve always dreamed of returning to where we got engaged – Italy.

But… (almost) 20 years later – two moves, different jobs, financial ups and downs, a mortgage, two kids – one less than two years away from college… life and those plans right? While we are lucky to be rich in love (most days), our current bank balance suggests that we’re much more likely to be celebrating our 20th by clinking our Chianti glasses at our favorite Italian restaurant with views of the hills of Agoura, than at a quaint trattoria with views of the hills of Tuscany.

But last week I read this blog and found out about a contest called “Be Our Guest Tester” hosted by the website GowithOh.

GowithOh rents vacation apartments to travelers in 17 European cities – five of them in Italy. (Florence. Milan. Rome. Pisa. Venice. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes!) To enter the contest all I have to do is write a blog post about which apartment I would chose from their site and why, and tag the post on Twitter using the hashtag ##GwOGuestTester. Fantastic!

When Dave and I travel to Europe we love staying in quaint pensions, small bed and breakfasts, or apartments like Europeans do. Sure, luxury hotels are lovely, but if you’re going to experience another country, I think the best way to do it is by traveling -and living- like a local.

GowithOh just happens to have 255 apartments located in my favorite Italian city – Florence. We returned to Italy and visited Florence on our second anniversary. I immediately fell madly and deeply in love. I wept when I stood next to The David, I was so overcome with its beauty. I raised my hands in victory when I climbed all 463 steps to the top of Il Duomo. We crossed the Arno River and picnicked on a hillside taking in the wonderful Tuscan views. And you want to talk tears of joy? I think I cried every time I ate because the food was so fresh and so incredibly delicious, it made me the happiest I’d ever been every time I ate. (Which was as often as possible.)

So Dave and I started cruising the GoWithOh website to pick out our dream 20th anniversary trip apartment. Where would we stay if money was no object? It was almost impossible to choose.

We loved ceilings and the uniqueness of this one.


And we loved the traditional Florentine style of this one.


But this one simply took my breath away. That view? Are you kidding? This is where Dave and I would choose to spend our 20th Anniversary 2nd Honeymoon.

Yes please!

But wait… there’s more…

We’ll spend our afternoons resting from sightseeing and rejuvenating before heading out to the piazza for an evening stroll and (a tears-of-joy-inducing) dinner here.


We’ll prepare a simple breakfast here…


Then eat it here…


None of your business what we’ll be doing here. (But it might or might not rhyme with peeping. Shut up! Sightseeing makes you tired!)


And trust me, for a European bathroom – this one is HUGE! (Love that tub!)


I might not win the GoWithOh Guest Tester contest, but that’s okay. We’ve had a great time perusing at the apartments they have to offer. Looking at all the pictures and planning our dream trip (even if it is only in our hearts and our heads) was almost as fun as being there.


ParisLondonBerlin… where would you go with GoWithOh?

Stupid Airport Shoes

I recently read an online fashion magazine article titled “What They Wear: Airports”. There were photos of 10 starlets dressed super cute for their very glamour trips to the airport.

But then there were these shoes:

Celebrity Airport Shoes
Gorgeous – but the airport… really?!

There was actually a full body shot of the actress wearing these shoes,but I cropped it to only show the shoes. I will not name the actress because (1) I am not that mean and (2) I’ve actually never heard of her. (She’s probably very young and gorgeous. Whatever.)

But c’mon – really?! These are the shoes you wear to the airport? Do famous people have some sort of pass where they don’t have to go through airport security shoeless? Yes, the shoes are adorable, but they have to take at least 5-10 minutes to take off and put back on again. And the magazine called the shoes a good and practical choice for travel because of the wedge. But what about the part you have to wrap around your ankle 5 times and then tie?! She probably flew on a private plane and didn’t have to clear security.

Which just goes to show… Stars are not like us people. Not like us at all!

Reagan Library: Exploring Air Force One, The Berlin Wall and The Lincoln Exhibit

Chandler is a quirky kid who loves history and had been begging me to take him to the Lincoln exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Library. (Well, maybe not begging. But asking insistently. And repeatedly.)

Reagan Library
Reagan Library Entrance

Marley and Dave were busy with other things, so I got the rare and wonderful opportunity to spend a Saturday afternoon with my 16-year-old son. Even though I had him trapped in a metal box with no escape for twenty minutes I was nice on the car ride over and didn’t ask him about girls.

We mostly chatted about his new classes at school and what we were looking forward to seeing at the museum. (And by chatted I mean I asked him questions and he gave me one – two word answers.) I told him I was most excited about seeing Air Force One. You can see the exhibit building from the freeway and it looks quite impressive.

The bulk of the museum of course is dedicated to Reagan’s presidency. There is a lot of memorabilia including many gifts given to Reagan, the outfits he and the first lady wore on the day of his inauguration, White House china, and even notes scrawled by Reagan when he was in the hospital after he was shot and instructed by his doctors not to speak.


The museum has a replica of the oval office complete with actual items that were on his desk and the small bronze statues he had displayed during his presidency.


There are also a lot of interactive activities including “acting” in a movie with Reagan, “delivering” his inaugural speech, and “setting” the White House table for dinner. Chandler of course could not be bothered with standing on the podium, but I look very presidential, don’t you think?

Look out Hillary!

Air Force One was as cool as I had anticipated. Just the building itself is spectacular. And the plane inside the building is visually stunning. We were able to board the plane, but weren’t allowed to take photographs on board. But in case you were wondering, presidents fly a bit more comfortably than you and I do. (Even if you already fly first class.)



After exploring Air Force One and the other presidential vehicles we went on to the National Treasures Gallery where there is a steel beam from the World Trade Center. It’s amazing how moved you can be by a charred piece of metal.


Finally we got to what Chandler had been waiting for – the Lincoln Exhibit. A. Lincoln: From Railsplitter to Rushmore is a mash-up of over 250 original Abraham Lincoln artifacts and movie sets form Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” Movie.  Objects on display include President Lincoln’s famous stovepipe hat, a bloodied pillow from the night he died, Mary Todd Lincoln’s bible, and coolest of all a Lincoln-signed Emancipation Proclamation.

Actual Lincoln Stovepipe Hat and signed copy of Emancipation Proclamation – does it get any cooler than that? (Sorry for poor quality of no-flash-allowed photos.)

My little (or rather big) history buff thought the Lincoln exhibition was fantastic and I have to agree.

We then moved on to the outside to see a piece of the Berlin Wall and Ronald Reagan’s grave. The views are just gorgeous. And again, it’s pretty cool to look at history right up close.

Berlin Wall
A piece of world history smack at the West End of Simi Valley.

If you are looking for a Los Angeles or Ventura County day trip and would like to experience some really cool history, I suggest getting yourself to the Reagan Museum before the Lincoln exhibit is gone. But you’d better get there quickly, because the exhibit only lasts through September 30th.

It’s a fantastic way to spend the day. And maybe you’ll even get lucky like me and convince your teenager to pose in a photo with you.

A rare mother-son picture.

Disclosure: I was given two tickets to the Ronald Reagan Library to facilitate this post, however all opinions, geeking out over Air Force One, and the thrill of spending the day with just my son are completely my own.

New Popular Baby Names for Boys and Girls

This post was not inspired by the ridiculous naming of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s love child North West. (My funny husband said he was surprised Kris Kardashian didn’t convince them to spell it Knorth.) Ah… so sorry that your parents are douchebags Little Nori, but the good news is they’re both rich, so you’ll have plenty of money for the therapy you will so obviously be needing later!

And no, I’m not having a baby. My body is shutdown for baby-making. (Not that that’s any of your business!)

But my cousin is expecting her first child and she recently posted this on her FB page:

Facebook Baby Names

I thought I’d put in my two cents:


Yes, that’s right. According to the baby naming website Nameberry and this article from The Inquisitr, here are some funky baby names for both boys and girls trending right now:

Severine – apparently inspired by the Bond girl in “Skyfall.” (Thank god people weren’t so silly in the 60’s and didn’t start naming their kids Pussy (Galore) after “Goldfinger” or Kissy (Suzuki) after “You Only Live Twice.”)

Good thing Carrie’s not having a girl because if she names her son after a James Bond character it will likely be James.

Phaedra – likely an homage to “Real Housewives of Atlanta” rather than a sudden interest in Greek Mythology. At least Phaedra Parks is not really a housewife, but a successful attorney and people aren’t naming their daughters after a spoiled housewife living well off of her husband’s success. (Although, to be honest I’d like to be a spoiled housewife living well off of my husband’s success like I used to be.)

Carrie, if you’re going to name your baby after a reality TV star and want something a little unusual go with something like Ozzy* or Malcolm*, but please don’t make it Tarzan* or God forbid “The Situation!”

Mingus – which I guess is inspired by Charles Mingus, the  jazz bassist/composer. (Sorry Charles, I’ve never heard of you. But then, I’m not really into jazz.)

And my dearest and most favorite cousin, if you are going to name your darling baby boy after a jazz musician (not that you would) Miles is a very nice name, but Coltrane – that’s just weird.

And remember, what every you do – DO NOT NAME HIM THOR!

I might date this dude (you know, if my husband would let me), but I wouldn’t name my baby after him!

I’ve always found it humorous that baby names are inspired by pop culture. Of course I don’t know why I’m so smug. While my son Chandler’s name was not inspired by pop culture, the inspiration did come from my husband’s favorite author, Raymond Chandler. It was not due to our love of Chandler Bing from “Friends.” And yeah, yeah our last name happens to be Ross. Ha ha ha – isn’t that funny?

But I’m telling you – he was named after Raymond Chandler. And no, his middle name is not Joey!

And my daughter Marley’s name was not inspired by the book Marley and Me (which was published five years after she was born), but again by Raymond Chandler. Or rather his character, Phillip Marlowe. (I did not like the name Marlowe, but I love the name Marley, though admittedly she probably has a lot more in common personality-wise with John Grogan’s dog than Raymond Chandler’s character.)

I did NOT name my son after any of these people!

Interesting side note: the name Marlowe is also on the Hot 2013 Baby Name List this year.

It also puzzles me why parents like to give their kids crazy unique spellings to their otherwise not-very-unique names. Is is supposed to make them feel special? Guess what? I doesn’t. My Starbucks name is Jane because nobody can spell Charlene. And my name is spelled the most common way. (I think.)

It’s bad enough that my name was never on a mug at Disneyland because it wasn’t that common. Can you imagine how upsetting it would be if my name really was Jane but I spelled it Jayne and every time I looked at those damn mugs/key chains/shot glasses I saw Jane staring back at me? I’ll tell you – pretty freaking upsetting!

You are just setting your child up for a lifetime of frustration because everyone will spell their name wrong. Every. Single. Time.

There is someone I do business with named Brittni. I’m sorry – Brittni?! I think Brittney is a lovely name, but when you spell it Brittni it seems like you’re dealing with a stripper, not a business professional.

So to answer my cousin’s question, here are some baby boy names that I like: Ethan, Evan, Oliver, Henry. I also really do dig James. But Carrie, if you name him James, don’t spell it Jaymes. He’ll never have a coffee mug with his name on it.

And people might think he’s a stripper.

*Ozzy, Malcolm and Tarzan were all contestants on different seasons of Survivor

Image of Thor via: Assira, Wikimedia Commons/Image of Joey, Chandler & Ross via Friends

Where Would YOU Go if Money Was No Object?

This post was inspired by Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop. I chose prompt #5:  8 places you’d go this summer if money wasn’t an object.

Hmmm… do I have to do them all this summer? I guess I’d better get started. And since we’re talking Lotto Dreams travel, I’ll have to hire a Lear Jet so I don’t have to mingle with the type of people who fly tourist. (Which is pretty much me!)

Earth – photo credit Tonynetone via Creative Commons

#1 Istanbul

When I was in college a favorite marketing professor of mine told tales of her backpacking trips abroad. She was the one who sparked the desire in me to backpack across Europe during the summer of 1986. She traveled to many places and her favorite place hands down was Istanbul. She made it sound so magical I’ve wanted to go ever since. She especially loved the Grand Bazaar where haggling for beautiful and unique treasures was an art form. Most Saturdays Chandler and I go yard saling and haggle over prices of used junk unique treasures. I cherish the time with him and I enjoy our little treasure hunts, but somehow I think shopping for shit we don’t need in Turkey would be way better.

Istanbul Grand Bazaar Photo credit Brian Snelson via Creative Commons

#2 Italy

I became engaged in Italy and it holds a very special place in my heart. The food, the art, the culture, the people, the gorgeous countryside, the art, the wine, the fooood (yeah, there’s a reason Elizabeth Gilbert ate her way through Italy) – I am madly in love with Italy. However, I have not spent any time at the lake district or on the Italian coast. (Unless you count those nine hours in 1986 when I sat at the very unattractive port of Brindisi waiting for the ferry to the party nation of Greece.) I would love to rent a villa at Lake Como or the Amalfi Coast and spend an entire summer there lying around doing absolutely nothing but drinking wine and eating. (Except that I have six more destinations to visit!)

Standing on Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy the day after my engagement.

#3 London

I spent a semester of college attending school in London and it quickly became one of my favorite cities. Dave and I have often talked about how we would love to live in London for a year or two. I love the museums and the architecture, the parks and the pubs. I love shopping on Portobello Road and Kensington High Street. I can’t wait to take my kids to London one day and show them the sights. My kids don’t really love cities, but I think London would turn them around.

Lovely London – Photo credit Tim Morris via Creative Commons

#4 Greece

Was that nine hour wait in the industrial port of Brindisi and 24 hour barf-over-the-side ferry ride worth it? You bet. During that 1986 trip I went to Athens (don’t bother) and Ios (party paradise) and then returned to Greece in 1988 (before starting my semester in London) to visit Ios once again, and added Mykonos and Santorini. The stark contrast of the white stucco buildings and bright blue sea is just breathtaking. I think I’d skip Ios this time (mostly out of fear that they wouldn’t let me off the boat because I’m too old!) But I would love to spend some serious time there lounging on the beaches of Santori, Mykonos and Corfu reading a book and eating  a lot of simple Mediterranean food and not much else. Ah yes, the art of doing nothing!

Heading to Greece via huge ferry slumber party

#5 New York City

Well, I’m halfway through my fantasy travel summer and of course a trip to New York is mandatory. I haven’t been to New York in eight years and I miss it desperately. I always feel so alive in that city. I love the shops and restaurants. I love the bars and seeing plays both on and off Broadway. I love walking everywhere. And I simply adore the fashion. People don’t dress up in California like they do in New York.  I could stand on the streets of Manhattan and people watch all day.

Side note:  I follow a fabulous blog called Fashables that features street style photography. (Photographs taken of random people walking down the street.) It helps me get my New York fix. But I am dying to go back soon for reals.

Fashables collage
New York street style photography by Ryan Shell of Fashables

# 6 Napa Valley/San Francisco 

Napa/San Francisco totally counts as one place right? I went to Napa earlier this year for the 2013 Wine Sisterhood trip (did I mention it was amazing) and can’t wait to go back. The trip I went on was a girlfriend’s trip, but I’d love to take my husband there. We went in 1990 when we were dating and we are well overdue for a trip back. And since this is a money-is-no-object fantasy, I’d like to hire a limo to take us to all the wineries and restaurants (yes every single one) and drink until I start to slur and eat until I start to waddle. I think a week should do it. I loved the Andaz Napa Hotel and would definitely stay there again. And a trip to San Fransicso on the way to our next destination would definitely be in order.

Beautiful Chappellet vineyards in Napa Valley

#7 Hawaii

Dave and I have been there three times – twice to Maui (once before we were married and for our honeymoon) and once to Kauai when Chandler was just under two. As much as I love Hawaii (and I do), I probably wouldn’t put it in my Top 8, but Marley is dying to go to Hawaii. She finds it horribly unfair that Chandler has been to Hawaii and she hasn’t. The fact that Chandler doesn’t remember the trip at all does not seem to sway her thinking about this gross injustice we have committed against her.

Honeymooning in Maui

Hmmm… now that I’ve looked over my list I’m not sure I’ve really chosen that wisely. Maybe I should ditch London and Greece and tell Marley too bad about Hawaii and choose an African Safari or Costa Rica or Machu Picchu or Puerto Rico. I also love the Canadian Rockies and I’d like to see Columbia and Brazil and Berlin and Croatia. Eight is just not enough. So where would my final destination be?…

#8 Michigan

Michigan? What?! Instead of an African Safari? Well, I’ve already decided to ditch Hawaii (sorry Marley) and all this traveling has made me rather tired. And my mom and uncle own a lovely little cottage on a small lake in Michigan and my cousins own the house next door. It’s like we have our own little family compound. And while it’s not exactly rustic, it’s not very luxurious either -somewhere in between. Just right as Goldilocks would say. There are boats and wave runners and kayaks for sport and plenty of lounge chairs for reading and napping. The trees are green and the people are friendly. (Like scary-weird friendly.) It’s a little bit of heaven right smack in the middle of the country and it feels like home. At the end of a long journey (even an imaginary one) there’s no place like home.

White Lake Sunrise
Michigan Sunrise

What 8 places would you travel to if money were no object? I’d love to know!

Mama Kat workshop logo

Palm Desert Girlfriend’s Getaway

A few weeks ago I went to Palm Desert with some of my best girlfriends to celebrate a birthday-that-shall-not-be-named (hint: it rhymes with nifty). And NO, it wasn’t MY birthday. Shut your big fat mouth!

We stayed at the Miramonte Resort.


The Miramonte is true Palm Desert luxury.

A beautiful lobby
I could get used to this!

Since there were to be between three and five of us at different points of the weekend, we stayed in a 550 square foot Dolce Suite. There were two queen size beds, a desk and a sitting room area that you could curtain off with a second TV, mini fridge and pull-out couch. We also had a private balcony. Yeah, when you have a milestone birthday in our group my friend Trixie* always finds a way to set you up right.

Dolce Suite = Fabulous!

Part of our celebratory weekend was attending the Stagecoach Music Festival. We are not huge country music fans, but there were some amazing acts there that made us appreciate country music a lot more – Lady Antebellum, The Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith, Dwight Yoakam, Jeff Bridges, Darius Rucker, and Joe Nichols to name a few.

Stagecoach Music Festival 2013

We arrived late on a Thursday night, but Dagmar (the birthday girl) and I are both early risers (sigh, yes, even on vacation) so instead of sleeping in we headed to the hotel gym on Friday morning. (It might have had something to do with eating the world’s best donuts on the drive out.) The gym was a typical hotel gym with treadmills, ellipticals, and free weights. After about 40 sweaty minutes on the treadmills we declared ourselves done and ready for breakfast.

You had better believe that we filled our mini fridge with some staples for the weekend (and no, not just vodka) so we enjoyed some Greek yogurt with granola and strawberries on the balcony.

Ignore the donuts behind my yogurt – I don’t know how they got there!

Trixe actually had to work the festival (which is how non-country music fans ended up at Stagecoach for a niftieth birthday) so she left us at around 9AM.

Dagmar and I lounged around the balcony for a bit and then headed down to the pool. I wore a bikini. Well, a bikini top and board shorts. I probably have no business wearing a bikini top, but I don’t care. To be honest I was more concerned that I hadn’t had the chance to get a pedicure before we left.

You didn’t think I’d show you a picture of me in a bikini top did you?

Besides the pool was full of hot bodied 25 year olds. Trust me, no one was looking my way.

Speaking of hot bodied 25-year-olds…

Howdy Pardner!

Okay, he was probably closer to 32. (Even better!) Yes, the view at the pool was quite nice. Quite nice indeed. Trust me, my cell phone was not the only one pointed in this direction!

Would you like another look?

Me likey!

As the Dixie Chicks said, “Cowboy take me away!”

There was a big group of late twenty/early thirty-somethings at our hotel for the Stagecoach festival and they were partying it up at the pool. They were very amusing to watch. (And people watching is one of my favorite activities!)

The Mirmonte Resort has an excellent pool menu so we took advantage of it and ordered lunch poolside. We decided to split a club sandwich.


It was delicious and the fries were amazing. A-MA-ZING! (I really, really love fries.)

We may have also enjoyed a vodka pomegranate cocktail (or three) while lounging by the pool all day. I can neither confirm nor deny such a thing.

Yes, the pool at the Miramonte is pretty spectacular. The service was fantastic, the pool was very clean and the perfect temperature, and there were plenty of lounge chairs. My only suggestion would be more umbrellas. (You can only sit in the sun for so long in Palm Desert.)  It was the perfect place to spend the day. (And the next day and the next day!)

At 4:00 we headed up to our room to get ready for the concert. For a couple of “old ladies” I think we cleaned up okay.

50 is the new 30
Eva Mendes has nothing on my friend Dagmar!

We’d never been to Stagecoach before and didn’t quite know what to expect. But when we were pulling up to the parking lot and spotted this we knew we were in for a good time…

Um… okay…

We reconnected with Trixie and she set us up with a meet and greet with Joe Nichols. Admittedly, we didn’t really know who he was, but he was way cute and super sweet. We  saw Jeff Bridges perform right up close.

Jeff Bridges

After Jeff Bridges we walked around the vendor area, then had dinner with Trixie and then saw Toby Keith. All in all it was a great night.

On Saturday morning we decided to go for a walk instead of going to the gym and the concierge at the hotel hooked us up with a three mile walk around the neighborhood. It was already about 90 degrees at 9AM, but the walk was lovely. (I dig Palm Desert architecture.)

A lovely neighborhood stroll.

Trixie went off to work and Dagmar and I headed to the pool for more sun, vodka and cowboys. Trixie’s sister, Sherry, and our good friend Heidi joined us around lunchtime. Late in the afternoon the cowboys were pretty drunk and invited us to a naked midnight pool party. There was no chance in hell that was happening. But it was nice to be asked.

Around 5:00 we headed back out to Stagecoach for Dwight Yoakam and Lady Antebellum. Trixie hooked us up with a great viewing spot for both performances. Unfortunately my camera wasn’t able to properly focus on the awesomeness happening before me.

Side stage and loving life! (BTW – Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum is HOT!)

Sunday morning the five of us went to IHOP for fake eggs and pancakes. Then Trixie went back to work and the rest of us went to the pool for a happy repeat of days one and two. Heidi had to leave around 2:00 because unlike me she is a good mom and would never leave her family for four and a half days of cowboys and vodka and sun. Then it was back to the festival for barbecue, Darius Rucker and Zac Brown Band.

Monday morning we woke up knowing we’d have to head back to reality. But before we did we ate breakfast al fresco at the Grove Artisan Kitchen at the Miramonte. I had the Maine Lobster Omelet with mushrooms and asparagus. (I had it made as a scramble and yes, it was as good as it sounds.)

IHOP eat your heart out!

After breakfast we packed up, did a little outlet shopping, and then went home.

All in all the weekend was pretty amazing. I think next year we’ll definitely be back at Stagecoach. (Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I might left with a new-found appreciation of country music.)  Look for me poolside at the Miramonte getting my fix of vodka and cowboys and sun.

*Sometimes my girlfriends like to fly under the radar so for the sake of privacy I’ve changed their names for this post.

The Donut Man – Best Donuts on Route 66 (or Anywhere)

Donut Crack Heaven

A few weeks ago I went to Palm Desert for a girls’ getaway weekend to celebrate my girlfriend Dagmar’s birthday.

As we were driving out, Dagmar suggested that we stop at The Donut Man in Glendora. I was planning on wearing a bikini for the next three days and certainly had no business eating donuts, but I didn’t want to disappoint Dagmar. You know, since it was her birthday.

I had never heard of The Donut Man, but apparently I’m in the minority because when we pulled up there was a line. At 9:30 PM on a Thursday night. The Donut Man? They should call this place Donut Crack. These were without a doubt The BEST donuts I’ve ever had in my life. (They’ve even been featured in Bon Appetite Magazine.)

I chose the Tiger Tail which is a foot long glaze-chocolate twist. I don’t remember what Dagmar got. One bite and I was in a chocolate-glaze euphoria and nothing else mattered except me and my donut.

One foot of donut deliciousness

The Donut Man is known for their seasonal donuts which include Fresh Stawberry, Fresh Peach, Peanut Butter, Pumpkin and Creme Puff. (I didn’t know peanut butter and cream had seasons!) Strawberries are in season right now. We got one of those in a to-go box.

This is one berry good donut!

We were meeting our friend Trixie at the hotel later that night and didn’t want her to feel left out (or looking better than us in a bikini) so we bought a few more donuts for breakfast the next morning.


You’d better believe the first thing we did the next morning was hit the gym. Then we had another donut.

The people of Glendora are certainly lucky to have such a gem, but I have to admit I’m kind of glad The Donut Man is 60 miles from my house. If it were in my neighborhood I don’t think I’d ever be able to wear a bikini again.

*Pictures courtesy of The Donut Man website. Except the top photo labeled Donut Crack Heaven – the poor photo quality of that photo should make it obvious it was taken by me.


Have you ever done something scary? I have. If someone told you to jump off a cliff would you do it? I did.

Seven years ago we went on a camping trip to an awesome campground (with a funny name) called Dinkey Creek located in the Sierra National Forest near Shaver Lake.

There are so many great places to camp in the Sierra National Forest, but it’s not exactly close. The car ride was about four and a half hours long. (But totally worth it. We’ve been to a lot of campsites in California and Dinkey Creek is definitely our favorite.)

This picture tells you just about everything you need to know about our kids’ personalities.

We’d been there the year before and we loved it because we felt its beauty rivaled Yosemite. (Plus, unlike Yosemite, there are no bears!)


We got a sweet camp site to call home for a few days.


We found an out-of-the way hike to these beautiful granite pools.



There were swimming holes that Dave and the kids swam in. I tried to swim with them but found the water much too cold. It actually made me feel like I couldn’t breathe.

BRRR! (My husband is a good sport and one awesome dad to get into that freezing water.

Back near our campsite there was another swimming hole with a natural rock water slide. Kids would take blow-up rafts -the kind you would usually lounge in a swimming pool on- and ride down it.

Imagine going down this on a blow-up raft. So fun!

Our beloved dog Pearl loved climbing the big rocks. She loved resting in the shade even more.

Pearl Girl taking a rest.

There was also a swimming hole with a big rock that people were jumping off. A BIG rock. It was probably 30 20 feet high. (Dave says 15, but I’m sticking to 20.)

Chandler wanted to jump. He was only nine years old, but I was excited that he wanted to do something so daring. (See photo above!) The water was deep and it looked safe. Scary as shit. But safe.

But Chandler was hesitant. (Who wouldn’t be?) I could tell that he wanted to do it more than he didn’t want to do it, so I told him if he jumped then I would too.

So he jumped.

(Well, there may have been some hemming and hawing and pacing back and forth involved.)

That’s my boy!

He liked it so much he did it again.

After the splash

Afterward he swam back to us and told me it was my turn.


I wasn’t lying when I told him I’d jump, but I wasn’t really serious. I figured he’d jump and feel good about himself and not hold me to my end of the bargain. I asked him if he really wanted me to. He said he did. So I swam to the other side and climbed the rock.

Feeling confident

And then I looked down. Rocks aren’t like cliffs. (Not that I’ve ever jumped off a cliff.) They kind of curve and you can’t really walk to the edge. You sort of have to push off and jump up and out. (In retrospect I should have checked out the jumping situation for Chandler’s sake from the top of the rock before giving him permission.) I stood at the rock and I couldn’t do it. It was too scary. There was no way I could jump.

I looked at Chandler across that water and called out to him, “I’m sorry Buddy. I don’t think I can do it. I’m so proud of you for jumping, but it’s too scary for me.”

And he started to cry.

“You promised,” he said. “You said if I jumped you would jump. You promised.”

And the fear of willingly breaking a promise and disappointing my son outweighed my fear of jumping.

So I took a deep breath. And I plugged my nose (because I’m so graceful).

And I jumped.


And I will never ever ever do something like that again! (But I’m glad I did it that once.)

*This blog post was inspired by Mama Kat’s weekly writing prompt. The prompt I chose was: Talk about a time you faced a fear. (I hope that was obvious.)

Mama Kat workshop logo

I’d love to hear about a fear that you’ve faced.

So, I Won This Contest on Pinterest… (Part 3)

Wine Sisterhood Gathering 2013

Yes, it’s my last installment of my fabulous weekend in Napa with the Wine Sisterhood. If you missed part one and/or part two you can read them here and here.

When I woke up on Tuesday morning I had purple teeth. And not just a little. Ah, the price of drinking wine for 10 hours straight! Instead of Zumba I did a quick 1/2 hour on the elliptical at the gym next door because I needed extra time to wash my hair. (No, I don’t wash my hair every day – so?!) After my shower I ran downstairs, grabbed some breakfast, and brought it back to my room so I could pretend I was having room service for breakfast. (Which you might be interested to know is just about my most favorite thing in life.)

Jennifer went for a run and picked up coffee and a biscotti. I like big breakfasts (and lunches and dinners). Jennifer likes small breakfasts (and lunches and dinners). If you were to look at us standing side by side this would not be a surprise. (Skinny bitch!)

When we went downstairs to the conference room I noticed an incredibly beautiful woman I hadn’t seen before. She was stunning. Like a model. I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed her before as she had that type of presence that one takes notice of. Her name was Leila Janah and she was one of the morning’s speakers and founder of Samasource and Samahope.

Leila Janah tells the Wine Sisterhood about her mission

Sama means equal in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language. Leila’s father taught her that all people are equally deserving of dignity and opportunity, and that landing in a middle class family with access to good schools, health care, and food on the table every night is pure chance. Her father instilled in her a belief that we have a duty to help people who aren’t as lucky in life’s birth lottery.

Samasource  connects women and youth living in poverty to dignified work via the Internet. Samahope uses crowdfunding to pay for low-cost life-saving surgeries in impovershed parts of the world.

So it turns out Leila Janah is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. Leila showed us this film about one of the women that benefited from Samasource:

She then told us about her two non-profits. It was really amazing to hear from a woman who is making a true difference in the world.

Our next speaker, Danielle Smith, was just as beautiful and just as dynamic. I was lucky enough to get to know Danielle a bit before she spoke as she was in my group, the Mischief Makers. She is an award winning former television news anchor and reporter with two websites – Extraordinary Mommy and Danielle Smith Media.

Danielle-Smith-Extraordinary Mommy
Danielle Smith in an interactive video workshop. Photo credit M.J. Wickham

Danielle led an interactive workshop about getting comfortable with video and was looking for three volunteers to get up in front of everyone and record a one-minute video. Because I knew I’d never hear the end of it from Jennifer (and in case you haven’t noticed, I don’t mind being the center of attention) I volunteered. I didn’t have anything planned, so I just gave my blog a shameless plug and joked about the fact that I was bitter about Pinterest winner Katie getting a shout out instead of me the day before. I got a few laughs and during my critique Danielle told me my humor really came across. So perhaps there will be video in this blog’s future. We’ll see…

Hey, here’s another crappy picture of me on the Internet! Photo credit: M.J. Wickham

Okay, it’s 10:30 AM already – on to the drinking! We had a wine and cheese pairing with Cabot Cheese and Culture Magazine.

Cabot Creamery is a 1,200+ farm family dairy cooperative that produces all natural, award-winning cheeses. (If you like spicy their Habanero Cheese is deliciously hot, Hot, HOT!)

Culture Magazine is a magazine about cheese. Cheese! (Have I mentioned that I really, REALLY like cheese?) Note to self: get subscription to Culture Magazine ASAP.

The cheeses were paired with wines from the Wine Sisterhood labels – Middles Sister “Surfer Chick” Sauvignon Blanc, Purple Cowboy Tenacious Red, Monogamy Cabernet Sauvignon, Deep Purple Zinfandel, Middle Sister, “Sweet & Sassy” Moscato. My favorite cheese was the Humboldt Fog goat cheese. One woman said she thought she only liked Brie, but she was wrong. (Oh boy was she – this cheese rocks!)

Wine Sisterhood wines + cheese + Culture Magazine = FABULOUS!

Of course after the wine and cheese pairing we were starving, not to mention thirsty, so we split into our groups for lunch and more wine tasting.

The Mischief Makers got on our party bus and headed to Domaine Carneros for a sparkling wine tasting and a lovely light lunch. We took a tour of the beautiful chateau and met wine maker Eileen Crane. I added her to the list of fabulously dynamic women I met on this trip. I loved learning more about the sparkling wine process and would definitely recommend a tour of Domaine Carneros if you are a sparkling wine fan.

“Art of Sparkling Wine” Tour offered daily at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m and is $30 per person.

The wonderful Domaine Carneros

After our wonderful lunch we headed to Palmaz Vineyards for a tour and tasting led by Florencia Palmaz. Palmaz is a gorgeous family-owned and operated winery. The Palmaz family is originally from Argentina, but moved to the states in the 1970’s. They fell in love with Napa while patriarch Julio Palmaz was finishing his medical residency at UC Davis. Palmaz turned his love of mechanics and engineering (he invented the coronary stent) into designing the vineyard’s elaborate gravity flow winery. From the stunning views to the deep basement caverns, this multi-level winery is truly something to see. Jennifer thought it was the highlight of the trip.

We had an amazing wine and food pairing (The wine was spectacular and the smoked duck breast wrapped around a cream cheese and fig filling was to die for). The tour and wine pairing is by reservation only. It costs $60 and is worth every penny.

Palmaz Vineyards
The view from Palmaz Vineyards
A wine engineering masterpiece!
Another view

After Palmaz we went back to the hotel. Do not however think there was any time to rest. After a quick stop to our room Jennifer and I checked out the Wine Sisterhood Sassy Suite. What is a Sassy Suite? It was a suite reserved to showcase the Wine Sisterhood wines and fabulous items for sale at the Wine Sisterhood online shop. (Looking for a gift for a wine-loving girlfriend? Look no further, this online shop will hook you up!)

Welcome to the Sassy Suite

Next was The Hess Collection for more wine tasting and our last dinner. The Hess Collection is a vineyard, winery, art gallery, and local artisan gift shop all rolled into one. I loved the Hess Collection Winery because not only are their wines very good, they are sustainably farmed and Napa Green certified. We enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner. I loved (and I mean LOVED) every meal, but I think this one prepared by Chef Chad Hendrickson was my favorite. (And the blue crab mini-tostada appetizers – Oh. My. Gawd!)

The Hess Collection
The Hess Collection


The Hess Collection
Our closing dinner
Dinner at Hess Collection
Jennifer’s tiny plate
My ginormous plate!
All done!

Complimentary winery tours, including an overview of The Hess Collection Winery and Vineyards are offered daily between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. A tasting of four current release wines is $10. Unique experiences including a private tour and tasting, and wine and food pairings start at $25. Reservations can be made here.

After dinner we boarded the party bus for the last time. And I have to admit, I may have been over-fine-wined-and-dined. (Well, can anyone ever be over-fine-wined-and-dined?) I was tired. But happy. So happy. I felt so lucky and so blessed to be able to have this experience.

So what’s it like to win a contest on Pinterest? What do you think?