I had a wonderful opportunity to interview a family of three generations that was here for Family Week recently in August. It’s been 18 years since Rancho La Puerta did Family Week and Sarah Livia decided it was about time to do it again. It was such a delight for the families who came this year for both the kids and the parents. I interviewed Mary Drake who is mother to Nicole Velazquez and grandmother to Tessa Velazquez. Then they invited me to a lunch that the kids made at our cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta. I can’t tell you how delicious the food was and how excited and proud the kids were of what they made. Below is my interview with Mary and Nicole where they shed some light on what Family Week is like here at the Ranch.
Kate: How many times have you been to the Ranch?
Mary: I want to say about 12, I don’t really count them. I found this (the ranch) about nine years ago when I bought it at a KPBS auction with a friend. I got so addicted I came like that May and I brought my husband back in October and I’ve come once or twice a year ever since.
It’s easy it’s so close to home. It’s my favorite place on earth. I have traveled the world, and I am not kidding, I love this. I just love coming here.
Kate: What is it about this place that you love?
I guess it’s the way I feel about myself when I’m here. It just sort of puts everything back into perspective and makes me feel or reminds me of who I really am or who I want to be. It just takes away that craziness of the outside world. It just makes you feel balanced.
Kate: Yeah, you kind of get back to what it’s all about without all the distractions.
Mary: That’s right, you certainly do. The minute I pull up and see that gate, immediately it starts to happen. I feel like the magic’s working.
Kate (to Nicole): How many times have you been here?
Nicole: This is my first time. My daughter is seven so we are obviously able to come because we took a Family Week. I don’t know if I would want to leave her for a week before, but she is having such a good time. I am too. And it’s so nice that we have our vacation together, but we also get to do things separate. She’s off doing her cooking class and now I get to do yoga and stretch class and then we meet up again. I feel like she’s in really good hands.
Kate: It’s a nice balance.
Nicole: It is, it’s a great balance.
Mary: This is the first time they have done family week in 14 years and I was thrilled when I heard about it. I was here in May and I called my daughter from the Ranch and said please tell you’re free the week of August 4th because we have this opportunity and I signed up right then and there. I did. I’ve always wanted to share it with my daughter, but because of Tessa being so little we couldn’t. Because if she leaves her, she leaves her with me which is rare if she leaves her, but if I’m here my daughter can’t come with me, so…
Kate: It’s great that you can be here all together.
Mary: Three generations. You know what else is nice too is there’s a woman by the name of January Crockett and my husband and I actually bought our home from her and she started coming here at age nine with her grandparents. Now she’s my age, she’s in her 60s and she still comes once a year. With her kids and her grand kids. So it really is pretty special that you can start that early and have it be part of your life, you know?
Kate: Yeah, I’ve found the majority of people here are people that have already been here. That’s amazing to me that people keep coming back.
Nicole: It’s obviously special if people keep coming back.
Mary: Oh yeah, I know, sometimes I look at the board and it says some people have been here 30 or 40 times and it’s like, oh someday they’ll put my name up there for 30 times!
Kate: What are your favorite activities that you’ve been doing this week?
Mary: Well, for me personally…well, the hikes are always my thrill, I mean, I love those hikes, but I think more importantly is the thrill of sharing all of this together. I mean it’s just so nice to be together and get to do all of this.
Kate: Just the girls.
Mary: Just the girls! I know!
Nicole: It would be a great family vacation too. If I came with my husband. Like this afternoon we’re having massages and Tessa will go to the activity pool so it’s just great that everybody kind of gets to do what they want. So there’s something for everybody. It’s fantastic.
Kate: There’s endless opportunities to do activities.
Nicole: It’s great because you can come here and get a lot of exercise and get really fit or you can come here and just have a lot of relaxation. I’ve been doing a lot of like stretch classes and massages which is great.
Mary: Another really big class that I thought was wonderful was I took the opportunity to go with the children yesterday to where they’re building that oven. I have never ever in my life built a table out of mud, straw and I mean, off came the jewelry and the watch, in were the hands in that mud. It was wonderful! And my granddaughter Tessa, was so into for the two days. She worked so hard I mean she came back covered in mud so happy and so proud that she made this table for this oven. So I mean, when else do you have a chance to do something like that?
Also, teaching them about the environment and how you have to take care of it. It’s a wonderful opportunity, I can’t even think of any where else I could have taken her where she could have learned things like that.
Kate: And it’s so close to home too.
Nicole: It is so easy to get here.
Mary: You know, it’s so funny too because the fact that it’s in Mexico and it’s so safe. I mean obviously, if I drive here with my daughter and my granddaughter, my two prized possessions in the world. Obviously, I feel very comfortable driving into Tecate. I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily go to Mexico City tomorrow, but coming to Tecate, it’s easy.
Kate: Yeah, I’ve found that too. So you drove over the border directly to the Ranch?
Mary: Yeah. I always have. Except now that I heard apparently the exit line has gotten quite a bit more of a challenge, so maybe next time…
Kate: I’m glad you brought that up because I’ve heard a lot of people are scared to come down here.
Mary: No need to be. Like I said, I’m, you know, am an intelligent woman. I mean obviously, anything can happen anywhere. I could be in Italy and something could happen, but I just drove with my two biggest possessions in my life and not even concerned.
Kate: Are there any special moments you’ve experienced this week that kind of stand out?
Nicole: I think every day there is a special moment.
Mary: Every day there is a special moment.
Nicole: I mean, I can’t think of specifics, but just having a picnic under the tree yesterday and just being outside and watching Tessa play with all the other kids. It’s just really nice.
Mary: And the new friendships we’ve made. We met a lovely young boy named Lucas and his mom, Juliana, who I believe, is also doing something for the Ranch. And they live in San Diego and we’ve already exchanged numbers because Lucas and Tessa will have play dates. It’s just so nice to meet a new friend. So that’s really special too I think.
I have loved hearing the children laughing. I went around the bend the other day, I heard these laughing kids and I thought, I’ve never heard that at the Ranch. There’s a new experience today. And I really loved hearing that.
Kate: It brings a different aspect to the Ranch.
Mary: It does bring another aspect to it.
Nicole: They did a really good job too because there’s something for everyone. Kid wise, whether you have a son or a daughter, I mean there’s so many art classes, then athletic classes. They did a really good job covering all children’s interests.
Mary: Victoria deserves a big medal or a big applause or something to acknowledge her Friday night because she has been incredible. She really has been. It’s just nice as a grandmother and to have a new dimension of Rancho la Puerta. I’ll still come back by myself during the year with my other girlfriends because that’s what we do. But now I can add this. It’s not like I’m going to do one or the other. I’m fortunate that I can do both, but the fact that I can now add my granddaughter and my daughter is pretty neat.
Kate: So you think you’ll come back (to Family Week)?
Mary: Oh gosh, yes. As a matter of fact, if they do this next year, I’ll sign up and if you sign up at the Ranch before you leave, next year we’ll get the same room. I’ll sign up immediately. It just gets put in our calendar and we know, this is it. It’s our girl time.
Kate: And Tessa is lucky she gets to start doing this at seven years old. How amazing is that?
Mary and Nicole: I know.
Mary: How amazing is that? I really and truly… this is what I think is so funny, I think Tessa has done more than what we have done. She is from 8:45 on, I mean every hour on the hour, it’s really kind of fun. She’s loving it.
Nicole: Oh, she’s having so much fun. She said she wants to live here. She doesn’t want to go home.
Mary: The first night after we left the dining room, she looked at me and said, “Nana, I love this place.”
Nicole: She does.
Mary: Isn’t that sweet?
Nicole: So she’s having a vacation of a lifetime.
Kate: Are there any last words you want to say about this place?
Mary: For me personally, I feel so fortunate that as a woman I’ve found a niche in my life that just fulfills me and I don’t think everybody really finds that? And not only that I can come as often because it’s so close to my home, but it just makes me feel so good about myself. And then the fact that you know, once a year I can share it with my daughter and granddaughter. Pretty special. It’s better than winning the lottery. You can’t put a price tag on that. Pretty special week. What about you honey, what do you think?
Nicole: So far, this is my first time here, we’ve been having such a wonderful time. I would come back in a heart beat. And my daughter too, I mean, it’s just been such a great vacation for us so far.
Mary: We went to Spain last year, the there of us and Tessa said she liked this even better. She did! We went to Spain, it was my 60th birthday, it was a gift from my husband. I have family there because my mother was from Spain and Tessa said, “You know Nana, I like this better than I like Spain!” So what do you know, that’s pretty cute, huh?
Kate: That’s adorable.
Mary: Isn’t that adorable?
Kate: I guess when you go on a trip like that, you ‘re sight seeing and traveling around and here, everything is at your fingertips.
Kate: Just a walk away, so that’s one of the benefits of coming here.
Mary: I think Tessa’s biggest challenge here has been, do I stay swimming? Or do I go to my photography class?
Nicole: I know, she’s like, “I can’t decide, it’s so hard!” Because there’s just like so many fun things to do.
Mary: Isn’t that funny? Now we get to go to La Cocina Que Canta (to eat lunch prepared by the kids cooking class) and did you see the little chef hats?
Nicole: I think the second night we were here, they painted in art class, their chef hats with their names on them. So they all have their chef hats they’re going to wear in class.
Mary: And they’re getting aprons I hear.
Nicole: And the chef came over and painted a hat with them. So they’ve all been looking forward to today since Monday when they made their hat.
Mary: In face it was so cute, every morning Tessa would say, “Mom, what day is it?”…It’s Tuesday or Wednesday and she go,” Oh Mom…” like she doesn’t want it to be over.
Nicole: She said, “Can we stay longer than Saturday?”
Mary: I wish we could.
Nicole: I’m like, just enjoy the moment. You’re here right now.
Mary: Isn’t that funny? Well everyone is having a good time.
Nicole: So I hope they keep doing the family week. They certainly have the activities covered. There’s something for her to do all day long. And then the great thing we didn’t realize until we got here is that they have the counselors that will take them from activity to activity.
Mary: See there she is Miss. Hazel (one of the counselors walks in)
Nicole: I mean it’s such a life saver for us because we’re not rushing to grab her to take her somewhere. You just tell them afterwards she’s going to go something else, like after swimming she’s going to go to jewelry and they’ll walk there. And make sure she’s taken care of.
Mary: Which we didn’t know. I think there could be an improvement. Of course I don’t think it was advertised. I don’t know if I would have really known about it except that I was here in May, but that’s how I learned about it. And then when my daughter and I made our spa appointments, we made them at different times so that we could always cover Tessa, not knowing that…
Nicole: We could do it at the same time and she’s totally covered.
Mary: Right, we didn’t understand that when we first got signed up so the fact that we can both be in the spa at the same time because Tessa is covered from point A to point B, it’s phenomenal.
Nicole: I mean, I love coming here with my mom, but if you came as a family, you know, you can have your couple time and then the kids have their time. So it really is like the perfect family vacation.
Kate: I didn’t know that either and that’s such a huge benefit.
Mary: It is a huge benefit. It is.
Hazel: I think you know, it’s just kind of been a work in progress. The last time we did this was in 1994 and Sarah Olivia decided she wanted to do it and it’s just been getting pieced together.
Nicole: I’m really impressed. Everything just seems like it’s run very smoothly. I think it’s been great.
Mary: So am I. In fact like I said, if they’re going to do it next year, I’ll sign up before I leave. And I’ve known you a long time (to Hazel) and that’s another nice thing. Seriously the comfort level of knowing, and I mean obviously I don’t know Hazel well, but for years I’ve taken her classes so I know Hazel and knowing that my granddaughter is with her, it’s just a comfort level that, it’s not a total stranger.
Kate: It’s kind of like family here…you get to know everybody throughout the week.
Mary: Yes it is, I mean like Barry, I can’t believe his daughter is 20. The first time I met her, I think she was like 11 or 12 or something. It’s like, what happened? Did I get that much older myself? But you know, it’s nice, because all of a sudden you’ve got, you know my granddaughter is with people I know and trust. It’s a nice thing. Not just a total stranger that you just met that day.
Nicole: And then the kids make friends so for dinners we end up sitting with a bunch of other people because the kids want to sit together. It’s such a fun family environment.
Hazel: But different from Club Med.
Mary: Oh please, that’s the best part. No, no this is once in a lifetime. It’s really and truly an experience. I think the Ranch is just…
Kate: It’s a magical place.
Mary: It is a magical place. There’s no question it is. I think you might be surprised how it would fill up (for Family Week).
Hazel: And I think a lot of people already have their plans for next summer.
Mary: Of course, yes.
Kate: And also, I just think San Diego locals…
Kate: San Diego is a big city and a lot of times family don’t want to go to far for their vacation and this is like exotic and it’s an hour away.
Nicole: It’s very convenient.
Mary: It’s a nice thing, you’re in Mexico. Do you know what else to that I’ve found. I don’t know if I would have ever, ever booked August except that’s the only I could come for family week. It is not uncomfortably hot. It’s warm, but it’s not like I’m in Palm Desert in 115 degrees at all. There’s so much shade and a breeze. It’s cool in the mornings so I can still do my hike.
Nicole: It’s cool in the evenings.
Mary: I also like the fact, you know, the pool because I like those aerobic classes. It’s much easier to be in the pool than in the winter. And it’s really not unbearable. Not at all. And I live in La Jolla where half the time it’s overcast. This is wonderful. To see the sun.
It’s so nice to be here. I hope they do this every year. I’ve got my May little group of girl friends and I’ll have my August, so…
Kate: Well, thank you so much for doing this, this was great!
Mary: You’re welcome!