Best-Friend bonding

It’s the same routine every year: To plan the obligatory Valentine’s Day date, you and your significant other run through a list of restaurants you haven’t tried and movies you haven’t seen. This year, why not shake things up? Share the occasion with someone who also loves you unconditionally and always knows how to show you a good time — your best friend. Here are some ideas for places to go and things to do with your bestie.

Vineyard Tour and Wine Tasting at Rosenthal: The Malibu Estate

If you were already considering curling up with a bottle of wine on a lonely February weekend, do it in style — with your soul sister! You and your friend can take in the beautiful views of 32 acres of luscious vines running along the Malibu hills, all while enjoying a delicious Cabernet. Reserve your spot for a tour and wine tasting by calling ahead.

26023 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA.
(310) 456-1392

Picnic and Hike in Cheeseboro Canyon

Grab a couple of kosher take-out meals from the Falafel Grill in Agoura Hills, then drive straight up Kanan Road for about three miles to Cheeseboro Canyon, where you two can set up your own Mediterranean picnic surrounded by the park’s natural beauty: rolling hills, oak trees, streams and diverse wildlife. And if you’re not feeling too stuffed, strap on a backpack and enjoy one of the canyon’s hiking trails.

Cheeseboro Road & Palo Comado Canyon Road
Agoura Hills, CA
(818) 597-9192

Chillin’ at The Spot

(18 and over)

With seating inside or outside, yummy Mediterranean food, coffee, tea and a variety of hookah flavors, The Spot hits the spot when you’re in the mood for a low-key eveningwith your guy friends. There’s no sitting charge, and you can stay as long as you like, enjoying the lively atmosphere and sweet scents of apple and raspberry tobacco.

17200 Ventura Blvd.
Encino, CA
(818) 783-2233

Lessons at Simi Valley Krav Maga Training Center

If you’re trying to burn off all of those candy hearts — or possibly just feeling a little extra aggression toward “Singles-Awareness Day” — try a free trial lesson in the exciting Israeli martial art. Friends who sweat together, stay together.

1407 E. Los Angeles Ave., Suite. J
Simi Valley, CA
(805) 306-0500

Massages at Happy Feet

A Zen Chinese foot-massage salon is the perfect place for friends who want to relax together. Dimmed lights and the sound of a running water fountain create a super-relaxing environment, and don’t let the name fool you: For a reasonable price, Happy Feet masseuses give a lot more than just a foot rub. The 50-minute massages include 30 minutes of reflexology and 20 minutes of neck, back and head massage.

17629 Ventura Blvd.
Encino, CA
(818) 981-6288

Jewelry Making at the Bead Lounge

Stylish jewelry plus arts and crafts plus a good friend equals a fabulous girls’ date. This jewelry boutique, with two locations in the Valley, is an inviting place to spend an afternoon catching up with your pal while designing your own jewelry using semiprecious stones, glass beads and charms. The cozy environment and friendly staff — always on hand to give design tips — make it easy to forget the time and the grown-up world outside!

2900 Townsgate Road
Westlake Village, CA
(805) 497-8800.

4873 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Woodland Hills, CA
(818) 704-5656

Art Gallery at the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara/Bronfman Family Jewish Community Center

Syrupy romantic comedies will always be waiting for you at the video store, but this Valentine’s Day, you might enjoy soaking up a bit of culture by viewing the work of childrens’ book illustrator Tibor Gergely and his artist wife, Anna Lesznai. Let the universal beauty of art inspire you and your BFF.

524 Chapala
Santa Barbara, CA
(805) 957-1115

Volunteering at SOVA: Community Food and Resource Program

Rather than just exchanging heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, you and your friends might spread a little love to people in need. To help at SOVA, you can get together with your friends and organize your own food drive by packing up those extra cans of food crowding your pantry. Your generosity helps alleviate hunger in the community — quite a loving gift to give.

Valley Pantry
16439 Vanowen St.
Van Nuys, CA (818) 988-7682

You talking to me? When dogs are our best friends

I spend an enormous amount of time hanging out with my dogs. At the moment, I only have two, but at various times in my recent history, I have had as many as six. Technically, I believe, that constitutes a herd and therefore makes me somewhat like Jane Goodall — but without all those newsletters and research.

Back in those days, my house looked less like a spread in Architectural Digest and more like the badlands of South Dakota, especially during shedding season, when giant clumps of dog hair floated freely through my living room, not unlike tumbleweeds during a dust storm.

And yet I find it all very enjoyable. For me, living with dogs is kind of like living with exchange students from Neptune. We all try to understand each other, but the bottom line is that we are simply from different planets and most things are just outside of all of our comprehension.

That said, I still find it moving the way my dogs good naturedly attempt to live inside of my rules and limitations, despite the fact that most of what is being asked of them probably seems completely counterintuitive to them.

It was thinking about this sort of thing that led me to write my third novel, “Walking in Circles Before Lying Down.” My intention was to try and consolidate my thoughts and feelings about loving and trying to understand the dogs with whom I share my life.

The book is about a woman who so loses track of the direction her life should be taking that when she finds that she can suddenly talk to dogs, she starts wondering whether they are offering advice worth taking.

Dawn Tarnauer’s life isn’t exactly a success story. Married twice before she was even out of her 20s, she now has yet another boyfriend. But at least she hasn’t married him.

She’s still not sure what she does for a living or even what she wants. But after her second marriage crumbles, she finds herself moving in with her sister, Halley, and taking over her job baby-sitting dogs at a dog day care center so Halley can use the time to launch her career as an Internet-certified life coach.

As a roommate, Halley leaves something to be desired. She not only has many platitude-filled, life-coaching affirmations and body language techniques she wishes to practice on Dawn, but a well-documented attraction to sociopaths, having once dated convicted wife- and baby-killer Scott Petersen.

Then there’s Joyce, Dawn and Halley’s narcissistic mother, who continues to pursue a grandiose identity, this time marketing something called “The Every Holiday Tree” that she has developed with her Korean boyfriend, Ng, and is hoping to sell to Wal-Mart. Rounding out Dawn’s life is her mostly absentee father, Ted, who models his life and wardrobe after his long-dead rock idol, Eddie Cochran. He is mourning the end of his brief third marriage by scheduling two dates for the same night.

The one reliable constant in Dawn’s life is her new dog, Chuck, a pit bull mix she adopted from an animal shelter. When Dawn’s boyfriend surprises her one morning with an announcement that he’s leaving her for someone else, her world begins to unravel. Never having been dumped before, she finds herself sobbing into Chuck’s fur; “Now what am I supposed to do?”

She is stunned when she thinks she hears Chuck reply, “Come on! You must have at least suspected there was someone else. Couldn’t you smell her on his pants?” He then vows to take over as the new alpha of their pack, since he feels that Dawn’s instincts have proven continuously unreliable, claiming that he will use his much more reliable centuries-in-the-making canine instincts to help Dawn find better solutions to all of her dilemmas.

From that point on, Dawn realizes that she can talk to all dogs. Either that or she is going crazy. As she debates this with herself, it soon becomes a case of be careful what you wish for, because although the dogs have much to say to Dawn, what they consider good conversational topics aren’t always the kind of thing most of us want to hear.

There is also the dilemma of what to believe. When a dog in her care reveals that it is being abused, Dawn wants to act on this. But should she? How does she know whether the conversation she is hearing is real? What if the actual problem is that Dawn is delusional?

These are questions that I deal with in my own life on occasion. My book provides the best answers I can come up with.

If you’d like to see some reviews, I posted them at