Our Ojai Weekend Getaway | Family Travel in Southern California

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I apologize for being a bad blogger and not taking enough pictures for this post.

Last weekend we went up to Ojai, an inland city north of Ventura and east of Santa Barbara. My brother's wife's family lives there and the wedding and reception were held there. Judging by the traffic and signs along the road, there were quite a few other weddings that weekend. I'm sure with all of the valleys and orchards there are probably some really pretty locations.

We stayed at the Hummingbird Inn from Friday to Sunday. The Inn is on Ojai's main road and is easy to get to from the 101 and 33 freeways. We liked staying there and would do so again. The Hummingbird Inn is an older hotel and it shows a bit in the outside but they started a remodel a few years ago and the touches they put in are nice.

We chose a room with a king bed over a room with two queens. We brought a twin sized air mattress for Tyler and there was plenty of room for it to the right of the bed (all of the roll-aways were reserved) . The room had a small closet but plenty of drawer space. We loved having a fridge and microwave. The room didn't feel cramped with three of us in it. I would have liked more space at the sink for getting ready, but if we had been there for an occasion other than a wedding it wouldn't have been as big of deal because I'm sure I wouldn't have been putting on a full face and doing my hair. It might be a tight squeeze for two women sharing the room.

The pool area was really cute but the pool wasn't heated. Since Ojai can get really hot in the summer, I guess they don't really need to heat it, but Tyler said it was a little cold. The jacuzzi was perfect at night. There was a bit of a chill in the air which is typical for that area at the base of the mountains.

Our favorite part of the stay was breakfast. The hotel puts out a full spread in the lobby. This isn't just coffee and dry cereal (though they do have that, too). They have a cast iron waffle maker and orange press! Tyler loved making his own waffle and squeezing his own orange juice. Ojai is known for its citrus so the oranges were fresh and super sweet. It was the best OJ I've ever had. If we ever go back, I'll make sure I have a bottle of champagne for mimosas. The breakfast spread also included toast, bagels, oatmeal, yogurt, peanut butter, a jar of Nutella and an assortment of tea.

My other favorite perk was the WiFi and the computer in the lobby. The morning of the wedding, me, my brother, our grandmother and our mom were making revisions to the wedding ceremony script. I monopolized the entire tech setup transferring files between their computer, my laptop and iPad. It was a lot less stressful having access to another computer. The hotel staff was cool with me taking it over and didn't complain about all the paper we used formatting the script.

Because we were there for an event, we didn't get to explore the center of town. Phil and Tyler took a walk up the main street. Ojai Avenue has a coffee shop, bakery, movie theater, lots of women's clothes, art and furniture stores and restaurants. I also noticed a small park with a playground.

Friday evening we had the rehearsal dinner at Boccali's, an Italian restaurant at the end of town. We had a long table outside and ordered from a set menu. I was a little worried because of the reviews I'd read, but the dinner went off without a hitch. The food came out on time, people didn't have to wait long for beer or wine and everyone enjoyed their meal. I had the lasagna and ate all but a few bites it was so good.

The restaurant describes their signature dessert, strawberry shortcake, as world famous. I agree. Tyler, my father and I split one dish and I wished I had ordered one just for me. It was fantastic. The drive up to Ojai leads you through Oxnard, home of the Strawberry Festival (which was this past weekend 5/19 and 5/20). Oxnard berries are better than any other California grown berry (in my opinion) and the fruit in Boccali's shortcake was the perfect mix of sweet and tart.

I can't say for sure that we would go back to Ojai again. If we were more outdoorsy I think we would have had a great time. The Hummingbird Inn has beach cruisers that are free for guests to use. There are plenty of bike trails, lots of hiking and Lake Casitas is not too far away from the center of town. I think we would all have enjoyed nearby Santa Barbara or even Ventura as a getaway. If you visit, July might be the best time to visit because the annual Ojai Wine Festival and the Ojai Music Festival are both held then. But, Ojai is definitely cute and picturesque and since my new extended family lives there, I'm sure I'll get to know the area even better and come to love it.

Ojai Sunset | Wordless Wednesday

To My Little Brother on His Wedding Day

Saturday, May 19, 2012

If my brother had asked me to speak at his wedding today, this is the speech I would have given. 

Hello everyone, for those I haven't met yet, I'm David's older sister, Melanie. When friends ask me about my relationship with my brother and if we get along, I tell them we used to be the typical cat and dog cliche and fought all the time. The turning point for me came when I was about 25 and David was about 16. That's when he did something pretty cool and I started to see him differently. To tell the story I have to go back into my past and make the day a little bit about me, but I promise to turn it around and make it about David again. 

My husband and I met in high school. We dated, broke up and got back together again more than once. Our final break up was emotional and dramatic and happened right after Phil joined the military and got orders to go overseas. We kept in touch and dated other people. When Phil's time in Europe was up, he moved back to California and did the smart thing by deciding to rekindle our relationship. 

He called my mother's house to ask for my number. David answered the phone. When Phil said he wanted to get back in touch with me, David told him he didn't know my number by heart, (this was well before everyone had cell phones) and to call back later in the evening when our mom would be home. They hung up and David called me right away.

"Guess who I just talked to?"

"I don't know, who?"

"Phil, and he asked for your number."

I freaked out and made David repeat their conversation word for word. 

David told me he didn't give Phil my number because he wasn't sure I wanted him to have it, since we had broken up.

I tell people this story and say that, by far, that was the coolest thing my brother had ever done for me. Other than my closest girlfriends, most other people I knew wouldn't have had the presence of mind to not just hand over my phone number without checking with me first, let alone a teenage boy who was just starting to notice girls himself.

David made sure Phil wouldn't call until later in the evening when I wouldn't be home and Phil would get either my voicemail or speak with the guy I was living with at the time (who was only a friend, but David didn't tell Phil that). That moment was when I started to look at David more like a friend than a little brother, and to realize that he'd always have my back. 

David, I can honestly say you've grown into a fine young man. I value your friendship. I look forward to being alongside you as start this next chapter of your life as a husband. And though I will never, ever forgive you for killing off my goldfish, I will always have your back. I love you little brother. Cheers.

Rembering Donna Summer and Her Daughter, Mimi

Thursday, May 17, 2012

When I heard about the death of Donna Summer, the first thing I thought of was her daughter, Mimi. When I was twelve or thirteen, my family's  hairdresser, Charlene, gave me Mimi's phone number. Charlene did Mimi's hair, too and thought she and I might get along. Charlene said we were a lot alike.

This was way before cell phones, so the number Charlene gave me was to Mimi's personal line in her room (the fact of which I was insanely envious because my parents refused to give me my own line). I kept Mimi's phone number in my wallet for months but never made the call. I thought that, without us having been introduced, it would be strange for me to call her out of the blue. I was sure Mimi was wary of people trying to become her friend just because of who her mom was.

I should have trusted Charlene. After all, who knows you better than the woman who does your hair? Now, I can't help but wonder what might have happened if I had just gotten over myself and called Mimi. Would we have become friends? Would we still be friends this many years later? I could have called her today and told her how sorry I am to hear that her mother is gone.

I spent many, many hours at my local roller rink. Donna Summer and disco balls will always go hand in hand in my mind. Rest in peace, Disco Queen.

Kids, Obesity and Finger Pointing

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

This post has been sitting in draft for a looonng time. Almost two years. I started it and worried I wasn't being articulate enough for such a controversial topic. But, there's no point in writing it if I'm not going to put it out there. I don't push buttons just for the sake of it, but I do think serious conversations are in order when it comes to children and obesity.

I wrote the following in March when Tyler was still in second grade, as a contribution for a newsletter piece:
A few weeks ago at morning assembly, I noticed a girl I had not seen before in the second grade classes. This little girl is obese. Not 'big boned'. Not 'still carrying baby fat', or any other euphemism people apply to children who are overweight. Obese. I watched her struggle to get up from her carpet square after assembly and my heart broke for her.
She is, unfortunately, not the only severely overweight child at my son's elementary school. There are others. Too many others. Watching these kids try to be kids; running and playing with their friends while their faces get red, their breathing gets labored and they are often left behind; it's hard not to get angry with their parents. How can anyone let that happen to a child?
A week or so after I submitted the piece I saw her getting out of a car at morning drop off. She had to swing one leg out of the car then turn onto her stomach to get out the rest of the way. Not from a tall SUV, from a regular car.

I saw the little girl again this year on the first day of school. She's gotten bigger. I have no idea what's going on in her household. I have no idea if there are extenuating circumstances or underlying health issues. And, I know I'm making huge assumptions about this girl and her family. But I feel very strongly that it's one thing for an adult to make poor diet and lifestyle choices, but kids need our help getting off to a good start.

We go out to eat. I eat ice cream and cookies after Tyler goes to bed. I know what to look for when I read a label, I know what a portion size looks like and know I can't eat like bad foods every day without consequences. Kids don't know these things until we teach them.

Tyler has years ahead of him to eat like crap and not exercise. But while he's living at home, it's my job to steer him in the right direction. We talk about healthy food. I've told him about HFCS. He knows why candy is a special treat. He understands why I stopped buying juice pouches. Hopefully, the habits we have a t home now will transfer when he's older and out on his own.

Weight is a hot button topic. Especially when it comes to children. There is always blame. I know that it is possible for an adult to carry extra weight and be healthy, but is that true for children? If a 7 year old weighs the same as an adult, is the stress on their developing bodies the same as it is for an overweight adult or is it worse? Children should not be obese! Again, I'm not referring to chubby. I think we all know the difference between a little bit of pudge and obesity. If I had to guess, the little girl, a third grader, weighs almost as much as I do.

I know the arguments people make about healthy eating: it takes too much time, there's a lack of education, access, and financial resources. To a certain extent, I agree with parts of the reasons people say eating healthy is hard for them to do on a consistent basis. Reading a label can be confusing. Some grocery stores are better than others. Organics are expensive. It's hard to keep up with the trends when, one day, agave syrup is the miracle replacement for table sugar and the next it's said it's exactly like table sugar and maybe even worse. I know this.

But when are we as a society going to call bullshit and say enough with the excuses? This is the age of instant information. If you need help or have questions about diet and nutrition, ask! Google 'healthy eating for kids' and you can get lost in the Internet rabbit hole of recipes, nutrition information, food blogs etc. That search term yielded me 130 personal results. Those are things my friends, family and fellow bloggers have posted online. Add those results to ones from various health, government and non profit organizations and 'I didn't know' just won't cut it anymore. If people on Twitter can break news before traditional media, researching healthy eating can't be hard.

We are raising a generation of children doomed to a lifetime of health issues. By no means am I saying I'm perfect or some type of role model. I'm not purposely trying to make anyone angry, either. It seems to me the fingers keep pointing in so many directions; the school system, the fast food industry, the food manufacturers, but I'm not hearing anyone say, "if you are the person responsible for the grocery shopping, you need to be accountable."


This is where I stopped writing and left the post in draft. I think the post came back to me because of a Newsweek magazine article by Gary Taubes that I read last week. I think the science of why we gain weight is more complex than the simplistic calorie intake and lack of exercise we hear, but I also think being active and monitoring what types of fats, starches and carbs we consume as well as not being sedentary is totally key to maintaining a healthy weight.

Image from PDFMagazines

I think a lot of people get hung up on a specific idea of what healthy should mean. Healthy does not have to equal eating only heaps of fruit and vegetables. Getting my son to regularly eat veggies is a challenge that I don't always win.

Healthy can be switching from whole milk to lowfat, buying wheat bread instead white, buying reduced sugar peanut butter and jelly, 100% fruit leather over other fruit strips, switching to an all fruit and nut trail mix over the ones with chocolate pieces. Skinless chicken breasts over other pieces, ground turkey or chicken over beef. Eating one meatless meal per week (marinara over meat sauce). I can go on and on. So many little swaps in the items people add to their grocery carts and tweaks to what is prepared at home can mean big changes in terms of the amount of sugar, bad fats and calories consumed.

People are overweight for different reasons. I know people struggle with food and weight. Still, I stand by my statement that a fourth grader should not weigh the same as an adult. Food choices are not as hard as some are making them out to be. Some of the excuses for not leading a more healthful lifestyle are just that, excuses.

As a nation we have enough knowledge about what kinds of things we should and should not be putting into our bodies. We know moderation is key. We know doing something physical several times a week is better than sitting around. We know if the first ingredient on a food label is some form of 'ucrose' it's not good for us. We know kids learn from our behaviors. We know we are the best example to set for our kids.

The girl I mentioned in the newsletter piece still attends Tyler's school. I can say for sure she's gained a lot more weight since I first saw her in second grade. If she doesn't weigh more than me I'd be shocked. I can't help but feel someone in her family has failed her. Whether it's from lifestyle choices or something is happening with her health, she needs help. 

I don't know all the answers. I'm not saying I'm right and everyone else is wrong. But I've watched this young girl literally gasping for breath just walking down the hallway. And that's just not right.

We need to look at what we're putting on the conveyor belt and ordering at the takeout window and take ownership. We need to look at our families and ask if we're really making the best choices. We have to stop pointing fingers in every other direction but at ourselves.

Disney Social Media Moms Celebration 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

"This is the best family vacation ever!" We heard those words several times during our second trip to Disney World. I don't know how they did it, but the team behind Disney Social Media Moms managed to outdo themselves from our first trip two years ago. The team that puts this event together really pay attention to every detail. They manage to find the perfect balance of learning, fun and 'soft pitches' from the different areas of Disney.

If you're wondering what the conference is all about, Suzanna from Zannaland wrote a very thorough description of what the event is all about. In a nutshell, the conference is an invite-only event designed to bring together bloggers from different genres for a combination of junket, motivational speakers and social media education. It's hard to recap eight days of fun without completely Disney-fying my blog so, for this post at least, I'll stick to the highlights of the conference itself.

Thursday, Conference Day 1
Since we were in Orlando so early because of the redeye flight, we had our first buffet at Cape May Cafe and then we walked around our hotel. The pool at the Yacht Club Resort is by far the best of the four hotels we've stayed in. The conference opened with a cocktail reception for the attendees. We learned about Disney's newest resort in Hawaii, Aulani and the Adventures By Disney program. After the reception we went to a dinner party.

One of the best things about attending this conference is how well our families are included. The Yacht Club which has its own beach, and dinner was buffet style. The pirate themed dinner was on the sand. I have to say, it's great to go to a conference where you aren't required to wear shoes! The kids had a blast playing the water and the sun setting over the hotels was beautiful. It was such a nice way to start saying hello to everyone attending.

(credit: 5 Minutes for Mom)

Friday, Conference Day 2
We always get an early start on the speakers so we can enjoy the parks before all meeting again for dinner. We had a great lineup of speakers: Amy Jo Martin, Peter Shankman, Chris Brogan, Ramon De Leon and San Diegan Lisa Druxman. It's great to go to an event that is equal parts practical takeaway and motivation. I connected with so much of what Amy Jo said, namely, that I've been approaching so many aspects of social media as a business entirely wrong! I have a lot to think about.

The dinner event was a private party in DinoLand. The park was closed to guests and the kids had free run of the arcade games. I'm still kicking myself that I did not know Expedition Everest (the best coaster in Disney World) was open for us to ride. A DJ was onsite as well as a few characters for photos.

When we got back to the hotel, we decided to hang out at the pool and give Tyler time to burn off some of the energy (and sugar) from the dinner party. Having cocktails in the jacuzzi while your child plays in the lazy river is a fantastic way to end the day.

Saturday, Conference Day 3
This was the day some conference attendees chose their breakout session. I heard so many good things about the Wild Africa Trek I didn't hesitate to sign up. I was a little sad to miss the hard hat tour of the new Fantasyland (it's going to be amazing!) and the session on video blogging from Sony. But, I can honestly say the Trek was one of the best things I've ever done on vacation.

On the tour, participants are strapped into harnesses with carabiners. We're hooked onto a central line and we got to stand about 10 feet above the hippo pool and the crocodile nest. Then we crossed over the crocs and hippos on a rope bridge. After that, we took a guided tour through the Savannah. We stopped for a bento style lunch and the views were incredible. If we go back to Disney, we're going to really make an effort to keep room in the budget for this. Tyler would love it! 

All the families met again for the closing party. We got to take a sneak peek at Disney's newest resort, Art of Animation. It was amazing! The property is divided by theme and we got to see the Finding Nemo property. All I could say, repeatedly, was Wow! The building is beautiful. It's bright and colorful. There's fantastic artwork, the arcade was top notch and the pool! Stunning. It was the perfect setting to end the weekend.

Thank you to all of the Social Media Moms organizers! We had a great time.

*I'll have all my photos up on Flickr soon. We paid a fee to attend DSMM and were offered various discounts, experiences and perks. I have not been asked to write about the conference or Disney. Thoughts and opinions are purely my own.

My Favorite $15 Tech Investment - Belkin USB Swivel Surge Protector | Things iLove Thursday

Thursday, May 10, 2012

This is only iProduct related in a round about way, but I just love this little thing so much I wanted to share.

Belkin Surge Protector USB Charger

Not long before we went on our trip to Disney Social Media Moms, I opened an email from OnSale.com*, one of the gazillion daily deals emails I get, because the offer caught me eye. It was for something similar to an item I pinned to my tech Pinterest board and the price was definitely right.

I ordered the Belkin adapter on a Thursday and I believe it was here by the following Friday. So far, it's been one of my best tech investments. I Tweeted a picture of it in use the night before our trip. I think most bloggers can identify with it.

Belkin USB Surge Protector

Not including the batteries, I'm charging four different things at once. I worried I was bringing too many gadgets with me, but we used them all. The mini adapter was great in the hotel because we could keep everything on the desk rather than on the floor and risk something getting kicked under a bed.

I was a hero in the airports. People were huddled around the outlets not willing to give up the space no matter how uncomfortable they were forced to sit. Everyone was totally aware of others stalking the outlets and looking to move in and they were so protective of their space it was feral. When I asked someone if I could share and showed them I had enough space for both of us, they visibly relaxed. It was kind of amusing. Note to airports: give us more outlets!

The adapter has space for three, three-pronged items and two USB cords. There's a button on the back so you can twist the prongs depending on the way your outlet is aligned. This little guy is going with me on every future vacation and especially blogging conferences.

What's the best low dollar, high impact investment 
you've made on a gadget?

*Edited 7/10/14 - This was originally an affiliate post for daily deal site OnSale.com but that site has shut down. The retail price in the photo is from the Belkin site. 

*Yes, the product photo above contains an affiliate link. Affiliate sales keep me properly caffeinated. I would not have written about this if I didn't truly think it was the shiz.

Epcot at Sunset | Wordless Wednesday

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