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PostHeaderIcon Moms Go Camping with the YMCA

Working mom Taylor Metz was  a Y-kid her whole life.  Growing up in North Carolina, she went to YMCA summer camp every year.  Now a working mom with lots of responsibility at her software company job, Taylor is like most Bay Area women---looking for any opportunity to relax. 
Four years ago, Taylor saw a flyer for the Women’s Wellness Retreat offered by the YMCA of the East Bay. She knew it was just the getaway she needed.  
“It gives me the chance to be a kid again,” says the 30-something married mom of two girls ages 2 and 6.  “It’s an opportunity to be completely away from everything like work and family and let someone else be in charge.”
Located at Camp Arroyo in Livermore, the Women’s Wellness Retreat offers everything from manicures and massages to hiking and zip lining.  A sell out for the last four years, the retreat gives 90 Bay Area women a local, unique and inexpensive way to celebrate Mother’s Day weekend, May 8 and 9.
“Our goal is to give women permission to focus on themselves, to feel empowered and rejuvenated,” says Bria Cartwright, executive director of Camp Arroyo and creator of the Women’s Wellness Retreat.  “It’s gratifying to see a lot of returnees who tell us how important it is for them to take this time for themselves.”
Every effort is made to put campers at ease and create a soothing retreat. Women stay in environmentally-friendly, modern and comfortable cabins.  When assigning cabin-mates, the YMCA staff takes into account whether women are early birds or night owls, snorers or light sleepers.  
The retreat begins on Friday night, includes Saturday night campfire and line dancing, and ends with a festive Sunday brunch where family members are invited to join the women in celebrating the conclusion of the getaway.
“The ropes course is a lot of fun and the food is amazing!” gushes Taylor, who’s attended the retreat every year since its inception and has since invited two friends to join her.  
“It’s genius to offer the retreat on Mother’s Day week.  I’m always so happy and refreshed to see my husband and girls at the Sunday Brunch.  I think it’s a good lesson for my girls to see me taking time for myself.  The best part is that my six-year-old can’t wait for her turn to go to sleep-away camp,” says Taylor.
To learn more about the Women’s Wellness Retreat, visit http://arroyo.ymcaeastbay.org/events/ymca-womens-wellness-retreat.


PostHeaderIcon Why We Will Return to Basil Leaf

It’s happened to all of us. A ruined night out because of poor restaurant service. A server who is too slow or a bit cranky. Food that took too long. Steak instead of the chicken you ordered. Maybe the bread was too hard, the meal lukewarm and the coffee cold. A bad restaurant experience can usually turn a diner off to a place –forever.

But not always.

Last week my partner and I had dinner at Basil Leaf Café in downtown Danville. We have been many times before and like the European ambiance and low-key atmosphere.

Feeling that Basil Leaf was a safe bet and looking for good Italian food, we arrived there on a recent Friday night hungry and certain we’d have a good meal. We were led to an outside table by a smiling and efficient hostess. There, we sat down. And sat. And sat….

After 20 minutes of watching a waitress attend to every table around us, we began to give each other looks of "What’s going on?" and started looking around for a busboy or anyone to bring us water at least.

Finally a young waiter approached us. Bouncing from foot to foot as if he was in a hurry to be somewhere, he stood poised to take our order without even a "Good Evening." We told him that we would each like a glass of wine and asked if there were any specials that night. He rambled off the specials, took our wine order and left. Our wine arrived in less then less than 2 minutes. We finally began to feel that the service was back on track.

Twenty minutes later, he reappeared to take our dinner order. We ordered salads and entrées. The salads arrived, we ate them and again, we sat. And sat. And sat. There was definitely a pattern going on here.

Thirty minutes more passed. Our salad plates were taken away. Our wine glasses sat empty, our water glasses sat empty, and the bread basket sat empty. No waiter, no entrées.

Needless to say, we were not only hungry, but downright annoyed. I saw the hostess and motioned her over. Then I launched into our story… the endless waits, the bad service, the impatient waiter. I guess I was a little loud, because the neighboring tables all put down their forks and drinks and stared at us.

Here’s where things went from bad to good.

The hostess turned out to be Dawn Janssen, who with her husband Eric, own the Basil Leaf. Without fanfare, or brow beating of her staff, she got our dinners out to us, engaged us in conversation, offered to buy our meals and generally chilled us out. She was not overly ubiquitous or patronizing, but charming and real. Without embarrassment to her staff, she diffused the situation along with our frustration.

When she walked away, the couple at the next table explained to us who she was, that she and Eric also own Amber Bistro across the street, and that while he was recovering from back surgery, she was running both establishments. It was then we realized that we had seen her running back and forth across the street all evening. We watched as she sent a waiter to Amber Bistro to get special sweetener that a diner had requested.

Our dinners were delicious. Dawn came back to check on us often, and told us she hoped we’d give Basil Leaf another chance to be back in our good graces. We left that evening totally happy and smiling. What we took with us was not a memory of bad service or long waits, but of having made a new friend and respect for Dawn and the way she turned what could have been a catastrophe into a triumph.

Thank you Dawn Janssen. We will see you soon.--SEW

Basil Leaf Café

Location: 501 Hartz Ave. at Church Street, Danville

Cost: $$ out of $$$$$

Info: www.thebasilleafcafe.com or 925-831-2828


PostHeaderIcon Triathlon for Families Sunday


Entering one can be a scary prospect for even the fittest weekend warrior. But a new Tri Camp for Families in Pleasant Hill aims to change that.

The program’s coach knows that swimming, biking and running, consecutively without taking a break takes training, a strong mental will and a dedication to all three sports.

He also knows that many people who want to try a tri have trouble getting started on the proper training program.

Wayne Spaulding, a long-time triathlete, a Team in Training coach and the general manager of Sports Basement in Walnut Creek, is the guy who led a group of about two dozen adults and children through an 11-week Tri Camp for Families to ready them for a "sprint level" triathlon this Sunday.

Kids, ages 9 to 14, will swim 250 yards, bike 5 miles and run 2 miles, while adults will swim 500 yards, bike 10 miles and run 4 miles. For Pleasant Hill’s Tracy Tamura, 41, and her 10-year-old daughter, Taylin Tamura, the training was physically challenging, but worth the aches and pain. "It’s our together time,’’ says Taylin, who is in the fourth grade.

The athletes were taught proper swimming and running techniques, bike safety, what to eat before a race, what type of clothes work best for races, and how to quell race-day jitters. They also practiced how to "transition" from one sport to another without wasting too much time and energy. Spaulding also gave the athletes tips and tricks to use on race day. 

He taught them that wearing bike shorts while swimming makes for a quicker transition to the bike and that a helmet is always needed on the bike, but socks aren’t always necessary for a short run.

And he helped them build confidence.

"The sport of triathlon is still so young, it only started in the 1970s, that people often don’t realize there are different levels of triathlons,’’ says Wayne."Once that awareness is created, triathlon is embraced with open arms."

For Cindy Turner and her 10-year-old daughter Courtney of Pleasant Hill, the training was a mother-daughter bonding experience and more, says Cindy. "We make (kids) got out and race and we sit on the sidelines. Parents need to get out there and do (sports) themselves."

Although this group will do what is considered a "sprint" triathlon, distances for sprint races do vary. In the world of triathlon, there is also the Olympic distance triathlon, which consists of a 0.9-mile swim, a 24.8-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run; a half Ironman, where athletes swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles; and the full Ironman, which is a 2.4-mile swim, 112 miles on the bike and a full marathon (26.2 miles) without a break.

Put on by the Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District, the Family Fun Triathlon is at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, April 25 at the Pleasant Hill Education Center, 1 Santa Barbara Road in Pleasant Hill. The cost is $49 on race day. For more information or to register, call 925-682-0896 or visit www.pleasanthillrec.com.



PostHeaderIcon Filmmakers Shine Light on Tweens

As many parents can attest, offering advice about other people's children can pull any friendship dangerously close to the third rail.

So when a friend started talking about her troubles with her ever so "spirited" 11-year-old, it was with great relief I was able to steer the conversation towards the brilliant new documentary "Going on 13," by East Bay filmmakers Dawn Valadez (right) and Kristy Guevara-Flanagan (left).

The film provides an intimate peak into the lives of 'tween girls, those mysterious 9-to-12 year-old creatures whose vexing ways can confound even the most attentive parent.

It took eight years, and 350 hours of film, but Valadez and Guevara-Flanagan's documentary offers parents and caregivers an easy way to approach the children in their lives about difficult subjects.

"Parents and caregivers don't quite understand what is going on internally and its often a time when parents can separate (from the girls), when in fact this is a time when parents need to be close to them." says Valadez.

Valadez is one of those people you meet and just want to tell your secrets to. She is a social worker who has spent more than twenty years working with young people, teenage mothers, the homeless and families on the brink of splintering apart, "It's a total passion of mine to change the world in the way parents and children work together, especially in low income and working poor communities."

Guevara-Flanagan is a professor of Film at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. She remembers her own preteen years as a time when she withdrew into herself and began to approach the world with caution. "I remember around 5th grade it was the beginning of something, things were starting to change rapidly, kids around me were acting out wildly and I didn't know where I belonged."

In "Going on 13" the camera follows four East Bay girls as they try to find out where they belong. They take their first tentative steps towards boyfriends, assert their independence to often resistant parents and enter chat rooms where at least one girl adopts an unlikely identity. We  witness their strengths and vulnerabilities as they try to maneuver around their parents' own struggles with poverty and even mental illness.

In the spirit of keeping the lines of communication open, the filmmakers have also launched a website gurlstalkback.com to give girls and caregivers a place to tackle such subjects as 'What is the hardest thing about middle school?' and how to find help if you are bullied.

And while "Going on 13" follows the girls into some of the East Bay's tough neighborhoods, there are no side-shows scene and the film is not a female version of "Boy'z in the Hood."

"One of the messages we have about kids of color living in urban communities is that they are destined to become drug dealers, or super promiscuous or (end up) in gangs," says Valadez, who like Guevara-Flanagan grew up in Los Angeles, "but the vast majority of the people in these communities are trying to do the right thing and their kids are trying to do the right, thing and their lives are much more beautiful and richer and sweeter than the messages we see." To purchase the DVD, go to www.goingon13.com. The duo also has a Web site www.gurlstalkback.com. --RB

Rachel Berger is an Oakland-based freelance writer.


PostHeaderIcon Vacation and Weight Loss, a Tough Mix

A few days after my last weigh-in my family and I went on vacation. I was excited at having just reached the 40-pound mark, sporting a new swimsuit and wearing warm weather pants and shorts that fit. Sadly, I found that staying on the program was extremely difficult while we were away.  We ate in restaurants at least two meals a day. There were healthy options available but I often did not chose them.  I ate bacon, eggs and toast for breakfast three days in a row. I ordered dessert after dinner twice, which is something I very rarely do even if I'm not on Weight Watchers. 

Although I did a lot of swimming, walking and chasing my children around, I didn't run as I had planned. When we were packing to leave the only clean things I had left in my suitcase were my running clothes. 

As the vacation wore on, the good habits I had established were replaced by bad ones. As reality set in, I knew I would have to face the scale at a WW meeting, but I couldn't bring myself to go last week. 

Of course, I was busy at work and making the noontime meeting would have required some finagling, but to be honest, I didn't want to weigh in and see a weight gain.  

Instead, I weighed myself at home over the weekend and saw a 3-pound jump. I took the gain as a wake-up call to get back on the program STAT. I finished the weekend strong and in control and look forward to attending my weekly WW meeting, determined to undo the bad things I did on vacation. 

During our week away when I wasn't making good choices, I asked myself,  “why I am taking a vacation from my WW program?”  especially since I have been so committed to the program for more than six months, and pleased with my progress. 

My behaviors reinforced what I know to be true - success in weight loss doesn't happen accidentally. It requires work and diligence. When I get lazy, bad habits reappear.  See you next week. -AV


PostHeaderIcon Cartier and America-Legion of Honor

When you hear the name Cartier, what comes to mind? Is it a stroll along Rodeo Drive? Is it Marilyn Monroe belting out "Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend?" Is it an image of tiaras and coronations?

One way to find out is to visit the Legion of Honor in San Francisco and see the exhibit Cartier and America. Covering the House of Cartier from its inception in Paris in the mid 1800’s, through it’s heyday in the United States in the 60’s and 70’s, this exhibit features some of the most fascinating jewelry ever made.

Derived mainly from the private Cartier Collection in Geneva, Switzerland the show features a spectacular array of over 300 pieces. Originally scheduled to end in April, this exclusive exhibit has been extended until May 9.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Cartier in America, exhibition curator Martin Chapman has amassed a collection primarily for and about pieces owned by Americans. Included will be the famous rock crystal and diamond bracelet worn my Gloria Swanson in the final scene of Sunset Boulevard, a stunning broach designed for Wallace Simpson and others that adorned the wrists, necks and fingers of celebrities and millionaires from the early twentieth century until today.

One of the most impressive pieces of personal jewelry you will see is the engagement ring of Princess Grace of Monaco, once Grace Kelly of movie royalty. Lent to the exhibit by her son, Prince Albert of Monaco, the ring is made of a 10.47 emerald cut diamond surrounded by two baguette cut diamonds set in platinum.
You will also see one of the most spectacular pieces of jewelry ever created, a brooch of emeralds from Colonial India made for cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.

Other famous Americans who were fans of Cartier included Elizabeth Taylor, Mary Pickford, Barbara Hutton and Marion Davies. There are archival photos showing these ladies wearing, or should I say flaunting, their impressive gems.

Aside from the glitz, glamour and show stopping jewelry on display are clocks and other accessories and pieces created by Cartier for the rich and famous around the world.

Began by Louis Francois Cartier, in 1847, taken over by his son, Alfred and then by his sons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques, the name Cartier is synonymous with wealth, privilege and glamour. Now owned by a conglomerate, the company continues to push the envelope on one of a kind pieces even today. This is your chance to get up close and personal with some of the most unique jewelry ever created.

Legion of Honor

Lincoln Park, 34th and Clement Street

San Francisco, CA


Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.; closed Mondays.

Admission: Adults $10, seniors $7, students $6.

For pictures that tell stories you won't soon forget for rejuvenation of body and mind

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