A Pioneer on the Island of Catalina in 1900

Writing can be such a cathartic experience when looking back on your own life – or in the case of Susan Keys, remembering the life of her grandmother, Julia Vera Keys, an early pioneer on the island of Santa Catalina.

When my close friend, Susan Keys, mentioned that her grandmother was born on Catalina Island in 1900, the journalist and news writer in me instantly came out. I knew this was a story I needed to work on and create – and that’s what I did.

Susan’s grandmother, Julia, was one of four children born to Alma and Julius Splittsoesser from 1900 – 1910 when Julius was the foreman of the rock quarry operating on Catalina Island, 20 miles off the coast of Southern California. At that time, there were no other children or families living on the northeast end of the island and no schools, hospitals or stores. In fact, few people lived on the island at all during that time period. The Splittsoesser children were, most likely, born at home then homeschooled, living an isolated, subsistence lifestyle with few toys or treats and only each other for company.

As Susan recounted her early memories of her grandmother, I began asking her further questions about her family and more memories came forward. With her stories and additional research I was able to do, with the help of the Catalina Island Museum, I created a short, ten page story that led from one generation to another with a common theme throughout them all.

Everyone has a story to tell – it’s just a question of which stories you want to recall and memorialize about yourself and others who have had a profound effect on your life. While many people have interesting stories, it’s always sad when they pass on without having shared them with others.

Writing one’s memoirs doesn’t have to be a long process – it can be done over a few week’s time. It also doesn’t have to be tedious. When I write stories for others, I ask the questions and they just need to provide me with responses. They can tell me as much or as little as they want. Sometimes, what they don’t say is as important as what they do say.

Memoir writing is beneficial to the person whose telling the story as it allows them to reflect on their life and to see how rich a life they’ve led, even if they haven’t achieved all of their goals and dreams. And even if someone is writing their memoir for themselves, and not for a wider audience – it provides time for them to reflect on their accomplishments and to relive happy, loving memories. In Susan’s case, we were able to bring not only Julia to life, but Julia’s parents, sisters and children through these stories.

As for me, I was pleased to be able to write about the life of this wonderful, young woman, and recognize her as one of the early pioneers on Santa Catalina Island at the turn of the century. There weren’t many stories written about women from that time – not like we have today. Stories are ageless and so beneficial to learning where our values come from and who we are, as a result of those who came before us and many are waiting to be told.

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Three Day April 2018 Sierra Club Camping Trip on Santa Cruz Island

From April 21st to the 23rd, I camped on Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the Channel Islands and in fact, the largest island off the coast of California. The Nature Conservancy owns and manages the western 76% of the island, while the eastern 24% is owned and managed by the National Park Service. I had previously been there three times before but never for camping and was excited to see what trip might have to offer led by the Wilderness Adventures section of the Sierra Club.

When I arrived at the Island Packers dock at Ventura Harbor at 7 a.m. on Saturday, I was greeted by 10 other Sierra Club campers. Several of us quickly formed a bond on the boat ride over as we watched dolphins playing in the wake of our boat. After about 1.5 hours, we pulled in to the dock at Scorpion Anchorage and began to unload.

Santa Cruz Island, formerly the home of ten Chumash villages with over 1,200 people, was named “Limuw” or “in the sea.” The Chumash people occupied this island for at least nine thousand years until 1769 when the Spanish missionaries began converting the island people. In 1822, the last known Chumash occupant left the island for Ventura where many were forced to work and live at the Mission. Later, the island was known for sheep and cattle ranching, a hunting club, fruit and nut orchards, and for smuggling illicit contraband.

Santa Cruz Island is the most diverse of the eight Channel Islands with grasslands, coastal scrub vegetation, oak woodlands, and 77 miles of sea caves and coastline inhabited by giant kelp forests. This, alone, makes it a natural attraction for kayakers, snorkeling, bird watching, diving and many other activities.

After disembarking our shuttle boat, we set up camp at a group campsite about a mile from the dock, making our tents as comfortable as possible in a grove shaded by Eucalyptus trees. The first hike I took was to Potato Harbor, which is one of my favorite vantage points on the island. Here, at the top of the cliffs, you can look down several hundred feet to the sea caves below and, depending on the cloud action, view a bright green or deep blue sea. The name “Potato Harbor” comes from the oval shape of this scenic harbor. The trail along the top of the island is flat and easy to hike but the climb up is steep from either the campground or from Scorpion Canyon.

After this refreshing hike, we had an hour or two to rest before it was time for Happy Hour – and what a smorgasbord we had! There were close to 40 people in our group and each had brought an item to add to the communal salad. We had hors d’oeuvres galore and no one went hungry.

After our meal, we sat in a circle and each introduced ourselves, talking about what we did for a living and our reasons for coming on this trip. This was a great way to get introduced to the others, most of whom had arrived on Friday and were staying until Monday.
Following that, we had an interesting presentation from Tony Chapman, a legendary kayaking instructor with Santa Barbara Adventure Company, who told us stories about his work leading kayaking trips and rescues, going back several decades. He was briefly interrupted, during his talk, by a group of middle-aged people, camping at the next campsite, who were all dressed up in “onesie’s.” If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically pajamas that zip up, but in this case, many of the outfits also had tails sewn into their rear-ends!

The group were celebrating several birthdays and from the looks of it, they were already pretty intoxicated when they formed a conga line and danced through our campsite in their wild outfits! Fortunately, they had the good sense to take their party to the beach at around 9:30 p.m. so we all go some well – needed sleep!

The following day, we had the option of climbing the 2,450’ Devils Peak, the highest mountain on the island, with about 1,800’ elevation gain. I started the hike with the others but decided, early on, to rest and enjoy my time on the island by taking an optional side hike. After a short nap in a dry river bed with a killer view of the mountain range, I hiked back up to Potato Harbor to gaze, once more, upon that view.

Sunday night, we all assembled for Happy Hour again, after which, we took a short hike to try to see the native bat species when they flew out of their caves into the night sky. We waited, and waited, and as it started to get colder, most people headed back to camp. I decided to hang in there with one other lady, holding my flashlight up to the sky to create a beam of light. Just as I was about to turn in, a bat swooped down by my head to snap up its insect prey. It startled me, but I was glad I got to experience that. (One of my other friends, who was walking back to camp, actually did see five or six bats fly out into the night). All in all, it was very exciting!

On our last day, most people opted for a 2.5 hour kayaking trip to the sea caves around the island. However, I chose to stay on dry land and do a hike to Smuggler’s Cove, a delightful harbor on the back side of the island that got its name from the illegal sea otter trade that took place between 1769 and 1848. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. Just two hours out and an hour and a half back, this hike wove through a cypress grove, named Delphine’s Grove, an olive grove, grassy hills with purple clover, yellow mustard, and white and pink morning glories, Monkey Flower, Lemonade Berry, Santa Cruz Ironwood, and many other native island plants on this island. The final mile of the hike was down, down, down to the sea. At the beach, we saw island foxes and lizards darting around, both of which are prevalent throughout the island. The island blue jay, island fox, deer mouse, and island spotted skunk are only found on the Channel Islands – and nowhere else in the world.

The descent to the Cove was pretty steep and I wondered as I walked down, how I was going to feel climbing back up. Well it was well worth it – it was such a beautiful beach and quite a dazzling vantage point in every direction. Climbing back up the hill reminded me of the Hobbit story with its rolling green hills and the light brown-red dirt on the paths. It looked like a fairytale to me.

The hike was just short of eight mikes, roundtrip, but the views from the top, coming back to Scorpion Anchorage were sensational. It was rejuvenating to see everything from the top of the island. This was a hike that I would like to do again.

After a leisurely lunch, we all lined up by the dock to return to the mainland. After loading the equipment on board, we enjoyed our ride back to shore to return to our individual lives.

Saying goodbye was hard to do because of the great friendships that were formed over these three days together. But as we said our goodbyes, we agreed to stay in touch and try to get together again for another camping trip. I hope that happens because you can’t find this kind of an experience anywhere else. I can’t wait to sign up for my next adventure!

Take Advantage of Spring Rains with Some Helpful Drought-Saving Measures

Springtime in Southern California is a time of rainfall. Given that we rarely get any rain in our Mediterranean and desert climate, now is the time to take advantage of it with a set-up of rain barrels and other catchment devices.

I have several in my yard which are set up under places where the gutter releases a steady stream of water when it’s raining. I ordered mine off and utilized the City of Los Angeles’ rain barrel rebate program, formerly available through the DWP website under their Consumer Rebate Program. When I ordered my rain barrels, I received rebates of a certain amount for up to two barrels, although I remember that it took about a year to actually get the rebate.

My rain barrels cost me $80.00 and $60.00. You can pay a lot more for a rain barrel at a retail store so I felt this was a good price. Unfortunately, the one that was $60.00 lost its effectiveness when I discovered, much later, that it was empty. Apparently, there was a hole somewhere that I didn’t notice. The other rain barrel is still working after three years. I added a few more receptacle to catch water in my yard and now have them in every corner where I can capture rainfall.

I find it very handy to have rain barrels in my front and back yard as I have a pretty extensive garden and my succulents need water more frequently when it’s hot and dry. Having water nearby means I can just open a spout to refill my watering can without having to unroll the hose (which always seems dirty and difficult to manage).

If you are going to use your rain barrel for drinking water, be sure to add bleach to it. I’m not sure what the exact proportion is but you can find lots of information online regarding water purification and safety.

Another way I conserve water during our drought season is I keep several buckets in my bathroom which I use to bail out water after a shower or bath. In other words, I close the drain when I take a shower and then scoop up soapy water in the buckets and haul it outside to use on my garden. The soap doesn’t harm the plants – it actually helps reduce bothersome insects and keeps my garden green all year ‘round.

By having buckets of water in your bathroom or kitchen, you can reduce your water bill greatly and you’ll also become more conscientious about how much water you actually use. I know that after hauling full buckets of water down my stairs , I learned to become more conservative about the length of my showers and the amount I fill the bathtub for a soak. (I used to use eight buckets of water, per bath; now it’s about 4 – 5 buckets).

As I mentioned before, I also recycle my dishwashing water, several times a day. The food particles in the water contribute compost to my plants while the soap wards off insects without having to use pesticides.

By taking a few easy measures to conserve water and reuse your greywater, you will have an abundantly greener yard without a high water bill.

For more information on the DWP’s energy conservation measures, go to:

Pat Kramer interviewed about L.A.’s “Road Diet”

Here’s one of the more memorable photos of the massive fire Sept. 1 – 4, 2017 in my community. The traffic was particularly hideous because the LA DOT shut down the exit off the 210 freeway for Sunland Boulevard so all traffic going east was diverted onto Foothill Boulevard and came through our community along Foothill Boulevard – the single lane (now) road. DOT’s solution to speeding on Foothill was to just shut down on whole lane on either side and construct a bike lane. All this has done is create a major traffic issue now, and of course, antagonism for those who would like to use the bike lanes. It’s really a sad situation and a flashpoint in our community!

My First Service Trip with the Sierra Club

In August 2017, I completed my first Sierra Club Service Trip, where I spent 7 wonderful days at Yosemite National Park working on various restoration projects. The trip was an eye opener for me in many ways: I learned a great deal about my capacity to serve on a work team, I came face to face with my limited stamina and got reacquainted with an old rotator cuff injury. On the other hand, I got to enjoy living and sharing meals with 15 Sierra Club members who were more experienced in this than me, and best of all, I gained access to the behind the scenes workings of Yosemite, one of our best loved and most visited national parks.

For six nights, I camped at a pristine campground shaded by 50’ Yellow Pines alongside the cool and clear Merced River. The view was like nowhere I have ever been before with the towering monoliths of Sentinel Peak and El Capitan on either side of us. When we weren’t working, I was gazing at or swimming in the mountain-fed river. I also took walks to the various scenic points in the park including Lower Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Village.

Sleeping in a tent was not new to me, but admittedly, it had been a few years since I had camped for more than two nights in the open air. What I discovered was that I don’t sleep well in the “great outdoors.” Every twig that snapped, every snore that was uttered, and every zipper that was opened on a nearby tent was heard by me. This was probably due to my fear of bears making an appearance — or it could have been my hyper vigilant state, in general.

On the whole, this trip was well organized by Charlie, our outgoing and always cheery Group Leader, with four days of service work and a day off in the middle of the week for us to explore the many trails that intersect the Park. On my day off I chose to hike to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point off Glacier Point Road. Joining me was a perky and energetic 79-year old woman and another who was 72. Both were in great shape and were excellent companions for the hikes.

We started the hike to the 8,127’ Sentinel Dome first, which was just 1.2 miles from the parking lot off Glacier Point Road. The weather was beautiful although smoke from the two active fires there obscured some of the views. From the top of the polished granite dome, I was able to see Vernal Fall (317’) and Nevada Fall (594’) which were flowing dramatically in full force. There were also astounding views of the monoliths in Yosemite Valley with nice views of El Capitan and a side shot of Half Dome, the most recognized and photographed mountain in the Park.

From Sentinel Dome, it was another 1.2 miles to Taft Point which ended at Inspiration Point, a sheer cliff that dropped about 1,000’ to the Valley below. Taft Point is at 7,100’ elevation (as compared to the 4,000’ Yosemite Valley floor). While we were there, we got to see a group of young men who were straddling a thick cord tied to two points, about 40’ apart, above the abyss. As we watched them, the young man slipped and hung upside down by his hands while suspended in his harness. It was a frightening sight and one that I didn’t wish to watch for long.

Both hikes offered wide views of dramatic scenery and a good workout with all the ups and downs on the trails.

For our four days of service work, we started each day at 9 a.m. and worked until 3 p.m. duffing and fluffing, weeding and seeding, and shoveling and breaking up hard dirt surfaces for new plants to be set in the ground. Each day started with a visit from Park Service personnel who instructed us on our mission for the day. This included a background explanation of what the Park was trying to accomplish, whether it was for recreating a wetlands environment for birds and water mammals, removing invasive plants from the meadows, collecting seeds from native plants for replanting, or removing duff (mulch) from a Native American historical site.

Each task was within our capability and we had plenty of time for rest and water breaks when they were needed. On the first day of service, we got to meet “Bill,” a Miwok/Paiute elder who oversees the sweat lodge at Camp 4, the site where his ancestors lived and where he grew up. He told us about the old days and what it was like living in Yosemite for four seasons and how his grandmother made traditional baskets that were sold there. While we were working on shoveling the duff into the back of the truck, we got to watch the felling of a 70’ tree that had to be removed due to damage from beetles. Seeing the tree fall in the forest was amazing. The thud from the weight of the tree shook the ground and reverberated off the mountains!

Back at our campsite, we enjoyed freshly-made meals by our excellent cook, Laurel, who prepared three meals daily for each of our days there. I can tell you from my own experience, no one left hungry and each meal was nutritious and healthy. As each of us enjoyed our meals, we also got a chance to help assist in their preparation and in the clean up that followed, overseen by our “Sanitation Engineer” Group Trainee, Doug.

At night, we sat around a roaring campfire and listened to informative presentations on the history of Yosemite by the Acting Supervisor of the Park, who explained the Park’s policies and various environmental concerns. We learned about photographer Ansel Adams and how he helped put Yosemite on the map and we heard a proposal by one of our group members to create an integrated Hut-to-Hut system for America, similar to what they have in Europe and Scandinavia. We also got schooled, by our group leader, on Sierra Club policies, procedures, facts and figures, as it related to Yosemite.

After a long day of working outdoors, I loved swimming in that cool river and gazing up at the stars at night. But what I will most remember are the meaningful conversations I had with my fellow Sierra Club members, who each brought with them experience in being a part of Service Trips. On this trip, I got to give back and to be involved – not just as a “taker” but as a “giver.” It was a new role for me and one that I hope to repeat again as I help spread the word of “leave no trace behind.”

Photos by Doug Pilcher


One of the most interesting aspects of my work is in writing family memoirs by interviewing the eldest member of the family and capturing the significant moments of their lives. I am honored to provide this service to people all over the world through telephonic interviews as well as Skype interviews, and sometimes in person. By doing these interviews, I am able to record stories from senior family members whose legacies then live on to benefit future generations.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a variety of interesting people, such as:

  • Lawrence, a wealth advisor and investment broker who wanted his family’s ethics and values to be preserved for future generations
  • Vito, an Italian-American banking official whose very colorful memories of growing up on Long Island may someday become a comedic screen play
  • Gloria, a psychotherapist in Burbank, whose traumatic journey to her present career began with her parents sending her from Iraq to America, all alone, at the age of six to attend boarding school
  • Israel, a Chicago-born Hasidic Jew who defied his family by choosing a career path other than that of a rabbi, breaking their centuries-old lineage of high – ranking religious leaders

Everyone has a story to tell, whether of family members who fought in the war, grew up during the depression, or survived difficult circumstances that they wish to impart to others.

For my own family history, I chose to blaze paths in all four directions through my mother’s and father’s parents’ lineages, and in doing so, I learned who my ancestors were and what their struggles entailed in coming to America from Russia, Germany and Austria. Like most kids of the Baby Boomer age, I always tried to blend in and not be different, but now as I get older, it’s important to me to know more about the past.

My family histories were interesting and painful, joyous and sad, but most of all, they were enlightening. I got to interview more than 35 surviving members of one branch of my family and about two dozen for the remaining 3 branches. I learned of family feuds that kept going until death, of commonalities in the causes of death of my ancestors, and I learned of tragic losses that people bore and survived. It was fulfilling to produce these stories and it brought the surviving relatives all closer together.

Memories are important – and that’s why I love to write people’s memoirs. Once I capture stories on paper they live on after a person’s life ends. Story telling is an art and involves the ability to compassionately listen to the telling of stories, along with the ability to document and retell it in living color. It is the type of writing I enjoy doing most and the one that gives me the greatest satisfaction in doing what I do as Writer For Hire.

If you are interested in capturing the memories of a loved one, don’t wait too long. Memories can fade as one ages and waiting too long can make a big difference in the accuracy of a story. Most of all, once a person passes, there is often a big gap in information that no one else can fill.

How does it work? The process is relatively easy:

A family member serves as my point of contact with the loved one who I speak with by phone or sometimes in person. I then document their memories and turn it into a story. The process can be as short as one afternoon or it can evolve into a series of conversations that are told in the form of an essay. If more than one person wants to interact with me, I can involve them in the conversation or speak with them privately. For more information on Writing Memoirs, please email: or call me: (818) 353-5699.


I don’t know how many times I have used the expression, “It’s so easy, I could do it in my sleep,”?  Well for me – it’s true: I often write in my sleep.

Sometimes it’s a continuation of projects I’m working on for clients – blogs, memoirs or a book I’m ghostwriting. Other times, it’s not the actual writing that I’m doing in my dream; it’s about me quoting a rate for a project or following up with someone who asked me to work with them previously. In each of these instances, work does not end when I turn out the light and go to sleep, but rather, continues into the different stages of the sleep cycle when my creative thoughts are swirling around in my head.

I believe this process is very common for those in the arts. I remember Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones mentioning that he often came out of dreams with songs already partially written. It was during the dream state that ideas would come to him for melodies or riffs and he would pull out his tape player and put it down on tape in the middle of the night, then go back to sleep.

Another things that I sometimes find myself doing is typing keys on my imaginary keyboard when I’m asleep. I’ve been told that my fingers move and I’ve also woken myself up doing this. Rather than this being a nervous impulse, I think it’s, again, related to what I’m dreaming about.

The late, great Stevie Ray Vaughn used to play guitar in his sleep, according to one of the biographies I read about him. He was known for practicing all the time and sleeping with his guitar next to him in bed, so that if he wanted to work out some new instrumentation in the middle of the night, he could do so without much effort.

I’ve always been able to remember my dreams – often with great detail. I’m fortunate in that this process helps me sort things out that I’m trying to resolve. Sometimes, it provides the seeds of creativity for a project, while other times, it enables me to work out complex feelings.

In last night’s dream, I was writing a blog for a former client and it was a good one, from what I can recollect. Why was I writing this blog for a former client? I have no idea. I haven’t spoken to her in a long time and I don’t recall thinking about her recently.

Does everyone act out in their dreams what they do for work? Do our dreams actually have meaning, or are they just projections of stress that we are creativity trying to sort out?  Are our dreams filled with meaning, or are they made up of random thoughts?

You decide.

YELP: Is it a Waste of Time to Set up a Business Page?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Side of Yelp

I recently created a new business page on Yelp to allow my customers to write reviews of my business. As a marketing and PR writer, I figured this would be a good way to get the word out about Writer For Hire by letting my clients tell others about their experiences. So this week, I got down to it and created a Yelp page.

Early yesterday, I started contacting people with whom I had worked to let them know that I had created a Yelp page. Many of them were very enthusiastic about writing me a review as they wanted to share their level of satisfaction with my work. By the end of the day, 10 clients had posted reviews – but mysteriously, 3 others that people told me they had posted, were absent.

This morning, I eagerly opened my new Yelp business page, Writer For Hire, to see what was going on with my reviews. To my surprise, half of my reviews had been taken down and hidden by Yelp — and the 3 that had been missing were STILL missing!

So I called the “nice” advertising guy, Joe, who I had previously spent 2 hours with on the phone reviewing advertising options, about this new glitch with the system. (Joe had recommended that I spent $300 – $450 a month on advertising – and another $75 a month if I wanted to hide the advertising by my competitors, which automatically shows up on my business page!). I told Joe that my reviews were being removed by Yelp and I needed his help to restore them.

To my surprise, he told me that there was “nothing he could do,” – that it was their algorithm software that made those decisions, and that “nobody really knew what the parameters were for choosing what reviews to post and what reviews to hide.”

When I questioned him further about this, he said it was probably due to the reviewers not having enough experience in writing reviews – or it could be that they didn’t have a photo posted.

Well this didn’t make any sense to me because some of my reviewers DID have photos and HAD reviewed other businesses and they were still hidden, while other reviewers who didn’t have a photo and hadn’t written other reviews, were visible. I told Joe this and waited for his reply.

He then told me that it was probably my fault that the reviews didn’t post because I had asked people to write me reviews in the first place!

On the Yelp business “How To” page, it explains this policy of hiding people’s reviews:

Why would a review not be recommended?

“There are a number of reasons why a review might not be recommended. For example, the review may have been posted by a less established user, or it may seem like an unhelpful rant or rave. Some of these reviews are fakes (like the ones we see originating from the same computer) and some suggest a bias (like the ones written by a friend of the business owner), but many are real reviews from real customers who we just don’t know much about and therefore can’t recommend.”

Then it further explains that their algorithm can actually change what it approves, from one day to the next:

Why are different reviews recommended on different days?
“Our recommendation software runs on a daily basis, so the results can change day-to-day. For example, the software might pick up new information as time goes by that makes a reviewer seem more trustworthy, or the information we have about a reviewer can grow stale.”

Now as a marketing and PR writer, I know that when you have any kind of vehicle – be it a blog, a press release, an article or a new book published, you promote it. How else are people going to know about it? So it stands to reason that when I set up my new Yelp Business Page, I was going to let people know about it. In doing so, it was understandable that there would be a flurry of activity with people writing and posting their reviews. This is a good thing, right?

Apparently not. Joe questioned me – wanting to know if I go on Yelp to write reviews or to find businesses. I said I did both. “Well,” he told me, “Yelp is a business directory and that’s why we recommend you use it rather than just to write reviews.” I could tell by the way he said it, that he was inferring that I was using it “wrong” and furthermore, that this was a waste of his time even discussing it with me.

I wish I could write a review of Yelp, itself, because I would tell users that it has not been a positive experience for me in setting up a business page for Writer For Hire. No, in fact, I’ve learned that my customer reviews will be viewed with suspicion if there are “too many positive reviews” and also, that they will hide them if they choose to and that there’s absolutely no one who can do anything about it because it’s controlled by their “algorithm software” which nobody understands (or is willing to re-program).

So I decided to try another strategy. I wrote myself a positive review, and then sat back and waited to see if it got taken down by the algorithm software. And guess what? It didn’t! So much for their algorithm software being able to detect suspicious posts. Eventually, I took it down myself – my point being proven.

Over the past few months, I’ve heard a lot of gripes and grumbles from business people who have used Yelp and gotten bad reviews by competitors looking to cast aspersions on their business. I’d be interested in knowing what you think about Yelp: Have you had any experiences like mine? What happens to those reviews that are “hidden” – do they ever see the light of day? Is there anything anyone can do about it?

For anyone interested in seeing my page, you can go to “Writer For Hire” on Yelp – but if you want to write me a recommendation, I would recommend you NOT waste your time here because it’s probably not going to be posted. Instead, go to my LinkedIn page: where at least I know the reviews I get will be visible.

Being Open to New Experiences: My First Airbnb Stay

I recently booked time at an Airbnb residence in the Ventura/Oxnard, California area, which is about 60 miles from my home. My plan was to drive to the beach early in the weekend and then stay overnight at this person’s home, leaving late in the day on Sunday. I must admit, booking time at an Airbnb was a bit perplexing: I was not sure it was “safe,” I was concerned about whether it would be awkward staying with someone I didn’t know, and I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I only knew that other people had done it before me and they had survived!

For those who have limited knowledge of Airbnb, it is a booking service for travelers seeking to rent a room, an apartment, a home or a shared space in a private residence. Airbnb is now worldwide – you can rent a private room in an English castle, a cozy cabin in the Netherlands, stay on a boat in Ventura harbor, or in a yurt or an RV, somewhere in the United States. There are many, many options available, ranging in price from cheap to luxurious. The main draw for people booking through Airbnb, in my opinion, is that it offers a host of options that weren’t previously available and at a lower cost than most motels.

Anyway, back to my story: My choice was to rent a room in a private home in Ventura near the beaches that I love to visit. The cost was a mere $66.00 for the night, which included the taxes and fees. I got to see photos of the place before I booked and I also got to read a number of reviews about the host, which were all exceptionally positive. With that tidbit of information, I set off to explore my first Airbnb experience.

I started my day by heading to one of my favorite beaches to cool off. While there, I received a text from the host, asking when I would be ‘checking in.’ I texted him back that I would be there between 4:30 and 5 p.m. That was my first point of communication with him. Later, I met “A.,” a young man in his 30’s with a ponytail, who showed me my room and the different amenities available. He was very thorough in his explanation of everything and had prepared a small pile of brochures on different attractions in the area. By my bed were two bottles of water and some candies. On the table was the house key, a remote control for the ceiling fan, the code for his Wi-Fi and some sightseeing books. After showing me where the towels were in the bathroom, he invited me to join him and his girlfriend for a glass of wine, then departed, leaving me to my privacy.

So far, so good, I thought. He’s respectable, very professional, and he obviously cares about his customers.

A little later on, after a shower and a change of clothes, I was introduced to his other house guest who were renting a room and a couch from him. I then left to join some friends for dinner and headed out for the evening. When I returned, a few hours later, he and his girlfriend, “L.,” greeted me and asked how my dinner was. We then had a nice conversation about his residence, neighbors, and the amenities offered at his complex. Being a news reporter by trade, I asked a lot of questions, which they didn’t seem to mind answering. One had to do with his mention of the facility’s salt water pool.

Now I’ve never been in a salt water pool and that sounded very cool. So I asked whether I might be able to try it the following day. A. told me that they normally don’t bring their guests over to the pool because it’s reserved for residents, but seeing that I was really interested, he said he’s make it happen.

That night, I enjoyed one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time. The air was cool, the complex was exceptionally quiet, and the bed was extraordinarily comfortable! When I awoke, there were pastries laid out on the kitchen table and coffee waiting to be made on the counter. It really felt like I was in my own home, for all intents and purposes.

Later that morning, I got to experience the salt water pool where you can float effortlessly, suspended in the salt water like a balloon. It was heaven!

I indulged myself in another shower at A.’s place before leaving. To my surprise, they greeted me with homemade lemonade and hors d’oevres before I left. I was not hurried out but treated like a member of their family. This was probably because they didn’t have a booking for that night, so there wasn’t a firm timeframe for check out.

I eventually left at around 2 p.m. that afternoon and when I did, A. told me that I would be welcomed back again, should I like to stay with them – and you know, I think I will. As someone who has traveled a bit, I definitely know what I like and what I don’t like.

I’ve stayed in very nice hotels where I’ve paid a lot more and still had to deal with noise issues from traffic and neighbors. I’ve also stayed in hotels in major cities where parking was expensive or non-existent. And let’s not forget the campground experiences where I’ve had people keep me up all night because they wanted to party till the cows come home.

Unfortunately, you can’t pick your neighbors – it’s always a roll of the dice – even in expensive hotels.

For the price of my Airbnb, I got a great location in a private home with really nice, caring hosts who did everything they possibly could to make my visit comfortable. So for my first Airbnb review, I’m going to give it 5 stars. If you are interested in experiencing Airbnb, it helps to go into it with an open mind. For the record, I got more than I paid for!

My Visit to the Sierras: Lake Isabella for July 4th

Lake Isabella is in the southern Sierras: I chose this location because of the beauty of the lake and the proximity to the Sierras with their majestic redwoods. Unfortunately, when I arrived on Sunday, July 2nd, 2017, my companion and I found the lake covered with a thick green slime – algae, which is caused by excessive heat conditions. This pretty much rendered the lake unswimmable, although the dogs didn’t mind wading chest deep into the green goop to cool off. Give that this was Day 1 of my 4 day vacation, things were looking grim.

Meanwhile, the KOA campground where I was staying, offered me a lovely little log cabin that perfectly met my needs. It had a double bed with a thick cushion mattress and a bunk bed with room for two more people. My roommate took the bunk bed and one of the dogs decided to share it with him (we have four between us). The bed was comfortable and with the air conditioner on its highest setting, we were prepared for a good night’s sleep.

Not so, as we quickly found out: We were situated in the middle of ten other cabins which were all rented out to a very large family from India. There must have been 75 adults and children all competing for attention. While the children and teens ran around playing a game of musical chairs out in front of the cabin next door, the adults began socializing with a beverage of their choice and it started to get loud!

I don’t fault anyone for enjoying themselves. Camping offers the opportunity for people, who may not have seen each other in a while, to get reacquainted in a laid back setting. But this party was non-stop and lasted well into the night. Because we were in the middle of their cabins, we were also in the middle of a busy traffic area and people did not seem to notice that the sound of their voices was being heard within our little private setting. Despite that snafu, we managed to get a few minutes of sleep and move into the next day.

Day 2, we awoke early and began setting up our breakfast table on the picnic table out front. I was pleased to learn that the proprietors had arranged for a free pancake and sausage breakfast for everyone as a holiday celebration! The food was great and because the camp store had ready-made coffee, I didn’t have to heat up any water to make my own. In a short time, we were in the car with the dogs and off to our next adventure: the Kern River.

The Kern River meets Lake Isabella and fills it with a steady stream of fresh water, which should keep it clean as the water is moving. But since the algae was already well formed, we chose to avoid the lake and go directly to the source. The Kern River was accessible from Riverside Park in Kernville where we found a large shade tree to set up our lawn chairs and hook up our dogs. The view of the river was magnificent and it was exciting to watch the rafters and kayakers navigating the rapids and white water! To our dogs delight, we even found a few coves off the river where it was safe to wade in and enjoy the refreshingly cool water.

This experience proved so delightful that on Day 3, we returned again and just relaxed all day in the shade of a tree by the river. Back at the campground, our friendly neighbors continued to party, so the second night was only slightly better for sleeping than the previous one. We still could hear them chatting into the wee hours – well past 2 a.m. – although my ear plugs did help a lot.

After the second day on the river, I returned to my cabin where I took in a long walk with my dogs on a lovely open dirt road that ran from the back of the KOA property to a Wildlife Reserve. The backdrop for this hike was a majestic view of the high Sierra Mountains which were surprisingly clear and well defined in their beauty. As dusk fell and the stars came out, the sky came alive with brilliance. The sky was especially vivid at 2 a.m. when all the lights from the nearby RVs were out. It was very clear that night and I relished the view of the heavens, having not seen so many stars in my neighborhood of Los Angeles in a long time.

On Day 4, I packed up, walked and fed the dogs, then ate a nice light breakfast at my picnic table before hitting the road home. About halfway back to L.A., I stopped for lunch in Mohave, CA where some close friends drove up to meet me. It was hot in Mohave – 106 degrees (although the inside reading on my car was 115 degrees). After a little rest for the dogs and I, under a large tree in a park, we started the second leg of the trip home.

Driving back to the city, I was thankful to be returning to the place and people I love, but was glad to have gotten away from the fireworks and explosives that people seem to enjoy setting off around the 4th of July. This trip introduced me to a place that I might like to return to again – albeit in the Fall, when the foliage changes color. Hopefully, there will be fewer people at the campground, although I would settle for quieter neighbors!

My dogs had a good time and for a change, I didn’t have to feel guilty about leaving them behind. It’s nice to been welcomed, dogs and all, when traveling somewhere new. 

Till then, I’ll sign off with this: Don’t be afraid to explore unknown places, because in doing so, you get to open your world to new sights, tastes, and experiences that make your life richer~