Believe in Dreams: Catching up with Bay Area Olympians


“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Excitement buzzed through the gym as Melissa Seidemann shared her gold medal and spoke to the College Park High School community about her Olympic debut in women’s water polo. Her message? Set goals, work hard, and never stop believing in yourself! As Team USA’s second highest scorer at the London Olympics, the CPHS alumna helped her team make history with the USA’s first ever Olympic gold medal in water polo.

Melissa began training with the National Team in 2010, splitting her time between the national team and Stanford.  She took the past year off in order to compete at the Olympics. Adam Krikorian, head coach of Team USA’s women’s water polo, said he is thankful to her for making the commitment and for pushing through the hard times for the team. “It came with a lot of difficulty for Melissa in the beginning,” said Krikorian, “She struggled with her decision about making the commitment – mentally more than physically. I told her I would love to have her on the team, but that it would be the hardest thing she would ever do in her life. However, in the end, it would be the most rewarding. When forming a team you need understanding, respect, and trust. And it all starts with communication. Mel and I have a very good relationship. She is open and able to communicate, and she is rarely afraid to have a discussion. We have had many respectful discussions over the past couple of years that have been important for me to get a good sense of where not only she is, but where other younger players are coming from. And, behind Mel’s strong opinions is a huge, huge heart, and she cares deeply about everyone on the team.”

When asked about Melissa’s future with the national team, Krikorian replied, “I sincerely hope she continues. She is a big part of the team, in and out of the water. Ultimately, it’s her decision. It would be another great four years for the team, with a large impact on how the team performs in the future.”

Melissa started playing water polo in the 7th grade and has had positive role models along the way. Now, as an Olympic Gold Medalist, she is “paying it forward” by sharing her story of success and inspiring younger kids to set their goals high. “I’ve always been very competitive and I’ve always wanted to be the best,” said Melissa, “Now I’m working and playing with the best of the best.”

Melissa shared some of her experiences in the following interview:

SW: What was the biggest challenge you faced getting to the Olympics?

MS: “Taking time off school was hard. I felt like I was missing out on my senior year. But looking back now, I know it was the right decision and I’m blessed with a second senior year at Stanford.”

SW: Was being one of the youngest on the team hard?

MS: “I didn’t feel like there was a separation. The older players shared their past experiences, which helped our team. We learned from their successes and their failures. We trusted each other and came together and played as a team.”

SW: How did you stay focused at the Olympics?

MS: “My family was there. Seeing them when I walked out of the waiting area before games and spending time with them after games kept me grounded.”

SW: What have you learned about yourself?

MS: “I used to be a more emotional player and it was hard to control my emotions in the pool. I check myself more now, which has come with maturity.”

SW: Has water polo changed for you?

MS: “Before I only thought about water polo and just wanted to play. Now it is more about “the team”. We are not just individuals playing. There’s a major focus on team building.”

SW: What advice would you give younger players?

MS: “Find a sport you love and remember to have fun. Get involved with the community of your sport. It could have a lot to offer.”

SW: What advice would you give parents of younger players?

MS: “Be encouraging of their successes as a team. Be diligent about getting them to practice because we don’t always want to go.”

SW: What now for you?

MS: “It’s too soon to commit 100%. I’m enjoying my freedom right now and I’m going to enjoy my senior year at Stanford. I was having fun being a kid and didn’t really want to grow up. Traveling the world, I’ve had to grow up and become more responsible. I’m going to take a little more time now before growing up any more.”

Olympic Development Program (ODP) National Technical Director Kim Everist runs the pipeline for USA Women’s Water Polo. Everist (a Pleasant Hill resident) was a member of the USA Junior National Team in the late 80s and has coached and mentored countless girls and young women. She offered some advice to parents of young athletes:

Let your kids have the freedom to explore their own journey. It’s easy to be protective and afraid our kids might fail. Trust that they will find their own way. Let them take risks. Once they step outside of their comfort zone, it will change them forever. It will start a ripple effect, planting the seeds for building their confidence and their belief that they can succeed. Let them fail. It’s in our failures that we actually learn life’s lessons, building character.

As they continue to grow up, don’t stop letting your kids fall. When our babies are learning to walk, they fall and we pick them up. They fall again and we pick them up. Soon they stop falling, having learned how to stand on their own two feet.

When the Women’s National Team failed to reach the medal round at the 2011 FINA World Championships, they learned from it, pulled themselves up and came back to change history with the Olympic Gold Medal. I work to help girls build their self-esteem and confidence so they can achieve their ultimate potential. And it always comes back to believing in yourself.


 Twelve years ago, opportunities in girls’ sports were extremely limited and it wasn’t until 2000 that women’s water polo first appeared in the Olympics. East Bay locals, Maureen O’Toole-Purcell and Heather Petri were both members of that first USA Olympic team. Growing up, no girl’s water polo teams existed for them so O’Toole-Purcell and Petri played on boy’s teams. Bringing home the silver medal from Sydney focused attention on the sport and more girls started playing. “Opportunities have expanded tremendously over the past 12 years,” said O’Toole-Purcell, “With growing numbers of club, high school, and college teams, girls now have something to strive for. Now, with Olympic Gold, the spotlight will shine even brighter on the sport.”

O’Toole-Purcell encourages her water polo players to constantly challenge themselves by getting out of their comfort zone every day. “If you want to get to the next level you need to go above and beyond what is asked of you,” says O’Toole-Purcell, “You have to work harder, attend more practices, and be a student of the game.” To parents she advises, “Be supportive of your kids. Be proud of them and get them to practices. Love them and then stay out of the way so they can learn for themselves. They need to learn responsibility all on their own.”



Danville’s two-time Olympian, Jessica Steffens started playing water polo in 9th grade. “Any kid who plays sports dreams about going to the Olympics,” she said, “When Maureen O’Toole-Purcell came back to town with her silver medal in 2000, it was the first Olympic medal I’d ever seen and it inspired me. When she told me she wanted to see me in Bejing, I knew it would be tough physically and mentally and, at that time, I didn’t think I could do it. Then I made my first Junior National Team and got a taste of what it was about. That’s when I realized I wanted it and that it was possible if I worked hard enough.”

“Jessica has the fighting spirit,” said Olympic team coach Krikorian, “After winning the world championships in 2009, she was forced (with shoulder surgery) to sit out all of 2010. Halfway through the Olympic cycle, when most people would probably have chosen the easy way out, Jessica showed her determination and deep competitive spirit and committed to her rehab. Watching her team continue to be successful and win in 2010, she must have had some doubt but her ability to handle diversity and overcome obstacles really showed her character, fighting back to play her best at the end of 2012.”

Younger sister Maggie joined her on the 2012 Olympic team, making a big splash as Olympic MVP. “I’ve wanted it since I was five years old,” said Maggie, “I played soccer and wanted to be just like Mia Hamm.”

Being an Olympic athlete is a full time job and tough physically and mentally. “We worked HARD to get there,” the sisters said, “You can’t just ‘be there to get there,’ you have to take every opportunity and must be completely present at every workout, at every game. We were forced outside of our comfort zones every day, constantly being put into uncomfortable situations that we didn’t necessarily want to be in. We finished swim sets that we didn’t think we could finish. We carried chairs across the pool for eight minutes with our bodies burning. We had to go to bed early and were up at 6:00 a.m. every day to get in the pool. We had to watch what we ate because of the importance of good nutrition. We were in the sun during the worst hours of every day. Not doing these things was NOT an option. Normal life is put on the side.”

“It makes you more aware of everything you do. Someone is always watching and we use that to inspire other people, other kids,” he sisters added. It sometimes felt overwhelming to them but, looking back now, they both say, “It was so worth it and we were still having fun. Having your sister with you receiving the Gold medal made it even better. We were sharing not only our country’s name but our family name too. We can’t think of being prouder!”

“Put your full effort into whatever you do,” they say, “It’s all important – homework, friends, family, sport practices… If you have a dream and REALLY want something, go for it! It can happen!” Now, with the 2012 Olympics behind them, Jessica is taking some time to decide what she will do next. For Maggie, it’s off to Stanford and college water polo with USA water polo on the side. She will continue working hard but is excited to start her college career and just be 19 again for awhile.


 Four-time Olympian (and CAL alumna), Heather Petri understands the importance of “giving back.” Since being on the National team, Petri has traveled the world, met three Presidents, worked out with the Navy SEALS, gone in the “O” Cirque pool and played water polo with their performers, hung out with the USA men’s Basketball team and talked to coach K and lived in Italy and Greece. Now she spends her days “paying it forward” with a non-stop schedule of community events, parades, TV shows and charity appearances—sharing her medals and inspiring others.

Cancer charities are a passion of hers. Having watched her aunt and others in her life battle the disease, she is most frustrated at how helpless it makes patients and families feel. “As an athlete I know that I have complete control over many aspects of my life and training. I choose my attitude, how hard I work, what fuel I put in my body, what lifestyle choices I make, what physical therapy treatments I seek, how much sleep I get—all of these—if I do to the best of my ability, will put me in a good place to succeed,” says Petri, “But a disease like cancer just does what it wants. While doctors and medicine are doing their very best to combat the effects of the disease and find what causes it, at this point it still is a disease that just keeps attacking no matter of age, race, or status.”

Teaming up with former CAL water polo teammates, Petri took part in her first “Swim Across America” event in San Francisco bay four years ago after the Beijing games. “It was an incredibly inspiring event and I knew I wanted to do it again,” she said. This year Petri joined another group of water polo players and her team, the Chemhoes, raised $24,640 toward the total $359,890 raised in this year’s SF Bay swim. SAA raises money that goes directly to local hospitals and Petri got to visit those hospitals and meet children going through treatment, sharing her medals and bringing smiles to their faces. “It is real,” said Petri, “What we do just swimming in the Bay can change the lives of these people.”

Petri also organized a breast cancer awareness game for her National team during the Holiday Cup this year. During the game their team wore pink caps and presented a signed sports bra for an auction in support of breast cancer awareness.

In November, Petri will be off to Africa as an Athlete Ambassador for “Right to Play,” a non-profit started by an Olympian to help give children the right to play sports in areas of the world where they are simply trying to survive. She’s excited to be going to Rwanda and Uganda where she’ll be playing with the kids, meeting the coaches, and seeing firsthand how the organization functions in the field.

Asked about the best advice she ever got, Petri responded, “My parents wanted me to try everything when I was little. If I wanted to paint I could try it. Wood shop, sewing, softball, volleyball, swimming, piano, basketball—I tried them all. But there was a stipulation. If I started something, I had to finish it. That meant I needed to go to every class, every practice. I couldn’t skip one because I didn’t feel like going. I would show up early and give it my full attention. Then when the activity ran its course I could re-evaluate if I wanted to do it again. If not, that was fine. No pushing to do it again. I needed to make the decision for myself.”

“I realize now that they were instilling in me the need to be accountable for my choices and complete what I started. They were teaching me to respect the time I put into activities and have pride in my efforts. Some things I didn’t enjoy as much as others and that was part of the process of learning who I was and what I truly enjoyed. I found myself gravitating toward the pool and poured all my energy into it, dedicating myself because I loved it rather than because someone told me to do it. At 34, I was still playing (in the pool) and loving it.  Sadly, I am now retired from the National water polo stage. I have loved every second of this 13 year journey, but now, it is time to search for the next adventure.”

Olympic team coach Adam Krikorian said Petri will be missed. “If anyone was the glue that held the team together outside of the water, it was Heather with her unwavering support of her teammates. Heather is as decorated as anyone in the sport but behind it there is a huge heart and she provided a lot of love and support to the entire team throughout.”



STRIIVE’s Dr. Troy Chamberlin and his staff train adults and young athletes in weight loss and core development at their Danville studio. Maureen O’Toole Purcell is a big supporter of Dr. Troy and STRIIVE. In addition to working out with him personally, she encourages her players to work out with him too. “I think the program is fantastic,” says O’Toole-Purcell, “They are hard, big energy workouts that get you in great shape.” For more information on STRIIVE, go to

Off the Beaten Path, the Adventure Begins at Bear Valley

The wind picks up and blows the falling snow sideways into Mattly Trent’s face as he tries to locate a buried avalanche beacon in the snowpack somewhere beneath his feet. Trent, a veteran mountaineer and assistant director of Bear Valley Mountain’s Ski Patrol remains calm and focused as he follows the beeping signals on his chest mounted transceiver. He is emphasizing the methodical practice required to become efficient at locating buried avalanche victims, and that every second counts. Today though, he’s fairly relaxed, for we’re standing in the middle of Bear Valley’s Avalanche Beacon Training Park, just to the side of the resort’s bunny slopes. When his beacon signals that he has neared his target, Mattly drops his backpack and removes the avalanche probe, a nine foot folding aluminum pole, much like a tent pole, that he’ll use to gingerly slide down into the snow, hoping to locate a solid object. In a moment, we hear a dull thud as the probe strikes the piece of wood that is strapped to the electronic transceiver and we have located our “victim.” This training park is a jointly sponsored project between Bear Valley Mountain and avalanche equipment supplier BCA, and is provided to encourage safe skiing and riding in the backcountry and in Bear Valley’s ever-expanding sidecountry terrain.

Sidecountry is a term that’s been heard a lot around ski resorts in recent years, and refers to ski terrain that is outside the boundaries of a resort, yet accessible from the resort via chairlift, snowcat, or a combination of the two. Backcountry, on the other hand, is probably a more familiar term, as it conjures up images of being removed from the human world of infrastructure and chairlifts, on one’s own among the elements. In other words, you’re responsible for getting yourself into the mountains, up to the top and down again without any help. And that’s always been an easily accessible experience in the Bear Valley region, as it’s surrounded by two large Wilderness Areas and National Forest with many ski descents awaiting just a few hours hike from the car.

What all this means for those looking for great skiing and riding is that just about any mountainside within site of Bear Valley is open for recreation. Many consider it one of the best “secret” stashes in the Sierra, here south of Lake Tahoe at the end of a road. The increase of winter travel in the back and sidecountry in recent years throughout the US has greatly increased the probability of avalanches. This has prompted companies like BCA and ski resorts committed to opening access to their sidecountry such as Bear Valley to step up and provide opportunities to learn the skills necessary to be a prepared out-of-bounds rider. The resort has also partnered with local guide service Mountain Adventure Seminars to offer courses in mountaineering, avalanche training and guided off-piste tours. It’s common here to see people sporting the standard avalanche backpack—equipped with a small shovel, electronic transceiver and snow probe. But knowing how to properly and quickly use these tools, as Trent reminds me, takes practice. The training park will be open and available for use this season, with periodic clinics, or through private arrangements made through the ski patrol.

Sidecountry is the perfect progression for skiers and riders ready to expand their Sierra adventure, and Bear Valley is a place made for sidecountry access, with wide-open slopes of intermediate and expert terrain on National Forest land surrounding the resort on all sides. This year Bear Valley is opening the access gates to yet another long held favorite stash of bowl and tree skiing, a sweeping western ridge known as King’s Realm. Two winters ago over 400 acres were added to the resort’s patrolled area with the Dardanelle Vista Bowl, and this year with the addition of the 300+ acres in King’s Realm, there is literally an adventure in every direction. “Bear Valley continues its commitment to provide our guests with the best terrain, (Bear Valley) has pulled out all the stops to offer a new product that will provide advanced and expert skiers and riders a new and exciting adventure,” said Aaron Johnson, Bear Valley Mountain Snowsports Director.

Johnson, owner and founder of Mountain Adventure Seminars, brings an unprecedented level of mountaineering and snow safety education experience to his new role as Snowsports Director. In addition to his company’s continued partnership with the resort to provide guided ski tours and technical clinics, Johnson will be offering avalanche lectures this winter at regional REI stores. Bear Valley’s partnership with MAS has also resulted in the formation of a new kind of youth ski team, one focused on learning technical backcountry and avalanche safety skills as well as all-mountain riding.

The new terrain will be accessible via an entrance gate and snowcat road at Corral Ridge on the resort’s intermediate backside, which is serviced by the high speed quad chair Polar Express. A short hike or snowcat ride will bring you to the ridge top and the beginning of King’s Realm, and riders will exit the area via the Polar Express quad. The area is predominately east facing and features steep chutes, open bowls and gladed tree-skiing.

Back again this year are the popular BearTracker Snowcat Tours, which transport small groups led by professional guides out to slopes of untouched powder within easy reach of the resort. These popular three-hour tours have become a great way to spend part of the day sampling the resort and the other enjoying your personal stash of fresh Sierra powder. Snowcat tours are routinely announced on Bear Valley’s website and via email subscription during storm weeks, and spots on the cat tend to fill fast. King’s Realm will be among the stops on this year’s cat tours, as well as Horse Canyon and the outer reaches of the East Bowl.

With the 300 more acres of snowcat-in and ski lift-out King’s Realm, Bear Valley is currently the only California winter sports resort offering skiers and snowboarders access to expanded terrain. While its size is similar to other mid-sized resorts like Kirkwood and Sugar Bowl, Bear Valley’s Village is a relaxed throwback to a quiet mountain town, where you can stay in the classic Bear Valley Lodge, a log and timber ski hotel with a great cathedral living room and a cozy fireplace. The Bear Valley ski community’s enduring passion for their world-class mountain continues to blur the line between in-bounds and out. It all comes down to some really fine riding on the snow, and all it takes sometimes to find that perfect powder is a little extra effort.

For more info go to,,,, and for discounted Bear Valley lift tickets and free avalanche lectures at Bay Area REI stores

Light It Up! Neighborhood Holiday Light Displays

‘Tis the season to be jolly and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I get jolly looking at Christmas lights, or to be politically correct, outdoor holiday light displays. The traditional house display of white or colored lights decoratively strung along the roofline, chimney and/or fence delightfully adds to the spirit of the holidays. However, once you get into the life-size plywood Santa and elf diorama strategically constructed on the front lawn, a Sesame Street manger scene tastefully positioned in the side yard rock bed or perhaps a two-story blow up menorah in the driveway, you’ve crossed over and are now playing in the major leagues of holiday cheer. It doesn’t matter what the actual light display consists of, as long as it’s an attempt to stimulate yuletide euphoria. It can also serve as a beacon and landing strip for Santa’s sleigh and reindeer … that is, if I still believed in Santa.

Mr. Clark Griswold, of the National Lampoon movie Christmas Vacation, is the hero of every outdoor suburban holiday lightsmith. His home light display, visible from outer space, is the standard by which my neighbors and I strive to duplicate or outdo. Clark’s goal of affixing 1,000,000 lights to his humble abode seemed unrealistic when the movie debuted in 1989. However, it seems a bit light by today’s standards. His six-figure PG&E bill does hit close to home, but I don’t think Santa wants us to worry about our utility consumption when it comes to decorating for his arrival.

When I was a child, I would help my dad staple strands of colored lights to the eaves of our house, just under the gutter line. This holiday ritual was typically performed in mid-December and removed promptly on January 2nd. Unless of course you were the lazy white trash neighbors (and every neighborhood had them) who left their Christmas lights on the house all year long. Yea, it was just too much work to take down the lights when you’re extremely busy not mowing your lawn and unwashing your car. For the respectable families, once you ran an orange extension cord from an outlet in the garage, you were good to go. My dad was the envy of the other suburban holi-Dads when he spliced a plug into the porch light for state-of-the-art connectivity. What we lacked in creativity or imagination we made up for in speed. The entire job took us less than 20 minutes and Santa never had trouble finding my place.

Today, my traditional display set-up begins at daybreak on the Friday after Thanksgiving. If I’m lucky, and don’t break for lunch, I might be finished by nightfall. Part of the suburban holiday ritual is the grueling time spent on a ladder snapping the strands of hanging icicle lights onto the roof tiles, if you’re actually able to untangle the knotted mess. Luckily OSHA doesn’t put a high priority on monitoring the death defying roof top gymnastics most Dads exhibit in their attempt to transform their homes into a winter wonderland. Imagine if you will, an aging and overweight Circ du Soleil-like performer, wearing a soccer sweat suit with tinsel hanging from his teeth. I once used a frayed bungee cord tied to our chimney to help me hang lights down the side of my tri-level condominium. Just last year, I was suspended from telephone lines by bicycle inner tubes just to get the Star of David in our palm tree. I really envy the neighbors who hire an off-season window washing company to install their light displays. Er … I meant to type the word “resent” not “envy”, darn computer glitch. Regardless how much better their displays look than mine, we can’t let certain time honored traditions go by the wayside. Santa wouldn’t like that.

The Tri-Valley is known for its outrageous lighting displays and my favorite neighborhood is the Woodland Terrace sub division (off Overlook and Woodland Drive at Alcosta Blvd.) across from Central Park in San Ramon. Go big or go home seems to be the motto of the families living on these streets when it comes to twinkling lights, robotic characters, inflatable figures and illuminated signage. Individual home honors go out Deacon Dave’s annual production on Hillcrest Drive in Livermore. Not to be outdone with lighting merriment is Beautiful Bob’s on Calle Reynoso and Widmer’s World on Chelsea Court, both in Pleasanton. There’s no telling if the residents have some misguided notion that Santa leaves more presents for elaborate lighting displays, but I, for one, applaud the all-out Feliz Navidad effort in an attempt to draw crowds of bright eyed children, dazzled carolers and seasonal gawkers.

My favorite MEGATRON holiday decorated house in the Tri Valley is located at 108 Dana Highlands in the Woodranch Development of Danville. I’m pretty sure the Hubble telescope has that address on space station speed dial. Seeing this house on a chilly December night is magical for kids, parents, grandparents and space aliens. My compliments go out to the host family for what it takes to produce this visual wonderland of Santa-riffic joy. Speaking of Santa, I bet the big guy needs sunglasses when he approaches this florescent/halogen/watt popping masterpiece. Make it a family must-see for the holidays and it will have you singing carols before you’re half way out of the cul-de-sac.

Are any of my readers aware that there is an online Holiday light superstore? There is and you should visit it at

As the nameless narrator says in his voice over during Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)”And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?” The astute Mr. Grinch was obviously onto something deep and profound. Outdoor holiday light displays, like packages, boxes and bags, aren’t what make the holidays special, they just perhaps make the holidays brighter. Let’s all try to keep things in perspective this season when we begin to decorate our homes. Regardless if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Ramadan, jolly begins within. Now get out there and Light It Up!

This Holiday: Stress-LESS and Play-MORE: 15 TIPS for Stress-LESS Holidays

When you think back to the most meaningful moments that you experienced during last year’s holidays, what comes to mind? Maybe you shared a rich conversation with someone, and you felt understood and connected afterward. Or, maybe you received a warm feeling in your heart after giving (or donating) your time and attention to others.

Or possibly, when you think back to last year’s holidays…you feel anxiety in the pit of your stomach. You flash back to the traffic jams, shopping madness, credit card bills, as well as overeating, overdrinking, and the subsequent family drama that commonly occur during holiday gatherings (like when your competitive sibling sent some sarcastic “zingers” your way — that subtly sliced through the cranberry sauce — during the holiday dinner).

Let’s face it, in our culture holidays often become highly charged due to demanding and unrealistic expectations. As a result, if we are not tuned in to (or in touch with) our emotions, holiday interactions can bring out the worst in us. Can you relate?

Unfortunately, the holidays often escalate our stress levels—especially if we allow our own insecure (or perfectionist) behaviors to take over. Meanwhile, when we succumb to these stress-generating modes, we act out our fears and our frustrations.

Furthermore, when we relentlessly push ourselves to check off tasks from our mile-long “to-do” lists — we often end up with intense holiday exhaustion that prevents us from enjoying (or appreciating) the moment. In this way, we transform a holiday—an uplifting celebratory event—into an exhausting drama!

So, now that we’ve illuminated the shadow side of the season (and hopefully clarified how we don’t want to spend our holidays), let’s focus on how we can create what we do want. For this reason, I’ve created an “inspiring reminder” for you to cut out and post (on the refrigerator perhaps?).



~ 15 TIPS for Creating Stress-LESS Holidays ~

  1. Take a sabbatical from perfectionism
  2. Practice patience with yourself and others
  3. Say “yes!” to activities that feed your soul
  4. Don’t overbook yourself (or your family)—just say “no”
  5. Embrace generosity and align yourself with free-flowing abundance
  6. Nip “scarcity thinking” in the bud (such as: there’s not enough attention or love to go around)
  7. Write a list of qualities/traits that you appreciate about a loved one and “gift them” with the list (get ready to receive HUGS!)
  9. Breathe deeply and slowly…to calm yourself (especially while standing in long lines or sitting in holiday traffic)
  10. Keep yourself well hydrated (even at the mall)
  11. Exercise regularly to keep those endorphins pumpin’
  12. Tap in to your innate playfulness (belly laughs are great stress-busters)
  13. Avoid skipping meals and increasing “overly zealous” holiday snacking
  14. Make time to receive lots of nourishing sleep (savor those delicious life-affirming z-zzz’s)
  15. Each morning, while looking in a mirror…”gift” yourself with a sincere compliment




Honoring the natural ebb and flow of your energy during the holiday season is a great way to practice “self-care.” For example, if you need a break while shopping, decorating your home, or cooking, then listen to your body and momentarily hit the “pause button.” Next, head for a café (or your kitchen table), sit down, and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. On the other hand, if you’re home, consider taking a short nap.

Finally, the good news is—resting, regrouping, and recharging leads to increased mind/body energy. Keep these tips in mind during the holiday season (and beyond)…to stress-LESS and play-MORE!


To receive Trina’s inspiring FREE newsletter “Transformational Tips for Mindful Living,” sign-up on her website:


Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author and illustrator of Stress Reduction Journal. She is also the author of the 2-CD Set, Weight Loss: Powerful & Easy-to-Use Tools for Releasing Excess Weight. Trina currently has a private practice in downtown Danville. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or


Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.

Most Investors Appear to be Misallocated

Despite rising risks and low potential returns, investors continue to hoard cash and pour their money into fixed income. Certainly the global economy remains troubled, but we are no longer in crisis and both U.S. and international equities look attractive even after assessing risks. With interest rates at such low levels, resulting in miniscule yields on bonds and cash, I believe investors need to take a more balanced approach to generating income and long term gains if they ever want to retire, make their money last and maintain purchasing power during their retirement.

Back in 2006 the average annual income generated by a $100,000 6-month CD was $5,240. In 2011 the average was only $419.1 Despite this fact, cash as a percentage of total household financial assets continues to be well above historical averages and much higher today than it was during times like 2006 when rates were substantially higher.1 Seems counterintuitive doesn’t it?  When cash rates are high, investors don’t hold much cash but when rates at historical lows, investors are in love with cash!?!

Studying the flows of investor money into and out of mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs) is a great way to gain some perspective. Market cycles exert a powerful pull on investors. For many the natural inclination when faced with uncertainty, confusion and market losses is to flee. In general, as markets rise money flows in and when the markets falter outflows follow. Regrettably many investors buy high and sell low. Since the 2008 we have seen record outflows from stocks and record inflows into bonds. As of August 2012, there has been $1,288 billion of flows into bond funds and fixed income ETFs since 2007. During the same time a total of only $209 billion has flowed into stock funds and equity ETFs. Bond fund flows exceeded equity flows by $51 billion in August 2012 alone!1

This pattern is nothing new. A study of the fund flows in domestic and international equity mutual funds and ETFs over the last several years shows a remarkable correlation with the returns of the global markets.2 The largest inflows into stock funds occur at market tops like in early 2000, 2004 and 2007.Large stock outflows occur at market bottoms like 2008. It should be no surprise that the largest quarterly outflow the last 10 years occurred during the fourth quarter of 2008 at the height of the financial crisis.

Currently we have record flows into bonds and outflows from stocks. This should be telling us that stocks will most likely outperform bonds over the next chunk of years and bonds are most likely priced for disappointing forward returns. This is particularly true giving today’s historically low interest rates. This repeating cycle of human emotion endures. Positive returns lead to excess optimism, then overconfidence, greed and mistakes (i.e. buying high). Negative returns lead to despair, disillusionment, distrust and mistakes (i.e. selling low). It is difficult to time these trends with any degree of accuracy. That is why I believe investors need to own both stocks and bonds at all times. This balanced approach has been proven to generate solid long term returns over all market conditions.

J.P. Morgan, Guide to the Markets, 4th Quarter 2012

  1. American Funds Insights – Managing bear behavior – Winter 2009

Damien helps individuals invest and manage risk. He is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and a principal of Walnut Creek Wealth Management. These are the views of Damien Couture, CFP® and not intended as investment advice. Your comments are welcome. Damien can be reached at 925-280-1800 x101 or

Best In Show Hot Dogs

Make no mistake about it, this article is 100% ego driven. Sometimes even more valuable than the check to keep the lights on is the all important “bragging rights” that come with a confident foreshadowing, and I have the full confidence that one day I am going to be able to say that I knew Jesse and Erin before their first hot dog cart.

Truth be told, I have had Best In Show Hot Dogs on my writing docket since the minute I was gifted the opportunity to write about food in our area. I worked with Jesse at Forbes Mill Steakhouse and listened to Jesses “pipe dream” on numerous occasions. “Oh the things he could do with a pickup truck and a hot dog cart.” We have all heard it before until you find that person years later at a different restaurant, pouring the same drinks, serving the same food, and telling the same story…”oh the things I could have done….” But not Jesse. In the short amount of time since he left the Steakhouse, Jesse Gilbert-LaVere and his other half, Erin Ernst, have realized their dreams by building their product, reputation, and dare I say, empire.

It’s just a hot dog cart you say. I say you are wrong. Best In Show opened in July 2010 with a philanthropic philosophy and a working knowledge of the clients they serve. This mobile duo has exactly what it takes to make it big and they have carefully cultivated their passion to an award winning business venture.

The corner stone of this beef dispensary is their charitable work within our community. They have represented multiple little league organizations, schools, fund raisers, and church events on stages as large as the Oakland Coliseum and every time they do they give 30% of their profits back to the cause they are working for. Best In Show selflessly donated their services and 700 hot dogs to the 9/11 event for San Ramon Fire in 2011. They are the only mobile vending business in the tri-valley to earn a 5 star rating on yelp and work directly with Troops Direct. In a word, they are established, not to mention, they make the best hot dog I have had in years. The kind of flavor that brings you back to a better time and reopens an experience you had as a child.

The cart only serves Evergood Hot Dogs and Sausages including Hot Links, Chicken Apple, and Polish Dogs served on authentic Chicago Poppy Seed Buns, and no cart would be complete without your standard toppings of Ketchup, Mustard and nuclear green Chicago Relish to which Jesse added Chili, Cheese, Sauerkraut, Celery Salt, 2 kinds of peppers and Fried Onions. Further proving that the proverbial finger is on the pulse, Jesse pays attention to the weather, and if the forecast calls for a cooler evening then look for his homemade Southern Style BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches.

Charity is the corner stone, but business smarts drive the success and Jesse can be found outside Meenars Bar in Danville Thursday-Saturday from 10pm-2:14am (smart enough to have a firm quitting time to minimize the challenges that can come from hungry patrons leaving any bar at 2am), but just in time to set up shop Sunday mornings at the Walnut Creek Farmers Market on Locust and Cole.

His team has grown, his equipment has multiplied and his visions continue to soar and Jesse hopes to move his empire indoors soon and is currently shopping for a brick-and-mortar solution (insert potential bragging rights here).

Let me remind you that Burger King, McDonald’s and In-n-Out all started with this American Dream foundation and I have no doubt that Jesse’s generations will be supported by what was once a simple hot dog cart and a man with a dream.

Best In Show Hot Dogs,, 925-330-3429

Style…Beyond the Fitting Room

Boots are a fashion must-have for a chic winter wardrobe. There are so many choices … which ones will withstand the test of time? Here are a few of my favorites:

*Flat riding boot: This classic, equestrian-inspired style is perfect for wearing with skinny jeans tucked in and creating a sophisticated look. Top with a cozy sweater or blazer, and this look will take you from a day of running errands to a casual dinner. Avoid “bunchy knees” by wearing skinny jeans, jeggings or leggings—boot cut jeans are too bulky, and should not be worn tucked in. Try “jean-grabbers”, a handy elastic devise that clips to the bottom of your jeans and holds them in place ( Photo 1 (Michael by Michael Kors, $295, available at Neiman Marcus)
Tall boot with a heel: This style is much better to wear with a boot cut jean, tailored dress slacks or a dress, and is your best option for a professional setting. Keep the styling is relatively simple—not a lot of buckles and straps, and a toe is neither too pointy nor too round. Chocolate brown or black suede are the most versatile colors. Photo 2 (Vaneli for Jildor, $265, available at
“Beatle” boot: Perfect for straight leg or boot cut jeans, this boot has been a classic since the Fab Four wore them in the early 60’s. They can be suede and simple, or they can be embellished with studs for a rocker vibe, depending on your style. Photo 3 (Sam Edelman, $130, available at
Rain boot: East Bay fashionistas know that “Wellies” brighten up a rainy day while keeping their tootsies warm and dry. Coordinate your rain boots with your umbrella and jacket for a look that will bring smiles, even on the wettest days. Photo 4 (Hunter, $135, available at Neiman Marcus)
Bootie: This trend-turned-wardrobe-staple gives an outfit extra a little extra edge. They can be worn with any style of jeans, or with a dress, which kicks it up a notch. It helps to have shapely legs—if you have “cankles” (thick calves/ankles), perhaps stick to wearing your booties with slacks.
Photo 5 (Sam Edelman, $149.99, available at
Honorable mentions: Sorrell snow boots (for legit snow conditions), cowboy, motorcycle and desert boots. And as for Uggs? Not a fan — sorry.

Beauty Gift Ideas for The Holidays What We Love

It’s the time of year when our store comes alive with excitement with gifts galore in every corner. To keep up with all the excitement we have put together some of our favorites gift ideas to help you find that perfect gift for your loved ones. We aspire for our store to be precisely where your gift list and happiness intersect. Nothing makes us happier than helping to make holiday dreams and wishes come true.

What We Love: Sparkle Lip Gloss with Peptides, Fleur Visage Cosmetics
Why You’ll Love It: This extraordinary Lip Gloss has powerful peptides to keep your lips twice as nice while hydrated and smooth, giving you a perfect pout and extra twinkle this holiday season.

What We Love: Eye Shadow Paint Dust, Fleur Visage Cosmetics
Why You’ll Love It: Glow like a super model this holiday season with this incredible sparkle eye paint dust. Super Shimmery to brighten up your eyes and make them look decadent and irresistible for the holidays!

What We Love: Shimmery Bronzing Dust, Fleur Visage Cosmetics
Why You’ll Love it: Girls will love to find our gorgeous Bronzing Shimmer Dust in their Christmas stockings this year. It’s all the craze this season. Shimmer your hair, shimmer your skin and shoulders for that amazing glow and for that special night out!!! All the requirements for a beautiful holiday season!

What We Love: Ultra Firming Eye Cream, Ongrien Advanced Skin Care
Why You’ll Love It: With the hustle and bustle of the holidays and everyday life, getting a full night’s sleep, which is vital for healthy skin, can seem like a luxury. Apply this triple action eye cream around the eyes massaging nightly to decrease puffiness, minimize fine lines and to restore hydration for youthful looking eyes and you’ll look caught up on your Zs-even if you’re not.

What We Love: Ultimate Cellular Repair, Ongrien Advanced Skin Care
Why You’ll Love It: Quenching a Thirsty complexion takes a good dose of this nourishing treatment. Skin will soak up the healthy Nuero-Peptide based nutrients, which refines the skin and gives the complexion a toned appearance. This cream repairs sun damage and visibly reduces wrinkles. We love this fine anti-aging treatment, and you will too when you notice your skin is smoother and more beautiful than ever.

At The Rouge we only carry the finest cosmetic products with the highest grade of ingredients on the market. Don’t know what you want for Christmas? We have holiday gift certificates and wish list available.


Making the Grade: Advocacy for Children with Special Needs

Recently, I started tutoring a former student who is autistic. His parents are extremely driven to find the best course of action for his education. This entails meetings, assessments, observation, tutoring…the list goes on. It got me thinking about advocacy and support for parents who have children with learning needs. Having a child with a learning difference, be it ADD, dyslexia or any other need, can be daunting. Where do families go to educate themselves and find emotional support? How do they begin the long process of making changes to their child’s education? I asked the mother of my student what they found to be the most challenging part of the diagnosis for them and what has been the biggest help. My hope is that this information will assist other families in the process of becoming well-informed, proactive advocates for their children.

The Most Challenging Part: Some school systems do an excellent job of guiding parents through this challenging time and unfortunately, some do not. In the case of my student’s family, they did not agree with the school’s stance and forged their own path and found their own support. However, it is not always that way. Often meeting with the school’s special needs teacher or administration can give you the information and resources you need to make the next steps.

What Has Been Helpful: Connecting with parents who are going through a similar situation is imperative. Her saving grace was a woman she met through the school who also has an autistic child. She acted as a comfort, a counselor, a sounding board and above all a friend.

Extra Help: If the public school system does not provide sufficient support or you find your child needs more assistance, there are organizations that can help. These companies give many services such as student observations, behavior management, classroom assistance and tutoring after school.

Know Your Rights: Find out everything you can about special education law. While you may never need a lawyer, consulting one for questions surrounding this complicated topic is beneficial to ensuring your child is well taken care of by the school.

Here is a list of local services that cater to a variety of learning differences:

  • Choices 4 Learning: A great website to use when starting this process as it provides many different kinds of resources in the Bay Area.
  • Pacific Autism Learning Services: Services for autism that include, evaluations, aids, and tutoring.
  • Step by Step for Success: Academic coaching K-12 specializing in ADD/ADHD, NDL, Dyslexia and executive functioning.
  • Parents Helping Parents: Support groups and events for parents.

If your child has been diagnosed with a special need, remember that you are not alone. There are many local resources that are just a phone call away and that can help you gain the knowledge you need to make excellent decisions for you and your child.

Dr. Quarterback Sculpts Success in Two Fields

Every morning plastic surgeon Brett Stompro begins his day at his Danville office with thoughts of tummy tucks, eyebrow lifts, and the ever-popular rhinoplasties. By mid-afternoons in the fall he’s concentrating on three-step drops, cover-two zones and pulling guards as an assistant varsity football coach at California High School in San Ramon.

“It’s easy to switch gears,” Dr. Stompro says. “It’s two different worlds. Ninety-eight percent of my patients are women and are treated with loads of TLC. In the afternoons…well let’s just say that young men need to know you mean business.”

Dr. Stompro opened his doors in Blackhawk Medical Center in 1994 and started to work for the Cal High football program in 2006. In at least one instance, the two different worlds crossed. “The mother of one of my players had been in my care. After practice one day she said to her son, ‘I see Dr. Stompro is one of your coaches, isn’t he nice?’ The player said, ‘No, he’s not nice…and he cusses, too.’”

Before entering medicine, Stompro’s career as a star quarterback for San Leandro High School earned him a high school hall of fame designation and numerous awards. He also earned two varsity letters as the centerfielder for the San Leandro baseball team. “Coaching satisfies my competitive thirst,” he says. “It’s as close as you can get to playing. Every achievement I’ve had has been the result of hard work and not accepting failure. “I got into plastic surgery and coaching for similar reasons. I love helping people be everything they can be and seeing them achieve their dreams.”

Dr. Stompro’s duties at Cal include coaching the quarterbacks, the linebackers and special teams. “Our quarterbacks have done well,” Stompro says. “We may not have some of the gifted passers that Monte Vista and San Ramon have, but we’re efficient. Our quarterback ratings are among the highest in the East Bay, and our touchdown to interception ratio is consistently one of the best in the region. That measure is the number one predictor of success as an offense. Coach (Eric) Billeci’s play calling has also been great.”

Dr. Stompro clearly takes pride in all his work. He got into plastic surgery because it merged his interest in medicine with a talent he has for sculpting. “It was like combining my vocation and my avocation,” he said. The results in plastic surgery are often striking, as are those he achieves with young men. “I love taking a player who may not have played much as a freshman, and work with him within and outside practice to hone his skills and make him successful.”

Future Cal High star quarterback Drew Reil was relegated to playing in the “fifth quarter” of frosh games in 2007 after the scoreboard was turned off. With Dr. Stompro’s help, by the time Reil was a senior in 2010 he led Cal to a 12-2 record, breaking records along the way.

The schedule Dr. Stompro keeps every week this fall is daunting. He greets patients at about 7 a.m. and mixes surgical procedures with office work depending on the day. He leaves for Cal at 2:30 p.m. and is on the field for practice from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. On Thursdays the team has a dinner that runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and on Fridays games and post-game analysis can run past midnight. Finally they return to host the weekly Sunday night coaches’ game planning dinner.

“I’m a lucky guy,” says Dr. Stompro. “In my medical school yearbook I said I wanted to be a plastic surgeon, coach football and live on a golf course. I got two out of three.” And as the saying goes, two out of three ain’t bad.