Researcher touts stem cell advances

The promise of human stem-cell research in developing a cure for Parkinson’s disease is very real, according to Dr. Benjamin Reubinoff, director of the Hadassah Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Center in Israel.

While it’s hard to speculate on the exact timing of the research breakthroughs, “we hope that it will be within the next 10 years,” said Reubinoff, who shared his cutting-edge research at the first Santa Barbara Hadassah Health Forum on Jan. 27.

In a morning presentation to selected UCSB faculty and guests, “35 people sat in awe,” said Sissy Taran, vice president of Santa Barbara Hadassah Group. That lecture will also be broadcast to in Santa Barbara and throughout the United States, Taran said.

Reubinoff also shared his findings with more than 100 doctors at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital last week, said Dr. Alex Weinstein.

Reubinoff leads a medical research team at Israel’s Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, which has successfully used stem cells to treat rats with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Embryonic stem cells are capable of changing to form different cells with a wide variety of functions throughout the body. The Hadassah University experiment indicated the stem cells developed into nerve cells, which had previously been lost through Parkinson’s.

“These observations are encouraging, and set the stage for future development that may eventually allow the use of embryonic stem cells for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease in humans,” Reubinoff explained at a public forum at Cottage Hospital, which about 100
people attended.

However, he said, “Further studies would be needed … because the safety of the treatment could not yet be assured.”

“Over 16 million patients worldwide suffer from neurodegenerative disorders, and stem cells could potentially be used to treat any disorder associated with death or malfunction of cells.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on January 29, 2005.

Schools zero in on individual students

Raising the level of academic achievement was the topic as Santa Barbara elementary school principals unveiled their strategies to do so last week. Each plan was developed by individual school site councils and presented to the Board of Education.

“We are developing these action plans so that we can directly address those things that are most critical to our student achievement,” interim Superintendent Brian Sarvis said.

Among the recurring themes were improving early intervention and focusing more on individual student needs, noted board president Lynn Rodriguez.

“In the years I’ve been involved as a parent in this district, I think those are two tremendous improvements that are going hand in hand with other things that we’re doing, so I hope parents can appreciate that as well,” she said.

Among the highlights of the presentations:


With 72 percent of its 600 students living below the poverty line, 78 percent minorities and 59 percent English learners, Adams maintains a full-time newcomers’ program for students who have been in the United States less than two years, with intensive instruction in English, reading, American culture and the educational system, principal Jo Ann Caines said. The school also offers a night program for parents.

Beginning in fourth grade, students are grouped by performance levels, with reevaluations every six weeks. Upper-grade teachers also specialize in one subject at a time rather than preparing for “39 subjects in the course of a week,” Caines said.


Principal Eva Neuer noted that one of the benefits of working at the small, 150-student school is that she gets to be a teaching principal.

“I’m in there teaching a reading group every day,” she said.

With 93 of the students classified as English Learners, reading is a priority, with a goal of developing biliterate, bicultural students with a strong academic and cultural foundation.


“We think that we’re one of the best-kept secrets in Santa Barbara,” principal Michael Vail said of the year-round campus, which consistently meets its academic performance test goals. Cleveland has 420 students, 95 percent of whom are Hispanic and 88 percent of whom are eligible for free and reduced lunches.

“Teachers assess student behavior as well as their own behaviors and look at test data in terms of our programs and the needs of their students,” said Vail, who meets personally with each of the students to review test scores.

“What the principal is doing is emphasizing to the student that the school is interested in their achievement,” he said. “It is only re-emphasizing what is going on in the classroom.”


“Progress is slow, but it’s steady,” said principal Carole Cowman, whose school met its test targets. With 63 percent of its 749 students identified as English learners, Franklin offers a newcomer program and has additional personnel for homework assistance and after-school tutorials.

Franklin also has an evening English-based tutoring program for students and parents.


Principal Marlyn M. Nicolas announced a goal to become a “distinguished school.” Of the 606 students, 87 percent are Hispanic and 55 percent are English learners, while 78 percent are classified as economically disadvantaged.

The school has met its academic performance targets, but Nicolas said there was a problem with a large number of kindergartners not being ready to go on to first grade. There are now two preschools on campus to help prepare children for kindergarten, and the length of the summer school session has been increased. After-school tutors are also available.


Principal Juanita Carney said the school was celebrating its academic performance index scores. With 100 percent of the school’s 571 students qualifying as economically disadvantaged, McKinley met all of its academic target goals, except for those of special education students, which gave it program improvement school status.

With a 95 percent Hispanic population and 70 percent English learners, McKinley offers a newcomer pullout program for first- through third-graders.

Strategies for helping at-risk students include utilizing a student success team, composed of teachers, the principal and a special-education instructor.

“Teachers present each student they are concerned about being at grade level,” said Carney, and the team then comes up with a written plan for each student.


Monroe met all of its academic performance goals last year, principal Brent Millhollen said. While there’s been improvement in student achievement test scores in all areas, he said he would particularly like to see math scores continue to rise.

“Our achievement in math is spotty, but we’ve now fallen in line,” said Millhollen, who thinks a new, computer-based mastery math program will help.

About a third of Monroe’s 526 students speak Spanish as their first language, with 54 percent falling in the economically disadvantaged category, which qualifies the school for Title I funds. Like most Title I schools, much of the money is used for additional personnel. There is an after-school homework center and teachers are available for tutoring.


Head teacher Gwen Phillips said reading and language arts were in a positive place at OAS, a parent cooperative and school of choice for kindergarten through eighth-graders.

OAS met all of its test targets and had a large growth in its academic performance index. Phillips said the school is working on ways to improve math because the standards have gotten more difficult.

“What we used to teach in fifth we teach in sixth,” she said. “Students seem to like the new math curriculum. We’re having students say that they love math.”

Of the 215 students enrolled last school year, 22 percent were economically disadvantaged, 5 percent were classified as English learners and 62 percent were white.


“Language arts is the challenge for us,” said principal Pat Morales, whose school has identified 40 percent of its students as English learners. “We do well in math.”

If students entering school are stronger in Spanish (the predominant language spoken by English Language Learner students), they begin in Spanish.

The student population is 47 percent Hispanic, 47 percent white, 3 percent Asian and 2 percent black.

To bring students up to grade-level proficiency, the school day has been extended until 4 p.m. for approximately 200 of the 720 students. In addition, a six-week summer school program is provided for students who are under performing.


New principal Donna Ronzone said Roosevelt met — and actually exceeded — the statewide academic performance index target for the first time since the program’s inception. Like the district, however, Roosevelt is challenged with a significant gap between white and Hispanic test scores. The scores are all improving, but “we’re not accelerating the Hispanic group as much as we would like to,” she said.

Approximately 37 percent of the 530 students are Hispanic with 17 percent of the population classified as English learners.

In a sentiment echoed by other principals, Ronzone expressed some concern that with all the programs for both advanced students and underachievers, “there is nothing in place for the slightly average or below-average student. … Not all children that need help are in special ed.”


The academy met some of its academic performance goals last year, but not all, said principal Joan Jamieson, who outlined how test scores will be improved for its 294 students.

The year-round school, which is 78 percent Hispanic, with 59 percent of the students classified as economically disadvantaged and 24 percent English learners, is open to all students in the Santa Barbara School District, but currently has more requests than spaces.

Students who are considered at-risk are offered before-and-after school tutoring in small groups, as well as intersession classes to help bring them up to grade level.

Meanwhile, Washington School did not make a presentation because principal Beatrice Cordeiro is on medical leave. Santa Barbara Charter School did not participate because it recently reviewed the same information with the board.

Junior high and high school principals will make their presentations Feb. 1.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on January 27, 2005.

New principal a familiar face

La Cumbre Junior High’s new principal moves around the corner from Adams School

Adams School graduates attending La Cumbre Junior High will see a familiar face in the halls beginning Jan. 31. Principal Jo Ann Caines has just been named the new principal at the 430-student campus less than a mile away.

Caines replaces Eugenia Walters, who resigned after being on personal leave since early November.

Under Caines’ leadership, Adams earned recognition as both a California Distinguished School and a Title I Achieving School. A GATE Cluster Magnet School with 78 percent minority students and 72 percent of its students living below the poverty level, Adams has often been held up as a model for low-income schools.

Caines, a Santa Barbara native who graduated from Santa Barbara High, said, “I have a wonderful history at La Cumbre (she taught there and was assistant principal) and I was part of the California Distinguished School, La Cumbre. … La Cumbre is, of course, part of the Adams community … so it’s not like moving to a new city and taking a new job. This is more like going home.”

La Cumbre’s enrollment and reputation has been declining and it is hoped that Caines’ community reputation, creativity and leadership skills will help reverse that trend.

“Anybody who knows me will tell you, I have no shortage of ideas. I’m really looking forward to meeting with the staff to address the very issues you’re talking about,” Caines said.

“To me there is no system other than the Santa Barbara school system,” said Caines, whose mother, Annette Slavin, founded the Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation. “And I’m giving back for the great education that I received.”

Matt Zuchowitz will become interim principal at Adams.

“I am delighted to be joining the Adams School community!” said Zuchowitz, who began the school year as assistant principal at Franklin School and has also taught at McKinley and Peabody Charter schools.

“Having worked with Jo Ann Caines, as well as a number of Adams teachers, I know how hard she has worked to build a cohesive team of staff, parents and community partners that are focused on the academic achievement of Adams’ students.”

Also getting a new assignment is Patricia Santiago, who was named interim principal at Washington School, where principal Beatrice Rubio-Cordeiro is on a long-term medical leave.

Santiago taught at several local elementary schools, including Franklin and Peabody, and most recently served as assistant principal at La Cumbre.

“Washington has a long history of academic excellence, which can be attributed to its dedicated teachers and committed parents,” Santiago said. “It is my hope that my experience as a leader at Peabody Charter School and La Cumbre Junior High School will enhance the strong educational program already in place.”

Meanwhile, the school board changed Santa Barbara Junior High principal Susan Salcido’s interim status to permanent.

“I am pleased that we are able to draw from our exceptional pool of district administrators to meet our midyear … needs,” interim Superintendent Brian Sarvis said.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on January 27, 2005.

Films to say I’d do to

(Compiled by Leslie Dinaberg and Daniel Okamura)

Just in case this issue’s emphasis on brides and grooms is giving you a case of wedding envy, here are some of our favorite movies that will bring the bridal party to you. Don’t forget to bring the Kleenex.

Leslie’s Favorite Wedding Movies

1. FUNNY FACE I challenge anyone to find a more beautiful on-screen bride than Audrey Hepburn, in one of the best dresses ever.

2. FATHER OF THE BRIDE Only Elizabeth Taylor could give Audrey a run for her money. The Steve Martin remake also has its charms.

3. CINDERELLA Every little girl’s wedding fantasy starts somewhere. Mine began with Cinderella.

4. MOONSTRUCK When your fiance’s brother is Nicolas Cage, who can blame you for falling for him? Cher has never been better than in this movie, which is one of my all-time favorites.

5. HELLO, DOLLY The matchmaker meets her match. And the catchy tunes add to the fun.

6. THE PRINCESS BRIDE Mushy and silly are a match made in heaven in this modern classic.

7. FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL This is where the world fell in love with Hugh Grant, for good reason. And for anyone who’s done the wedding circuit, his gang of friends strike a cord.

8. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY Forget the snappy dialogue, forget the fabulous clothes, and even forget that it has Cary Grant — Katherine Hepburn’s drunken scene with James Stewart is worth the rental.

9. MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz battling it out over Dermot Mulroney is the chick flick equivalent of “who would win in a fight between Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk.”

10. THE WAR OF THE ROSES The tagline was “once in a lifetime comes a motion picture that makes you feel like falling in love all over again. This is not that movie.” It is hysterical, however, and a great break from the stress of planning a wedding.

Daniel’s Favorite Wedding Movies

1. MURIEL’S WEDDING I never thought it was possible to make the music of ABBA such an integral part of a story. Even better, the heroine realizes she doesn’t need to get married to be happy.

2. THE GRADUATE Completely outrageous material about how the good life sometimes isn’t. Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman are golden.

3. HAROLD AND MAUDE Before there was Andie MacDowell, this was the film about weddings and funerals. Dark, hilarious and completely inspiring.

4. THE WEDDING SINGER The greatest charm in this film lies in its rose-colored-glasses throwbacks to pop music of the 1980s.

5. MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING Fun and innocuous, this film is a refreshing take on accepting the things one cannot change. Opa!

6. THE WEDDING BANQUET A sensitive portrayal of the pains of being in the closet while trying to fend off the incessant “When ya gonna get married” question.

7. SAVING SILVERMAN A mediocre movie at best, but what better deus ex machina than Neil Diamond?

8. SABRINA One of the most seminal engagement films and still one of the best. And the remake isn’t bad, either.

9. THE SWEETEST THING Far more gutter-minded and yet far more romantic than most romantic comedies.

10. HONEYMOON IN VEGAS Another guilty pleasure of a film. It’s hard to not be charmed by a troupe of skydiving Elvis impersonators.

So, these are our staff picks. What are yours? E-mail us at

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on January 27, 2005.

Caines named La Cumbre principal

Students graduating from Adams Elementary School and going onto La Cumbre Junior High will see a familiar face in the halls. Adams principal Jo Ann Caines will be the new principal at La Cumbre, replacing Eugenia Walters, who resigned for unnamed reasons. Walters has been on personal leave since early November.

Under Caines’ leadership, Adams earned recognition as both a California Distinguished School and Title I Achieving School. A GATE Cluster Magnet School with 78 percent minority students and 72 percent of the students below the poverty level, under Caines’ leadership Adams has often been held up as a model for low-income schools.

Caines, who is a product of Santa Barbara public schools and a Santa Barbara High grad, said she is eager to engage staff, parents, and students in building a “new La Cumbre.” In a sense she will be “going home” to La Cumbre, where she taught for many years and served as an assistant principal.

La Cumbre’s enrollment has declined to approximately 430 students and it is hoped that Caines’ solid reputation in the community, creativity and skills as a team leader will help turn that trend around.

In recent years, an exodus of students and administrative turnover has challenged La Cumbre. In 2003, Michael Gonzalez, the school’s principal for several years, was reassigned to the district office after mediators could not resolve conflicts with some members of the staff. Walters, who was then an assistant principal at the school, replaced him that year.

Under Walters, the school worked closely with the school board and other district officials on a plan to bring back many of the students who had left, in part by reinstating many of the enrichment classes.

Matt Zuchowitz will replace Caines as the interim principal at Adams.

“I am delighted to be joining the Adams School Community!” said Zuchowitz, who began this school year as the assistant principal at Franklin Elementary School and has also taught at McKinley Elementary School and Peabody Charter School.

“Having worked with Jo Ann Caines, as well as a number of Adams teachers, I know how hard she has worked to build a cohesive team of staff, parents, and community partners that are focused on the academic achievement of Adams’ students. I am looking forward to working with Ms. Caines during this transition. I know that because she will be only a stone’s throw away at La Cumbre Junior High, this will help ensure a smooth transition.”

Also getting a new assignment is Patricia Santiago, who was named interim principal at Washington Elementary School, where principal Beatrice Rubio-Cordeiro is on a long-term medical leave.

Santiago taught at several local elementary schools, including Peabody Charter School and Franklin Elementary School and most recently served as assistant principal at La Cumbre Junior High.

I’m excited about becoming a member of the Washington Elementary School team,” said Santiago. “Washington has a long history of academic excellence which can be attributed to its dedicated teachers and committed parents. It is my hope that my experience as a leader at Peabody Charter School and La Cumbre Junior High School will enhance the strong educational program already in place.”

In addition to these changes, the Board of Education also promoted Santa Barbara Junior High School’s interim principal Susan Salcido as the permanent principal at that school on Tuesday.

“I am pleased that we are able to draw from our exceptional pool of district administrators to meet our mid-year school site administrative needs,” said Interim Superintendent Brian Sarvis.

“Leaving one school for another is never easy because of the relationships that are formed. But, these are professionals who saw the larger need and accepted the challenge that accompanies change. Jo Ann Caines, Matt Zuchowicz, and Patricia Santiago will provide effective leadership and are committed to making the new transition as seamless as possible.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon

Forging friendships requires strong arms

Photo: Wonderland,

Yes, it’s good to know you’ve got a friend–but it’s better if you know what kind

Thanks to a recent column, my husband and I have experienced a surge in the number of couple friend applications. That, and an unfortunate holiday card count miscalculation, have forced me to do some reevaluating of my Rolodex to reflect a scientific analysis of the types of friends I have in my portfolio.

First there are the Forever-Friends. Whether the friendship emerged from the trenches of third grade, Dykstra Hall or my Lamaze class, these people now know so much about me; they’re stuck with me. These are the kind of friends you call at 4 a.m. — whether you need help with your bail, you just got engaged, or you simply need a ride home. Hopefully you make these friends before you need them.

Next up are the FOBs, Friends-of-the-Boss. My old boss John used to call us his work spouses, but I think of us more like work siblings. You might bicker a bit over parking spaces or time spent in the bathroom, but when push comes to shove, you’re a team, united against common adversaries — the microwave, the copy machine and that rival newspaper down the street.

Then I have the FOKs, Friends-of-the-Kid, a relatively new category for me, as I’ve found that small children are almost as effective as large cocktails as social lubricants. Until I became a mom, I could never understand why every one of my sister-in-law’s close friends had two boys the same age as hers.

Now I get it. When your kids are young you’ll go to great lengths for a semblance of adult conversation, even if it’s as mundane as “Does Biz work on chocolate and blood?” or “How did you get your son to stop peeing on the floor?” This type of friendship can go on for years. By the time you get around to discussing politics or religion or anything even remotely serious, they’re so entrenched in your life they’ve moved into the Forever-Friend category.

Next up are Function-Friends, the people you hang out with at functions, also known as acquaintances. Whether they work out at your gym or have kids on the same soccer team, we have certain people that we gravitate to in those situations when you’re there anyway; you might as well find someone to talk to.

Function Friends should not be confused with Functional-Friends, otherwise known as Friends-in-High-Places. In my younger days, my most Functional-Friends were actually in low places, like movie theaters and bars. Now that I’m a big time reporter for the Beacon, my Functional-Friends are … well, still at movie theaters and bars.

Always of special interest to me are my Foreign-Friends. One of my favorites in this category is Kenny, a lima bean farmer in Jalama Beach. In my daily life, I don’t come across many farmers, or lima beans, so this fellow is as mysterious to me as an Inuit friend might be.

As a writer, Foreign-Friends also help fill in some of the gaps between my own, relatively mundane, middle class upbringing and, oh say, that of my friend Angie, whose mom was a crack dealer, or Kevin, who still won’t admit that he works for the CIA.

I’ve realized that friends don’t always fit neatly into categories. The groupings often overlap. Take Steve, a Forever-Friend of my husband’s, who we’ve nicknamed the monogamist misogynist. While some of his behavior might warrant a reclassification to the Former-Friend category, his tales of romantic woe are so entertaining that they move him into the Foreign-Friend category, which brings me to one the cardinal rules of friendship selection: anyone who can be exploited for laughs in my column will always have a special place in my Franklin planner.

A girl’s got to get her material from somewhere, and Flash-in-the-Pan-Friends fill in when Foreign-Friends fail. These are the people that blast into your life with bright shining promise — their kids are the right age, they immediately get your jokes, they take your call at 4 a.m. — only to fizzle out due to divorce, disharmony or because you called at 4 a.m.

And don’t forget the Filler-Friends. These are people you like, but they don’t make the A list. They get invited to your big parties, but not your intimate gatherings. You might invite them to a large wedding, but then you realize you don’t know their last names. They are not to confused with Fifth-Wheel-Friends, who are extra and unnecessary people, usually brought along as Friends-of-Friends who aren’t very discriminating about who they befriend.

Then there are the Forced-to-be-Friends-Friends, which include your spouse’s friends, your friend’s spouses, the parents of your children’s friends, etc. If you’re lucky, these people will survive this initial phase and become reclassified — hopefully not into the Friends-I-Don’t-Like category.

All of this category hopping can get awfully confusing.

I recently had drinks with a Forever-Friend, a Function-Friend, a Functional-Friend and a Friend-of-a-Friend. We spent the whole time discussing the breakup of our Fantasy-Friends, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. We even became Friends-for-the-Night with our waitress, who had a few choice words about her friend Jen, which prompted my Forever-Friend to talk about Brad’s Friends-With-Benefits friendship with a certain costar.

This got me thinking about another Fantasy-Friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

Right, old friend?

I’ll talk to you at 4 a.m.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on January 20, 2005.

Vitamin Angels provide disaster relief

“We never get to choose when a natural disaster will strike. But we always get to choose how we will respond,” said Howard Schiffer, president of Vitamin Angel Alliance, a Santa Barbara-based non-profit dedicated to providing basic nutrition and fighting diseases caused by malnutrition around the world.

Immediately upon hearing the news of last month’s Tsunamis in Southeast Asia, Vitamin Angel issued a call for vitamin donations to help stave off starvation and lessen the likelihood of epidemics and disease.

“In a disaster situation, the infrastructure is usually in shambles. It’s going to be a while before they’re getting any food, clean water and that kind of thing. … The population’s really at risk for opportunistic infections,” Schiffer said.

“People don’t realize is that after a disaster is over, the secondary effect with disease and epidemics spreading could compound the tragedy to a much, much greater level, and that if you can get in there with medicine, and basic nutrients, you could save a part of the population to where they’ll survive until you can get in the other things and get organized.”

It’s to that end that Vitamin Angel is doing what it’s been doing since the 1994 Northridge earthquake, working to help bring emergency nutritional supplies to people who need them most.

Schiffer said people who want to help with the relief effort have responded in droves.

“There are a lot of things that divide us — the religious stuff, political stuff, ideology — and there are some things that bring us together … compassion and caring and trying to help.”

In 2003, Vitamin Angel donated 16.2 million supplements worldwide to people in need, and Schiffer estimates the 2004 total to be about 20 million vitamin supplements.

Citing a study by the World Health Organization, “the number one health risk factor, above cancer, above heart disease, above AIDS, the number one health risk in the world is lack of food,” he said. “The people that we’re working with literally are starving to death.”

And many of the diseases they’re suffering from are inexpensively prevented.

For example, it costs a nickel a year to provide supplements to prevent vitamin A deficiency childhood blindness. In response to this epidemic, Vitamin Angel has partnered with Johnson & Johnson to pilot a program that will reach six million children, lactating mothers and infants in India.

“The single most important intervention we can make in the world today is supply multiple vitamins,” said Schiffer, who began his journey in the vitamin supplement business before a call for help from Direct Relief International set him on his current course.

DRI remains a strong alliance. Vitamin Angel also works with other relief organizations all over the world.

“We believe that every person is entitled to basic nutrition, we believe that malnutrition linked diseases are preventable and we believe that education in addition to supplementation is the key to long-term health,” Schiffer said.

For more information visit or call 565.9919.

Other local Tsunami relief efforts

* Direct Relief International is accepting monetary donations. Go online to or call 964.4767.Checks should have “Tsunami Relief” specified and can be mailed to 27 S. La Patera Lane, Santa Barbara, CA 93117.

* Contact the American Red Cross at 800.435.7669, mail checks to 2705 State St., Santa Barbara, CA 93105 or visit Mid-State Bank branches are also taking Red Cross donations.

* Sri Lanka Medical Relief is selling T-shirts bearing the flags of all 12 countries hit by the tsunamis and a map of Sri Lanka. Call 568.0770 to order a $15 t-shirt, with proceeds going to Tsunami relief.

* Angels Wings Foundation International plans to build 100 homes and an orphanage in Thailand. Send donations to 1482 East Valley Road, Suite 428, Montecito, CA 93108 or email

* New Directions Foundation is taking donations, care of the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 299, Santa Barbara, CA 93102.

* The nonprofit VeAhavta has asked for donations. To help, call 542.9357 or visit

Originally published in South Coast Beacon

Are you really busy?



New show asks families to compete for busiest title

Sure there’s a certain prestige to sporting the most active minivan on your block. But if you’re really that busy, who not go pro?

A busy family lifestyle could earn your family a spot on a new NBC reality show “America’s Busiest Families” (working title).

We are looking for busy, busy families, said casting director Vaia Abatzis. “Stay at home moms, working moms, working dads, stay at home dads, across the board, we want it all. It really comes down to the entire family that is just consistently active, meaning kids with tons of lessons, sports, activities, just going going going.”

Families will be filmed in their own homes, going about their own lives and competing against others to see who runs the busiest and best household in America.

“It would be expected that they would go about their business. That’s the whole point, because obviously they can’t stop, they’re busy. They can’t take the day off and take the kids out of school and stop soccer practice, the whole point of the show is going through these challenges while you’re running around for your day to day life,” Abatzis said.

The filming will take spring, with the show airing in the summer.

“The families will be taking part in what we are calling household challenges — just various challenges … that the entire family can get involved in. The winning family will receive a cash award,” Abatzis said.

The casting search, which closes at the end of February 2005, targets families from across the country with multiple children (ages ranging from toddlers to teenagers) that have been able to balance the pressures of the working world, household demands and numerous activities.

Families interested in applying for the reality series should go to to review the entry application.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on January 13, 2005.

Wishing to be driven to distraction

Photo: Raysonho courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Photo: Raysonho courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Recent family road trip a timely reminder to steer clear of next one

I love my father, but I never want to see the back of his head again.

In my family, vacations can be hazardous to your health — and I don’t mean from the mysterious “road trip” diet of my teenage years, which consisted of corn nuts, Slurpees and various jerky-like substances, nor do I mean from my adult “road trip” diet, which consists of too many diet cokes, nonfat lattes, and glasses of wine when we’re finally “there yet.”

No, I’m talking about my father behind the wheel.

I recently celebrated the New Year by driving to Northern California in a sausage-packed sedan with my parents, my husband and my son. Unlike many people, I actually enjoy spending time with my parents and would even rank them high on my list of “couple friends” — until we get in the car.

Someone once said that there are three parts to every vacation — anticipation, vacation and recuperation. When my father is driving you need to add a fourth part to the equation — trepidation.

We all have certain genetic qualities we fret about when we marry into another family, those things that we worry about passing on to our children. When my sister announced she was pregnant, my brother-in-law’s first comment was, “I’m teaching the baby how to drive.”

That’s how bad the Dinaberg driving genes are.

My sister and I are bonafide bad drivers, but at least we admit it, and will readily let someone else drive whenever possible. In fact, while most parents worry about the day their children will finally get their driver’s license, I can hardly wait. Even hopped up on teenage hormones and hip-hop (or whatever kind of music is popular in 2016), I know my son will be a better driver than I am.

We all have our talents, and I have no illusions about where I stand when it comes to manning the driver’s seat.

No such luck with dad.

Although he deserves sole credit for teaching my sister and I to use the brakes on an empty freeway, he insists he is a great driver. As proof, he’ll be happy — ecstatic, in fact — to show you his military license. His friend Col. Dan Georgi gave it to him for driving a Humvee in a parking lot. Where’s Colonel Dan now? Afghanistan. Apparently he thought he’d be safer there.

Anyone who’s spent five minutes with my dad knows he has a great sense of humor about most things, but he’s not joking about this. My dad really does think he’s a great driver. The thrill of driving with my father lies in his unpredictability. Where most would choose to accelerate, he might decide to brake; when many would be content with a constant freeway speed, he likes to keep other drivers guessing; and while many would go slowly crazy following that bus right in front of us for the last ten miles, I’m not sure he’s even noticed it with all the futzing around he’s been doing with the radio.

Fortunately, he’s got mom, otherwise known as “GPS Joan,” who gives him at least a 33-mile heads up every time he gets within a half an hour of the next required turn.

There’s nothing like a six-hour drive in the rain with your parents to bring back memories. Comfortably ensconced in the front seat, my husband kept his complaining to an admirable minimum. Meanwhile, I had to endure hours of crying, tears and tantrums. From my inner child. My actual child was a lot better behaved than I was, what with the “are we there yet? ” mantra of yesteryear having been replaced by chants of “can I watch the DVD yet?”

If only I could figure out a legal substance to mellow adults out the way “Teen Titans” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!” calm my kid, I could make a fortune and hire a private jet to take us on our next family vacation.

In lieu of having my own personal “Pokemon” to focus on during the trip, I had to settle for bathroom breaks, lots of them. My husband calls my family “the Amazing Mini Bladderinis,” and with the bottles of water, the sound of the rain on the roof, and all the coffee breaks … I’ll be right back!

When I wasn’t peeing, I spent most of the rest of the drive with my face pressed against the window, slowly mouthing the words “Help me!” to anyone whose attention I could get. As I fogged up the windows I looked on the bright side: I was no longer looking at the back of my father’s head.

And when we finally got to our destination and later toasted the New Year surrounded by family and friends, I remembered a lesson my father taught me well — sometimes the destination is actually worth the drive.

P.S: For those of you passing through Santa Barbara, it may interest you to know that my father used to teach drivers ed. Have a nice drive back to LA.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on January 13, 2005.

New County Supervisors Sworn In

In his keynote address, political journalist Lou Cannon wished the new County Board of Supervisors a “constructive combination of idealism and compromise,” as they swore their oaths of office Tuesday morning before an overflow crowd.

New third district supervisor Brooks Firestone charmed the crowd early when he introduced his wife Kate as his “number one key team member.” Noting that “we are at a historical moment in Santa Barbara history right now,” with the county split on the ballot for next year, Firestone offered outgoing supervisor Gail Marshall and her assistant John Buttney (his opponent in the third district race) his “thanks and total respect.”

Salud Carbajal, the new first district supervisor, also gave a respectful nod to Marshall, as well as to his mentor, outgoing supervisor Naomi Schwartz.

“To my colleagues on the board, I really look forward to serving with you all and working to find solutions to the many challenges that face residents of our county and our constituents,” said Carbajal.

“While I think we will disagree from time to time, I’m hopeful that we are mindful of the importance of keeping the types of relationships and civility that will allow us to put forth our best foot for our constituency that we represent,” he said.

Both Carbajal and Firestone were elected to four-year terms. Joni Gray was also re-elected to serve the fourth district for four more years. Second district supervisor Susan Rose, who has two years remaining in her seat, was named Chairwoman of the Board, with Gray as Vice Chair.

“Our challenge is to make our diversity of opinion our strength,” said Rose, in accepting the gavel from Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno, who also has two years left in his term.

Newly elected Judge James Rigali was sworn in to a six-year term after an invocation by Father Virgil Cordano of the Old Mission Santa Barbara, a presentation of colors and pledge of allegiance led by Vandenberg Air Force Base Color Guard Colonel Frank Gallegos and a musical presentation by the Santa Barbara High School Madrigal Singers, under the direction of Phillip McLendon.

Also appointed were: Jack Boysen, C. Michael Cooney, Susan Jordan (all reappointed), Parker Montgomery and Joe Valencia to the County Planning Commission; Dan Eidelson (reappointed) to the Coastal Vector Control District Board; Bob Bierig, Michael Phillips and Richard Thielscher (all reappointed) to the Montecito Planning Commission; Claire Gottsdanker and Donald Nulty (both reappointed) to the Montecito Board of Architectural Review; “Bob” David Robert Kober, Jr. and David Morgan (both reappointed) to the Fish & Game Commission; Julia F. McLanahan to the Advisory Board on Alcohol and Drug Problems; George Croll and Patrice Surmeier (both reappointed) to the Air Pollution Control District Community Advisory Council; Eileen Wyckoff and Jim Lowsley (both reappointed) to the Historic Landmarks Advisory Committee; James King (reappointed) to the Board of Architectural Review; Gene O. Peterson (reappointed) to the County Parks Commission; and Ronald Werft and Karen Johnson (reappointed) to the County Regional Health Authority Board of Directors.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon