Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Snowcreek Resort at Mammoth Lakes: The Best Anniversary Gift

A couple of weeks ago I was invited by Snowcreek Resort to check out their properties and enjoy a weekend in Mammoth Lakes. The timing was perfect – it would be right around my anniversary, and what an awesome gift - the opportunity for my husband and I to celebrate our 17th year of marriage amongst the majestic Sierras and towering pines. Besides, the official gift for the 17th anniversary is furniture, which doesn't sound very romantic to me. It's like, "Happy anniversary! I love you, and here's a desk to show you how much."

I grew up going to Mammoth Mountain to ski – it's only a five hour drive from Los Angeles – but they offer lots of warm-weather activities as well like hiking, biking and fishing. Sure, you wouldn't describe me as an outdoorsy person, but I do love getting away to the mountains and especially taking my kids there. It's great to get out into nature and feel the fresh air and hear the birds sing. So what if that singing is often interrupted by the clicking of my 14-year-old text messaging or the faint strains of 'Beat It' coming out of my 12-year-old's iPod – we're getting out into the great outdoors and that's all that matters, and I've got the iPhone pictures, the Flip video and my Twitter posts to prove it.

Snowcreek is a development that's actually been around since the '70's, but they've been developing it in stages. We stayed in a home that is part of a newer area called The Lodges. I love the architecture and design – a beautiful, clever combination of rustic with modern touches, which defies the whole image of the mountain condo. You won't any find orange shag carpeting, oppressive wood paneling or musty old sofa beds filled with pork rind crumbs here.

Our house was a 3-bedroom (plus loft), 3.5 bathroom house with a huge living room with fireplace, dining room and two balconies that overlooked the 18-hole golf course. Also, a state-of-the-art kitchen that made me want to cry with its beauty. (It was the first time that I actually wanted to cook and do the dishes while on vacation. Well, sort of.)

My girls were especially thrilled with the flat-screen TVs in every room, and of course the free WiFi – because it was important to be able to watch Hulu and update their Facebook status while taking in this view:

(Another huge perk – anyone staying at Snowcreek gets free access to their impressvie Snowcreek Athletic Club with tennis and racquetball courts, two pools, fully-equipped weight rooms, classes like yoga and spinning and a day spa [for a fee] that includes massages, facials and manicures. Perk!)

While we really hated to leave the comforts of our luxurious home, we were also given tickets for a gondola ride, so we headed out to the Mammoth Adventure Center located acorss from the main lodge at the ski area. Here you can try a little zip lining or practice your climbing on their rock wall, or do what we did - take a breathtaking gondola ride up the mountain and take in the amazing views. Many mountain bikers and hikers use the gondola to access the numerous trails available, which you can check out here. There was snow at the top of the mountain when we got there, which thrilled my 12-year-old to no end – she even put down her iTouch long enough to make a snowman.

Another event we were invited to was the Children's Fishing Festival, which takes place at Snowcreek Ponds, right on the Snowcreek property. The pond is stocked for the event, they provide reels and supplies for the kids and experts are there to give instruction and guidance. Unfortunately, it was the day we had to check out and leave to get to our next vacation destination so we didn't get to fish, but we stopped by to check it out. As expected, my jaded tween and teen were more interested in scoping out the food truck and hitting us up for Diet Coke money, but it looks like a great event for kids.

We were treated to a couple of great meals while we were there – lunch at an inventive, locally-owned place called Publik Square, and an amazing upscale eatery called Petra's that was to die for. Our dinner at Petra's was the night before our anniversary, but we consider it our official dinner since it was so fabulous and Sonny Carter was there. You can find out who that is, and read my reviews of Publik Squre and Petra's HERE.

We're planning on coming back soon to Snowcreek – my family of 30 gets together every other year or so for a big vacation getaway and I'm going to talk them into making Mammoth our destination. Besides, next year's our 18th anniversary and the official gift is porcelain, and I'd rather splurge on a Snowcreek getaway than a new toilet.

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Dining In Mammoth Lakes: Not Just Hoagies and French Fries

So what comes to mind when you think of eating at mountain resorts? Fried foods? Sandwiches? Digging up whatever's left over from inside the couch of your rental condo? Don't go there. We were recently invited by Snowcreek Resort in Mammoth Lakes to check out their properties and to get to know some local restaurants, and we were introduced to a couple of great places to eat that have fresh, inventive, imaginative food that you might want to try out. Besides, do you really want to gnaw on that year-old chicken bone?

The Publik Square
First up, for lunch we headed to The Publik Square, a small, locally-owned shop that serves breakfast and lunch. We had some great sandwiches – a big coup was finding a veggie wrap for my vegetarian 14-year-old that she actually liked. Score! I had an Italian wrap that was generously filled with Italian meats and veggies that I accidentally ate all of after telling my husband he could have half. On our way out of town the next day I stopped by for one of their Breakfast Burritos and it was equally delicious – and equally huge. Yes, I ate that one up, too, but my husband had learned a lesson and had already eaten.

Owner Ryan Farnes is also a snowboarder and owner of Publik Snowboards – there are a few of their custom snowboards, made from sustainable products like hemp and bamboo, on display and he mentioned they often have snowboard demos in front of the shop. (I also found this adorable story in a local paper about how Ryan met his wife in the aisle of the local Vons. Sorry, couldn't resist – I'm a sucker for how-they-met stories.)

Publik Square took over the space formerly occupied by Quizno's, but their food is much better, and a cut way above the fast-food establishments located across the street. Good food made with fresh ingredients and at a reasonable price – it's a find.

Petra's Bistro
For dinner we headed to Petra's Bistro. I can't say enough about the meal we had here, except that I'm trying to bribe my husband to make the drive to Mammoth next weekend so that we can eat there again. The restaurant is owned by brothers Robert and Kirk Schaubmayer and they've done a great job of creating a warm dining environment with an attentive and cheerful staff. We ate there the day before our 17th wedding anniversary, but my husband and I considered this our official celebratory dinner since it was so exquisite. In fact, we considered changing our anniversary date but we figured it would just confuse the children.

Our gastronomical adventure started off with an amazing cocktail – the Sonny Carter, which consisted of cucumber vodka, fresh ginger and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I can't remember the story the waitress told us that's behind the name of the drink, but I'd like to rename it 'More Please.' Next we had a few appetizers, some exquisite ahi tuna bites that were followed by a dish consisting of polenta and pork belly that was one of the best things I've eaten in recent memory. I can't recall the official name, but again I would rename it something like, 'Five Of These' or 'Pork Belly Owns Me.'

For dinner I had their perfectly-cooked pork chop and even my vegetarian daughter admitted she was having trouble keeping her hands off of it. I had to remind her that she was going to have a hard time convincing her conscience that pigs were a vegetable. But can you blame her? Look at this creation:

To be honest, I can't remember what my husband or two daughters ordered because I was so in love with my pork chop, but I know that there were approving grunts all around. Then chef sent out a couple of desserts – a tiramisu and a beautiful dish of sorbets – and the grunts were replaced by high-pitched squeals. And that was just from me and my husband:

I plan to go to back to Petra's, but I hope I don't have to wait an entire year until my 18th anniversary. Although, to hell with the kids – I think I'll just move the date up a few months.

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Word To Yo Mutha! The Yahoo! Motherboard Summit

First of all, forgive me for using a Vanilla Ice quote in my title, but I thought it was a great way to show my enthusiasm for the amazing weekend I had as guests of Yahoo! for their first ever Yahoo! Motherboard Summit. Word! Also, it did remind me of a crazy karaoke night I had while I was there – I don't think I sang any Vanilla Ice, but I do remember belting out 'California Gurls' at the top of my lungs while doing some sort of pathetic shimmy during the 'Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top' part of the song. Which proves there is no dignity in karaoke, my friends – only grainy iPhone videos that a college admissions director will one day find online.

But enough about derailing my kid's future! Let me tell you about the Yahoo! Motherboard.

So, what is the Yahoo! Motherboard? It's a group of around 70 social-media savvy, plugged-in mom bloggers from around the country (and Canada) put together by Yahoo! to share and exchange ideas on everything from parenting to politics to current events. I'm honored to be in the company of such a smart, prolific group of writers and can't figure out for the life of me how I was chosen, although I'm thinking my days might be numbered once they get their hands on the above-mentioned video and see how I butchered 'Livin' On A Prayer.'

And let me just say that Yahoo! certainly does everything in style. They offered to fly us to their headquarters in Sunnyvale (I drove, more about that later) and put us up in the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto. I'm not used to such swanky accommodations – how is it that there is an elevator that stops on every floor, and each room has its own toilet? And try as I might, I couldn't find a single blood stain on the bedspread. Who stays here, the Queen? My room was huge, with a massive bed made out of ecstasy and clouds. Then there was the luxurious bathroom with a huge sunken tub and a TV coming out of the wall. Yes, I soaked in there while sipping a glass of wine and watching The Food Network. (That last sentence there? Pretty much sums up how I'd like to die.)


The actual conference portion of the summit consisted of several informational sessions on things like online safety, editorial guidelines and various aspects of the Yahoo! brand. My favorite was the one presented by the people behind Shine, Yahoo!'s website just for women. I liked how they gave us straighforward, useful information about writing for the online community, and how to get people to read our content. Much more useful tutelage than what I got from an editor I once worked with who told me, "Sex in the title and boobs somewhere on the page." I did what he said, but I still thought it was a bit much for the PTA newsletter.

There were some sobering moments during the conference, too. One of the most impactful presentations was the one on online safety that involved the tragic, heartbreaking story of a teen driven to suicide by a sexting incident. (My fellow blogger April writes about it here.) I don't think there was a dry eye in the house when the video was over, and we all thought long and hard about how much more we were going to keep an eye on our kids and their texts and Facebook pages.

And what story about 70 women in one place would be complete without a paragraph or two about cocktails and food? There was plenty of it, starting with the amazing spread during our conference (check out those cupcakes) and our lovely dinner at Nola afterwards. Come to think of it, there was hardly a moment when we weren't surrounded by an abundance of things to eat and drink. At the Yahoo! headquarters they have their own cafe, where all the workers can get free beverages and snacks all day long. I don't know about you, but as far as employee perks go unlimited cappuccinos beats a 401k, a dental plan and a corner office any day.

And speaking of liquid gluttony, at the hotel I had what is now my favorite drink ever – the Basil Lemon Drop Martini. Not only is it tasty, but you can feel good about drinking it because between the basil and the lemon it's practically got a salad built right into it. Genius is what it is! I'm thinking if I use one of them to wash down a multi-vitamin I can call it a meal.

And here's something hysterical – somehow along the way, I got talked into being on a panel of bloggers who gave feedback on and talked about Yahoo!'s advertising. I know! How did that happen? I figure someone must have gotten drunk, scrawled my name on the chalkboard as a joke, and then didn't realize what they had done until the programs were printed up. I can just see them now, pointing fingers at each other and saying, "I thought YOU erased her name," and then someone got fired. But I guess I did okay – no one booed or threw their gum at me – and I think somewhere there's a video of it that I can watch someday. I'm betting it will be just as painful as that karaoke footage, except with more shimmying and less music.

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It really was a memorable weekend, and I have to thank the organizers at Yahoo! Amy Heinz, Jeanne Moeschler and Stacy Libby – for putting together such a great event where I not only came away with valuable information, but where I got to meet and hang out with such an intriguing, exceptional, badass group of women. 

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Wii and Netflix Go Together Like Pizza and Martinis

A few weeks ago Nintendo threw me a fantastic party to help me get the word out to my friends about their partnership with Netflix. Did you know you can stream movies and TV shows straight from your Netflix queue through your Wii and watch them on your TV? Well, did you? Yes, it's amazing but don't ask me how it works – like my explanation for everything else I don't have a clue about, I'll just tell you it's done with magic. How does the music come out of the radio? Magic. How does an airplane stay in the sky? Magic. How does popcorn pop? Magic, voodoo, and a little bit of oil.

Nintendo sent over a Netflix/Wii streaming disc (which you can get here), some genuine concession stand treats (hello, Raisinettes!), a catered meal and best of all provided me with a three-month subscription to Netflix. We had a subscription many years ago, but canceled it when we realized it wasn't cost effective for people like us who take eight months to get around to watching a DVD – that one viewing of Eraserhead in '02 cost us $96.

(The process is simple: Set up an 'Instant Queue' on your Netflix account online, pop the streaming disc into the Wii, access your queue and select the title you want, and the movie downloads within seconds.)

Our meal that night came from one of our favorite restaurants – California Pizza Kitchen – and we decided the drink of choice for the night would be martinis. Maybe an odd beverage to pair with pizzas and salads, but we thought it would add a nice adult, upscale air to the evening of dining and fine cinema. After all, we were using our fancy new movie projector, and I was looking forward to kicking back with my friends, noshing on some pizza and sipping a beverage while watching La Dolce Vita.

Which is why it all felt so futile when the choosing of the movies quickly got overtaken by the kids at the party, and I turned my back for a minute to mix up a pitcher of Cosmos and came back to find this on the screen:

Damn those diabolical toddlers! I managed to lure them out of the room by throwing a box of Junior Mints out onto the lawn, but when I left again to mix up a pitcher of Lemon Drops (hey, my friends are insatiable when it comes to free booze) I came back to find a gaggle of girls watching this:

Come to find out this movie was neither streaming through the Wii nor a Netflix DVD, but was a gift my 14-year-old had gotten for her birthday. This party was seriously getting out of control. What was coming up next – reruns of Matlock on Beta? Thank goodness the Nintendo people weren't at the party see the anarchy.

This time I lured all of the teens and tweens out to the backyard with a couple of Forever 21 gift cards tied to a string so that we could get to some serious movie watching. Unfortunately, by then a lot of the adults were starting to get restless from the mixture of vodka and pepperoni in their stomachs and headed outside before I could get another movie queued up. Personally I think it was just an excuse to go out and dig around in the lawn for those Junior Mints.

Eventually I gave up, and gave the controls back to the kids so they could watch 3 Ninjas and Ace Ventura which they had so cleverly queued up when I was busy mixing up that fifth pitcher of martinis. I joined the party outside, but not before sneaking onto the computer and queuing this up to watch later on my own:

I forgot to mention the nice people at Nintendo also sent over a Flip camera to record the festivities with, and my 12-year-old aspiring filmmaker was in charge of that. Here's a movie she made:

Mandatory small print disclosure that I implore you to read: I was not given any monetary compensation for hosting this event or writing about Nintendo or Netflix products, nor was I required to write a review. From Nintendo I received a Flip camera, a three-month subscription to Netflix, food for my guests and Wii Points cards to distribute. Beverages were provided by me, but if Nintendo were paying for the vodka I'm sure it would have been the good stuff and not the cheap swill I passed off to my guests.
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