Judy, Judy, Judy

Are you there God? It’s me Leslie (or Andrea, or Susie or Jacqueline …).

I’d venture to guess there’s hardly a woman out there, who was once a 12-year-old girl, who hasn’t poured over Are you there God? It’s me Margaret and at least considered trying out the exercises that Margaret and her friends attempted with, “we must, we must, we must increase our bust.”

With more than 75 million books sold and translated into 20 different languages, nobody speaks “girl” better than Judy Blume, which is why diehard fans, myself included, cheered last week when she received the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

This is one highfalutin award, normally given to those who grace the literature section at Borders. People like Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison, John Updike and Eudora Welty, not exactly the company that Blume usually keeps.

For those men out there who grew up under a rock or never had a sister, Judy Blume is to 12-year-old girls as the Three Stooges are to 12-year-old … well really all … guys. Sorry, but it’s a fact of life that girls mature faster and they stay that way, thanks in part to all of the advice we’ve received over the years from people like Blume, Helen Gurley Brown, and, of course, Marsha Brady.

Blume is real treasure to those of us who grew up as girls. She writes frankly about the lives of kids and particularly girls, going through puberty, which Blume calls “the great equalizer.”

Training bras, menstruation, first kisses, zits, bratty little brothers — her books are the real classics. Unlike the books that are better to have read than to actually read, (the ones you suffer through to pass an English test or to not be ostracized out of future cocktail party conversations), from Blume you learn important stuff, like “all boys of 14 are disgusting — They’re only interested in two things — pictures of naked girls and dirty books,” and “If you ask me, being a teenager is pretty rotten — between pimples and worry about how you smell!”

See, she gets us!

Which is why I’m so happy that the National Book Foundation finally gets her.

Judy Blume was the big sister I’ve always wished I had. How cool would it be if I could come home after school and ask Judy to help with all the big decisions of life?

As a fourth grader at Harding School, when I was freakishly tall and forever trying to fit in, Judy could have told me: “It’s very foolish to laugh if you don’t know what’s funny in the first place.” (Blubber) And later that year, when I discovered boys weren’t so bad after all, if only she could have told me, “I don’t believe in cooties anymore.” (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing)

Even as a sophomore at San Marcos, when I finally figured out the difference between a real friend and someone you hang out with, it would have been nice to have Blume there to reinforce it with, “You know at first I wanted you to like me, but now I really don’t care if you do or you don’t.” (As Long as We’re Together)

Or when contemplating a major at UCLA. “It’s important to experiment, so when the time comes you’re all ready.” (Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret)

Okay, so Margaret and her friend were talking about practicing kissing on a pillow, but really it applies to a lot of things, not just kissing.

If only I had Blume there when my little sister bugged me incessantly and my parents drove me crazy, she would have understood just how I felt.

If only Judy were there to help me, the knowing voice of another girl who had actually survived growing up.

Huh … I guess she was there for me after all.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on November 25, 2004.

Sansum gets $90,000 diabetes grant

Sansum Diabetes Research Institute (SDRI) received a $90,000 multi-year grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation to support the construction of a new Diabetes Research & Care Center, said Rochelle Rose, Director of Development.

The grant brings the total amount raised to date to $1.8 million toward the $2.7 million capital campaign goal.

Phase 1 of the renovation of the 5,000 square-foot patient care facility at 2219 Bath St. began in October and is scheduled for completion at the end of 2005. The state-of-the-art center will include a new community education center, metabolic training kitchen, medical procedure/surgical laboratory, and offices for a new diabetes educator, nutritionist, and pediatric endocrinologist.

Approximately 17,000 people in the Santa Barbara area have diabetes, Rose said.

One of the research projects in progress at SDRI involves identifying risk factors for Type 2 diabetes in local youth. With the increase in obesity and inactivity among teens, this type of diabetes (which involves resistance to the normal action of insulin by body tissues) is becoming more prevalent.

“We are seeing if we can develop a very simple test using a finger-stick blood sample …. to select out those high school students who look like they’re at particular risk of having the disease,” said Dr. David Pettitt, who heads up the project team.

Eating healthy food and living a healthy lifestyle are the best ways to prevent diabetes at any age. “Every invention of mankind is designed to let us do something with a lower energy expenditure. And it’s just getting to the point where we’re doing less and less,” said Pettitt.

“People can develop little tricks, like instead of driving all the way to work or all the way to school, they can park a mile away like I do and walk a mile twice a day,” he said.

SDRI offers free community education and diabetes prevention classes year-round. For more information on programs or to donate to the capital campaign call 682.7638 or visit www.sansum.org/research.htm.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on November 18, 2004.


Green Microbes Bacteria Pathogen Germs Infection, courtesy maxpixvel.freegreatpicture.com.

Green Microbes Bacteria Pathogen Germs Infection, courtesy maxpixvel.freegreatpicture.com.

Attached to the most adorable carriers, how can anyone turn them away? The truth is, you can’t–and it’s enough to make you sick.

There’s a fine line between obsessive-compulsive disorder and healthy hygiene. When it comes to avoiding colds and flu, experts say we can learn from the example of a certain germ-obsessed television detective.

While Monk’s obsession with keeping surfaces as clean as possible may seem extreme, experts agree that cleanliness is next to flu-lessness, especially when it comes to your hands.

As Susan Perkins, a nurse with the Santa Barbara Elementary and High School Districts, put it, “Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.”

School children are taught to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice while washing their hands. Scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency are even giving lessons to North Carolina kindergarteners on “Why We Wash Our Hands,” visually aided by an ample supply of purple glitter, which any victim knows, spreads faster than any germ ever invented.

But other than rinse and repeat, what can you do to stay healthy?

Cleaning expert Cheryl Mendelson, who literally wrote the book on housecleaning — Home Comforts — counsels the more obsessed among us to relax.

“Many people have mild tendencies this way (to clean compulsively). If you are one of them, it may help to keep in mind that nothing that lives in your kitchen sink or on your toilet handle can compare to what thrives in a healthy person’s nose — an ecosystem that no one can or should do anything about,” said Mendelson. “Nor have there been any epidemics arising from poor housekeeping practices.”

With our wealth of antibiotics, vaccines and antibacterial products available, some experts think we may have even gone too far in protecting ourselves. For example, antibiotics are sometimes prescribed to treat a common cold, which is a viral infection and not affected by antibiotics.

Instead of making us healthier, these antibiotics and antibacterials can do us harm, according to Dr. Howard Markel, author of When Germs Travel. The more ubiquitous these bacteria killers become, the more opportunities that germs have to adapt to them.

A recent Columbia University study suggested antibacterial products don’t cut the overall risk of contracting a cold, a runny nose, a fever, a sore throat or diarrhea because these will destroy all the bacteria in their paths (including the friendly ones) leaving only the sturdiest — and often the most dangerous — germs in their wake. Regular soap, plain bleach and water, as well as alcohol-based products, dislodge harmful bacteria just as well as antibacterials do, without spawning more dangerous germs.

Unfortunately germs from other people aren’t as easily controlled as cleaning our environments. Proper flu etiquette is nothing to sneeze at.

A recent letter sent to La Patera School parents offered these common sense guidelines:

= Don’t send your child to school with an illness that could spread.

= Don’t send your child to school if he or she would be miserable all day or would distract the other children.

= Have “just in case” care arrangements for your child in the event you are unable to stay home with a sick child.

Perkins also emphasized the latter.

“It can be very difficult for parents because employers are not always understanding of parents’ need to stay home with sick children,” she said.

“Even more important, if you’ve got a sick child at school, they’ve gone to school, don’t feel well during the course of the day, it’s important that a parent pick them up within an hour of being called because there isn’t really any place for kids to sit and rest in the health office.”

With vaccines in short supply this year, the second line of defense against cold and flu germs is “respiratory etiquette,” which means keeping our germs to ourselves. Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, using a tissue and throwing that tissue away when you use it.

And, of course it’s important to practice prevention as much as possible.

“We encourage parents and students to get enough rest, eat a healthy diet,” Perkins said. “Its kind of inevitable that they will get sick at some point … the first few days of a cold, if a child’s really not feeling well, has a lot of symptoms, coughing, sneezing, fever especially, we encourage parents to keep them home … for at least 24 hours after their temperature is back to normal.

“It’s not realistic that they’re going to stay home for entire duration of a cold because you can have that runny nose for five to 10 days probably and then you can have a residual cough for even up to three to four weeks. But if kids are acutely sick, we encourage them to stay home a day or two.”

Not to obsess about it … but that advice goes for grownups, too.


Stopping the Spread of Germs Illnesses like influenza and colds are caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. The flu and colds usually spread from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help stop the spread of germs.

Take Care

= Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.

= Cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away. Cover your cough or sneeze if you do not have a tissue. Then, clean your hands.

= Clean your hands often.

= When available, wash your hands — with soap and warm water — and rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces. Wash for 15 to 20 seconds. Soap and the scrubbing action dislodge and remove germs.

= Alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers also may be used.

= Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.

= Stay home when you are sick and check with a health-care provider when needed.

= When you are sick or have flu symptoms, stay home, get plenty of rest, and check with a health-care provider.

Common Flu Symptoms

= Fever (usually high)

= Headache

= Extreme tiredness

= Cough

= Sore throat

= Runny or stuffy nose

= Muscle aches

= Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (much more common among children than adults).

What You Can Do

= Practice other good health habits

= Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food. Practicing healthy habits will help you stay healthy.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on November 18, 2004. 

An Incredibles imagination

Our Leslie Dinaberg sure gets animated when it comes to fantasizing about superpowers

Ah, to be a super. Is it too much to fantasize about? For the five of you who weren’t at the Metro Theatre last weekend, The Incredibles follows the adventures of a family of former superheroes trying to fit in with the rest of the world by not using their powers. Until one day ….

6:33 a.m.: my alarm goes off. Aargh! Time for my daily dilemma, do I hit the snooze button or hit the gym? A light bulb illuminates above my pillow. With a few superwoman stretches, I am finally the right height for my weight. I can skip the gym and snooze a little bit longer. If only my feet weren’t hanging off the bed.

6:47 a.m.: I hit the snooze again. Now that I’m a superwoman, I can simply jump into my closet/phone booth and jump out perfectly coifed and ready for work. Ka-sweet!

6:49 a.m.: I don’t like this outfit. Sha-hooey! Wrong color. Sha-bizzle! Does my super butt look big? Sha-Channel! Ahh, perfect!

7:32 a.m.: wake up son for school. Use my mind control powers to convince him that he wants Wheat Germ instead of Cocoa Puffs for breakfast. Sha-psyche!

8:03 a.m.: driving to school, it looks a little cloudy. Mmmpf! I send those clouds away with a flick of my fingers, and then teleport that suburban right out of my favorite parking spot at Vieja Valley.

10:45 a.m.: I’ve already completed all my interviews for three stories. It’s amazing the quotes you get when you can read people’s minds. I always thought Marty Blum liked kittens. Meow!

11:37 a.m.: the construction next door to the office is driving me crazy. Yaarg! I use my x-ray vision to see what’s going on. They’re moving way too slowly on the new Walter Claudio spa. I use my mind control ability to convince them to work nights from now on and to give me free facials forever for this cheap plug. Ka-score!

1:15 p.m.: on my way to an interview, a silver Porsche cuts me off to get out of the “exit only” lane of the 101 at Milpas. His mid-life crisis in not my problem. Kapow! He’s got a flat tire.

1:53 p.m.: I’ve only got 45 minutes till my next appointment and my stomach’s growling. Sha-gurgle! I decide to fly over to La Superica and make the line disappear till I’ve got my lunch.

2:17: p.m.: on my way back to the office I fly by Ortega Park. A small child chases a ball onto the street. Mom is nowhere to be found, and the oncoming car doesn’t see the kid. Yowza! I stretch my arms extra long to bring child and ball back to safety. No need to thank me, it’s all in a day’s work. Now I have to write a story about myself.

3:09 p.m.: my meeting is dragging. Zzzz! I go invisible and leave for a while to run some errands. A lady with 14 items in the “10 items or less” line at Vons. Shazam! Learn to count next time! When she gets out to her car a bird will have just done his business on the windshield.

4:30 p.m.: I’ve got one hour to write my story, return seven phone calls and read 57 emails. The phone rings and its my husband reminding me about soccer practice. Holy AYSO Batman! As I calculate ways that my superpowers can help me out of this situation, I spy an ad for The Polar Express, where Tom Hanks plays six different characters in the same movie. Since I only need to do four things simultaneously — write, read, call and kick — my fifth persona goes to see the movie and the sixth one goes home to make dinner.

Me? Make dinner? Rats, I’ve gone too far. Clearly, it was all a fantasy.

Mild-mannered Leslie Dinaberg possesses superhero powers as a wife, mom and reporter. If you’re in trouble, contact her at email

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on November 18, 2004.

Policies throw wrench into school programs

The charms of a one-size-fits-all approach to high school education are obvious. Parents – especially middle-class parents – want to believe their children are destined for college and white-collar careers. But not everyone is suited for the academic world, and society and our economy depend on the skills of people who build things, make things and fix things.

The challenges of providing a comprehensive high school education that truly meets the needs of all students have become even greater with the passage of federal legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB. Local leaders in education and business recently gathered to discuss ways to strengthen technical education offerings while continuing to meet academic requirements.

“Comprehensive high school used to be, in some sense, a shopping mall high school, where students would go from class to class (with) not much connection in between … Teachers didn’t really even talk about what was being offered from department to department – that’s gone,” said Jan Zettel, assistant superintendent secondary education for the Santa Barbara School Districts.

“With the stringent accountability measures that we’re finding in NCLB … no longer can we have those individual teachers in the classrooms not talking, not sharing and not working together,” he continued.

Zettel recently attended the state’s first High School Summit in Sacramento and shared some of the highlights.

“Career technical skill attainment is an empty victory without the mastery of academic skills. So a student who is able to set up an excel spreadsheet but has never mastered percentages, has no idea how to write a formula to calculate a sale price when you have mark-up percentages, that doesn’t work,” Zettel said.

“Students who are in those academic classes master those skills at both the knowledge level and the comprehensive level that will get you a diploma but it won’t get you a job. Not in today’s market.

“… We need to continue to push for small learning communities … your academies, your magnet programs, working together with business partnerships, those are key,” said Zettel. “… Because if we don’t educate all kids to the highest level, college preparatory level, our economy is going to tank.”

A broad coalition of California business and education organizations – including the California Chamber of Commerce, California Building Industry Association, California Restaurant Association, and California Industrial & Technology Education Association, among others – recently banded together to relay to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger their concerns about career and technical education.

“The impacts of a weakened career and technical education system have been felt by both our students who are increasingly leaving our public schools without employable skills and employers who face significant challenges in recruiting and retaining skilled workers to meet the needs of the marketplace,” wrote the coalition.

Among the group’s recommended guidelines for education policy: Greater flexibility and choices for the student learning experience; a stronger emphasis on hands-on skills training and education; and attention to the relevancy of education to the economy.

Along those same lines is the TRADART Foundation, formed in Santa Barbara about four years ago to support the skilled trades and career technical education. The group advises the Dos Pueblos High Construction Academy, provides continuing education classes for employed construction workers and summer internships for high school students.

TRADART board member Frank Schipper summed it up: “Expecting all high school students to complete a college preparatory curriculum ignores the range of skills and education required by the labor market today. … High school programs need to engage all students, be relevant to their futures and be academically rigorous. … Career technical education can and must be an integral part of this effort.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on November 11, 2004.

Choosing children

Life without kids is inconceivable to some, but the results can be challenging, too

When you tell Beth Goodman‘s story in broad strokes – as Dr. Laura, Bill O’Reilly and Oprah Winfrey have done – it’s easy to pass judgment.

Even Goodman admitted, “I can understand … if you present this … should a single woman who can’t afford to take care of all four babies be allowed to go to a sperm bank and get pregnant with quadruplets, … the logical mind says no. I mean that makes no sense.”

But a closer look at Goodman’s journey into motherhood offers a more complex story of a woman who – like many others – longed to have a baby, tried unsuccessfully for many years, and finally, with her 40th birthday approaching, turned to medical science in a last-ditch effort to answer the call of her biological clock.

“I had a good plan to raise one child as a single person,” said Goodman.

She had her schedule worked out so she would conceive and work through her busy summer and fall seasons as a floral designer.

One child I could take with me to a lot of flower-buying excursions. I could have the baby wrapped next to my body when I was doing floral design,” she said. “I knew that I would have to have help, day care during certain periods … but there was a lot of time that I would get to be alone with the child and I was very confident that this was something I could do.”

Even though Goodman had been through in vitro fertilization procedures in her 20s, when she was married, and was well aware such methods can lead to multiple births, she was not emotionally, physically or financially prepared for more than one baby.

“I had been very clear with the doctors from the beginning that selective reduction was not something I would consider and that multiples was not something I could do,” she said.

In fact, Goodman was so clearly insistent she didn’t want more than one baby that she went against the advice of her doctor, William Schoolcraft, a renowned fertility specialist she traveled to Colorado to work with. He recommended implanting four eggs, but Goodman was so worried about the possibility of having twins, she insisted he implant only three eggs, bringing her changes of conceiving down to 35 percent from about 60 percent.

“This was the last chance I felt I had, this was all the money, this was all the time, and I said, ‘You know, in my heart I just feel like three is the right number,'” said Goodman. “It was kind of an awkward moment really because this guy’s the best medical doctor and I am sort of indulging my gut feeling with going with three, but I did.”

While she was in Colorado receiving fertility treatments, Goodman unexpectedly fell in love with a man she felt sure was meant to be the father of her child.

“He would lay on my belly and talk to the eggs, the babies …whatever they were and we would tell them that we loved them all but that it would be very hard for us if all three of them were to stay. And that we would leave it up to them who would go and who would stay but we really were hoping to have a child and that we loved them all, but that you guys work it out.”

They worked it out all right.

Back in Santa Barbara and nine weeks pregnant, Goodman found out that not only had all three embryos implanted, but that one of her eggs had split. She was pregnant with quadruplets. Goodman was devastated. “I just cried,” she recalled.

Sitting in Dr. Alex Soffici’s office, staring at the four little heartbeats on her ultrasound, one of Goodman’s first thoughts was, “I know I don’t have what it takes to kill one of these babies. … I can’t call into being through my choices four lives and then decide oh, oops, this is really inconvenient for me. … We all just went into shock.”

Although she knew in her heart she wouldn’t do selective reduction, Goodman said she still talked to Soffici about it and learned that it was particularly risky because the twins shared a blood supply to some degree and they weren’t certain which ones were the twins.

“Who we thought were the twins were … Cason and Barrett, but we did not find out until all of them were born that Luke and Cason are the twins. So we would have made a mistake and Luke would be here today maybe handicapped,” she said. “With that risk and the risk of losing the whole pregnancy and everything, I just felt like I would not make that choice.”

Next she looked to adoption as the only other alternative to keeping all of the babies. Years before, she and her husband had been on the other side of the adoption equation, presenting themselves as potential adoptive parents, but the marriage broke up before they found a baby. This time, Goodman worked with an adoption attorney, Doug Donnelly, and narrowed her choice to a very wealthy family on the East Coast.

Her children would have been raised by two parents on a 500-acre horse farm, with a private plane, a sailboat, the opportunity to travel the world and grandparents on the premises to boot.

“I felt like I was being so selfish to keep them,” said Goodman.

Plus, most of her family was pressuring her to give some of the children up for adoption, with her ex-husband and many close friends also chiming in. But in her gut, Goodman said she knew that “adoption was not an option.” She envisioned a future when she would be back on her feet financially and sitting with two of her children wondering what the other two were doing.

“I thought, I’m going to prove to them that I love them enough to do this, and I’m going to prove to everyone that love is enough. Of course, it’s not; you have to have money to pay the bills. But the commitment to love, I really think is what brought the help that came. And I couldn’t have done it alone.”

While her boyfriend didn’t stick it out, many others did, including childhood friend Kathryn Kalionzes, who is now Goodman’s partner in a new line of customized children’s clothes that combines Kalionzes’ fashion background with Goodman’s floral designs. AlisaElaine will have its premiere trunk show Nov. 25-27. Check www.alisaelaine.com for further details.

With her parents and siblings in her corner and her finances starting to come back together, Goodman is planning a “gratitude party” as the quads get ready to celebrate their first birthday on Nov. 11.

Despite the challenges of raising quads, Goodman has managed to find time to journal their journey and hopes to publish a book.

A recent entry on her website, www.bethsbabies.com, reads: “As we approach the babies’ first birthday, all together as one, big, happy, healthy family, I know in my heart that I am just where I am supposed to be.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon

Great expectations not always timely

Courtesy pexels.com.

Courtesy pexels.com.

Sometimes with childbirth, the real labor part comes at the beginning and not the end

Driving across town with a vial of my husband’s freshly spun sperm staying warm beneath my blouse, I thought, “I must really want to have a baby.”

After almost three years of trying to conceive, I would have hopped down State Street on stilts and squawked like a chicken if I thought it would help us have a baby.

I practically did.

At least that’s the way it felt during the almost three years it took for my husband’s stubborn sperm to finally stop and ask for directions to my “playing hard to get” eggs.

Only the “baby making challenged” can truly understand the lengths one will go to get pregnant. When I think of all the years I spent trying NOT to get pregnant, and then all of the late nights spent talking about whether the time was right, not being able to have a baby on board felt like the ultimate indignity.

Anyone who thinks that trying to have a baby sounds romantic and fun should “try” for a few years. We “baby making challenged” people know that too much of a good thing can be awful!

And we were amongst the lucky ones. We both had minor little problems that rated us a B- rather than an A+ on the baby-making scorecard, but according to all of the experts, there was no definitive medical reason why we couldn’t conceive.

Hence the years of poking, prodding, testing and temperature taking. I was buying early pregnancy tests in bulk at Costco, and after dozens of false alarms, believe me, one-liners are NOT as funny as you think. I could almost feel my biological clock going tick-tock as the weeks of trying turned into months and then years.

Meanwhile my eggs were getting older and I saw babies and pregnant women everywhere I went. They seemed to be multiplying by the minute as my childless friends dwindled.

The sperm cleaning procedures and subsequent intrauterine inseminations were but a few of the medical interventions we tried to get pregnant. I was seeing the doctor so often that feet in the stirrups felt like my normal seated position and sitting upright felt kind of weird.

When plain old prayers didn’t work, we turned to the spirit world. My friends Ramey and Debbi Echt sent me a Kokopelli necklace (a Hopi fertility symbol) they swore had safeguarded their pregnancies. I wore it religiously even though its flute scratched my chest and it didn’t go with half my clothes.

I “stirred with a fork to expect the stork” and ate all kinds of disgusting food combinations to encourage fertility.

When my mom swore that cleansing our house with a sage and smudge ritual would “purify the atmosphere for us to conceive,” my husband and I (who are normally first in line to mock this sort of thing) giggled our way through the house with burning twigs and even smoked up our cars for good measure.

We were willing to try just about anything, but we were starting to run out of options.

With no solid medical explanation for why I couldn’t conceive, I came close to exchanging my dream of becoming pregnant for the dream of adopting a baby.

Then we decided to take some time off and relax.

No more taking my temperature and checking my ovulation cycle. No more answering “day 15,” when someone asked me what that day’s date was. No more hallucinations that the entire world was populated with pregnant women and every time I picked up the phone it was someone else calling to tell me their good news.

When I was just about ready to write the book on “What to expect when you’re NOT expecting” something unexpected happened.

There were two blue lines on my pregnancy test. The most beautiful blue color I’ve ever seen. I swear my heart skipped a beat, and I thought to myself, “I must really want to have a baby.”

Leslie, proud mom of a 7-year-old boy, can be reached at email

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on November 4, 2004.