Cantor Baby

Image by digitalart, courtesy of

Image by digitalart, courtesy of

December is one of the cruelest months for Jews.

Sure we have Hanukkah to celebrate our urge to shop, and latkes to indulge our genetic urge for carbs, and we can decorate in blue and silver to our hearts’ content, but the one thing we’re lacking in is carols. Let’s face it, other than “Oh Hanukkah,” and Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song,” there aren’t a whole lot of Hanukkah hymns on the airwaves.

Rather than kvetch and whine about the lack of Chanukah chants this holiday season, I decided to do something about it. As with all things Jewish and musical, first I turned to my Cantor for inspiration.

Cantor Baby (to the tune of “Santa Baby)

Buh-bum.. buh-bum…

Cantor baby, slip a table under my knee, for me.

I’ve got an ache in my neck, Cantor baby, so hurry the masseuses tonight.

Cantor baby, a Jaguar convertible too, teal blue.

I’ll wait for you with the bells, and Sven and Nels.

Cantor baby, so hurry the masseuses tonight.

Think of all I’ve sacrificed, think of all the stuff I bought sale-priced. Next year I could be just as thrifty, if you’ll check off my Hanukkah listy,

Cantor baby, I wanna sunny vacation spot, oh yeah.

And really that’s not a lot, been an angel all year.

Cantor baby, so hurry the masseuses tonight.

Cantor honey, there’s one thing that I really do need, a maid, who can cook matzo ball soup, doo doop.

And clean up after my kid, which is a pain in my neck.

Oh heck.

So hurry the masseuses-I’m not talkin’ mezuzahs-hurry the masseuses tonight.

My own family did not inspire this next little ditty, I swear.

Let It Go, Let It Go, Let It Go (to the tune of “Let It Snow”)

Oh the fight we had last month was frightful.

But hashing it over is so delightful.

It’s finally time to end the row.

Let It Go! Let It Go! Let It Go!

It doesn’t show signs of stopping.

And I’ve bought some corn for popping.

So much for family drama.

Can you just let it go, mama.

My last nerve is about to blow.

Let It Go! Let It Go! Let It Go!

When we finally kiss goodnight.

How I’ll hate going home if you’re mad.

But what’s a holiday if there’s not a fight.

It’s what we call communication.

And venting our seasonal frustration.

But as long as you love me so.

Let It Go! Let It Go! Let It Go!

My family didn’t inspire that last one, but this one sure brings back memories. Of course all of the snow at my Grandmother’s house in Beverly Hills was fake and came from Niemans.

Noshing Through the Snow (to the tune of “Jingle Bells”)

Noshing through the snow, in a big safe Grand Marquis.

O’er the roads we go.

Driving so slowly.

Bells on cell phones ring.

Dad thinks of the gelt.

What fun it is to laugh and sing and watch the chocolate coins melt. Oh, Grandma Kvells, Grandma Kvells.

Futzing all the way.

Oh, what fun it is to ride in a family car all day, hey.

Grandma Kvells, Grandma Kvells.

Futzing all the way.

Oh, what fun it is to ride in the family car all day.

And finally, my personal favorite. I’m sure you’ll be hearing this on NPR soon, right after “Oy, Come All Ye Faithful” and “Little Drummer Goy.”

We Wish You a Merry Mazeltov (to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”)

We wish you a Merry Mazeltov.

We wish you a Merry Mazeltov.

We wish you a Merry Mazeltov and a Happy New Year.

Good tidings we bring and a hot brisket too.

Good tidings for Hanukkah and some pastrami too.

Oh, bring us some lox and bagels.

Oh, bring us a smidge more kugel.

Oh, bring us some Matzo Ball Soup and a cup of Manischewitz.

We won’t go until we get full.

We won’t go until we get full.

We won’t go until we get full, so bring some more food!

We wish you a Merry Mazeltov.

We wish you a Merry Mazeltov.

We wish you a Merry Mazeltov and a Happy New Year.


Merry Mazeltov to all of you. Send your Hanukkah hymn suggestions to .

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 8, 2012.

Jungle Mom

Photo by Sura Nualpradid

Photo by Sura Nualpradid

I pity the first girl who stomps on my son’s heart.

I realized something about myself recently and it’s not very pretty. I may be an anti-violent, NPR-supporting, bleeding heart pacifist in theory, but when it comes right down to it-I would kill to prevent my son from suffering heartache.

I may not be a tiger mother, but I’m a jungle mom nonetheless. It stuns me how quickly I turn into Mama Bear when something threatens my cub.

When he was younger, I was mostly fixated on doing everything in my power to help my son avoid physical pain. Implanting a GPS tracking device and a boundary collar always sounded perfectly reasonable to me. It was only my husband’s mockery that prevented me from sending Koss out to play in full body armor. I would have wrapped him in Charmin from head to toe, like that kid in the old commercial who goes out to play football and practically tips over from all that cushiony padding.

I was always jealous of the mom in that commercial.

My imagination splinters into a million fearful little pieces whenever I think about anything bad happening to my son.

But now that Koss has successfully survived enough banged up knees and bruised elbows to keep the Band-Aid and Bactine business booming for years to come, it’s his emotional pain that keeps me up at night.

The fact is we’re still warming up to puberty, so at this point his hurt feelings dig much deeper into my overactive imagination than they do into his psyche. I will often still be reeling over some playground slight or hurt from weeks back when Koss wants to invite that very same kid I’ve been mentally murdering over to play.

Pesky old reality is no match for the mind of a mother.

Just thinking about the prospect of his many broken hearts to come is enough to make me growl.

I can’t help myself. Just thinking about that future girl who will someday make him cry drives me nuts. I want to kill her. I want to rip her to shreds. The mere thought of that girl transforms me into every single awful parent-of-an-only-child stereotype, though some might call me a murderous lunatic.

Gee, I hope his future girlfriends never read this column. That would be awful. Just awful.

Karma’s a bitch, and I certainly had my moments. As a former teenage girl, I know just how mean they can be.

Plus the fact that my genetic eggs are in this one and only one precious basket makes me guard it all the more zealously.

But here’s the rub. As a parent I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to try to comfort someone and develop their character at the time. With girlfriends and husbands, your job is just to listen and be supportive and hate whomever they hate at that moment. In those cases it’s easy to blame it on the other guy.

But when you’re comforting a child you sometimes have to fess up to the fact that it’s not always the other guy’s fault. Human relationships are complicated and they’re only just beginning.

Kind of makes me wish for the good old days when I would dream up tactical scenarios of how I would jump into the lion’s cage at the zoo to rescue my son.

When Leslie’s not busy cocooning her son in bubble wrap she can be reached at For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 20, 2012.

Olympic Gold Medalist Todd Rogers: Hometown Hero Hopes To Bring Home Another Gold From London

By Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg: The 2012 Summer Olympics in London will be your second Olympics. How is it different preparing this time around?

Olympian Todd Rogers, photo by Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

Todd Rogers: I wouldn’t say it feels different.  … As far my training and that kind of thing go, its business as usual. There’s no real reason for us to change anything dramatically. The only thing that I try and always keep in mind is that I’m getting older, so just being intelligent about stretching and icing and just taking care of my body because I’m not as durable as I was four years ago.

LD: What percentage of your training is running and lifting versus actually playing volleyball?

TR: The majority these days is probably more running and lifting. I start lifting in November and from mid-October I’ll be doing some kind of running or some kind of exercise that has a cardio component. We (Rogers and partner Phil Dalhausser) really don’t start hitting the ball around until late January early February, there’s just not much reason to do so at a really early stage. The season gets started in April but for us the Olympics are not until August.


I hear of people hitting the ball around in November and I go, “Are you crazy?” But to each his or her own, I guess. I’m kind of a burnout athlete, I’ve discovered that about myself. I just can’t do that much, otherwise I will be sick of the sport.

LD: But you still travel and compete in other places before you go to London.

(Editor’s note: since this interview in April, Rogers/Dalhausser won their third straight gold at the 2012 Brasilia Open and retained their Shanghai Grand Slam title. They are currently competing in Beijing. For a complete tournament schedule click here.)

When you are doing all of that traveling, how much of those places are you getting to see? Are you getting to play tourist at all?

Olympian Todd Rogers, photo by Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

TR: At some of them we have. A lot of them are re-stops, so for example I’ve been to  Klagenfurt, Austria, which is probably the best tournament in the world, probably ten times. I’ve done well most of the time but not all the time, and when I haven’t done well I’ve gone out and checked out the city. It’s on a lake so I’ve gone on boats and whatnot… When we were in Berlin I made it a point to just kind of check out the surrounding area. There have been a few stops where I stay a couple of days extra just because it’s a really cool place. Like in Prague, there are some just really neat areas in Prague that are really old and I make a point of making sure that I get to those and check them out and try to find something new in those areas.

LD: I know you grew up in Santa Barbara and went to San Marcos High School and UCSB. Growing up near the beach is so unique. When you are playing volleyball internationally is it different playing on an actual beach versus some place where they bring sand in?

TR: I would say yes, absolutely. On an actual beach, if you know the beach, you have a consistent wind. The sand tends, not always, but tends to be deeper. When they bring in the man made court they are looking at trying to save money and it costs money to bring sand so they are going to put really the minimal amount of sand they can put in to save costs … it’s much more of a jumper’s sand.

There’s definitely a difference and especially if you’re in a city between buildings. The winds are really weird. It could be going one way and then ten minutes later it could be going the other way because just the way it goes through the buildings can change dramatically really quickly. Whereas on the beach, if you’re at East Beach, most of the time the wind in the afternoon blows out of the northwest. I know that.

LD: When did you start playing beach volleyball?

TR: When I was at San Marcos High School. John Lee was the coach there for the volleyball team; he’s also an English teacher.  He encouraged all of us freshman boys, actually pretty much all of his volleyball protégées to just go down to East Beach and play. He said, “You’ll become a much better indoor player if you go and play on the beach.”

It’s a lot of fun. We were all 14-year-old boys. You’ve got lots of girls in bikinis down there, you’ve got your shirt off, you’re running around in your shorts—it was a pretty easy sell for us! 

So a bunch of us just started going down there after my freshman year and I was 14-years-old and I fell in love with it right away. And I haven’t stopped playing. I didn’t stop playing when I was in college and just kept going with it.

LD: I know you have a son and a daughter (Nate, age 11 and Hannah, age 13). Are they volleyball players?

TR: My daughter loves it; she actually particularly loves beach volleyball. My son enjoys playing beach volleyball but he’s not super into it. We have a court in our backyard (Rogers and his wife Melissa live in Solvang) so we actually play a fair amount of family volleyball. It used to be kind of even, but my daughter at 13 has gotten a lot better in the last year. My son at almost 11 has not. So it’s kind of getting to an unfair level, but he’ll still play. It’s a fun family activity.

LD: You must have other people come and use your court.

TR:We always have people over and I usually have one or two foreign teams that are friends of ours that

Olympian Todd Rogers, photo by Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

play on the international tour and they come to California to train and we’ll come up here. We’ll have a little barbecue after and just kind of hang out, have a few beers, that kind of thing.

We have some friends in town that kind of hang out, their kids come over and play with our kids there or we’ll set up a few trainings with some of the kids and there’s a couple of adults that like to come over and hack it, have a good time. Usually it involves a couple of beers, though. (Laughs)

LD: I know you and Phil have already qualified for the Olympics, but assuming other Americans qualify, then you also could conceivably be competing against those people. What’s that like?

TR: It is a little different because it’s really funky the way they do it. There’s a four year window, say after the Olympics, you have your following next two years when you’re just playing on the international tour and that’s how you qualify and everyone is kind of cheering for each other. I’m always cheering for other Americans of course, unless I’m playing.

Then all of a sudden January 1, 2011 comes along and now, as happens every four years, all of a sudden you are competing against those people just to make the Olympics. So you still want them to win because they are your friends, but at the same time you want to make sure that you are doing a lot better.

Phil and have been very fortunate in that we have done well right away where we have kind of separated ourselves from our competitors …They are fighting it out amongst each other and we just are watching it. We’re pretty much already in. … now the other two teams that are fighting for the spot they’re super close and they can’t catch us so it’s like we can just sit back and just enjoy it. I’ll cheer for them, unless we’re playing against each other.

In the Olympics it’s the same kind of thing. It’s like I want to see them do well, so I’m cheering for them, but at the same time I want to ultimately win the gold medal over them if that’s what it comes down to.

LD: At this point in your career, what percentage of your skill is physical versus mental?

TR: At this point it’s almost all just a mental game for me. Keeping my body healthy, no doubt, that’s the number one thing on the physical side of things and then the rest of it is just I know what I’ve got to do, I know what I need to accomplish and most of that’s just mental. In fact Coach Lee always used to tell me and other players that the game of volleyball is 90% mental and 10% physical. That might be an extreme but it’s pretty darn close. It’s definitely more of a mental game than a physical game.

As I’ve aged and as I’ve seen my kids play and I’ve coached at UCSB and whatnot and I’ve come to realize that he’s absolutely correct. There are kids that are just jumping out of the gym and are amazing athletes and yet they’re just not very good because in the mental part they just break down they make a lot of foolish errors that are really mental errors and not physical errors. They are jumping eight inches higher than the other kids but the other kids are consistent, play smart, using their eyes and their brain and thinking okay I need to do this rather than this, whereas a lot of those exceptional athletes will just use their athleticism and at some point in their careers they are going to meet someone who’s relatively close or maybe even better than them that can’t get past that because they haven’t really developed their mental game.

So I’m fortunate in that I was able to develop that mental game and have decent physical skills, not as great as a lot of other people’s but definitely the mental side of things is so important. I am fortunate that I have that.

LD: Has volleyball always been your favorite sport?

TR: No, not really. It was actually soccer. I played soccer since I was four or five years old. I always thought that was my sport and I loved it. Even into high school when I started playing volleyball and beach volleyball, soccer was always my sport, my first love.

Coach Lee was always like, “man you’ve got to play club volleyball.” And I was always like, “No man, soccer is my sport, I’m not going to stop playing soccer.”

Then my senior year I was trying to get scholarships to play soccer and it wasn’t really happening, I could have walked on a couple of places. But some volleyball teams were recruiting me and so I ended up playing at UCSB on the volleyball team. I still went out for the soccer team and made the soccer team my freshman year but after that season I had to recognize that I’m better at volleyball than I am at soccer. And at a collegiate level, soccer is just, these guys are so fast and so quick it’s like they could run forever. I’m reasonably fast and reasonably quick but they just seem like a different type of athlete than me. In high school and below and in volleyball I was right there, one of the better players pretty much all of the time. I just realized that my upside in volleyball was much greater than it was in soccer.

LD: That’s really interesting. To me volleyball and soccer seem like such different sports.

TR: They are, but there is actually a fair amount of crossover. Like for me, trying to stay with a smaller quicker, faster guy, I had to use perfect footwork and everything had to be on balance and all that kind of stuff. I found that actually correlated really well over to particularly playing defense on the beach. Having good balance, recognizing what’s going on, what’s going to happen and being able to anticipate, which was what I had to do in soccer just to essentially stay alive. It became a trick for me on the beach court.

LD: I’ve heard the announcers call you “the professor” before, and I’m getting a little of that from our conversation. What’s that about?

TR: A lot of people said I kind of have a mental black book on everyone, as far what their tendencies are, so one of the announcers, Chris “Geeter” McGee, about ten years ago, he started calling me the professor. I like it. It actually kind of suits. I always looked at the way I play as more of a cerebral game and whenever I’m out there I want to make it into more of a cat and mouse kind of game, because that’s where my strengths lie. I’m not the biggest jumper; I’m not the biggest guy; I’m not the quickest guy. I’m reasonable on all of those areas but I knew that I would be stronger on the cerebral side of things, so it kind of fits me as a person aside from just a nickname.

LD: If you weren’t a professional athlete, what would you be doing?

TR: There’s a good shot that I would be coaching. I really enjoy coaching. I started coaching basically right out of high school, coaching junior high teams, club teams, even some high school ball. I’ve actually continued to kind of coach through my children a little bit on the volleyball but a lot on the AYSO soccer stuff and I’ve enjoyed it.

I do think that kids and people in general have changed a lot and I’ve noticed that as I’ve coached more and more it’s changed in a way that’s a lot harder to coach now. So I’m not as gung ho on it, but I could have seen myself 20 years ago being pretty focused on coaching. Other than that it’s hard to say.

… I’ve gotten into some business stuff and have kind of started to enjoy that as well, and that’s something that I’m going to be seriously looking at and trying to get my hand into some different cookie jars, if you will, so that when I retire, which is right around the corner in the next couple of years or so, I’ve got some active things going that will provide me with income and hopefully that I will enjoy.

LD: So you’re thinking about retirement a little bit?

TR: Yeah, I’m 38 and I turn 39 on September 30, so it’s just the reality of the situation. I’ve really never wanted to play much into my 40s. All of these guys … that have played into their 40s, it seems like their bodies kind of started to break down. They were all still having a lot of fun with it, which obviously in my opinion would be the number one thing, but again, I don’t want to have my body be completely breaking down. It’s hard enough to do a workout and being sore.

Essentially from January to June I feel like I’m sore all of the time because I’m working out hard and I’m playing in tournaments and my body just hurts and I’ve got to get deep tissue and ice and all that stuff. It didn’t seem like it used to be that way.

LD: Do you worry more about injuries more than you used to?

TR: Honestly, I’ve never worried about injuries per se, it’s more taking care of the little things like stretching, icing, getting those deep tissue massages, even soaking in the cold ocean after a long workout, getting up to my weight and soaking my legs. Those kinds of things I’m more cognizant of now, and I do a lot more of. … People will say, “How can you go snowboarding? that could ruin your career.”  But you know what, you could step off a sidewalk and get something wrong and your leg locks out and you blow your ACL. I’ve seen it happen before. I just think I’m going to live my life not worried about those kinds of things. I’m not going to do anything extraordinarily stupid, but I’m still going to surf, I’m still going to do the things I enjoy and if I get hurt doing those things then I’m just not going to concern myself with it.

LD: Will your family go with you to London?

TR: That’s the plan … I did not take the kids to Beijing because it was just not very conducive for children. … My wife did come over for the last week so she was there when we won the gold medal and that was very cool. But I figure In London they speak English, there’s a ton of things that are really relevant to our history as Americans having basically a lot of people that started our country coming from Great Britain and London in particular. And there are just so many cool sights to see there.

LD: We’ll all be rooting for you from Santa Barbara. Good luck.

TR: Thanks.

Both men’s and women’s Olympic Beach Volleyball competition starts play in London on July 28. Click here for the complete schedule and more information as items as added.  

Look for Leslie Dinaberg’s interview with another Santa Barbara Olympian, water polo player Kami Craig, in the summer issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, out June 1.

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on May 18, 2012.

Crazy Busy or Just Plain Crazy



As I write this first sentence, I’m on hold with my insurance company-again. I’m also listening to phone messages, soaking my whites in bleach, taping an episode of “Next Food Network Star,” stretching my quads, doing a few Kegel exercises and sipping my coffee, which I know is bad for me again this month, because I read it in “Prevention” while I was standing in line at Vons this morning.

It’s taken years of practice, but I’ve finally ratcheted my level of multitasking to “Rock Star,” and now I find out that there’s some new research that says multitasking actually slows you down. I had to push my 1:15 ’til 2:30 and ignore my email, but I managed to get myself to the library to get a peek at psychiatrist Edward Hallowell’s book, “Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD.”

You don’t think I have time to actually buy and read a book about busyness, do you? But I skimmed it, for free, and I really tried to focus on the book, and only the book, during the 13 minutes I calculated it would take the meter maid to get to my illegally parked car.

The good doctor, who specializes in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), says that it is literally impossible to pay conscious attention to doing more than one thing at once. Instead, you end up paying conscious attention to several tasks in succession, and not doing any of them very well. When you switch your brain between tasks you end up wasting, rather than saving, precious time because your brain continually has to restart and refocus.

Are you kidding me? And here I was thinking it might be time to have another baby now that there’s a breast pump with a car adaptor (the Pump in Style) on the market. Just don’t drive over any bumps while you pump.

My husband-who would never dare to sully the experience of watching ESPN by matching a pair of socks, even when they accidentally whack him on the side of the head-has sworn by the do-one-thing-at-a-time-theory for years. Has hell finally frozen over? If not, he can’t possibly be right.

And yet, other experts also support the movement towards uni- tasking. A study at the University of Michigan found that multitasking leads to expensive “time costs.” Team leader Dr. David Meyer says that the additional time required to switch between one task and another tends to increase with the complexity of the chores involved. And that over the long run, the time required to make these switches may lead to a 20 to 40 percent decrease in actual productivity.

A 40 percent decrease? I can’t afford that. As much yammering as I do about how busy I am-and I am actually pretty busy-the reason that I need to multitask is to make sure that I also have time to read novels, catch a movie once in a while and take a long lunch with a friend.

Sometimes I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it’s more important to me have a social life than it is to have a clean house or actually bake the cookies myself. Sometimes there’s this undertone of bragging or one-upmanship when people, especially moms, talk about how busy they are. And I’m always a little self-conscious that I, as the mother of one, will never be as busy as my nut job friends who have four or more children. But I work! C’mon, give a girl a few points.

Of course the trouble with writing about busyness is that it makes you even more hyper-aware of how you spend each moment. It’s exhausting. If I didn’t have to change the laundry loads, write a speech, pick up the trash, and take out the kid, I might take a nap.

Why not find out if you can walk, chew gum, and send an email to at the same time? For more of Leslie’s columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 22, 2012.

Eat, Drink and Be Married

Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee,

Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee,

Chatting with Author Rebecca Bloom

“What is it about wedding preparations that makes the ordinary tasks usually taking a woman from bed to bath, to bra, to base, to bagel, to bag, to butt-on-the-seat-of- the-car in 28 minutes flat, suddenly expand, exhale and evolve into hours upon hours of careful mirror observations and highly scrutinized tinkering?” writes Rebecca Bloom in her new novel, “Eat, Drink, and Be Married.”

I’m giggling as I read these words (So very true!) and laughing even more as I speak to their author, who is sneaking in our phone call during the precious naptime of her two-year-old son. Along with some of the laugh-out-loud-in-recognition scenes in her book, this is yet another thing about Rebecca Bloom that I can relate to.

Expecting her second child in the fall, Rebecca chats easily about writing, kids, tequila and the birth of “Eat, Drink, and Be Married,” her third novel. Here are some highlights:

Leslie Dinaberg: I really enjoyed the book. What was your inspiration?

Rebecca Bloom: I had been going to a lot of weddings and I was noticing that there is so much else that goes on around the wedding. There’s such a heightened sense of emotions for everybody. I wanted to write something that explored not just what the bride and groom were going through but what the guests themselves were going through. Weddings bring out a lot of different kinds of things for people and I wanted to explore those things.

LD: I was really struck by the coming together of the college friends who got back into their old dynamic so quickly and reverted to their old selves. Was that your experience?

RB: With my girlfriends from college, we have this shorthand that it doesn’t matter how long it has been since we’ve talked or how much has happened, the minute we’re together there’s not a lag, we don’t really have to catch up. There’s an instant repartee and there’s an instant sort of comfort and camaraderie. I wanted to put that in the book because I do think that in college you form such intense bonds because you’re with people 24/7 and you don’t really have time past college to ever really do that. … I wanted to capture that because I think it’s the case for a lot of people that the old friends sometimes are the ones that know you the best.

LD: A while back my husband and I were in that wedding a weekend phase and we sort of became the wedding critics. What do you think makes a really good wedding or a really not so good wedding?

RB: It is funny, when you write a wedding book everyone thinks you’re an expert on weddings but it’s sort of just your own opinion.

I think the best weddings are the weddings that really represent the bride and groom and you can tell that they really planned it for themselves and not for their moms and their friends. It’s really all about them. And those are often the most fun.

Our wedding had a lot of tequila and that really made it fun (Laughs). … I think the ones that are the best are the most relaxed and represent the couple-not just the bride.

LD: Were you married when you wrote this book?

RB: Actually I wrote this book, the first draft of it, when I was single. I wrote this wedding book and then I met my husband. So we’re sort of like that movie “Field of Dreams,” where the whole thing is like if you build it he will come. (Laughs)

LD: And now you have a husband, a young son and another on the way. How do you write and juggle all of that?

RB: Not as well as I would like. I am trying to start writing something new and it’s just hard. It’s hard to find the balance. … You just do the best you can. I can’t do everything all the time. And I can’t do it very well. My kids right now are the most important and that’s okay for me for right now.

LD: Not only are weddings fraught with drama, they’re also a huge business. Was that sort of marketing angle in your mind when you developed the story?

RB: I definitely knew … that there might be more avenues open maybe for publicity or marketing but I didn’t really think about that when I was writing it.

As I’ve gotten older though and as I end up starting my next book I’m thinking about that more because I want to make a living and I want it to sell and so I’m letting that come in a little bit. I have a bunch of ideas, so I am thinking which one is the most marketable and I’ll go with that.

But I’m not writing about zombies or anything (Laughs).

LD: I don’t know, a vampire, shades of grey, zombie wedding book with a historical twist could be huge.

For more information about Rebecca Bloom, visit For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 8, 2012.

The Neurotic Parent Comes to Santa Barbara

The Neurotic Parent's Guide to College AdmissionsSome people say that getting your kid through the college application process is a lot like childbirth-you have to experience it yourself to really understand it. Unlike with childbirth, where the endorphins kick in and make you forget most of the pain once you hold that precious baby in your arms, the only chemicals associated with getting your child into college are stiff drinks (for the parents) and plenty of aspirin. Luckily, we can now add a healthy dose of laughter to the college admission cocktail, thanks to J.D. Rothman’s new book, The Neurotic Parent’s Guide to College Admissions. With a sassy, sarcastic style that reminded me of The Official Preppy Handbook, Rothman does a spectacular job of skewering the collective craziness that overtakes otherwise rational people during this phase of their lives. At the same time, it’s not just funny but also provides valuable insights and incisive anthropological observations into the process. “There’s a collective neurosis kind of thing that takes place for parents during this time of their lives,” explains Rothman, who is an Emmy-winning television writer and lyricist in her other work life. After an eye-opening college tour with her older son (now a junior at Duke), she started the anonymous Neurotic Parent Blog as a way to reflect on the nutty parents who had “started their kids in college preparatory programs in the fifth grade,” as well as the “thousands of shockingly bright, polite, alert students, all of whom were vying for her son’s (or your daughter’s) spot.” Up until that trip, she had “no idea there was this level of insanity about the college admission process.” The blog quickly caught on and went viral after a post about Cornell’s hotel’s ugly bedspreads. Rothman admits that she too got caught up in the craziness. Some of the other students had out of this world accomplishments, like “discovering galaxies,” so she wondered how her son would ever compete. Like many parent trips, the first one you feel during the college application process is guilt. Rothman writes, “Clearly it is all your fault. While you were letting your child engage in normal activities like summer camp, babysitting and bowling, other kids were interning for their senators, training seeing eye-dogs and starting hedge funds in Sri Lanka. As a result, for every impressive kid, there are 50 even more outstanding ones.” She observes that even parents who were “not neurotic about other things like eating and sleeping still became neurotic about the college admission process. … Thankfully it is usually not both members of a couple,” she laughs. “Thankfully” is right. Though I often want to give therapy bonds as baby shower gifts, this book will make a pretty good substitute. Laughter is clearly the best therapy for Rothman, who offers up an amusing “prayer for the SAT” (please protect me from mis-bubbling and using passive voice, bless my number two pencils and protect their points), two pages of “haikus for the neurotic parent” and an entire chapter about “barista readiness” (a college degree is fine, but at the end of the day, they’d better know how to prepare a venti, sugar-free, nonfat, vanilla soy, double-shot, decaf, no foam, extra hot, peppermint white chocolate mocha). Asked if her current book tour has made her more or less neurotic, Rothman, who will appear at Chaucer’s on Sunday at 2 p.m., says, “definitely more, but now I’m neurotic about selling books.” Of course it doesn’t hurt that her younger son was recently accepted into his “dream school.” Unlike the rest of us there will be no more college applications for her to deal with in the future-unless the kids don’t like being baristas and want to go to graduate school. The upside? That might mean there’s another book in her future, and ours. Since my son’s only in seventh grade-and hasn’t, to my knowledge, written any symphonies or cured any diseases-this is definitely one book I plan to keep on my shelf for future reading. As Rothman says in her “orientation to college angst,” “whether you have a kindergartener or a 12th grader, may your child’s search be full of multiple acceptances, generous merit scholarships and chill roommates.” If they’re not, may you at least retain the ability to laugh at it all! = Spend your tax day in a lively reading and conversation about the insanity of modern college admissions at Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State St. Sunday, April 15 at 2 p.m.

When Leslie’s not stressing about her son’s lack of Olympic curling credentials, Mandarin language and Ethiopian cooking skills, she can be reached at For more columns  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 13, 2012.

The Green Team

Courtesy Sprout Up (EENG)

Courtesy Sprout Up (EENG)

Environmental Education for the Next Generation

I can’t help but smile when I see Strawberry, Banana, Tree and Sun grinning from ear to ear, as they greet Thunder with the thunderous enthusiasm her name deserves. “Yay. Awesome. This is my favorite kind of day,” shout the others. No, this is not some strange morphing of the Nature Channel and H.R. Pufnstuf flashbacks from my childhood. It’s just a regular old Tuesday afternoon, and I’m watching Environmental Education for the Next Generation (EENG) at work in Judy Cosio’s second grade classroom at Monroe Elementary School. This entirely student-run nonprofit organization-connecting student volunteers from different universities with first and second graders to explore hands-on science experiments and promote sustainable action-is the brainchild of Ryland King, a UCSB undergrad. Inspired by his work as a surf camp counselor with a developmentally disabled child and a volunteer stint at Isla Vista School, King started the group in 2009. “I really kind of learned that when one teaches, many people are affected,” he says.

Indeed, many, many are affected by King’s vision. This year alone, EENG (which has
expanded from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, and San Francisco)
will connect more than 2,300 elementary school students with college students,
providing the resources for them to traverse the wonders of the natural world
together. Besides Monroe, local participants include Santa Barbara Charter, Foothill,
Isla Vista, Howard, Adams and Hope.

“It’s so expensive to teach science,” says Jenna Ryan, a UCSB volunteer who also
answers to “Thunder,” her “Nature Team” name. “It’s such a bummer because I
think science is the most captivating discipline by far if you have the resources to let
kids get dirty and play with materials and things. The cool thing is that EENG is
totally free of charge to teachers and we volunteer … taking a little bit of the burden
off the school, while still allowing kids to really develop their imagination and jump
into things.”

“As you can see, the kids just love it when they come,” says Ms. Cosio. That’s an
understatement. The kids practically tackle their team leaders with excitement the
moment they walk in the door.

“You can just tell how enthusiastic they are and how empowered they are by the end
of it. … I’m blown away every time by how inspiring it is,” says Ryan.

The lesson I observed was the Environmental Extravaganza, where the kids recap
what they’ve learned over the last eight weeks. Topics include renewable energy
resources, soil science and water conservation. Based on the Jeopardy-style quiz
used to review the lessons with the kids, they definitely knew their stuff.

Forming teams with five or fewer children per volunteer creates an energetic
dynamic between the young students and the college-student volunteers. It looks
like a cross between school and a really great nature camp.

One of King’s goals is to provide positive role models “who have a passion for
education or a care and love for the environment and taking sustainable action …
when eight year olds can speak confidently about topics of sustainable action,
people will listen. … The program doesn’t just end with the kids. When they go home
and talk with their families about using a reusable bag or turning off the lights or
turning off the water after they take a shower or wash their teeth, parents and
family and friends really think twice.”

I can certainly attest to that. I became a lot better at turning off the lights when my
son started monitoring our electricity usage.

It’s not just the teachers, kids and their families that benefit. The college students
are also developing what King calls “professional skills with a soul.”

Ryan, an Environmental Studies major, agrees, noting, “I think that EENG is cool
because it really spans through all of the disciplines. I’m in a group with a
philosophy major and a chemical engineering major and people that aren’t
necessarily the crunchy greenies that maybe I spend most of my time with in my
classes. It’s a really cool thing that you can either connect to the environmental
aspect of it or you connect to the really cool personal aspect of it, the social
entrepreneurship aspect of it and investing in the next generation of young people.”

In addition to mentoring the elementary school students, college students also
mentor each other, training new volunteers as EENG grows.

“I think one thing is that everyone who works with us is so passionate about it that
it isn’t work. For us it’s a bunch of fun,” says King. “It’s hundreds of different college
students that have the same passion about the work that are making EENG what it is
and it’s really a team effort.”


For more information about Environmental Education for the Next Generation or to
donate visit A gala fundraiser is planned for May 13. Check the
website for further details, as well as additional information on how to bring EENG,
free of charge, to your elementary school.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 6, 2012.

The Bratty Bunch

Photo by David Castillo Dominici,

Photo by David Castillo Dominici,

Do you ever have the urge to discipline someone else’s kids?

What about when their parents are sitting right there, yukking it up, chatting with friends or drinking cocktails, and otherwise ignoring the fact that their little brat is:

A.) Talking back to a teacher, lifeguard, parent, or other adult

B.) Tormenting a defenseless younger child

C.) Teasing an older child who could, by all rights, stop the little monster in his tracks, but is too nice (or well-mannered) to do so

D.) All of the above.

Doesn’t it drive you nuts?

I don’t know what I want to do more, put the kid in a time out or throttle the parents.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am hardly the strictest mom in the cul de sac, and my son is definitely not the best behaved on the block, but he knows that no means NO, and stop means STOP, and that there are serious consequences when he doesn’t behave in the way he’s supposed to.

That seems like a pretty basic rule for getting along in society, but you wouldn’t know it from watching some of these rude, self-absorbed, bratty little jerks in action.

I’m not the only one who’s annoyed.

In a recent Newsvine poll, 83 percent of the participants surveyed said that today’s kids are more self-centered than those of past generations.

There are lots of theories about why this has happened. Pediatrician Dr. Philippa Gordon told MSNBC, “I see parents ferociously advocating for their children, responding with hostility to anyone they perceive as getting in the child’s way- from a person whose dog snuffles inquiringly at a baby in a carriage, to a teacher or coach whom they perceive is slighting their child, to a poor, hapless doctor who cannot cure the common cold. There is a feeling that anything interfering with their kid’s homeostasis, as they see it, is an inappropriate behavior to be fended off sharply.”

I understand the impulse to do everything you can to make sure that your child is safe, healthy and happy. That protective instinct is as natural as breathing for most parents.

But somehow my parents, and most of my peers’ parents, managed to avoid coddling us the way so many parents do now. In fact, I remember my parents as being much more concerned about instilling proper behavior toward others (including themselves) than the other way around.

What happened? writer Madeline Holler postulates that, “We Gen Xers, who were so benignly neglected that we now over-compensate as parents by co-sleeping and baby-wearing and opting out. And that we’re so fixated on our children’s well-being that we wind up teaching them that other people’s feelings are less important than our own, that kids should first make sure they feel good, then (if ever) worry about others.”

It could be that.

Or it could be that in a culture that embraces snarky comments from “American Idol” judges, where Fisher Price has a toy called “Mr. Men Mr. Rude” and Mattel battles to control a line of dolls called “Bratz,” downright bratty behavior has become not only acceptable but cool.

But I suspect that the real reason most people give their kids such a free ride when it comes to bad behavior has nothing with over-protectiveness, cultural influence, or worrying about their children’s fragile self-esteem. I’m guessing they’re just exhausted, with too much to do and too little time to do it.

Not that I’m giving the parents a free pass on disciplining their children-and not that I’m going to step in and do it for them anytime soon, tempted as I may be.

But think about this the next time you see one of these sassy little brats at the pool, or the baseball field or the playground. And if he or she belongs to you, think about it extra hard.

Is Generation X raising Generation Rude? Email For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 23, 2012.

Bonding Over Books

Honeymoon-Jenna-McCarthy-214x322Santa Barbara has a lot of great fundraisers, but one of my favorites is the annual CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) Celebrity Authors’ Luncheon.

It’s easy to get excited about buying books, talking about books with other readers and listening to authors talk about books, not to mention a great lunch with a dessert of chocolate ganache and caramel tart with raspberry garnish chocolate ring coulis (they had me at chocolate ganache), and last but foremost on everyone’s mind, a really important and worthy cause.

As I hope most people already know, CALM has led the way in building awareness, providing education and inspiring hope to everyone involved in the effort to prevent child abuse and neglect in the Santa Barbara community for the past 40 years.

Last Saturday was the 26th event of its kind-and the first to be planned by event co- chairs Becky Cohn and Carolyn Gillio. They stepped into the stylin’ stilettos left by former co-chairs Sharon Bifano and Stephanie Ortale, who created and organized CALM’s first Annual Authors’ Luncheon in 1987 and only recently gave up the reins.

Thankfully, they left them in very good hands: the day went off without a hitch.

The theme of the decor was apples-Sunday was Johnny Appleseed Day, and I’m sure you all celebrated by spitting seeds around town: Artist Susan Day’s whimsical artwork, which graced the invitation and program and was raffled off for CALM, showed children reading atop and under an inviting apple tree. The centerpieces were full of apples and the first course was chilled strawberry and apple soup-but spilling the beans felt like the theme of the author interviews.

First up, was actor Joseph Mascalo, who has starred off and on as drug dealing murdering crime lord Stefano DiMera on the soap opera Days of Our Lives since 1982 (and was ostensibly there to talk about the coffee table book Days of Our Lives 45 Years: A Celebration in Photos). He spilled the beans on what it’s really like to work on a series where kidnaping, art theft, assassinations, fake deaths and real long lost evil twins are part of “just another day at the office.” The reality is a whole lot of hard work, as he explained in a charmingly booming voice that had the mostly female audience on the edge of their seats.

Next to spill the beans was Simon Tolkien, author of several British mystery thrillers (including his latest, The King of Diamonds) and a new resident of Santa Barbara. As the grandson of beloved author J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) Simon talked movingly about what it was like to grow up with such a famous surname and his bold decision, at the age of 40, to give up his career as a barrister and pursue a career writing novels.

Batting third and definitely leaving no holds barred was Meredith Baxter, an acclaimed actress, who most of us recognize from her years playing Michael J. Fox’s mother on the sitcom Family Ties. What many people didn’t realize, until she notably spilled the beans that she was a lesbian on The Today Show a few years ago, is that she’s also battled breast cancer, survived domestic abuse and has been a sober alcoholic for 19 years. If her book, Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering, is anything like her frank discussion at the CALM lunch, she definitely has few secrets left to tell.

Last but most definitely funniest, Santa Barbara’s own Jenna McCarthy (who used to banter on KTYD with Matt McAllister in the morning). She elicited nods, laughter and a whole lot of guffaws when she shared insights from her recent book, If It Was Easy They’d Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon: Living with and Loving the TV- Addicted, Sex-Obsessed, Not-so-handy Man You Married. She spilled the beans on what married life is really like and why sticking with the man (did we really all just marry the same guy?) you’ve got might just be a very good idea after all.

Over the years some of the authors interviewed have included: Sue Grafton, Jane Russell, Barnaby Conrad, Michael Crichton, Julia Child, Ray Bradbury, Fanny Flagg, Maria Shriver and Jonathan Winters. While big names help fill seats and raise money for the child abuse, sexual abuse and incest services and programs at CALM, longtime luncheon goers agree that the “best known celebrity is not always the best interview.” I would have to agree. This year’s panel was among the best I’ve seen.

For more information about CALM visit For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 16, 2012.

Sex and Housework

Photo artur84,

Photo artur84,

Men are astounded by how long women can go without thinking about sex, and women are astounded by how long men can go without thinking about housecleaning.

This explains why my husband can turn on the TV and happily surf skin-e-max while laying on top of a gargantuan pile of unfolded laundry … then still is surprised when I’m not “in the mood.”

Unlocking the mysteries of the male mind is, of course, a topic that has launched a million magazine articles, and the career of Dr. Phil, but he almost never talks about housework.

According to Neil Chetnik’s book about American husbands (VoiceMale-What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework and Commitment), almost every level of happiness and positive feelings in relationships is related to housework.

I wonder if that’s why I’m so attracted to my cleaning lady?

Chetnik, who surveyed almost 300 husbands and did in-depth interviews with 70 others, agrees, it really is about the housework.

“In writing the book, I kept seeing the parallel between housework and sex in the interviews. Men said the happier their wives were in the division of housework, the happier the men were with their sex lives. We even looked at the numbers and found that there’s more sex in the relationship if the wife is happy with the division of housework. It doesn’t have to be exactly equal, the wife just has to think it’s fair.”

That’s what I keep trying to explain to my husband. I’ve got really dry skin on my hands, so doing the dishes and scrubbing the toilets are out. My mother is an exceptional cook, so I never had to learn how to – I can whip up a scrumptious reservation, though. Basically my domestic specialty is doing the laundry. Since that’s really all I can do, then I think it’s only fair that my husband does half of it.

Chetnik says, “When a woman comes in she notices if it’s a mess, it’s often socialized in [her] that [she is] more responsible for the look of the home so if he can recognize that by doing a fair share, then he is often rewarded with sex. She’s not as angry, or burdened and she’s not as tired.”

Got that, honey? All it takes is a few loads of whites. Smoochy smoochy.

It’s not just the actual act of cleaning the house that strikes a nerve with women. As Chetnik says, “It wasn’t till I did this book that I recognized that it’s not just the doing of the housework that’s a burden to women, it’s the worrying about the housecleaning that is a burden.”

It’s not exactly a quid pro quo kind of arrangement.

Chetnik’s research found that there were more men who reported that the sequence was, he does housework, then she has sex — as opposed to, she has sex with him and then he does housework.

He quotes one husband who says, “My wife told me that she’s never more turned on to me then when I’m doing housework, and she’s proven it again and again.” At first he thought she was kind of holding out on him. His initial reaction was to resist that because it did feel like a quid pro quo. But then he realized that it was more about her feeling appreciated. It seems that women who feel their partners are paying attention to them, and to the household, are more appreciative and less tired.

Solely in the interest of scientific inquiry, I think this is worth pursuing, honey. No starch in my collars, please.

What do you think? Is there really a connection between sex and housework? Let us know at Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 2. 2012.