Recylable Resolutions for the New Year

Photostock (

Photostock (

“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” -Bill Vaughan

“New Year’s resolution: to tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.” – James Agate

“A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” – Leslie Dinaberg’s South Coasting Column, 2004

Foolishly optimistic, somewhat deluded person that I am, I always take some time at the end of December to reflect on the past year and set some goals for the next one. The idea is to come up with a list of resolutions that will help transform me into a kinder, nicer, more organized, healthier, richer person with a better figure, a well-behaved and all around perfect family, and a much cleaner house.

While I haven’t accomplished all that I would have liked to in 2010–and honestly Mr. President, who has?–a look back at the history of my New Year’s resolutions tells me that at least I’m continuing to make a tiny bit of progress every year.

Resolution #1

1988: I will get back to the weight on my Driver’s License.

1997: I will get back to my weight when I got married.

2007: I will follow my new diet religiously until I get back to my pre-pregnancy weight.

2011: I will try to develop a realistic attitude about my weight, focus on getting healthy, buy myself pretty clothes and develop my personality. (Confession: Though I’ve used this line shamelessly throughout my life, my father deserves credit for it, since rumor has it that it’s what he said about me the first time he saw me when I was an hour old.)

Resolution #2

1992: I will not spend my money frivolously and save enough money to put a down payment on a small house in Santa Barbara.

1998: I will not spend any money at all on anything, under any circumstances, and save enough to put a down payment on a small house in Isla Vista, with the help of my parents and anyone else who might want to invest.

2006: I will stop buying so many new pairs of shoes.

2009: I will stop crumpling my tax-deductible receipts into teeny tiny balls of paper that raise my husband’s blood pressure every April.

2011: Money schmoney! It’s all about quality of life.

Resolution #3

2007: I will stop smoking.

2008: I will stop smoking.

2009: I will stop smoking.

2011: I will stop smoking. (Confession: I’ve never started smoking in the first place, but I always like to give myself one easy thing that I know I can accomplish to make myself feel better about this whole New Year’s resolution thing.)

Resolution #4

1997: I will spend more time with my family.

2006: I will spend more quality time with my family.

2008: I will redefine quality time with my family to mean that we all have to be awake, with no one yelling, but not necessarily doing the same activity in the same room at the same time.

2011: I will spend more quality time with my family and my dear friends, but only when I’m not grumpy.

Resolution #5

1998: I will treat my body as a temple and eat only healthy, organic foods.

2000: I will only order out for pizza once a week.

2003: I will stop counting Mai Tais as a serving of fruit, even though they come with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry.

2006: I will sit down with my family and eat a healthy, balanced meal at least once a week.

2010: I will eat a piece of dark chocolate and I will drink a glass of red wine every night, but only for the good of my health.

2011: Ditto.

Resolution #6

1982: I will write a novel before I’m 30.

1995: I will write a novel before I’m 40.

2011: I will write a novel before I’m 50 or start lying about my age immediately.

Resolution #7

1993: I will not fight with my boyfriend about household chores.

1994: I will not fight with my husband about household chores.

1999: My husband will stop pretending he knows how to fix the car and I will stop pretending I am competent in the kitchen.

2007: My husband will stop pretending he doesn’t see the pile of laundry that needs to be folded and I will stop pretending I don’t know how to pump my own gas.

2011: My husband will make sure I have gas in my car if I give him enough warning when the tank is low and I will stop making New Year’s resolutions on behalf of other people.

Resolution #8

2005: I will not fight with Koss about doing his chores.

2006: I will not fight with Koss about his homework, doing his chores and cleaning up his dirty sweat socks.

2007: I will not fight with Koss about his homework, doing his chores and cleaning up his dirty sweat socks and his sweaty t-shirts.

2009: I will not fight with Koss about his homework, doing his chores, cleaning up his dirty sweat socks and his sweaty t-shirts, and how much time he spends on the computer.

2011: Koss will be responsible for his own homework, his own chores and his own dirty clothes. But I am still his mother and I can make resolutions for him if I want to!

Resolution #9

2011: I will put away a dollar in a little jar every day and maybe when I retire I’ll be able to afford an R.V. that I can park somewhere in Santa Barbara. Oh, who am I kidding?

Pass the champagne (or better yet, the wine and chocolate!) cheers to a wonderful New Year for us all.

Share your resolutions with Leslie by emailing For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 31, 2010.

Holiday Letters for the Cheerless

Christmas Memo Sheet by nirots,

Christmas Memo Sheet by nirots,

As much as I love getting mail during the holiday season–what’s not to like about the season where chocolate catalogs finally outweigh that depressing stack of bills and you get daily reminders that good old so-and-so you shared a cubicle with in 1991 is still alive and kicking?–I have to admit that sometimes I get a little tired of reading about other people’s perfect kids and their numerous dazzling vacations from their already oh-so glamorous lives.

Obviously not everyone has genius children, ran a marathon, expanded their 4,000 square foot home another 2,000 square feet, or finally finished that screenplay this year. So what if you’re not in the mood to gush with sincere emotions about how much you love your family and how meaningful your work life is this year, let alone use the word “blessings” multiple times in your annual holiday missive?

What kind of letter can you write if your year basically sucked and your main request to Santa is that 2011 will be a little bit better?

Here are a few ideas to get you started. For full versions of the letters send a check or money order for zillions of dollars to me, care of the Santa Barbara Daily Sound. (And yes, I realize that if you had zillions of dollars to pay me to write your holiday letter, you’d probably be having way too much fun to bother. It doesn’t hurt to ask!)

Still Single After All These Years

Dear Loved Ones. The 13 kitties (Tiger, Mr. Tibs, Nibbles, Simba, Cutie-Pie, Whiskers, Sheba, Cleopatra, Fluffy, Scratcher, Precious, Zyrtec and Claratin) and I are just dandy. We’re all very excited that we got brand new carpeting and furniture again this year. Our new couch is a beautiful cabbage rose print. So pretty! The kitties and I are doing our best to learn to use the litter box since couches are pretty doggone expensive. (Insert paw prints here.)

We’re Broke, Please Send Cash

Dear Friends and Family. Yes, I am writing this on the back of an old shopping list/receipt/kids’ report card. I hope you don’t mind the coffee and grease stains. Sometimes I think caffeine, sugar and alcohol are the only things that make life worth living once you’ve been evicted from your apartment and your car has been repossessed. If you can’t send cash, please send wine. Donuts are good too, so are Cheetos, really anything from the sweet and salty snack aisle will do in a pinch. We’ll also take prepaid phone cards and gift cards in any denomination.

Better Than Therapy

Seasons Greetings. 2010 was not the greatest year for our family. I was let go by the bank in March and though the larceny charges were eventually dropped, the legal fees sent us into bankruptcy. During the course of the pre-trial motions my computer was seized and they found a few questionable websites in my browser history. My wife just doesn’t understand me anymore and got so depressed that she took off on a six-month retreat with her yoga instructor so she could “get centered.” I guess her chakras were finally in order because by October she was back in the country and we were back together. In November we sold our house (finally, for about 75% less than we paid for it) and all of our remaining family heirlooms, then purchased a used Winnebago, which we are now driving around the country. We’ll be coming your way soon. Hope the fridge is full, the water is hot and the towels are clean.

Other titles available:

Three Square Meals in 10 Square Feet

My Juvenile Delinquent Can Beat Up Your Honor Student

Days of Our (Extremely Boring) Lives (in the Carpool Lane)

And my personal favorite:

Compared to These People, My Year Was Actually Pretty Good.

Happy Holidays!

Share your favorite holiday letters with email. For more columns visit  Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 17, 2010.

Tackling the Season Like a Man

Portrait Of Beautiful Woman Wearing Santa Claus Hat by David Castillo Dominici,

Portrait Of Beautiful Woman Wearing Santa Claus Hat by David Castillo Dominici,

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from my friend Ramey: “If you don’t want to be the only one doing all the work then you have to let other people do stuff using their own standards–no matter how crappy or inferior they may be.”

She was talking about diaper rash and Desitin, but over time I’ve found that her advice applies almost everywhere from the schoolyard and the soccer field to the domestic front and delegating at work.

You can explain it by whatever nature versus nurture notion noogles your noggin, but the fact is that men are overwhelmingly better than women are at letting go of perfectionism. They don’t really notice–or if they do, they certainly don’t care about–that pile of laundry waiting to be folded on the couch. It’s simply an obstacle to sit upon or pushed aside in their quest to find a place to rest their fatigued fannies after a hard day’s work.

They aren’t the least bit disturbed if the dinner table lacks floral finery, or even utensils, as long as there’s an ice-cold beer at their fingertips. They may be masters of their domains, but most of them have absolutely no interest in anything resembling a throw pillow, quilt or home decor accessory (unless it comes in HD and surround sound).

And as for calendars, schedules and to-do lists? Forget about it. Somehow it’s more manly to store things “in your head,” despite the sometimes sieve-like filter associated with this system.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of things that men simply don’t care about and thus they don’t stress about. As hard as it is for me to admit it, I think they may be on to something, especially when it comes to the holidays.

Have you ever in your life met a man who felt guilty when a caring neighbor brought over a homemade dish of goodies and he didn’t have a lavish platter at the ready to gift them in return?

Have you ever heard of a man stalking the aisles of an all-night drug store after midnight because the five shades of curling ribbon he has at home are just not “quite the right red?”

You don’t see men stressing about losing weight to fit into a cute new outfit for the company’s holiday party or going to 17 different stores to find the perfect Secret Santa Gift for the receptionist in their office who won’t even know it’s from them.

Nope, men don’t take it as their seasonal call of duty to personally manufacture every bit of holiday magic that comes into their household. For the most part, whether the laundry is waiting to be folded or not, they sit on the couch, relax and enjoy the spirit–and spirits–of the season.

Which is why this year I’m going to try to take the holidays like a man by relaxing the perfectionism, kicking back and enjoying them.

I hope you’ll do the same.

When Leslie’s not obsessing about not obsessing about her holiday to-do list, she can reached at For more columns visit  Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 10, 2010.

From Yiddish to Yinglish

When it comes to traditional religion, I’ll readily admit that I’m more Jew-ish than Jewish. You won’t find me in temple unless there’s a Bar mitzvah or a book signing, and I’m certainly not one to pass up an offering of bacon-wrapped shrimp. They’re delish!

But there’s one part of Jewish cultural tradition–besides the latkes–that I have embraced with gusto: the language.

No, I’m not talking Hebrew, which is way too complicated and confusing for the short attention span theater of my brain these days. I get a case of Hanukkah guilt before the gelt every year when need a refresher course on the dreidel symbols.

No, I’m talking Yiddish. And whether you realize it or not, so are you.

You may not be one to just say nu to your kids. (A general word that calls for a reply. It can mean, “So?” “Huh?” “Well?” “What’s up?” or “Hello?” It’s like a verbal grunt, useful in a variety of situations.) And you may not kvetch about your boss. (Which literally means “to press or squeeze,” like a shoe that’s too small, but many people now also use it to mean, “complain, whine or fret.”)

You may not even schmear your bagel. (Which originally referred to a spread of cream cheese on a bagel but has extended to anything that can be spread, and in some cases refers to “an entire set or group of related things”, or the expression “the whole schmear.”) But from schmear to eternity, I’d bet my last bit of gelt (a Yiddish word for money, and for the chocolate coins eaten on Hanukkah by some and year-round by those of us that frequent See’s Candy) that words like glitch?(literally “slip,” “skate,” or “nosedive,” which many people now use to mean “a minor problem or error”) or zaftig (plump, but pleasantly so) have crossed your lips from time to time.

You’re speaking Yiddish and you don’t even know it.

Not to belabor my spiel?  (a long, involved sales pitch), or act like a maven ?(which comes from the Hebrew “mevin,” or “one who understands,” but has evolved to mean a know-it-all, and is often used sarcastically) of Yiddish vocabulary, but I’d bet you also use the words klutz?(which literally means “a block of wood,” but is often used for a dense, clumsy or awkward person) and nebbish (an insignificant, pitiful person; a nonentity) without giving them a second thought.

You’re a Yinglish speaker too.

I really don’t mean to be a noodge (to pester, nag, whine or be a pest or a whiner) about this, but chances are good that even somewhat vulgar Yiddish words like dreck (which means worthless material, especially merchandise) and tush (buttocks, bottom, rear end) have crossed your lips from time to time.

So here’s my Hanukkah gift to you: the next time someone asks you if you speak a second language you can tell them you are fluent in Yinglish and you do know more than bupkis (zero, or nothing) about Yiddish.

Share your Yiddish or Yinglish vocabulary words with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 3, 2010.

Adult BoyCare

Teenagers Playing Computer Game by Ambro,

Teenagers Playing Computer Game by Ambro,

Does the prospect of going to a mall this time of year make the men in your life resemble cranky, whiney, exhausted kindergarteners who are clearly in need of a snack and a nap?

Me too.

I don’t know what it is about the holiday season. The rest of the year my husband hardly puts up a fuss when we need to “go grab a few things at the mall,” but come the end of November he develops a severe case of Shopophobia. He stomps his feet like a wild man and shakes his head like a whirly bird at the mere mention of the words “Nordstrom,” “free gift wrap” or, heaven forbid the dreaded “parking lot.”

To tell you the truth this behavior reminds me a lot of my son-when he was five.

Which is why I was so very amused to read in the Los Angeles Times this week about a shopping center in Germany with a play area for men. BoyCare for men. Brilliant. It’s called “Maennergarten,” as in kindergarten for men. Truly brilliant.

While savvy shopping areas have bars where men get blitzed and women browse boutiques, this program is modeled after kindergarten. According to the travel website, when couples arrive at the mall, the woman drops off her presumably-potty-trained male significant other at the ” Maennergarten.” She pays about $14 to leave him there and goes off to shop till she drops.

And, just like the first day of summer camp, visitors to the “Maennergarten” are given nametags and the women are issued receipts for the men they drop off. “Nurses” serve the men hot meals and cold beers and offer them televised football, power tools and remote control cars to play with.

“Maennergarten” manager Alexander Stein told BBC News “the idea came from a female customer who thought it would be a good way of getting rid of her husband so she could shop in peace. She found it all too stressful and thought this might be the solution. Both were very happy with the way it turned out.”

When I quizzed my husband and some male friends about the idea of a man cave in the mall they were predictably-and scarily stereotypically-enthusiastic.

While several suggested they should have bikini clad dancing girls, some guys had very specific visions for their versions of what would make a “Maennergarten” nirvana.

J thought “topless massages would be a big hit.” K said “it should have a ‘champagne room,” like they have in strip clubs. But the wives pay their husbands’ entry fee.” I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I suspect that laps and dancing are involved.

“Bacon,” said M.

“It should basically be a BEST BUY with wall-to-wall 3-D televisions (one per patron), buttery soft Barcaloungers, video games, every movie ever made on-demand, bikini clad dancers/masseuses/bartenders/therapists serving unlimited all-you-can-eat sushi, tacos, pizza and beer,” said A, who is shockingly still single. “Oh, and it should be sacred ground: No wives, girlfriends or significant others allowed. The only way they can collect their man is to call ahead on their cell phone when they’re done shopping.”

Clearly he’s given this some thought.

But my favorite response of all came from B, who said, “I believe that Habitat for Humanity should set up near every mall, so we could spend several hours helping out our fellow man by building homes for the disadvantaged, while our significant others join in the commercial feeding frenzy: give a little yin to their yang, to insure cosmic balance in the universe, or… bikini clad dancing girls and big screens.”

Mall man cave investors can contact For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 26, 2010.

Noozhawk Talks: Paul Freeman Gives Fresh Voice to Santa Barbara Children’s Chorus

Paul Freeman, artistic director of the Santa Barbara Children’s Chorus, says there a number of reasons the community needs a children’s choir opportunity: “We had 60 or 70 kids audition and maybe 10 percent of them could sing well. Here are a bunch of kids who are clearly interested and they had all done musicals. They had all been doing all of the theater programs in town but none of them had been getting vocal training.” (Elite Henenson / Noozhawk photo)

Paul Freeman, artistic director of the Santa Barbara Children’s Chorus, says there a number of reasons the community needs a children’s choir opportunity: “We had 60 or 70 kids audition and maybe 10 percent of them could sing well. Here are a bunch of kids who are clearly interested and they had all done musicals. They had all been doing all of the theater programs in town but none of them had been getting vocal training.” (Elite Henenson / Noozhawk photo)

Revival of program is first step in plan to give kids more chances to sing

The Santa Barbara Children’s Chorus is getting a gleeful reprieve, thanks to local
businessman Paul Freeman. He didn’t even know of the dormant choir’s
existence when he decided, several years ago, that Santa Barbara needed a
better choral program for children and that he should be the one to give it to

“It was a back-of-mind, pet project/goal of mine for years and I’m excited to be
able to finally do it, and do it in a way where I don’t have to worry so much about
making money doing it,” explains Freeman, a UCSB graduate. He was a child
singer and sang and toured with the Golden State Boys Choir, studied voice with
Peggy Norcross and performed with the Santa Barbara Camarata Choir, UCSB
Men’s Chorus and Mixed Choir and the Santa Barbara Symphony.

As president and owner of Professional Development Partners, a business
consulting firm for high tech companies, Freeman is now in a position to give
back to the community, filling what he sees as a void in student’s musical
training. When Freeman and his wife Tracy–who both grew up in town–returned
to Santa Barbara in 2008 with their two sons (Cole, now 13, and Parker, age 9)
he joined long-time theater friend, Clark Sayre, and has been co-directing the
Spring musical at Dos Pueblos High School for the past two seasons, an
experience which further underscored the need for better music education in

“The weakest area for the kids was singing. We had 60 or 70 kids audition and
maybe 10 percent of them could sing well,” says Freeman. “Here are a bunch of
kids that are clearly interested and they had all done musicals. They had all been
doing all of the theater programs in town but none of them had been getting vocal

He found that while there were many instrument programs in the elementary
schools, there were virtually no singing programs.

“The original plan was to start up a for-profit choir and then turn it into a nonprofit
once we got it up and running,” explains Freeman, who began teaching in 1984
as Assistant Artistic Director of the Santa Barbara Children’s Theater, where he
wrote and directed musicals “for children, by children.” He continued working with
the Children’s Theater after moving to Los Angeles in 1989, where he
established the West Valley Children’s Chorus, which he ran for several

When he began doing research for the Santa Barbara project, Freeman
discovered the Santa Barbara Children’s Chorus, which was no longer active.
The timing to take over the nonprofit was perfect because it was “out of money
and out of momentum,” while Freeman and his team-which consists of himself
as Artistic Director, and Stephanie Hein Muench as Musical Director-were
ready to pick up the ball and run with it.

Winter session auditions for the non-denominational choir will be held between
10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday, December 11 at the Unitarian Society of Santa
Barbara, 1535 Santa Barbara Street. If children have an audition song they will
be asked to perform it. However, Freeman emphasized that “it’s an inclusive
group, meaning if you sign up you can get in. We want to make music available
to anybody. The audition process is to help us understand what their skill level

He is looking to target children in grades 4-8, to give them proper vocal training
before they get to high school. “It’s no secret that money for a lot of that stuff has
been cut. The schools that do have choral programs are funded through
fundraising by PTA or some other outside group. There is very little public

Freeman applies his management skills to his plans for the chorus. “Long-term
there are three things that we want to do,” he says. “The first is a fee-based
program with scholarships available. The idea is to try to get anybody who comes
in regardless of skill level or economic situation, and the curriculum is a
combination of group singing, solo singing and music theory.”

The students will be exposed to an eclectic array of music. Inspired in part by the
popular TV series “Glee,” Freeman plans to start a performance choir summer
camp to help attract more kids to the program.

Once the classes get up and running, the plan is to start an all schools choir.
“This would be an outreach program to all the schools that are interested in
participating,” he explains. “We would hold in-school auditions and take five or
ten kids per school, depending on how many kids there are, at no cost to them.
… We would have one rehearsal a month during the school year and then put on
a big, all-school concert at a venue like the Santa Barbara Bowl, the Lobero or
the Arlington.”

The third phase of the evolution will be to develop what Freeman describes as a
music franchise program. “This is being done in other big cities, like Chicago
Children’s Choir has this killer program where they put choral teachers in the city
schools and they bring the whole curriculum of the main program into the schools
as little modules.”

This is clearly a project driven by passion for Freeman, a former professional
chef at some of Los Angeles’ top restaurants, who now serves on the Goleta
Valley Junior High PTA Board and coaches and referees AYSO soccer in his
“spare” time. An admittedly very driven and busy guy, he says, “I always get
asked how do I manage to do all that stuff and I don’t always know the answer.”

Freeman says, “These programs are going to take some time to roll out but the
message I want to get across to people is that there’s some meat on this idea of
what to do with the choir. It’s not like we’re just trying to get some classes
running and that’s it. We’d really like to make this more institutional. I have a lot
of attention on getting it to the point where it’s self-sustaining, where it’s not
reliant on one or two people to make the thing happen, because that’s what
happens in these groups. You see it all the time.”

When asked to come up with three adjectives to describe himself, Freeman says
he’s “optimistic, goal-oriented and creative,” all qualities which will serve him well
in his new choir venture. “It’s sort of a puzzle to figure out and I have pretty high
aspirations for it,” he acknowledges. “If I wasn’t running a business that was
dealing in very huge deals it might seem more challenging. A lot of people would
see this as a big project and a lot of challenges, but for me, compared to some of
the other stuff at work I’ve got going on right now, it’s pretty straightforward. I
feel like it’s doable.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on November 22, 2010.

Gratitude Minus Platitudes

Thank You Computer Key by Stuart Miles,

Thank You Computer Key by Stuart Miles,

“Being grateful may be the spiritual equivalent of Prozac,” according to Dr. Robert Emmons. I couldn’t agree more, which why I’m grateful that it’s almost Thanksgiving time.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, right up there on the list with National Chocolate Day and the day the clocks “fall back” and we get an extra hour of sleep.

Any day stuffed full of food, family, friends and football is a good day in my book.

But I’ve counted my blessings in this column a few times and realized they don’t really change all that much from year to year, which is a good thing. I am eternally grateful for all of the wonderful people and gifts in my life, but this Thanksgiving I decided to see what some other people are grateful for.

By other people I mean some really famous people–and some not–whose quotes about gratitude might make you smile a little brighter as you toast the turkey this Thanksgiving.

Like Ricky Gervais I am grateful for pajamas, which are certainly handy to squeeze into once you’ve unzipped your pants after a hearty Thanksgiving meal. He says, “I’ve started wearing pajamas out, because they’re more comfortable than trousers. I started out with jeans, then went to sweatpants about ten years ago. Now it’s just pajamas. I’ve gone whole hog. I wore them to the White House.”

“I am grateful that there is life out there for someone who isn’t a scholar,” says Jamie Lee Curtis. “I wear my combined 760 SAT scores like a medal around my neck that ANYONE can make it despite being a round, square, gay, alcoholic, liberal, pampered peg in the proverbial square hole of what is the norm.” Of course having two movie star parents doesn’t hurt, but I get where she’s coming from and am happy to offer a holiday cheer to misfits everywhere.

“Though I am grateful for the blessings of wealth, it hasn’t changed who I am. My feet are still on the ground. I’m just wearing better shoes,” says Oprah Winfrey, who admitted her shoe addiction to a live TV audience but regrettably still hasn’t invited me into her walk-in (and probably bigger than my whole house) closet.

“I figure if I have my health, can pay the rent and I have my friends, I can call it ‘content,'” says one of my favorite actresses, Lauren Bacall, who is still smoldering at 86.

And finally, some wise words from the Buddha: “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let’s all be thankful.”

Cheers to that and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

When Leslie’s not counting her blessings, gobble by gobble, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 19, 2010.

Sifting Through Silly Bandz and Squishys



Fart jokes, cooties and “one, two, three Jinx you owe me a Coke” are perennial rites of childhood that never fail to make me smile, but some of these new trends leave me feeling a little old and out of it.

First it was that array of extra-long shoelaces. Sure the colors were fun-who wouldn’t want to add tropical pink soccer balls and neon green tie dye to their wardrobe-but there was also so much more shoelace to figure out how to tie and then trip over. Seems like a lot more danger than they were worth – which is proof positive that I am old and cranky.

Then came the digital pets-Tamagotchi, Furby, Giga. Seriously? There are plenty of real animals waiting to be adopted. Or if you want something low maintenance, get a goldfish.

Then came the key chains. You couldn’t walk down an elementary school hallway without hearing the clang of Sponge Bob SquarePants, Strawberry Shortcake, Hannah Montana and Justin Beiber dangling dangerously from backpacks. Surely these were an accident waiting to happen.

Squishy mania was next on the scene. An infestation of blob-like sea monsters, jungle creatures and zoo animals began to appear in schoolyards, and fast food restaurants and liquor stores equipped with vending machine capsules were suddenly de rigueur. I was with my niece when she spotted a particularly rare glow-in-the-dark octopus Squishy and I thought I was going to have to call the paramedics to extract her hand from the vending machine.

Now silly bandz are the latest, out-of-control kid craze.

To a childless person these colorful bracelets stacked like Slinkys up the arms of kids might look like simple rubber bands. Yes, they are rubber bands, but simple, not so much.

These silly bands (or bandz depending on which brand you buy) are shaped like everything from Bugs to Barbies and musical instruments to Marilyn Monroe. Even skinny Elvis has his own silly band, which momentarily becomes fat Elvis if you put it around a grownup’s wrist.

But the beauty of these silicone-molded bracelets is that they return to their original shapes when you take them off your arm. It’s a magical shape-shifting rubber band.

Kids say half the fun of collecting the bracelets, which typically come in sets of 12 or 24, is trading them with friends. Parents like the price point (usually $3 for a pack of 12; $5 for 32). As one toy retailer said, “If you can do a shut-me-up product for $4.99, you won that day.”

Teachers, at least in some states, are less than thrilled. Complaints have come in that silly bands are distracting in class or even downright dangerous. The ban on bands has stretched from schools in Brazil and England to Boston, Wisconsin and Indiana. Can California be far behind?

Probably not.

Either way, nobody in our household will be too upset; since this is one trend my son has resisted the lure of. When I asked him why, he shrugged and said, “It’s just one more thing to remember in the morning. Besides, if you have rubber bands on your arm you’ll want to play with them and getting snapped by a rubber band hurts.”

That’s my boy.

When Leslie’s not pondering the latest kid crazes (Zhu Zhu hamsters, Lady Gaga, My Pillow Pets) she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 12, 2010.

Defending Facebook Friends

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 7.17.28 PMWeak Ties Still Equal Strong Links

Marlene Dietrich once said, “It’s the friends you call at 4 a.m. that really matter.” Agreed. But the friends whose walls you post on at 4 a.m. matter too.

“Weak ties are your windows to the world,” wrote Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter back in 1973 in “The Strength of Weak Ties,” one of the earliest academic theories about the spread of information in social networks. Of course, he had no way of knowing back then how apropos his words would become in these days of social networking. “When you’re looking for new ideas and new connections, you don’t get them from family or close friends. It’s the weak ties that connect you to different circles and opportunities,” he wrote.

It’s also the weak ties that connect you to community.

Which is why I get so irked at all of the high falutin’ Luddites who diss communication technologies like Facebook on the grounds that they value “quality and not quantity in their friendships.”

Excuse me, but just because I enjoy connecting with people online doesn’t mean I’m holed up alone in some hovel wearing a dirty gray hoodie and mainlining Red Bull all night.

My pajamas are perfectly clean and I much prefer red wine to Red Bull, which you would know if you read my Facebook page.

Besides, people like that completely miss the point of Facebook and other social networking sites. Of course Facebook isn’t a substitute for close friends and I would have serious concerns for the psyche of anyone who chose to use it that way. For me social networking serves an entirely different function-it’s a community.

Much like going to my neighborhood coffee shop or hanging out with other parents as I wait for my son to finish soccer practice, I have a nodding “hey, how’s it going” kind of acquaintanceship with most of my Facebook friends. We share little bits and pieces of our lives-sometimes a bit too much, girl who posts endless cat pictures-but for the most part we save the nitty-gritty details for our real friends, who aren’t necessarily the ones we chat with on Facebook.

Still, I love getting these little glimpses of the day-to-day fabric of people’s lives. I like to know what’s going on in other people’s heads, even the mundane stuff. But these kind of peripheral friendships are very, very different from the deeper friendships I have.

Which isn’t to say that peripheral friendships aren’t important.

According to a 30-year long longitudinal study at Harvard, the state of our entire network (“our community”) impacts our well being. The study, of 12,000 people, found that your odds of being happy increase by 25 percent if a direct connection in your network is happy.

Got that. Happiness is contagious.

The study also found a similar effect for secondhand associations; if your friend’s friend is happy, the odds of your friend being happy increase by 15 percent-and the odds of you being happy increase by 10 percent.

So c’mon, let’s get happy.

That reminds me of a favorite Partridge Family song. I think I’ll look it up on YouTube and post it on my Facebook page.

When Leslie’s not wiling away hours on Facebook she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 5, 2010.

Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Shannon Turner Brooks

Shannon Turner Brooks of the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission says the “really cool part of my job” is taking people out, “whether it’s for a travel TV show or just showing people around ... I don’t think I ever have gotten over how pretty Santa Barbara is, just what a beautiful place it is.” (Elite Henenson / Noozhawk photo)

Shannon Turner Brooks of the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission says the “really cool part of my job” is taking people out, “whether it’s for a travel TV show or just showing people around … I don’t think I ever have gotten over how pretty Santa Barbara is, just what a beautiful place it is.” (Elite Henenson / Noozhawk photo)

As Director of Communications for the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors
Bureau and Film Commission, it’s Shannon Turner Brooks‘ business to talk-a
lot-about Santa Barbara. Here Noozhawk gives her the chance to talk-a
little-about herself, as well what’s going on at the CVB.

Leslie Dinaberg: Can you explain how the Conference and Visitors Bureau and
Film Commission is different from the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown

Shannon Turner Brooks: Essentially our mission is to market Santa Barbara as a
destination for tourism and film production. The simplest idea to convey is that
we bring people here who spend money in our community and then leave,
whereas I think the chamber is more about business development and people
moving here. Then we work with the Downtown Organization a lot like on
Epicure.SB (a 31-day, community-wide culinary extravaganza coming up in
October) (, that’s a good example of
our partnership. We collaborate with them on a regular basis.

LD: And film production is different than the film festival?

STB: It is. We get a lot of commercials, catalog shoots; photo shoots and then
feature films. “It’s Complicated” was one that was filmed recently, “Sideways,”
too, but we’re used more often for one day of shooting or getting a few scenes
here. Any kind of production like that, that would bring people in to use the
locations and then also use local services.

… The film commissioner, Jeff Alexander, … his job is basically connecting
people, whether it’s location scouts or producers, with the locations they need
and the resources and showing them what we have. So if they say, “I need a
Wild West saloon,” we say, “Here’s Maverick’s, that’s where you should go.”

LD: People always hear about “Sideways” or “It’s Complicated,” but I know there
are a lot of smaller things going on too.

STB: The bread and butter would be the commercials like car commercials and
fashion photography for catalogs. … Definitely more of the production is in North

LD: That makes sense just because of the open space and it’s sort of different
looking. So can you explain your job a little?

STB: As director of communications I manage all of our public relations, so I’m
the primary media liaison and a big part of my job is working with travel and
lifestyle media from around the world to generate editorial coverage about Santa
Barbara. So I set up press trips, come up with story ideas and pitch Santa
Barbara. We put on media events; relationship building is a big part of that. We
put on a dinner in LA recently. The California Travel and Tourism Commission
they host media receptions in New York and LA and San Francisco so I
represent Santa Barbara at those and essentially I’m always telling people what’s
new and what’s going on in Santa Barbara.

Then we have press trips, so essentially I’ll work with the local community to set
up hotels and restaurants and whatever experiences or interviews they want to
get when they are here, and a lot of just meeting with the media and talking with
them and being a resource and a fact checker. It’s a lot of coming up with the
story ideas and what’s new. You’re a journalist so of course you know,
sometimes people will say, I’m looking for something on a romance theme or
green wineries or something like that.

LD: So it’s a lot of knowing everything that’s going on.

STB: Yes, keeping tabs on everything that’s going on and being creative and
also coming up with new ways to sell the destination. Like one example, this year
my big push in the winter was celebrate a century of cinema on the American
Riviera. … 2010 was the 100 year anniversary of filmmaking in Santa Barbara
and also at the same time “It’s Complicated” was going to be released Christmas
Day and then the film festival had its 25th anniversary, so I could package that as
one story and get that out. That ended up generating a story that went out on the
Associated Press Wire, the AP travel editor put that out and then “USA Today”
put a huge front of the travel section feature on that. I think we got over 100
placements just from that kind of idea, sort of creating that and then we had our
micro site where we put the content for that-people could go for itineraries and
then we did “It’s complicated” hotel packages and it was kind of creating things
that they can interact with, whether it’s the location they can go to or hotel
packages inspired by “It’s Complicated.”

LD: So the people who wrote the story for the AP, did you bring them to Santa
Barbara and host them?

STB: No. They don’t always do that. They didn’t come here for that. I’m trying to
think of an example of something that we actually hosted. “Golf Digest” came
here and they did this huge feature in the December issue and it was about wine
and golf so we used the “Sideways” story with that. We host about 70 travel
media every year. For the most part it’s print, although a lot of it is online now,
like the international travel TV shows they come through. We recently had
“GMTV,” which is kind of the British equivalent of NBC’s “Today Show.” Two of
their hosts came through on a Thelma & Louise-style road trip, so we set them
up with paddle surfing with Blueline and they stayed at San Ysidro Ranch and we
went to Alma Rosa Winery to kind of do the “Sideways” thing. It varies.

LD: Do you ever get weird requests from people wanting to do things?

STB: Occasionally there is an obscure request or I think sometimes a journalist
will send out a note to all of their PR contacts saying I’m looking for x, y and z
and we don’t have anything. But mostly it’s the other way around, that they are
surprised by certain aspects of Santa Barbara because a lot of people think of it
as kind of high end, luxury, celebrities and we have all these interesting aspects
to our culture, like I just did a promotion of the green environmental aspect and
the food and wine has been really big lately. I think more often than not it is
pleasantly surprising when people look at all that Santa Barbara has to offer.

LD: How did you get into this kind of work?

STB: I went to UC San Diego and I studied communications there and my last six
months there I had gotten an internship through school at a magazine. (After
that) I moved to Santa Barbara because I grew up in Lompoc and I always loved
the area … I had originally looked for jobs with magazines, in publishing, and as
you know, it’s not a very big media market as I quickly discovered. I think it was
actually my mother who saw this ad for the visitor’s bureau. It was actually for an
administrative assistant, so I probably wouldn’t have looked at it, but the
description of it was interesting with the travel and the marketing and the film, so
I applied for it. … It ended up being a marketing coordinator. … That was ten
years ago in July that I’ve actually been with the visitor’s bureau fresh from

LD: Obviously your responsibilities have changed; do you think anything has
changed significantly in terms of what’s going on in Santa Barbara in the last ten

STB: It’s been interesting to see more of the changes of our product. We’re
always looking for what’s new and so seeing the evolution as new businesses
come up. Our wine industry has exploded. I think when I started we were at six
wineries and now it’s like 175. And I was really involved in the “Sideways”
marketing campaign and that was really interesting to see the effect, which we
are still seeing people from the press that are interested in that angle.

LD: What else do you do when you’re not working?

STB: I do love to travel. I love travel and I always have to have a trip in my mind
whether it is a weekend getaway to San Francisco or an international

LD: What’s on your mind right now?

STB: Well I’m going to go to Treebones in Big Sur at the end of this month with
my childhood friends. We have an annual get together and there are five of us six
of us.

LD: Are you going to stay in the yurts?

STB: We are actually upgrading to the yurts because typically we’ve gone
camping and we’ve decided we’re grown up so yeah, we’re splurging on the
yurts. … I’m also going to North Carolina … and I’m going to Sardinia next May.

… Then I love to eat and drink, of course. (Laughs)

LD: You have a good job for that.

STB: I get to do a lot of that for my job. Everything I know about wine I’ve learned
from my job, from just taking journalists out to the wineries and meeting with
winemakers or working with them on our events. I really enjoy that part very
much. I’m very lucky to have the talented winemakers that we have. I just think
it’s so pretty to go up into the wine country.

LD: So are you professionally obligated to try out any restaurant that opens

STB: I try to. (Laughs). We have a new blog actually, which has been fun. I’m
trying to do a weekly post. That’s been nice to give me something else that’s a
way to talk about what’s new aside from just my newsletter that I do.

LD: There’s such a high interest in that.

STB: Santa Barbara is a small town but it’s very food-oriented, so anytime there
is something new it is very exciting. So yes, I try to keep up on that. I am a
vegetarian so sometimes I write about things that I don’t actually eat but I
appreciate all of the local sensibilities. I’m not a moral vegetarian so I think
people should eat what their body tells them to eat. I like to do yoga, I love the
beach, all the fun Santa Barbara things: hiking, beaches, yoga, seeing family and
friends. There isn’t really time for much else. I do like to read and I read a

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they

STB: Tall (Laughs), calm, I’m very calm and easygoing.

LD: Do you have a favorite local spot?

STB: I feel like with my job that’s a dangerous question politically. I don’t think
anyone to hold that against me. … I do think that Casa Del Hererro is
spectacular and I would like to live there. I love the old Santa Barbara vibe. San
Ysidro Ranch is quite stunning as well. That’s another place I would like to live.
The courthouse, the view from the clock tower, which is where I send all of our
visitors and our media there and when I have friends come to town I usually take
them there for the proper tourist photo. It’s special.

LD: You probably get to do more of that kind of stuff than most people do.

STB: That’s true. It’s a really cool part of my job taking people out, whether it’s for
a travel TV show or just showing people around, it’s always nice to see things
through fresh eyes and how beautiful it is and how much they appreciate it. I
don’t think I ever have gotten over how pretty Santa Barbara is, just what a
beautiful place it is.

Vital Stats: Shannon Turner Brooks

Born: February 11, in San Francisco, CA. Grew up in Lompoc.

Family: “I’m not married, my mom’s always looking for a husband for me.”
Parents are retired teachers living in Lompoc (mom is county planning
commissioner Marell Brooks), plus a brother, sister-in-law and nephew in Santa
Barbara and another brother in Monterey.

Civic Involvement: Downtown Organization’s Cultural Committee, Board Member
of the Performing Arts League.

Professional Accomplishments: “I appreciate being able to help all these different
local businesses promote their success … that’s really the point of our
organization is to promote the community and bring in tourism tax dollars. It’s
very much a people-oriented job. We work with all of these local companies and
it’s great to be able to help them in any way that we can.”

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The
Bone People” by Keri Hulme and “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel

Little-Known Fact: “I’m addicted to music. I really love music and all day long I
listen to Pandora radio.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on August 29, 2010. Click here to read the story on that site.