Taking a Gander at Gender Selection

Photostock freedigitalphotos.net

Photostock freedigitalphotos.net

Sometimes I look at the dirty, rowdy, brilliant, clueless, sweet, sensitive, unpredictable bundle of otherness that is my son and marvel-he truly is everything I never knew I always wanted.

It’s not that I didn’t always want to be a mom. I did, for as long as I can remember. When I played dolls, or put on little shows with my friends, I always wanted to be the mommy. One of my earliest memories is rocking “my baby” doll alongside my mom rocking my baby sister.

But when I pictured me rocking my baby someday, I always pictured a girl. Lucky for me I’ve got nieces to turn to whenever the tutu envy starts to overtake me. Being the mom of a boy has been-like most of the best things in life-one of those things I never realized how much I wanted or needed until I got it.

Baby gender selection has been in the news a lot recently. Australian fertility doctors have been rallying to try to get the government to rescind its ban on sex selection technology, which is currently legal in the U.S., where dozens of Aussies travel each year and spend thousands of dollars to choose the sex of their children. G’Day, mate.

Meanwhile, a University of Missouri study was released which found that the food that women eat during the very early stages of pregnancy can influence the sex (and health) of their unborn babies. Apparently bacon and big breakfasts are for boys while fasting favors girls-I’m sure a feminist theorist will have a field day with that one at some point.

Then MSNBC did a poll about the phenomenon of “gender disappointment,” asking whether people were disappointed when they discovered their baby’s gender. About a third of the people admitted that they were, although more than two-thirds of that group said they got over it quickly. I guess that means that one-third didn’t get over it. Time to buy little Bob a new tutu.

The random convergence of these three stories about baby gender selection-and happened to land in my inbox on the same day-inspired me to ask my friends: “If you could have chosen the sex of your child would you?”

Simply posing the question inspired vehement objections from many people, like my friend M, who said, “No way! We THOUGHT we wanted a boy, and ended up with our beautiful daughter.”

“All three of mine (two boys and one girl) are miracle babies,” said L. “I’m still amazed that they are here when by all reasoning I should be childless. I’m just grateful they are here and proud of each of them.”

“After my son was born, I was hoping for another boy and I was terrified to find out my next two were girls. I did not think I would know what to do if I ended up with a ‘girlie’ girl,” said P. “Now I am so glad to have a ‘boyish’ boy and two ‘girlie’ girls to teach me so much about life. I am so grateful not to have been able to choose-plus, three active boys would surely kill me!”

D was also glad she didn’t have to choose. “That would have made me insane for sure. I had a difficult time enough choosing a stroller, bouncer and colors for the nursery.”

Interestingly enough not only did most of my friends not want to choose the sex of their baby, a lot of them said they didn’t even want to know if it was a boy or a girl until the child was born.

“There are not many things in this world that are a true surprise. Why waste this one,” said B. “I loved hearing ‘it’s a girl’ (twice) and ‘it’s a boy’ (the third time).”

“I didn’t even peek to see what I was having before I had them,” said R. “I thought I wanted a girl and then a boy, but I’m thrilled to have my two girls. Sometimes it’s best to see what nature gives you,”

“Not only would I not choose,” said A, “but I still believe that “finding out” what you’re having takes something away from it all.” “I didn’t even find out what I was having while I was pregnant!” said S. “It’s the not knowing what you’re getting, what you’re in for that makes raising children the adventure it is-daily-no matter if they are a boy or a girl.”

For the record, I found out in advance that my son was a boy because I had to have an amniocentesis, and I figured if the doctor knew about the sex of my baby then so should I. But I do agree with S about the adventure of not knowing what you’re getting when you have a child. To this day one of the most fascinating things about being a parent is the way that you can be so close to this little person-they literally lived in your body at one point if you’re a birth mom-and yet they are separate people with ideas, preferences, vocabularies and really dirty fingernails that are all their own.

So if you could choose the sex of your child, would you? Tell Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 26, 2010.

Heeled

Manolo Blahnik Pumps

Manolo Blahnik Pumps

In elementary school my nickname was Big Bird. No, I wasn’t covered with yellow feathers back then-nor am I now, for that matter-but compared to the other kids I was absurdly tall. Taller than all of my friends, taller than all of my female teachers and even a few of the men, I was as tall as I am now. Well, almost. I was measured at 5’8 3/4″ the other day and I used to be only 5’8,” which is really not that freakishly tall these days, like it was when I was ten.

Despite my self-consciousness about my height, my mother’s constant reminders prevented me from slouching and probably a lifetime of bad posture and back problems. But what she didn’t prevent me from was a lifelong fear of high heels.

Sure, plain old walking is easy. Babies can learn how to do it without being taught. On a good day I can even walk and talk at the same time, and if I’m feeling like I’m really hot stuff, even chew a little gum. It’s when you add heels that I get into trouble. I just never learned to walk in them properly.

Anything more than a two-inch heel and I stumble, literally. I just can’t walk in high heels. I’d like to be well heeled; I really would. In my fantasies I’m strolling jauntily down the streets of New York in a pair of red-soled Christian Louboutin embroidered, peep-toed pumps. Or gallivanting along the Seine in Manolo Blahnik‘s patent leather leopard print tapered toes. Or gliding elegantly around the dance floor of a Parisian palace, in Prada platform pumps.

Hey, a girl can dream.

I just know that if I had those Jimmy Choo silver gladiator style platform sandals I would look at least 20 pounds thinner (and my wallet would be about $1,295 slimmer). Not only couldn’t I walk in these shoes, I couldn’t afford them and I have absolutely nowhere to wear them. But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about Jimmy Choo as I scoop up Mossimo’s 13th runner up bridesmaid version of the gladiators at Target, which I still can’t walk in, but thankfully only set me back $24.99.

They don’t call me Imelda for nothing.

My closet is filled to overflowing with beautiful heels in mint condition because I’ve only worn them once since they’re so uncomfortable. Though they’re mostly from the Nordstrom’s sale rack and Ross Dress for Less, I hesitate to think of all the money I’ve spent on shoes over the years.

I still don’t think I’d have quite enough to buy the most famous shoes in the world. Inspired by Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, and designed by the House of Harry Winston, these babies have 4,600 rubies of 1,350 carats and are estimated to be worth at least $3 million. I don’t think I’ve spent quite that much money on shoes over the years. But if I had it all back I’d easily be a shoo in to be able to afford Manolo Blahnik’s fabulous $14,000 alligator knee length boots, which are black and would go with just about everything in my wardrobe-if only I could learn to walk in them.

When Leslie’s not fantasizing about adding to her shoe closet, she can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 19, 2010.

Ineffectiveness and the N-Effect

Photo chomnancoffee, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo chomnancoffee, freedigitalphotos.net

Is the school board creating a GATE-way to mediocrity?

Did you hear the one about the N-Effect? A research study published in Psychological Science found that when it comes to academics, the more competitors you have, the less motivated you are to do your best.

Researchers Stephen M. Garcia (University of Michigan) and Avishalom Tor (Haifa University) found students’ average test scores on the SAT and other tests go down when the number of test-takers increases. People taking the tests don’t even have to see their competition to have their scores go down, just an awareness that they’re out there seemed to have the same influence on the outcome.

Garcia and Tor named this phenomenon “the N-effect.” The larger the “N”- number of participants involved in a task-the worse the outcome for the individuals who are participating. In an ongoing series of experiments they have found again and again that people work harder, and perform better, when they are up against just a few people.

For example, they gave students a trivia quiz, saying there was a prize for those who finished the test the fastest. Some students heard that they were in a group of ten students, while others were supposedly competing against 99. The students who believed they were in the smaller pool finished the quiz significantly faster than those who thought they were one of 100.

The N-effect seems to be there regardless how difficult or easy the task. People work harder if they believe they have better odds of winning, but this also goes to their motivation to succeed.

All of this makes me think about the current debate over the future of GATE (gifted and talented education) in the local schools. Full disclosure so you can question my motivation – my son has been fortunate to be in the pullout GATE program at his elementary school. Frankly, I think he’s benefited more from the small group-learning environment than the actual curriculum, because there are only a handful of kids in the GATE class as opposed to the 26 in his regular class.

In a Newsweek article Garcia said, “How we compare ourselves to other individuals is the engine that drives how we compete against others. When there are only a few people in the race, we put our foot on the gas, working harder and harder to outpace our competitors. And the competition becomes very personal. How we compare ourselves to others in the room becomes a referendum on our own ability.”

This is so true. And this is one of my primary concerns about folding the GATE program into what is now labeled “Honors.”

“In contrast, when we are against many, many competitors,” said Garcia, “we don’t care as much about how we stack up against one other competitor. Once the crowd is large enough that we don’t feel the element of personal competition, the result doesn’t feel like a personal statement of our worth, so we don’t try as hard.”

I believe that the school board probably has their hearts in the right place when considering this change. I know that the hairs on my neck stand up whenever I hear the label “GATE,” as though some kids are “gifted” and others are not; when I was a kid they called the accelerated program MGM for “Mentally Gifted Minors,” which was even worse. Nonetheless, I think they’re going in exactly the wrong direction. What they should be doing is expanding the number of ability groupings to fit the needs of all children, not limiting them even further. Call them group 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, or name them after fruits, or call them anything you want-but limiting the number of ability groupings serves the best interests of no one, other than champions of mediocrity.

Obviously it’s ridiculous to believe that a single test given to a third or fourth grader is the sole determinant of a student’s educational destiny, despite all the sweating of parental palms over their child’s place in the mini-meritocracy.

But no matter how special we all think our kids are, there is such a thing as an average child and there is such a thing as a child that will be lucky to graduate high school. It’s as ridiculous to try to alter that reality with politically correct labels as it is to try to mend the achievement gap by removing the top tier of instructional offerings, which is what it seems to me that the school board is considering doing.

Why don’t we aspire instead to do a better job of assessing students so they can be challenged and motivated to the best of their abilities in smaller groups? And while we’re at it, maybe we can come up with a better name for the GATE program. Maybe the LESLIE program?

When Leslie’s not wringing her hands over the state of education, she can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 12, 2010.

Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Colette Hadley

Colette Hadley’s Commitment to Education Is All About Opportunity

For Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara director, the future begins now for the students she aims to help

Colette Hadley, Noozhawk photo

Colette Hadley, Noozhawk photo

The Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara’s services are needed now more than ever as the rising costs of college mean more and more families are looking for financial aid to help afford the expense.
Noozhawk’s Leslie Dinaberg caught up with executive director Colette Hadley to talk about her life, work and what it’s like to help students and their families pursue their educational dreams.

Leslie Dinaberg: How long have you been at the Scholarship
Foundation of Santa Barbara?

Colette Hadley: Seventeen years. I started here when I was 30
and I’m 47. The foundation and I, funnily enough, were born on the same day. May
29, 1962 was the first meeting of the scholarship foundation and that’s the same day
I was born.

LD: Fate.

CH: I like to think of that a little bit as the kinship between us.
I’ve been here a long time. I started out doing, interestingly enough, some event
management and then within a year moved into program management. We were
just a tiny group, there were like four employees. We’re still small but we were
really small.

LD: Did you come to Santa Barbara to do that or were you
already here?

CH: I’m a pretty planned person in life. … I actually had worked
at the University of California at the Irvine campus and then a little bit at the UCLA campus in student affairs, and I was just kind of looking for a change. … I really liked higher
education, working with students, but I really wanted to see more of the results of
what I was doing. I wanted to be a little more hands on. I loved my work there but …
I felt like I was like kind of a cog in a big university, which I was, so I wanted to do
something smaller. I specifically said I’m going to look for an educationally related
job, most likely a nonprofit.

… I had a friend from college living in Santa Barbara and we had kept in close touch.
She said, “why don’t you come check out Santa Barbara and stay with me for a
couple of weeks.” This was in 1992 and I said “there are no jobs in Santa Barbara,
everybody knows there are no jobs in Santa Barbara, and so I’ll just come and sit on
a beach.”

LD: And you found the job through a tiny newspaper ad.

CH: I sent them my resume and they called me. … I had this
interview scheduled at the University Club and they really hadn’t told me much about it. So I go into this little room at the University Club and there are eight people in this room and I’m thinking I was just going for a one-on-one interview. I go in, I just shook the sand out of my sandals and pulled on a skirt and put on a jacket … and I walked in this room and it was full
of very warm, smiling people. … I’m looking at people who are just big circles of
warmth. … So I sit down and they’re like we’re so glad to meet you and we’re so
excited and tell us about this and tell us about that and we just sat and had a
conversation and I just instantly liked them.

… I had been home five minutes and the phone rang and it’s Billie Mans (former
executive director) and she goes, “we loved you!” Nobody does that. They say, “Oh
we’d like you to come back for a second interview.” She’s like “we loved you come
back again. We want you to meet some more board members.”

So I go back again. I’m thinking geez these people really care. They have all these
board members and the staff and they really care.

LD: What a change from a huge university. Not that they don’t
care, but there are just so many layers.

CH: Basically I went back and they offered me a job. … I had to
decide whether I wanted to take a pretty significant pay cut. But the gut was I would
enjoy working with these people. We had nothing written down or anything but
they said I’m telling you within three years you’ll be back to what you were making
and beyond that. And we promise that if you decide you want to be here and you’re
committed and you do this job that we will be here for you and I just trusted them
and they did that.

LD: That’s great.

CH: Good people. So I had good mentoring with Billie and we
kind of grew along together and good mentoring with the board and you know since
that time we’ve been that way, 17 years later, and that’s why I’m still here.

LD: When did you become the executive director?

CH: Four years ago. I worked as the program director for quite a
long time and then as the associate director. … I’m very fortunate. I still think I have
probably the best job in town. Maybe me or Ron Gallo
(executive director of the Santa Barbara Foundation), I’m not sure. Maybe me.
(Laughs)

LD: There are a lot of similarities actually.

CH: Yeah. He’s got a great board and we actually share some
people on the boards, so for me that’s the fun though. It’s great students and parents
and great board members and great staff but also really we have great donors. … It’s
something that keeps me very connected to my work.

LD: That’s great. Are most of the big supporters people who were
scholarship students at one point?

CH: Excellent question. I would say that at least half of them.
They all have a personal story … Some people have also said the opposite: they grew
up with a supportive family environment and they had the resources to send me to
college and they went to a phenomenal university and have then gone on to achieve
quite a bit in their life and then said you know what, I am really aware that there are
people out there that did not have that and it’s not an equal playing field. And so it’s
my obligation to help, that’s an attitude we run into, besides the people that say oh
yes, I couldn’t have gone if I didn’t have a scholarship.

… The stories are amazing and some of them you don’t know until years go by, and
you don’t know. So yes, that’s part of it too. I think it doesn’t matter what nonprofit
you work with or what you do. It’s about the stories. It’s about that. You probably
find that in your work too.

LD: Oh yes, it’s about the stories for sure.

CH: It’s the same thing with the parents of students, it’s their
stories, that’s really what it’s about is that connection. That’s why introducing
students or having them speak at something or tell their story, we can all find some
connection there.

LD: So is it tougher to get into college now?

CH: I will give you the stats I know. Basically the peak of the baby
boomlet, the kids of the baby boomers, was really this last year, so in sheer numbers
competing for seats, the peak was last year. It’s still high right now but it will start to
diminish. … Santa Barbara County, especially in the south county, our population of
high school seniors will start to slowly go down and so that’s happening all over the
country a little bit. So they will actually have a little less competition for seats in the
next couple of years.

However, what has offset that because we have such a bad budget situation is that
last year all of the UC’s and Cal States cut off spring transfers from community
colleges and they are all ratcheting back. Not only have they raised the fees almost
35 percent in 12 months but they also are ratcheting back the sizes of their classes
slowly. In terms of their enrollment management techniques, they are going to start
using wait lists this year at the UC’s, which is very tricky and very stressful. But yes
it’s actually for different reasons going to be just as challenging for the next couple
of years, but for different reasons.

LD: When you say ratcheting back the size of their classes do you
mean the freshman class?

CH: Yes, the number that will go through. That’s the UC’s and Cal
States. Private and independent institutions are actually right now-not the
Stanfords and the Ivies but the others-are actually a tiny bit more expansive right
now because there are students in the past year and a half particularly that have
turned away from those institutions, not because they don’t love them, but because
of the high cost … Community colleges of course are being hit by a tsunami of
students and all of them are cutting their sections. … With our student scholarship
recipients the program staff will tell you the number of students begging for
forbearance because they can’t get 12 units, they’re lucky if they get 11. They’re not
trying to get in, people think oh they don’t want to get an 8 o’clock class, they’re
trying to get anything. Any class.

… Even a few years ago they had a little more flexibility but now with calculus and
all of these things boom, you don’t get into it in the fall, you’re going to have to wait
a year. So that’s what’s affecting the students and it’s been dramatic. It has not been
a gradual change. It’s been huge this year and it’s going to get worse next year.

So getting in, still challenging. Staying in, getting what you need is probably the most
challenging that it’s ever been.

LD: That’s too bad.

CH: Yes, it is. When I hear the governor say and I believe this, he
actually came in touting education as his number one issue. I have mixed feelings
about him, as a lot of people do, but I actually believe personally it is a priority of his
but I just think that it’s just not the way our state is working right now. It’s just not
the way it is. We have a legislature that can’t agree on anything and he doesn’t really
have a lot of power with that. They are not putting education first.

LD: It’s so frustrating.

CH: It is. I think everybody is tired of that with our U.S. Congress
as well. … When I talk to colleagues who are running programs in Ohio and Virginia
and other places, everybody’s got something going on that’s affecting them.

LD: It’s nice to have those people to bounce ideas around with.

CH: … The beauty of being in an educational nonprofit is
whatever your politics are, and we have a large board, 40 people on our board, so I
spend a lot of time working with our board. But it doesn’t matter someone’s political
background. You can have people on your board that are on different ends of the
political spectrum, completely different ends, but providing educational
opportunities is a place where a lot of people come together. It’s a very cohesive
thing. Something that people rally around is helping students. Which is very much,
again, a positive feature of being here. I enjoy talking to those people of all different
opinions and backgrounds. I think that as tough as it is sometimes-and the last
year was tough, really tough-it’s pretty much relentlessly positive work.

LD: That’s really nice and probably why you’ve been able to be
here for the length of time that you have been.

CH: I totally agree. It’s must more challenging to be someplace
like our colleagues next door, we sublease part of our building to the Arthritis
Foundation. A great cause and yet it’s a longer-term goal. A scholarship, here’s a kid
you give them a scholarship they tell you what happened and they got their degree.

LD: That’s nice. So what else do you do when you’re not
working?

CH: I’m big with books, so books, films; current events are big,
big, big for me. I read a lot of newspapers; … my family and my friends are a big part
of my life.

… I love talking. I don’t love arguing about current events but I like just talking about
what’s happening with people and I like to be around people that are engaged and if
they say “I don’t read a newspaper” they might be a really great person, but they’re
probably not going to be in my close, everyday network. I love the beach and I really
love California. I just like the different parts of the state. I like the mountains, I love
the beach … When you take a walk down at Ledbetter beach, there is no place you
can turn, 360 degrees, that you don’t see something of great beauty.

LD: That’s okay. If you could be invisible anywhere, where would
you go and what would you do?

CH: Oval office probably in the White House … I just think of that
process of what goes on in that office and how decisions are made. … I can’t imagine
the weight that person feels on their shoulders. There are days I feel it here and I’m
responsible for just this agency and the employees and students we’re responsible
to and the donors we’re responsible and then I think oh my God, can you imagine
being the president of the United States or somebody who really has
responsibilities, not just somebody running a little agency.

… Or maybe the International Space Station, I would pick that one too. Of course I
wouldn’t have to be invisible just to see what’s happening.

Vital Stats: Colette Hadley

Born: May 29, 1962, in Spokane Washington

Family: “I have six brothers and sisters and then a stepbrother
and a stepsister, so 9 kids in my family. They’re my favorite people. My mom died in
1980 and my dad is 83 and he is remarried to my step mom, she’s great.”

Civic Involvement: Planned Parenthood, CASA, Big Brothers, Big
Sisters and Cal Soap.

Professional Accomplishments: “As executive director of the
Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara I’m just doing my best to run the agency as
best I can and to do it with integrity and efficiency. And to try and take good care of
our clients and our donors and our staff and our board and try and juggle all of those
at the same time.”

Best Book You’ve Read Recently:Island: The Complete Stories” by Alistair
MacLeod.

Favorite Local Spot: Ledbetter Beach, Arigato, Arnoldi’s or
Shalhoob’s.

Little-Known Fact: “I would secretly like to have a radio show.”

 

Originally published in Noozhawk on March 8, 2010. Read the article on that site here.

The Soup Takes Bronze

Photo KEKO64, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo KEKO64, freedigitalphotos.net

Over the years I’ve written a few books, oodles of magazine articles, countless columns and an amazing number of thank you notes, but until recently I had never, ever, ever written a recipe. In all honesty, I had hardly even looked at a recipe, let alone tried to follow one.

I know some people, like my mom or my friend Katie, who can take a few ingredients, some fresh vegetables, a pair of chopsticks, a pot and a few spices, and miraculously transform into Chef MacGyver, tossing and throwing and shaping and forming whatever’s in the cupboard into delicious concoctions.

I am not even remotely one of those people. In the past year or so I’ve mastered a couple of simple things and everyone is dutifully impressed, but still, my kitchen has seen more than a few fires in its day, and my most used “recipe card” has the phone numbers of all the local takeout places.

But then I got inspired.

I first read about the YMCA’s clever fundraiser a few weeks ago: the Soup de l’YMCA soup-making contest, where for a mere $25 donation contestants competed for bragging rights, having their recipe published in the Santa Barbara Independent and a place on the menu at State & A Restaurant. I was impressed by the creativity of the fundraising idea and figured I’d write a column to help them get more entries in the recipe contest. The Santa Barbara YMCA and I go way back.

I took gymnastics lessons there as a gawky, 5’8″ 12-year old, and realized that the distance from the top of the balance beam to the semi-padded floor mats was way too far to fall on a regular basis. But still, it was fun. And I displayed my participation ribbons proudly on my bulletin board.

Then I tried to use my height advantage and played basketball at the YMCA, soon realizing that, unfortunately, a certain amount of pesky running up and down the court was required, beyond my being able to reach the basket with my outrageously long arms. Still, I enjoyed the competition part and I still have a soft spot for the Y.

Wanting to give them some support, I read the contest rules carefully and found that all soup entries had to include at least one major ingredient that begins with one of these letters: Y-M-C-A.

Y-M-C-A, I just happened to have the perfect Y-M-C-A connection. My old friend Eric Anzalone is the Leather Guy in the Village People. Seriously. My old friend Eric Anzalone is the Leather Guy in the Village People. I had interviewed him once before and he was hilarious, in a way that only a guy you went to high school with who now wears leather chaps as his work uniform can be. So of course I jumped on the opportunity to do it again.

“What kind of soup would the Village People eat?” I asked, since it literally takes a village to raise enough money for youth programs these days.

“Well, we’re kind of boring,” said Eric, though I know he’s anything but. “Some of our favorite items we always ask for when we travel are REAL black licorice (not the cheap jelly bean anise stuff), Buffalo wings, anything from Taco Bell, the fettuccine Alfredo that you can only get at Alfredo’s in Rome (when we are in Rome, we always reserve a group table…we are on the wall of fame there).”

“I can’t really do much with Roman fettuccine, unfortunately. What else?” I asked.

“Cheetos, Cheez-Its, Bacardi and Coke, and Vegemite! And beer, a deli tray, assorted breads, fresh vegetables with dip, fresh fruit platter, coffee and assorted teas, hummus, Red Bull, beer, Gatorade, Coke (Coca Cola brand only) a case of beer, honey, mustard, mayo (Best Foods/Hellmann’s, not that Miracle Whip salad dressing), a box of Ziploc Baggies and barbecue ribs,” he said.

Sensing a beer theme -which is absolutely no surprise if you know Eric- I used that as my inspiration for my “It Takes a Village (People) Soup” recipe. Unfortunately with his busy international travel schedule (seriously, these guys sell out gigs all over the world, and sang and danced their way into the Guinness Book of World Records a few weeks ago, when it was finally certified that 40,148 adoring fans had performed the largest YMCA dance ever during the halftime show at the Brut Sun Bowl, in El Paso, Texas) by the time I actually did the interview and wrote the recipe, the contest deadline was upon us and my column deadline had come and gone.

I decided to enter my recipe into the contest anyway.

We laugh a lot at our house, but I have never heard a louder roar from my husband than when I got the message from Georgette at the YMCA that I was a finalist in the soup recipe contest. Except perhaps when I told my sister, who said, “Yeah right. And I’m going to compete in the spelling bee.”

Believe it or not (and yes, just writing this makes me giggle), there were more than six entries and my soup recipe made the top five finalists. The chef at State & A actually made it taste pretty good. By the time I tasted all five soups, had a few happy hour priced adult beverages, and endured the shock and mock surprised “this doesn’t taste half bad” feedback from my friends and family who had come out to support me at the contest, I actually thought I had about a one in five change of being the winner-especially since three of the four judges were personal friends.

I behaved like a good sport when poet Chryss Yost’s “Sopa de la Reina” took the top prize. It turns out she also knew some of the judges personally. And I guess she actually cooks, too.

Despite my bringing in an extra large group of family and friends to vote for me, Lisa Bull’s “Fiesta Chicken Tortilla Soup” won the “audience favorite” award for the night. “I think your soup was definitely third place, mom,” said my sweet son with the permanently damaged taste buds. “You got the bronze.”

Indeed, a bronze medal in my first plastic chef cooking competition is nothing to sneeze at. It was actually a lot of fun. I still need somebody to explain the joy of cooking to me someday, but the joy of competition, hey, that’s something I learned a long time ago at the local YMCA.

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It Takes a Village (People) Soup

Ingredients:

3 oz. Yellow Snow IPA (from Rogue Ales Brewery)

3 oz. Molson Golden Beer

3 oz. Coors Light Beer

3 oz. Amstel Light Beer

2 cups cauliflower

1 Tbsp butter

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 minced garlic clove

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

14 oz. chicken broth

3 Tbsp cornstarch

1 cup cream

1 cup milk

2 cups shredded yellow cheddar cheese

Cook the cauliflower in a small saucepan with enough water to cover it, over medium heat until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and Worcestershire sauce. Stir occasionally and cook until the onion is tender and translucent. Add the beers and bring it to a boil.

Drink the remaining beer in each bottle and the warm soup aroma will start to smell delicious, in fact you’ll start to feel warm all over. Add the chicken broth and let it come back to a boil then stir in the cauliflower.

Combine the cornstarch and three Tbsp of water in a small bowl. Let dissolve and set aside. Stir in the cheddar and milk and cream into the soup until the cheese is melted. Add the cornstarch mixture and continue stirring until the soup thickens. Serve with Cheez-Its and, of course, beer.

Share your soup recipes with Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 5, 2010.