Cocktail Corner: Pairing Wine and Sushi

Edomae Sushi and Star Lane & Dierborg Vineyard Winery pairing and tasting tour. Photos by Leslie Dinaberg.

Edomae Sushi and Star Lane & Dierberg Vineyard Winery pairing and tasting tour. Photos by Leslie Dinaberg.

A Spirited Toast to All Things Alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg  

Wine and sushi were a match made in Happy Canyon heaven—I’m still dreaming about a once-in-a-lifetime amazing meal I shared recently at Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards.

Executive Chef/Owner Kiminari Togawa of Sushi Karaku in Tokyo (left) and his associate prepare a pairing luncheon at the Star Lane Dierberg Estate Vineyard property. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Executive Chef/Owner Kiminari Togawa of Sushi Karaku in Tokyo (left) and his associate prepare a pairing luncheon at the Star Lane Dierberg Estate Vineyard property. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

The Dierberg family-owned wineries teamed up with Japan’s sushi master Chef Kiminari Togawa of  Sushi Karaku of Ginza Tokyo, winemaker Tyler Thomas and two impressive advanced sommeliers—Matthew Dulle of Single Thread Farm in Healdburg, CA and Andrew Ivanov of Reeds American Table in St. Louis, MO—to create an incredible, intimate wine and sushi experience.

Energetic powerhouse JiaMin Liang Dierberg coordinated the entire meal, and also proved to be an entertaining Japanese translator for Chef Togawa, explaining, “the style of sushi we are eating is from the Edo Period (in the 1800’s) when the refrigeration system was not sufficient and resulted in this sushi method, involving a special way of marinating and seasoning to preserve fresh fish safely.”

JiaMin Liang Dierberg was an entertaining Japanese translator for Chef Togawa at a recent pairing luncheon at the Star Lane Dierberg Estate Vineyard property. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

JiaMin Liang Dierberg was an entertaining Japanese translator for Chef Togawa at a recent pairing luncheon at the Star Lane Dierberg Estate Vineyard property. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

The type of “fast food” sushi we commonly eat today has only been in style for about 50 years, JiaMin said, “even in Japan, most of the people have never had this experience.”

And what an experience it was!

Winemaker Tyler Thomas at Star Lane & Dierberg Vineyards in Happy Canyon, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Winemaker Tyler Thomas at Star Lane & Dierberg Vineyards in Happy Canyon, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Our morning started out with a barrel wine tasting and seminar at the Dierberg Tasting Room in Lompoc. Led by Tyler Thomas, who offered some insight into his belief that great wines are about showcasing great properties and the goal is to help each vineyard reach its unique potential.

We then shuttled to the Star Lane estate and winery in Happy Canyon, which is home to 200 acres of Bordelaise varietal vines and a state-of-the-art winery that features a four story high crush pad, gravity flow system and 26,000 feet of caves full of wine barrels. You have see it to believe it!  After our tour of the vineyard and winery we were greeted at the luncheon reception with a refreshing glass of the 2016 Star Lane Rosé made with 100% Malbec.

Then the wine and sushi pairing began.

Kanpachi (Yellow Tail) Marinated in White Wine (r) and Tai (Sea Bream) with Marinated Kelp and Yuzu. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Kanpachi (Yellow Tail) Marinated in White Wine (r) and Tai (Sea Bream) with Marinated Kelp and Yuzu. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

First Course: Sauvignon Blanc
Kanpachi Yellowtail Marinated in White Wine with 2015 Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
Tai (Sea Bream) with Marinated Kelp and Yuzu with 2005 Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley

Seafood Dressed in Basil Sauce, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Seafood Dressed in Basil Sauce, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Seafood Dressed in Basil Sauce

The pairings were exceptional. I particularly enjoyed the way the marinated kelp and yuzu flavors complimented the citrus notes of the 2005 Sauvignon Blanc.

Second Course: Chardonnay

Tai (Sea Bream) Pickled in Sesame Soy (l) with Broiled Skin-on Tai (Sea Bream), photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Tai (Sea Bream) Pickled in Sesame Soy (l) with
Broiled Skin-on Tai (Sea Bream), photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Tai (Sea Bream) Pickled in Sesame Soy with 2014 Dierberg “Dierberg Vineyard” Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley

Broiled Skin-onTai (Sea Bream) with 2014 Dierberg “Drum Canyon Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills

King Crab Mille Feuille, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

King Crab Mille Feuille, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

King Crab Mille Feuille

Again, the pairings were amazing, with excellent food and wine serving to improve the tastes of each even further. The sesame soy oil really went well with the lush fruit flavors of the Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay and I loved the King Crab dish.

Moving into the red wine pairings is where it got even more interesting. Common practice is to pair white wines with fish and red wines with meats, which is probably why it’s been difficult to get most sushi restaurants to offer much in the way of wine lists. However, the next two sets of pairings proved that red wine and sushi can indeed be a delicious match.

Pickled Red Maguro (Tuna Red Meat) in Soy (l) and Chu-Toro (Fatty Tuna) Sprinkled with Wine Salt, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Pickled Red Maguro (Tuna Red Meat) in Soy (l) and Chu-Toro (Fatty Tuna) Sprinkled with Wine Salt, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Third Course: Pinot Noir

Pickled Red Maguro (Tuna Red Meat) in Soy with 2014 Dierberg “Dierberg Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley
Chu-Toro (Fatty Tuna) Sprinkled with Wine Salt with 2014 Dierberg “Drum Canyon Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills

Oil Marinated Salmon with Tomato Water

Oil Marinated Salmon with Tomato Water, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Oil Marinated Salmon with Tomato Water, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

These elegant Pinot Noirs were a heavenly match with plummy sweetness of the tomato water marinade. I’m a huge sushi tuna fan and both of these variations were incredible.

Fourth Course: Bordeaux Varieties
Broiled Toro and 2013 Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
Mirin Marinated Conger Eel with 2011 Star Lane “Astral,” Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara

Broiled Toro and Mirin Marinated Conger Eel, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Broiled Toro and Mirin Marinated Conger Eel, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Teriyaki Fatty Yellowtail with Foie Gras

The pièce de résistance of an absolutely incredible meal! The 2011 Bordeaux Blend had lovely depth and sweet notes of cassis, plum and boysenberry that were fabulous with the sweetness of the eel. Similar notes in the 2013 Cab added yet another layer of complex flavor to the Toro. All in all it was simply amazingly delicious lunch.

Teriyaki Fatty Yellowtail with Foie Gras, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Teriyaki Fatty Yellowtail with Foie Gras, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Pairing each course with multiple vintages was an ingenious way to show off the diversity and complexity of the Dierberg and Star Lane wine offerings, as well as open our minds to the variety of ways that wine and sushi can be paired successfully.

This is definitely an experience I won’t ever forget. For more information, visit

Cheers! Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

 Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on May 15, 2017.


Time Is On My Side

Daylight Savings TimeThis Sunday is my favorite day of the year.

There’s something magical about the day we “fall back.” Think about it. How often do you wish you had an extra hour of sleep, or an extra hour to pour over the Sunday Times, do the crossword puzzle, or linger over brunch, or even an extra hour to think about what you would do with an extra hour if you had one?

I yearn for that extra hour when my @#$%&* alarm clock goes off every morning of every day. I’m not exactly a morning person, or even a mid-morning person, or really that much of a life-can-be-worth-living-without-caffeine person, so I think about what I’ll do with that extra post-daylight-savings-time hour every single morning during the 364 days of the year that we don’t “fall back.”

I have my hour all planned out: I would spend 37 extra minutes under the covers, 6 extra minutes under the shower head, and 17 extra minutes actually sitting down to eat breakfast, drink coffee and read the newspaper. Or there’s plan B, when I would spend 23 extra minutes under the covers, 7 extra minutes shaving my legs really well, 25 extra minutes finishing my novel, and 5 extra minutes translating my novel into Chinese, a language I would have mastered by listening to tapes during my 7 extra minutes in the shower. Then there’s plan C, where I wake up next to George Clooney and spend my extra hour calling, emailing, tweeting, texting, and sending telegrams to all of my friends dishing about what it was like to wake up next to George Clooney.

The reality is every time we “fall back” for daylight savings I sleep right through my extra hour and then some. Sweeeet.

Those 25-hour days rock. When I actually get that extra hour, once a year, it’s like my own personal floating holiday. I spend the whole rest of the year trying to recapture that wonderful feeling of waking up and finding that I have a 25-hour day ahead.

Sometimes I try to fool myself by setting my bedside clock ahead 15 minutes and knowing I have time to hit the snooze bar-twice-but it’s not really the same thing as having a 25-hour day.

Often, setting my alarm clock forward just reminds me of a childhood spent waiting for everyone else to arrive. Unlike most sane people, who long for their days to be longer, my mom did everything in her power to cut our days short. If school started at 8:15 a.m., she would insist we had to be there by 7:30 a.m. and tell us it was 7:20 a.m. and we “better hurry or we’d be late” when it was actually only 7 a.m. and we could have stayed in bed another *&$#@! * half an hour and still made it to school by the first bell.

I can’t tell you how many parties I’ve been to with my mom, where the hostess hadn’t even showered yet, or weddings we’ve gone to where the couple wasn’t even engaged. The woman is obsessed with being early. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if she’s already blocked off some seats at Stanford for my 12-year-old son’s graduation.

The consequence of those 40-some-odd years of premature arrivals thanks to my mom, is that my dad, my sister and I now wildly overcompensate by lagging and therefore making other people wait for us as often as possible.

Which is probably why I get so irritated when I have to hurry my son to get ready for school in the morning. His lagging skills are even more finely honed than my own. “I can’t go any faster mom. This is my pace,” he said, the other morning, when I tried to rush him out the door after patiently waiting through a full 13 minutes of brushing his teeth in super high def slow motion.

“Hurry up dude, my time is precious, and we only have 24 hours today,” I said. It may have been my caffeine deficiency, but I couldn’t help thinking that I could have spent that lovely 13 minutes tapping my snooze alarm instead of tapping my feet while I waited for him to stop lagging.

What would you do with an extra hour in your day? Tell For more columns visit

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 4, 2011.

Oh my, Miley

Miley Cyrus as Hannah MontanaAuthor’s Note: If only Miley’s parents had read this column when I first published it back in 2008.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus,

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Montana,

To the parents of Miley Cyrus (a.k.a. Hannah Montana) or whatever the heck you call yourselves,

You’re breaking my acky breaky heart.

Have you learned nothing from the examples of Dina & Michael Lohan, Lynne & Jamie Spears, or Kathy & Rick Hilton?

For those of us who are parents, this troika provides us with a deliciously devilish opportunity for judgment.

Welcome to the club.

I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve comforted myself with the fact that, no matter no matter how many times I’ve yelled at my son, or laughed insensitively at his mispronunciations of words, or written about them in my column, no matter how grotesque his table manners are or what my other parental failings have been–I can always take comfort in the fact that these people are more irresponsible than I am.

So Tish and Billy Ray, welcome to the elite group of celebrity scandalette parents who make me feel better about myself.

Are you really, honestly, expecting us to believe that you’re so clueless that you didn’t think “Vanity Fair Magazine” might possibly try to take pictures of your daughter that would make her look a little, oh say, slutty? Have you ever seen the magazine before? I’m pretty sure that Annie Leibowitz convinced Caspar Weinberger and Henry Kissinger to pose naked with the globe painted on their butt cheeks. Did you really think your little Miley could resist her charms?

I’m not buying it.

Could you really have thought it was a good idea to let your 15-year-old daughter–who up until recently was greeted by millions of parents with a huge sigh of relief for the simple reason that she was a famous little girl who didn’t leave the house without her underwear–pose topless in a magazine that is known as the holy grail for publicity-hungry stars who want to promote their movies, music projects or television shows in the nude?

Whether you are her parents first or her managers first, it’s time to catch a clue. You can’t blame the photographer, who isn’t exactly known for taking prom pictures. You can’t even blame the evil media empire for this one.

She may be both Hannah and Miley on your TV show, but in real life you can’t have it both ways.

Either the G-rated empire that you and Disney have built around Miley is ready to go PG-13 and we’re all going to have to face up to the fact that your little girl is not so little anymore, or you made a major public relations misstep with the Golden Goose of an empire that, let’s face it, is the only thing keeping Billy Ray from two-stepping onto “Dancing with the C-List.”

So what’s it going to be? In an article in the “New York Times,” a Disney executive is quoted saying, “For Miley Cyrus to be a ‘good girl’ is now a business decision for her. Parents have invested in her godliness. If she violates that trust, she won’t get it back.”

With Miley stumbling off of her squeaky-clean Disney pedestal, are there any Hollywood child stars a parent can trust not to pose topless–or sheet-full–these days?

This is not just any 15-year-old girl we’re talking about. She is just about the only non-animated role model marketed as being “appropriate” and G-rated for little girls–unless you count the American Girl Dolls, and so far, they’re not selling out concert halls and movie theatres like little Miss Montana. (Although I did hear that 1974’s Julie was hooked on Valium and had shacked up with 1764’s Kaya.)

The “Vanity Fair” article author asked Miley point-blank if she felt a lot of pressure with a billion-dollar Disney brand resting on her shoulders. Doesn’t she have to watch herself constantly?

Miley’s response: “Not really. That’s what my parents are for. They’re there to take care of that, and I can just do what I love.”

My point exactly. Somebody needs to be an adult around here and it’s not your 15-year-old daughter.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 2, 2008.

Making friends is hard work

courtesy photostock via

courtesy photostock via

To attain the next level of friendship, you’ve really got to apply yourself

I appreciate alone time with my husband as much as the next gal, but as lovely as that table for two is, sometimes we need a larger audience to fully appreciate us. That’s where couple friends come in.

Finding a companionable couple can entail some pretty bizarre rituals, mostly involving awkward silences, fake laughter, holding ones tongue and expensive restaurant meals. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like dating, but without the biological incentive of mating.

And the odds of failure are even higher.

Take the fictional couple we had dinner with the other night. He told golf stories when he wasn’t on his cell phone, and she tried to get us to a Pampered Chef party she was hosting. My husband was appalled. No more.

From now on, all prospective candidates will have to undergo a rigorous prescreening process before being granted the sublime privilege of dining with my husband and I.

I really don’t understand why finding couple friends is so difficult.

Let’s start out with a few basic questions. Just fill out that top part of the application there with your name, address, phone number, etc. Under the position you’re applying for, you can put “couple friends.”

How did you find out about us? We’ve had great success with referrals from family and friends, and surprising longevity with some of those whose parents chose the same neighborhoods, school districts, and activities that our parents did.

Quite honestly, referrals from employers have been kind of disappointing. Most of the conversation tends to be dominated by talk about work, leaving the other two spouses feeling left out, bored or suicidal.

Now, let’s talk about household income. It’s not that we care what kind of place you live in or what kind of car you drive, and if you care about that kind of thing then you probably won’t want to be friends with us. But, as much as we might like to, we can’t afford to eat at Ruth Chris every Friday night so if you’re not willing to do Giovanni’s or Los Gallos every once in while, don’t even bother finishing this application.

And while we’re on the subject of dining, unless you’re ordering and eating for a family of six to our three, can we just split the check? I don’t really care if your burrito was 75 cents more than my taquito, and if you do care then you’re already getting on my nerves and I’m afraid it’s just not going to work out.

Do you cook? Well? Will you cook for us? If so, skip to the end of the questionnaire and we’ll see you on Friday at 7.

What about movies? We’re willing fork over eight bucks each to see just about anything (and get ourselves out of the house) but if you talk incessantly through a film, we’ll never go with you again (unless of course you’re my mother).

While I’m having nightmare double date flashbacks, let me ask you about the division of responsibilities in your household. If you’re a man who “baby-sits” his own children, you and I will probably have a few choice words, and if you give your wife an “allowance” we may come to blows.

As far as politics and religion go, I’d like to think I’m open-minded, but I’m not. Any kind of racist, homophobic or extreme right wing comments will probably put you out of the running to be my friend, unless they’re funny, meant to be ironic, or made while you’re cooking for us.

And if you’re under 30, we probably don’t want to be friends with you either. Okay, we do want to be friends with you, but quite frankly we’re just not that cool anymore. Can you believe I’ve never been to Couchez? Plus, my body has about a 1 a.m. curfew and starts rebelling against me if I break it too often.

What about kids? It’s not that you have to have an eight-year-old boy in order to be our friend, but it sure would be nice. Almost as nice as if you had a responsible 14-year-old daughter who’d love to baby-sit our eight-year-old boy while the rest of us go out for dinner, a movie and some semblance of adult conversation, maybe even a few laughs.

How’s your sense of humor, anyway? I know everyone thinks they have a good sense of humor, but have you ever had that verified by an outside source? We like to laugh a lot at our house, and if that’s not your cup of tea, well then, what are you doing here anyway?

Oh. You want to buy a classified ad?

Sorry. That’s the desk over there.

See, I told you it’s hard to make couple friends.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 25, 2008.

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.

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

The Amazing Adventures of Danger Boy and Wimpy Mom

© Kapu | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Kapu | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I stared up at Koss in amazement, as he confidently donned his bike helmet and harness to climb Gibraltar Rock. He looked so little, just a wisp of a boy, yet so excited and sure of himself. I couldn’t help but be impressed. Then I looked down at Rattlesnake Canyon 150 feet below, and almost lost my footing–and my lunch.

What kind of nut job mom lets their seven-year-old kid climb a mountain? Yet, there I was, terrified and shaking, watching from the side of the road. My Little Danger Boy was about to try rock climbing for the first time, with only a rope, a helmet and a harness to protect him from harm.

It was all his teacher’s fault. Teacher Danger Boy is an avid rock climber, and he promised the kids he would take them climbing as a belated Christmas gift. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving–grey hairs. Now it was time for him to “pay up on his promise,” and I was a wreck.

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have been anywhere near the mountain. It’s been well documented that I’m not exactly the queen of all things daring and dangerous. My fears are completely rational. When I was 16 years old I took a 25-foot spill down a cliff onto the beach, and therefore all cliffs–even biggish sand dunes–are extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

OK, I was wearing flip-flops and was too busy flirting with the boy I was with to pay attention to my footing, but that doesn’t change the fact that all cliffs–and even biggish sand dunes–are extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

But see, Big Danger Boy (a.k.a. my husband Zak) was off on a dangerous “mancation” of his own that day, kayaking down boulder-filled rivers, drinking way too much and supervising a bunch of Neanderthals wobbling their way through a testosterone- and alcohol-fueled makeshift firewalk.

Since Zak was unavailable, I had to be there to “supervise” Koss’s rock climbing adventure. I warned his teacher that I would be watching from the side of the road. Unfortunately, Teacher Danger Boy didn’t pick up on the massive waves of “please don’t make me come and watch this” vibes I was sending his way, and said it would be just fine for me to watch from afar. I could have strangled him with my bare hands, but Koss really wanted to go, and his Wimpy Mom just didn’t have the heart to say no.

Clearly I was the one that needed a helmet to protect me from the blow to the head I must have suffered that got me to edge of this cliff (if 20 feet away is still “edge”).

I flashed back to Big Danger Boy’s skydiving adventure a few years back. I spent what should have been a lovely Saturday with my nerves shot, chained to the telephone. I could have killed him when he came back with a house full of pumped-up revelers, complaining of groin pain.

This time there was stomach pain (mine) as I grabbed my camera with one hand and a tree to steady myself with the other. I don’t even like writing about this, it just wigs me out again. If I could have sent him up there with full body armor and a hovering helicopter I would have, but all I could do at that point was cross my white knuckles, fingers, toes, and eyes and watch from afar as Koss climbed up that mountain like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Through the zoom lens of my camera I could see the huge smile on his face when he got to the top. He was so pumped up and proud of himself. For a split second I thought that maybe I wasn’t such a Wimpy Mom after all.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 8, 2007

What PMS really stands for

Image  by Ohmega1982,

Image by Ohmega1982,

I used to think that PMS was a myth.

Like fat free cheese that doesn’t taste like plastic, the Loch Ness Monster, celery having negative calories, and conditioner that repairs split ends-I was convinced that Premenstrual Syndrome didn’t really exist. I would secretly snicker to myself when my girlfriends complained that the turning of their hormonal tides meant the churning desire to bite someone’s head off was nearing.

While I had heard that PMS stood for “People Must Suffer,” “Pissy Mood Syndrome” and “Pass My Sweatpants” in other households, ours stayed relatively serene. Sure, certain times of the month I might crave a little more chocolate, and then salt, and then chocolate-but I wouldn’t morph into a drama queen the way my friend Rose did when she banished her teenage daughter from the house after she ate the last Kit Kat left over from Halloween. (“Provide Me Sweets”)

What kind of crazy family has leftover Halloween candy in November anyway?

And I certainly wouldn’t yell, “You moron. It says 15 items or less. Can’t you $%@&$%@ count to 15? Each of your %$#@$ 11 jars of prunes counts as one,” to an elderly man in the grocery store like Tia did, on a particularly gloomy day. (“Pass My Shotgun” or “Potential Murder Suspect”)

What was up with these “Particularly Moody Sickos” anyway? Why did otherwise sane women turn into stark raving lunatics? (“Perverse Mean Streak”) I seriously didn’t get it. But I was smart enough to run for cover, and make a few notations on my calendar.

When my otherwise awesome (and sane) friends turned into “Perfectly Mean Sistas” just because a few “Pimples May Surface” I steered clear, and privately wondered if they might need counseling.

Then I turned 40. “Pardon My Sobbing.”

The mood swings came on gradually. I woke up one morning wanting to kill my husband because his breathing was so annoying, (“Plainly Men Suck”) got up, took a shower and felt better.

The next month it felt like a gunpowder and Redbull cocktail had been injected into my bloodstream. A clerk at Long’s was humming an off key version of “Please Men Shut-up” as he stacked a display of Rosarita Refried Beans, and it took every ounce of my self-control not to ram my cart into his vocally challenged face.

I wrote it off to stress, and self-medicated with bon-bons and romance novels. (“Praying Mood Subsides”)

It took a few more months for me to acknowledge to myself that I was starting to feel touchy, stressed, and well, sort of bitchy on a regular basis. Perhaps PMS wasn’t a myth after all. I was just a really, really, late bloomer. Lucky me.

It took another year to admit to my husband (“Punish My Spouse”) that I might possibly be experiencing some minor monthly mood swings. Perhaps hormones might be causing a few of my increased emotions and incoherent thoughts, i.e. extra tears and crazy rantings.

The relief on his face was palpable. I had finally entered the “Please Make Sense” phase of my cycle. He said, “Really? I hadn’t noticed.” (“Perfect Man Sarcasm”) – but then smiled, and asked if I needed supplies. We’ve both finally figured out that “Pinot Means Serenity” and “Peanut (Butter M&Ms) Mean Smiles” as well.

Tell Leslie what you think PMS stands for at Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 24, 2011.

Adult BoyCare

Teenagers Playing Computer Game by Ambro,

Teenagers Playing Computer Game by Ambro,

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

Me too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bacon,” said M.

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

Clearly he’s given this some thought.

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

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

Float Pray Love

Image by stockimages,

Image by stockimages,

There’s nothing like the adrenalin rush of a near miss to make even a heathen like me say her prayers. And there’s nothing like a tragedy to make me vow, for the umpteenth time, to savor every moment and not to sweat the small stuff. I had a horrible reminder of this the other day.

It started in Las Vegas. We had come to the desert in search of sun and an easy way to stretch out the last few remaining days of our summer before Koss went back to school. It was 110 degrees in the shade but refreshingly cool in our hotel’s lazy river, where we spent most of our time nursing adult beverages ($5 bottles of Aquafina for Koss) and floating in endless circles. For a couple of blissful days our biggest cares in the world were remembering to reapply sunscreen and trying not to bump into the clumps of rafts that would form from time to time in the pool.

As the sun rose on the last day of our vacation I had that bittersweet feeling that endings always bring. I wasn’t ready for the carefree days of summer to end but was resigned and even starting to look forward to seeing all of my “school friends” I had missed over the last couple of months.

One more day at the pool and then we’d head back to real life.

Zak answered his phone and his mother told him there had been a terrible accident at home in Santa Barbara. An out of control big rig truck had careened into our old house, killing three of the occupants, including a seven year old kid.

We lived in that place for almost ten years-the first ten years of Koss’s life. My heart was pounding as I pictured the truck slamming into the porch where we had stored his stroller, drawn chalk paintings and played hopscotch. I still can’t believe that the bright sunny yellow living room and the sky blue child’s bedrooms I carefully sponge painted were transformed into a place of unspeakable death and destruction.

As I write this, the adrenalin kicks in once again. That could easily have been us. In fact, it would have been us if our landlord hadn’t told us he planned to demolish the building about a year and a half ago.

I take back every evil epithet I threw in his direction when I struggled to find us a new place to live over the Christmas holidays. If he hadn’t kicked us out we would probably still be living there. And if we were still living there we would almost certainly have been asleep when the truck crashed into the house. We’d be dead instead of that poor other family.

I said a small prayer of gratitude for our first landlords (and friends) who sold the building to the guy who forced us out and an even bigger prayer for the family that replaced us, hoping they were at least asleep and truly didn’t know what hit them.

That poor sweet little boy. I know his face will be haunting me for a long, long time.

Within an hour of the accident the phone calls, emails and text messages started pouring in from far-flung friends, some of whom weren’t sure whether or not we still lived there. Even some acquaintances that had never been to our house took the time to call and make sure we were okay.

We weren’t okay, but we sure were lucky. The whole thing was so surreal. It was nice to know there were so many people who cared about us. I wondered if I would have made the effort to reach out if I were in their shoes, and vowed that if something like that ever hit the news again I wouldn’t hesitate to express my concern.

“When something tragic like this happens, the only thing you can really do is hug your loved ones close and treasure every moment you have with them,” said a text from a friend in the Bay Area who had heard the news. “What a perfect reminder for all of us to savor every moment and not to sweat the small stuff.”

Good advice. I think I’ll take it.

When Leslie’s not mulling over her near miss epiphanies, she can be reached at For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.comOriginally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 27, 2010.