Santa Barbara Spotlight: Photographer Patricia Houghton Clarke

By Leslie Dinaberg (originally appeared on the Santa Barbara SEASONS Blog)

Despite her lifelong fascination with light, shapes and colors—not to mention an impressive list of awards and exhibitions, both internationally and closer to her hometown of Santa Barbara—photographer Patricia Houghton Clarke has only been focused on photography for a short time.

"I Love You," by Patricia Houghton Clarke

“I Love You,” by Patricia Houghton Clarke

“I’ve been photographing all along, but really only started taking it seriously about ten years ago, where I was producing bodies of work and starting to show my work,” says Clarke, whose ready smile and approachable style surely does wonders to put her subjects at ease. Continue reading

Animal House Hits My House

animalhouseposter2As you approach the doorway, a headless Pokemon (Pika Pika! Pi-Ka-Chu!) flies out of a window and lands at your feet. Adrian takes a break from his potty break to greet you. Oops, sorry about your shoes… and your leg. Jake whirls by you on a Razor scooter, through the front door and onto the back porch, where he sings a surprisingly good rendition of “Burning Down the House.” Alex tries to accompany him with what’s left of smashed ukulele.

“Sorry,” he says, as he hands me the pieces and runs off. We have … had a ukulele?

Dressed in makeshift togas, Lauren and Caitlin run by with their Rapid Shoot Super Soaker Water Guns cocked, ready to take down Koss and Jared.

“No water in the house,” I shout, without the slightest delusion that anyone is listening to me. Welcome to my son’s 8th birthday party.

When I let Koss pick the theme for his party, I expected him to choose Pokemon, Sponge Bob, or Harry Potter. You know, a commercially exploitable theme that would be easy to incorporate into invitations, piñata, decorations, games, craft projects, band-aids, snacks, cake, favors, little gift bags, ribbons, tags, stickers and candy for the little gift bags.

I got Animal House instead.

Luckily, I lived in a frat house one summer a million years ago. Otherwise I would have been completely unprepared for what happens in a home invasion by seven kids with enough adrenaline to power Bolivia, Kamchatka, and Yakutsk (and that’s before the ice cream sundaes).

Many moms believe that planning a child’s birthday party requires as much tactical planning as invading a small country, more if you have to hire a magician. Since my son’s birthday is right in the middle of the summer, I tend to be a little more laid back.

OK, a lot more laid back. I let my son plan his own party. He had grand plans from the get go. A wild game of Cranium, a water gun fight, and a dance contest. It sounds pretty harmless, right?

I figured it couldn’t be any worse than letting my husband plan the party, which would have involved a few bags of chips, a couple of pizzas and a lot of beer. All serve yourself, of course.

After all, there has to be some advantage to living in the Shack besides a good school district. I finally figured it out. This is a great house for a frat party. There’s almost nothing here that I really care if they thrash. The furniture is old and falling apart, the carpet is disgusting, the yard is full of weeds, and the walls have seen better days.

So this year we decided to bite the bullet and let our son have his dream party. Did I mention he wanted a slumber party?

Not only did we let them thrash our house, and play with fire, we let them stay here and sleep it off afterward.

I use that word, “sleep” in a very loose way. I think at about 3 a.m. a few of them were sitting down. That counts, right?

It’s been almost a week, and our birthday hangovers are still hanging on. My kitchen’s recovered from the food fight, and my headache has almost gone away, but I’m still scrubbing the walls from the home invasion.

I mean this literally.

One of the more ingenious games they played was “Burglar,” which involved repeatedly climbing through the window from the front porch into the living room, throwing throw pillows, stereo equipment and knickknacks into a bag and running through the neighborhood shouting, “Have you seen Delta House?”

It’s listed under my name in the phone book.


Regale us with your birthday party tales by sending an email to For more of Leslie’s columns visit

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 3, 2007.

Cocktail Corner

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic!  By Leslie Dinaberg
(Here is my newest column which I write every Friday for Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.)


© Pac | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Pac | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Popping the Cork for Mother’s Day

One of my favorite things about Mother’s Day is that it’s a terrific excuse reason to have Champagne for breakfast. Of course, you can do this anytime you want—and pretty, pretty please invite me over!—but on Mother’s Day, unless you’re visibly pregnant, no one looks at you strangely when you order a bottle of Champagne with your Eggs Benedict (which is a fabulous pairing, by the way). But here’s an even better reason to toast mom with some bubbly this weekend: new research has just come out that three glasses of Champagne a week can help to improve your memory!

Kentucky Derby Day Drinks

Early Times makes the official Mint Julep of the 2013 Kentucky Derby. (courtesy photo)

Early Times makes the official Mint Julep of the 2013 Kentucky Derby. (courtesy photo)

It’s Kentucky Derby time this weekend, and although all I know about the leaderboard is thatOrb is favored to win, I know enough about Kentucky Derby Day traditions to know whichever horse your money’s on, y’all should be cheering ‘em on with a Mint Julep.

Citrus & Spice Cocktail at The Pan (photo by Leslie Dinaberg)

Citrus & Spice Cocktail at The Pan (photo by Leslie Dinaberg)

Cheers to The Pan

I’m a big believer that variety is the spice of life. If I could tipple “cocktail flights” for every happy hour and nibble appetizers for every meal, I would be doing a happy dance for the rest of my life. I still haven’t found a place that has “cocktail flights” on the menu (sharing sips with friends is the next best thing), but I have found a great small bites place just a hop, skip and jump from the office: The Pan.

Cheers to Prosecco

OGIO prosecco (courtesy photo)

OGIO prosecco (courtesy photo)

I had my first taste of Prosecco just a few years ago, when a friend brought a bottle of Mionetto IL Prosecco to accompany our sushi at one of the summer concerts at El Capitan Canyon.  It was delicious, bubbly and tasted good with potato chips too.

Wine and Cheese Please!

I was thrilled to discover that today is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day. What better way to fight the post-vacation blues than to celebrate this traditional American treat and pair it with some of our favorite local wines?

KAPPA Krush (courtesy of KAPPA Pisco)

KAPPA Krush (courtesy of KAPPA Pisco)

Potions With Pisco Popping Up

I wasn’t too familiar with Pisco last fall, when someone gave me a bottle of KAPPA Pisco, a new Chilean Pisco from the House of Marnier-Lapostolle, producers of Grand Marnier. But since then, this exotic beverage has been showing up more and more.  Especially in Montecito, where it’s behind the bar at Cava Restaurant and Bar and the Biltmore’s Ty Lounge and on the shelves at The Bottle Shop, among others.


Cheers to Spring at the Ty Lounge

Four Seasons Biltmore's barrel-aged Negroni (courtesy photo)

Four Seasons Biltmore’s barrel-aged Negroni (courtesy photo)

A great spot for cocktails just got even better. The Ty Lounge (at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara) has always been a beautiful place to drink in the priceless view of the Pacific, but now mixology pro and manager Chris Nordella has introduced a lively selection of spring cocktails.

Dargans (courtesy photo)

Dargans (courtesy photo)

A Bit of the Blarney About Dargan’s

Irish eyes are always smiling at Dargan’s, one of my favorite downtown pubs (18 E. Ortega St., 805/568-0702). Of course the place will be rocking this weekend in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s a great place to tipple any time of the year.

A Bouquet of Orchid Cocktails

Black Orchid (courtesy photo)

Black Orchid (courtesy photo)

With the  68th Santa Barbara International Orchid Show coming up this weekend, a bouquet of orchid cocktails is certainly in order to celebrate this event.

Chuck's Famous Mai Tai (courtesy photo)

Chuck’s Famous Mai Tai (courtesy photo)

Chuck’s Famous Mai Tai

A lot of places slap the label “famous” onto a cocktail, but Chuck’s Famous Mai Tai is one “famous” libation that’s ready for a “legendary” label. It’s not quite as good as a trip to Maui, but it’s pretty darn close.

Red Carpet Cocktails

For those of us who won’t be at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre this weekend, the competition for Oscar-inspired libations is every bit as fierce as the race for Best Picture. Here are some red carpet cocktails to make your home viewing party a hit!

How to Make a Sidecar with Rachel Maddow and Dita Von Teese

I love pretending I’m Rosalind Russell and ordering old-fashioned cocktails. Must be the journalist’s fascination with His Girl Friday. Phrases like, “How ’bout a Sidecar, doll face?” and “Gimme an Old Fashioned, the old-fashioned way,” just trill off the tongue, don’t they? Anyway, when I stumbled across this video of one of my favorite journalists—MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow—demonstrating how to make a Sidecar, I just had to share it.

Cajun Martini at the Palace Grill in Santa Barbara

Cajun Martini at the Palace Grill in Santa Barbara

Cajun Martini at The Palace Grill

It’s always Mardi Gras at the Palace Grill (8 E. Cota St., 805/963-5000), the closest you can get to New Orleans while staying in Santa Barbara.

The Antagonist at The Marquee

I’ve been really into sweet, hot and spicy cocktails recently and had a fabulously tasty one the other night at The Marquee. The Antagonist is made of chili-infused Absolut Vodka, white peach puree, mixed berry puree and pineapple juice.

Toasting the Film Festival

Even movie stars shine a little brighter when you give them a perfect cocktail. Since the stars will out in full force this week, here’s where I would take some of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival VIPs out for drinks.

Paradise Cafe Margaritas

My childhood smelled like Coppertone, my teenage years like Love’s Baby Soft, and my 20’s smelled like the Margaritas at the Paradise Cafe .

National Hot Toddy Day

It’s National Hot Toddy Day. A “hot toddy” is a warmth-inducing yummy drink made with honey, lemon, hot water, and the spirit of your choice (usually whiskey, brandy, or rum).


Alcazar's Heat of Passion cocktail. Courtesy Photo.

Alcazar’s Heat of Passion cocktail. Courtesy Photo.

The Heat of Passion at Alcazar

The sultry Heat of Passion is sweet, hot and spicy and certainly my favorite cocktail at the moment.

Simmering Sangria

Sangria is one of my favorite warm weather libations, but until our recent uber cold front (quite unusual for Santa Barbara) I had never thought about serving it warm.


Happy Mother’s Day!

© Paha_l | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Paha_l | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Given that I wrote a weekly newspaper column for almost a decade, I guess it’s no surprise that I’ve got a Mother Lode of columns about Mother’s Day. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Mother Lode, sometimes hearing just a little bit about someone else’s mother is all it takes to really appreciate your own.

My Secret Mother’s Day Wish for a remote control to stop time whenever I want to.

That Other Mother reflects on the reality that I was a much better mother before I actually had a child.

Mom’s the Word, Happy Mother’s Day, mom. This one’s for you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Mother Lode

© Alexkhrom | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Alexkhrom | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

While she snipped away at my curls, the hairdresser’s caffeinated swirl of invectives about what a terrible mother she had filled me with sympathy. I know there are horrible mothers out there–Mommy Dearest is one of my favorite horror movies–and clearly this girl had been deeply, deeply screwed up somewhere. I just hoped she wouldn’t take it out on me with her scissors.

Still, I smiled as I tried to picture my face with a mullet, knowing my own mom would tell me how beautiful I looked, no matter how much of a “don’t” my “do” turned out to be.

Good mothers are like that. They say just the right thing to make you feel better. My mom is great at that.

When it comes to mothers, I was lucky: I hit the mother lode. Every time someone complains about their awful mother, I say a silent prayer for mine. I don’t always say it out loud, but I know I’m really lucky to have her.

I may be grown up and perfectly capable of using the microwave, but I still whine for her homemade soup when I’m sick–and usually get it within minutes. Whenever I’m feeling down she seems to magically know when to call or stop by, usually bearing a brand new pair of shoes that “hurt her feet.”

Before I become a mom she used to always tell me, “You’ll never know how much I love you until you have children of your own.” Now I know just what she means.

It didn’t matter whether she was proud of me –for getting good grades or being a good sport when I lost a hard fought tennis match–or let down–cringing while I honed my sarcastic wit at the dinner table or rolled my eyes at my annoying little sister–I always knew how much my mother loved me because she never stopped telling me.

She still tells me, almost every single day, and sometimes more often than that. And she shows me too, by always being there for me in a million different ways.

So here I am, once again, writing a column about her and trying to be funny without making her mad. It’s harder than it seems. My mom can be unintentionally hilarious, but doesn’t like to be teased about it. Not one single bit.

Plus, the last thing I want to do is publicly embarrass the one person who knows more about me than I know about myself. I can’t hide anything from her. I swear, the harder I try the better her memory gets. It must be all of that Ginkgo biloba and green tea.

“Why don’t you write that?” says my husband.

“That’ll make her mad,” says my son, who’s smart enough to know that moms–and especially grandmas–are people you really don’t want to tick off.

“But the thing about your mom is that it’s okay to make her mad because you always know she loves you,” I explain.

My son’s face lights up. Uh oh…

“But that doesn’t mean you should try to make me mad,” I warn him.

Then I ruffle his hair and tell him that I love him. He says, “I know that mom. You only tell me that like, a million times a day.”

I just smile, and look into his eyes that are so much like my mother’s.

You’ll appreciate it someday, kid.

And by the way, mom, I do.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 9, 2008.

My Secret Mothers Day Wish

© Peterkozikowski | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Peterkozikowski | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

For those of you who have no exposure to TV or calendars or school art projects, it may come as big news that Mother’s Day is coming up.

Now, I wouldn’t say no to being showered with diamonds, although I’d settle for a real shower alone for 10 minutes without someone interrupting me on an “urgent” matter. Candy and flowers would be good, just not sour worms and dandelions. However, what I really want this Mother’s Day is my very own remote control.

No, this isn’t one of those columns about men and their need to control the television remote — although my six-year-old son has mastered the picture-in-picture swap features and figured out how to TIVO every episode of the Power Rangers for the next 327 years. How is it that he still can’t figure out how to get his clothes off his body and into the hamper?

Anyway, what I want for Mother’s Day is that remote control that Adam Sandler has in his new movie, Click.

What a perfect gift.

The next time Koss chatters incessantly about Pokemon — seriously, the kid can go at least 10 minutes without taking a breath — I could simply push the mute button, and smile and nod and think about George Clooney. Or better yet, I could rewind to when Koss was a year old, just learning to talk, and I reveled in his every word.

Still better, I could rewind my life to the time I “just missed” meeting George Clooney at a party because I spent that extra 17 minutes changing outfits because I couldn’t decide what to wear when I met George Clooney. Of course every outfit I’ve ever owned would look ravishing, if I could just rewind my life to that one summer when my height was actually in perfect proportion for my weight.

Ah, the good old days.

I could rewind to 1986, and meet my husband during that legendary summer when he was “peaking,” and supposedly had better abs than George Clooney. That I’d like to see.

That I’d like to be able to even picture.

But enough of the past, my Mother’s Day remote would have a wicked fast forward that I could use to have written a novel, lost 20 pounds, learned Spanish, run a marathon, and avoided a lifetime of awkward conversations — all without the actual effort of writing, dieting, studying, training or talking. That’s my kind of remote.

The pause button could be pretty cool too. Adam Sandler uses his to slap his boss around a little and hit a little kid in the head with a baseball, but I like to believe that I’d be a non-violent remote controller. When that lady with 14 items in the “10 items or less” line at Vons starts to count her $19.99 in change out r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y, I would simply pause her shopping and place her butt in the appropriate non-express line. It would all be very civil, no violence required.

Same goes for the mega minivan parked in two spaces at Five Points. I would simply pause all of the other shoppers while I double-parked behind Ms. Minivan and got a few errands done.

Hey, maybe I could use the picture-in-picture function combined with the pause, and simply be in two places at one time. You know, like the lady who sits under the hairdryer at a salon but is also cleaning her oven. I could be sitting at T-Ball cheering on my team while getting a massage, or cooking a gourmet dinner while playing an exciting game of Klondike on my computer, or eating an ice cream bar while running a 10K.

What a great gift that remote will be.

Here’s hoping the batteries don’t run out while I’m speed rewinding past childbirth.

Happy Mother’s Day!

What would you do with a universal remote? Email email

Originally published in Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 5, 2006.

That Other Mother

© Paha_l | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Paha_l | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I was a much better mother before I actually had a child. I did so many things right back in the old days, when I was that other mother.

That other mother lost her pregnancy weight in two weeks, breast fed for three years, and had a child who immediately slept through the night, allowing her beautifully romantic relationship with her husband to be completely unaffected by parenthood.

That other mother was naturally slender, polite and patient. She cooked healthy, yet tasty food and kept an immaculately clean house. She was tolerant and fair and she didn’t make snap judgments when her kids appeared to be guilty of something. She wasn’t a pushover. Once she laid down the law, she stood her ground.

She spoke fluent Spanish, Chinese, German and French, and could play piano by ear and sing with perfect pitch. She taught her children sign language, and they did simple little experiments on her home particle accelerator.

Teachers and coaches were always telling her how wonderful her kids were. Her children were the ones that other mothers used as examples of perfect behavior when their own kids misbehaved. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “I bet Leslie’s son would never talk back to his mother like that. I bet her son goes to bed immediately when told and does his homework without complaining a bit. He even likes to do the extra credit pages.”

This woman, this other mother, never once lost her temper with her child or her husband or even that lady with 14 items in the “10 items or less” line at Vons who always counts her $19.99 in change out r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y and then finds a coupon in her wallet and has to re-count the whole thing again. This other woman had a street named after her.

Plus, she never had a bad hair day in her life, and looked perfectly groomed without a stitch of makeup. She was quite amazing, this other mother, the one I was going to be before I had kids. She was really kind of perfect, but in such a down-to-earth, good-humored way that nobody even hated her for it.

And then there’s me.

I’m the mom who asked her son what he had eaten on Saturday, and when he answered “pancakes and Pringles,” pretended to be horrified, but was actually relieved he had eaten anything at all, since I couldn’t remember feeding him.

I’m the mom who told her son that the swear words he learned at camp weren’t really the worst swear words in the world, and then, more interested in expanding his vocabulary than avoiding detention, went on to give a few examples.

I’m the mom who forgot to tell the Tooth Fairy to come to our house the other night, and then tried to blame her son for not putting his tooth in the right place. “Silly boy. Tooth Fairies never look under the left side of the pillow.”

I’m the mom who teaches her son logic by giving “because I said so” as the reason for making him do something whenever I can’t think of a better one.

I’m the mom whose son once told me I reminded him of the bossy girls at school. Then he shook his butt at me and, rather than punish him, I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I do that a lot–laugh inappropriately at butt shaking, arm farts, belches, and other behaviors that I absolutely know I should not encourage.

For example, when my son was three, he used to eat his boogers. When I’d scold him, like that other mother would, he’d always say, “tastes like chicken.” It cracked me up every time.

That other mother–not that her child would ever in a million years exhibit such imperfect behavior, but let’s just say for example’s sake that he did, maybe because some other mother let him eat too much cake, ice cream and cotton candy at a birthday party–would have scolded him gently and explained why that was disrespectful in kid-friendly language.

That other mother’s family probably sends her to the spa on Mother’s Day, just so they can take a break from her perfection and eat take-out burritos on paper plates and not worry about cleaning the kitchen.

Guess what I’ll be doing on Sunday?

Not being that perfect other mother, and maybe, just maybe, being OK with that.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 11, 2007

Mom’s the Word

© Fredgoldstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Fredgoldstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

“You’ll never know how much I love you until you have children of your own.”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard those words come out of my mother’s mouth when I was growing up.

While other kids’ moms told them to stop making faces or their mouth would freeze that way, or elaborate tales about walking to school in the snow or having only one toy to play with, my mom always told me how much she loved me.

It didn’t matter whether she was proud of me-for getting a good report card or remaining a good sport when I lost a hard fought tennis match -or disappointed -for honing my sarcastic wit at the dinner table or rolling my eyes when my little sister annoyed me -I always knew how much she loved me because she never stopped telling me.

She still tells me, almost every single day, and sometimes more often than that.

She shows me too, by always being there for me in a million different ways.

So here I sit writing a column about her, trying to be funny and not make her mad. It’s not that easy. My mom is often hilarious, without trying to be, but doesn’t really like to be teased or the butt of our jokes. Plus, the last thing I want to do is publicly embarrass someone who has enough dirt on me to fill a small park

“Just write that,” says my husband.

“That’ll make her mad,” says my son, who’s precocious enough to know that moms-and especially your mom’s mom-rank number one on the list of the top five people you don’t want to tick off (the others are your principal, your teacher, the person who’s making your dinner and the guy with the pit bull across the street).

“That’s the thing about having a great mom, though,” I tell him. “It’s okay to make her mad because you always know she loves you.”

“Really?” His little nine-year-old eyes light up.

“That doesn’t mean you should try to make me mad,” I warn. He knows that look, and drops the matter right away.

Smart kid.

It took me until I was at least ten to figure out that my mom had a full range of super powers: eyes in the back of her head, a knack for being able to let me know what she was thinking with just a look, and the ability to fling guilt rays at me from a thousand feet away. She can fling them from even farther away if there’s a telephone involved.

Until I had a child of my own, I didn’t realize what a thankless job it was to be a mother. If surviving nine months of pregnancy and 37 hours of back labor aren’t enough to help you develop a sense of humor, there’s breast feeding, changing diapers, cleaning spit-up, and wiping bottoms to enjoy. Would you do that for someone you didn’t love?

And it’s not like kids ever grow out of needing their mother. When I had bronchitis a few weeks ago, my husband laughed as I whined that I wanted my mommy to come and take care of me. Within minutes she was there, bearing homemade chicken soup. Eyes in the Back of the Head Woman, to the rescue!

Food critic Ruth Reichl wrote a book, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, where she talks about dressing up in her mother’s clothes and going out to restaurants disguised as her mom. As much fun as that might be, I have no illusions that I will ever be able to fill my mother’s shoes-even though she hands me down a practically new pair that “hurt her feet” every other week.


Available at

My sister and I are both convinced that we’re her favorites, as are her three grandchildren. Even her sons-in-law think they’re her favorite. But the truth is our mom’s got more than enough love to go around. She managed to take hordes of family friends, classrooms full of Roosevelt School students and scores of SBCC football players under her maternal wing, without ever making any of us feel neglected. Some of my childhood friends still call her “Mom” and she’s much better at keeping in touch with them than I am.

She’s got more energy than someone half her age, more friends than a brand new lottery winner and does more for other people than anyone else I’ve ever known. She defeated breast cancer and lung cancer while hardly missing a tennis match, and while she officially retired from teaching, that doesn’t stop her from teaching her grandchildren, the kids her granddaughter’s school and anyone else who will listen, at any opportunity.

She’s still teaching me things, and I’m still listening, Mom. I love you too.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 8, 2009.