2022 Best of Santa Barbara

From Santa Barbara Independent, Best of issue cover, October 20, 2022

I had the honor of writing the Santa Barbara Independent‘s Best of Santa Barbara winners once again in 2022. It’s always a fun project and it’s always a huge amount of work — but  a little every time I do it.  People are always so excited to hear they won, so that part is definitely fun. You can read the whole thing by clicking here, or on the images below.





Out and About

Sporting Life

Looking Good

Living Well


Little CreaturesHousing



Electrifying Your Home in Santa Barbara: How to Flip the Switch Away From Natural Gas

Credit: Courtesy

The road to zero carbon is being paved by elected officials, builders, and activists. And an increasingly important part of the journey is getting rid of gas furnaces, water heaters, ranges, and other appliances and replacing them with electric alternatives that make buildings safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly ​— ​especially as more renewable power is added to the grid.

Last summer, the Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously to enact a new building ordinance (known as a “reach code”) prohibiting natural gas infrastructure in newly constructed buildings (with the exception of restaurants and applications where there isn’t yet a viable electric alternative to gas). There are also many rebates and incentives available for existing homes to make the switch to electric.

Heat pumps, which control household climates by extracting and moving the heat in the air, are extremely energy-efficient. According to the Department of Energy, installing an air-source heat pump can cut your electric bill in half, and heat pumps are generally considered more comfortable than traditional heating and cooling. “The other big advantage that heat pumps offer in our warming climate is that they can provide both heating and cooling in your home, so they can essentially be used to replace both a furnace and an air conditioner,” said Michael Chiacos, energy and climate program director at CEC.

If you’re considering a new furnace or installing air conditioning in your home, TECH Clean California is currently offering up to $3,000 per unit rebate on central heat pumps or mini-split heat pumps. That same group also has a $1,000-$3,100-per-unit rebate on heat-pump water heaters. Other vendors offer incentives for air sealing, insulation and ductwork, whole house fans, smart thermostats, and electric backup power units (see switchison.org/incentives for more information).

Heat induction cooktops are another innovation that has come a long way in recent years. Unlike traditional electric stoves that heat with coils, induction cooktops use magnets to transfer heat directly to the pan through the process of induction. These ranges heat up faster (they can bring water to a boil in half the time of gas), allow you to cook at very specific temperatures, and are safer. Induction burners only heat the pan and not the cooktop surface, which means the rest of the stove remains cool when it’s on. Without an open flame, people are less likely to burn themselves or accidentally start kitchen fires.

“I am a total covert,” said Dennis Allen, founder of Allen Construction. He’s been cooking on a five-element magnetic induction cooktop for more than a decade. “It is fabulous,” he said. “It’s so responsive, and it is so good for the environment because it’s about double the efficiency of natural gas, because natural gas is heating all of the air around the pot and this power only heats the pot.” He also likes that it’s safer to cook with his granddaughter because she won’t get burned by the cooktop.

If you’re interested in trying before buying, many vendors offer portable models to take home and test. The Santa Barbara Public Library’s Library of Things also has an induction cooktop you can check out.

As more and more information comes out that electric homes are safer and healthier to live in, they are also becoming more practical and affordable, especially with the various incentives. There are some federal incentives for solar installation that are expiring soon, so the time to act is now, said Chiacos.

“Having an all-electric home with solar is definitely the way to go, because then you are using your locally generated sunshine to run your house, and hopefully power your car, too,” he said.

Santa Barbara Independent, May 19-25, 2002. ON THE COVER: Madame Ganna Walska, taken c. 1958. Photo by J.R. Eyerman/Lotusland Archives. Design by Ava Talehakimi.

Originally published in the May 19-25 issue issue of the Santa Barbara Independent. To see the story as it originally appeared click here.

Active Aging in 2021: How to Live Well into Your Later Years

Santa Barbara is a great place to live no matter your age, but it takes many people a number of years — and perhaps a successful career or two — to start calling our shoreline home. That means there are plenty of people living their best later lives here, which is why we started our Active Aging Guide in 2018 to help navigate the endless options for staying healthy, striving for wellness, and living even longer.

This is the fourth annual edition of this promotional section, in which sponsors suggested trends, techniques, and talented experts from their organizations to our editorial team. Then Leslie Dinaberg took those nascent ideas, put on her reporter’s cap, and turned
them into engaging articles that cover a wide range of topics, from bone, brain, and sexual health to volunteering, nutrition, and even drum circles.

Read on, and age well.

The (Drum Circle) Beat Goes On at Vista Del Monte

Westmont Living’s Nutrition Tips for Brain Health

Step Up to Help Seniors at the Family Service Agency

Borrowing Medical Basics from VNA’s Health Loan Closet

Connect, Discuss, and Explore at Vistas Lifelong Learning

Stimulating Senses to Stimulate Wellness at Villa Alamar and Alexander Gardens

OsteoStrong Builds the Bones of Skeletal Health

Turner Medical Arts Offers Treatments for Inside and Out

Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent on August 12, 2021. Cover photo by Erick Madrid. To read this special section as it originally appeared in print, click here.

Stimulating Senses to Stimulate Wellness at Villa Alamar and Alexander Gardens

An innovative sensory stimulation program — involving nature, scents, sounds, and colors to constantly provide pleasant sensory stimuli that promote wellness — helps assisted-living and memory-care residents at Villa Alamar (villaalamar.com) and Alexander Gardens (alexandergardensal.com) maintain their high spirits and positive outlook.

Developed by owner/partner/administrator Mitch Leichter, this Sensory Integration Program for the Advanced Stages of Dementia is seeing great success.

“Our staff is consistently engaging the residents in a proactive manner, where in the past it was reactive,” reported Leichter. “The staff has learned how to interpret body language
from nonverbal residents and have implemented appropriate reminiscent and redirection opportunities predicated on sensor stimuli criteria. In many incidents, an increase in medication has not been needed for some residents experiencing behavioral situations, and in other cases, medications have actually been decreased.”

Leichter explained more about the program to me below, and what follows is a portion of our conversation, edited for clarity and length.

Do you use the sensory integration techniques for both memory-care and senior assisted-living patients? We’ve really focused a lot on Villa Alamar, which is our memory care. It’s a translucent theory that can apply to anyone, but I’ve had more success in the implementation with memory-care dementia residents in the years
that I’ve rolled it out. This is really nice to see the effect.

What are some of the different impacts with people in memory care? The whole focus of sensory integrations is to rethink traditional care. If you try to create a traditional
activity program with a resident that has dementia, you’re making poor assumptions. You can’t assume they are cognitively able to do it, for example, if you say “move right; stand
up; sit down.” We have a huge, beautiful courtyard at Villa Alamar, and we let nature be our program. We have wind chimes, bird feeders, fountains, gardens, our furniture is multicolored for sensory pickup, and we also have classical music playing. The theory is you want to create a Zen moment for your dementia residents. If Mrs. Johnson is sitting down by the fountain and she’s watching the birds eating out of the bird feeder, you want to create that Zen moment, and then you want to perpetuate it. Even at lunch time. Rather than stop her from getting in the moment, we work together, and we allow that moment to perpetuate. And we’ll bring lunch to her and not upset what we tried to do to begin with.

By doing that, we can decrease the behavioral medication, because we’re not moving them around. The staff has been taught to be part of the program, not depart from the program. We let nature do the work, and it’s just magnificent.

That sounds like a very humane approach. Does it help everyone? I have incredible employee retention across both of my properties. Because if you walk into a place that smells good and sounds good and looks good, and the staff realizes that I’m not a corporation — we’re independently owned — they know that we’re focusing on a wellness program. And it’s not just a wellness program for residents; it’s a wellness program for the employees as well. And it works.

It’s the same philosophy in a different situation that we use with the residents, and also when the families come in. It basically slows your cadence down. It slows your heart
rate down, it slows you down, and that’s the whole theory of sensory integration. The term I use is “holistic modalities,” and the fact is that we can reduce the amount of behavioral medications by modifying our program. It works wonders.

Is there anything else we should know? When a family has to place a loved one in memory care or assisted living, there’s a lot of guilt and anxiety. Our job is to provide the
sensory integration approach so that they can calm down and also feel good about their choice. It’s been remarkable at both of our properties — we get the comments all the time. “What’s that smell?” And “Oh my gosh, look at that bird feeder, and that wind chime sounds magnificent. When can I move in?” So I hear that and I’m thinking, “Okay, good, it’s working.” [Laughs.] We want to be holistic in our approach and not force medication onto anybody unnecessarily.

See villaalamar.com and alexandergardensal.com.

Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent on August 12, 2021. Cover photo by Erick Madrid. To read this special section as it originally appeared in print, click here.

What’s Cooking at the Ranch

What's Cooking at the Ranch was originally published in the April 2021 issue of 805 Living Magazine.Elizabeth Poett, proprietor of Rancho San Julian’s grass-fed beef operation in Lompoc, has a lifestyle cooking show on the new Magnolia Network. Ranch to Table (theranchtable.com), which launched in February, has been in the works for about
a year. Upcoming episodes, Poett says, will provide “a glimpse into what life is like on a cattle ranch and tons of delicious meals that focus on all that the Central Coast has to offer.”

Originally part of a Mexican land grant, the 14,000-acre ranch was established in 1837 and is featured prominently on the show along with its resident cows and chickens, gardens and orchards, Poett and her husband, Austin Campbell, and their two young sons.

Poett laughs when asked if Campbell, who also comes from a long line of local ranchers and farmers, was game to be on TV from the get-go. “I think Austin and I both knew that when we married each other we were going to need to be game for a lot,” says the seventh-generation rancher. “We were excited for the opportunity to share the importance of—as well as the beauty of—agriculture.”

Click here to see this story as it originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of 805 Living Magazine.

A Cut Above

Photo courtesy Messermeister. Originally published in 805 Living, March 2021.

Photo courtesy Messermeister. Originally published in 805 Living, March 2021.

Amid all of the recent cooking at home, upgraded kitchen equipment has become an especially welcome commodity, and no tool eases food preparation more than an exquisite knife. “A high-quality, handcrafted knife is razor sharp, balanced, comfortable to use, and easy to sharpen,” says Kirsten Dressler Wilson, vice president of the Ojai-based
Messermeister (messermeister.com) cutlery company. “It makes it so much easier to chop ingredients fast. The first time you use a great knife, you finally realize how bad your old knives really were.”

Wilson, who runs the family-owned business with her sister Chelcea Dressler-Crowley and their mother Debra Dressler, should know. Her father, a German native, brought his passion for the premium, hand-forged cutlery of his homeland to the U.S. in 1981 and established the Messermeister (translation: knife master) line in 1985. Four decades
later, the brand encompasses a wide array of professional-quality chef knives, kitchen cutlery, and cooking tools, all of which can be purchased online and at selected retailers.

Click here to see this story as it originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of 805 Living Magazine.

Efficiency Begets Quality Time

The Efficiency Project, from 805 Living Magazine's Pulse section, winter 2021.

The Efficiency Project, from 805 Living Magazine’s Pulse section, winter 2021.

Founded by sisters Alia Glasgow, an event producer, and Casey Geeb, an interior designer, The Efficiency Project (theefficiencyprojectsb.com) helps families create time-saving interiors that free up more precious moments to do the things they enjoy the most.

Creating a drop zone for keys near the entry to a home, for example, can save time spent
looking for them.

“Design and organization really do go hand in hand,” says Glasgow, who specializes in the organizing side of the business, “and the fact that we can support and brainstorm with each other on both means Casey’s design is stronger. I help her with the functional [aspects], and she makes it look really great.”

They also offer help for those moving from one home to another and enhancing the appeal of a home to live in or to sell.

Click here to see this story as it originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of 805 Living Magazine.

Waldorf Education Honors the Head, Heart, and Hands

Waldorf Education Honors the Head, Heart and Hands. Originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Waldorf Education Honors the Head, Heart and Hands. Originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

101-Year-Old Tradition Offers a Holistic Approach to School

The 101-year-old Waldorf educational tradition is still thriving today at The Waldorf School of Santa Barbara. One of the key components is the whole child educational approach, which Administrator Teddy Macker described as, “Trying to encourage the intellectual,
artistic, and practical capacities of our children equally in a loving, reverent holistic manner, and I think that in itself is unique.”

Instead of “teaching to the test,” as a focus, “We want our children to flourish as human beings, wholly,” said Macker. “So we privilege working in the garden like we might privilege math. We privilege painting like we privilege history, so it’s an integrated, holistic curriculum wherein all of the human is honored.”

“Head, Heart, and Hands” is one of the catch phrases you often hear. “When we talk about the head, we are talking about the academic and intellectual development of the child,” said 6th grade teacher and Administrator Carolyn Kaster. “So we see that we have a rigorous curriculum, but in addition to that, we are working with building capacities within the children. Rather than having a vessel that you’re filling up with information, we see it as building capacities in the children to learn and also fostering imagination and creativity.”

The heart, she explained, refers to social and emotional learning. “In our philosophy, we value the relationships,” said Kaster. “It’s very common in our school and in all Waldorf schools for the teacher-student relationship to span several years.” The long-term teacher-student and teacher-parent relationships create a unique partnership and connection.

The “hand” component, Kaster said, concerns the artistic approach to education, whether that means visual art, music, dance, woodwork, or another discipline. “All of the artistic parts of the curriculum are really woven throughout,” she explained. “So what you’ll see is that there’s not much of separation between art and the curriculum, but that there is art woven through.”

Altogether, Macker said that these programs ensure that their students’ socioemotional is thriving. “We’re really wanting the children to not be these mere heads sitting in desks who can pull off cognitive feats,” he said. “We’re really wanting them to be whole. For us, happiness is wholeness, so we proudly — and we do it fallibly, of course, and
imperfectly — but we proudly fabric the social emotional into everything.”


SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020. To read the section as it appeared in print, please click here.


Wishful Weaving

See fiber artist Regina Vorgang’s handwoven table runners in A Time to Gather at Studio Channel Islands through November 25. Photo by W. Scott Miles, the Scientific Photographer, THESCIENTIFICPHOTOGRAPHER.COM.

See fiber artist Regina Vorgang’s handwoven table runners in A Time to Gather at Studio Channel Islands through November 25. Photo by W. Scott Miles, the Scientific Photographer, THESCIENTIFICPHOTOGRAPHER.COM.

Folks are spending more time than ever in their homes these days, and with that in mind, fiber artist Regina Vorgang has turned her talents to creating functional pieces of art for the table—handwoven table runners. “I’ve been thinking a lot about family gatherings,” says Vorgang, whose Regina Design (reginadesign.com) studio is based in Camarillo. “I’m trying to focus on what can be for the end of this year, in the hope that we can gather without too much worry.”

Vorgang started her career as a graphic designer before her desire to do something more tactile led her to begin creating handwoven tapestries and rugs. “I’m inspired by nature or designs that come into my head,” she says. Her table runners are on display through November 25 in A Time to Gather, an exhibit at Studio Channel Islands (studiochannelislands.org), a former elementary school housing 40 artists’ studios and a gallery. To schedule a private viewing visit studiochannelislands.org/visit.

805 Living Cover, October 2020. This story originally appeared in 805 Living Magazine, October 2020. Click here to see the section as it originally appeared in print.

Sprigeo Says Yes to School Safety

Joe Bruzzese of Sprigeo, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Joe Bruzzese of Sprigeo, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

When Joe Bruzzese founded Sprigeo in 2010, he wanted to help schools prevent bullying and provide a safe, anonymous method for students to report things that made them feel unsafe. The service has since evolved into a full-fledged school safety tip line reporting system, with a 24/7 call center accessible by phone, email, text, an app, or the website.

“Everything goes through the call center,” explained Bruzzese. “They triage those tips based on pre-set criteria to determine how serious of a threat the tip is. Some are very serious—‘There’s a planned school attack,’ or ‘I’m planning to take my own life and I’m calling or reporting to get help’—to something that’s far less serious, like, ‘I don’t like what they’re serving in the school cafeteria.’ We get the gamut of reportable tips, not all of which qualify obviously as a school safety threat.”

A virtual company from the get-go, Sprigeo now serves more than 4,000 schools across 28 states as well as administering the statewide tip lines for Oregon and Idaho. They recently signed on to provide the tip line for the state of Illinois, their largest customer so far.

That provides a lot of data to digest. One trend that Bruzzese sees is an uptick in middle-school students “really struggling with cutting and depression and other forms of self-harm.” Vaping is also on the rise, not just in high school but in middle school. Prior to the pandemic, Sprigeo was working on a series of videos featuring high schoolers telling middle schoolers how “uncool” and unhealthy vaping really is.

Unfortunately, that project is on hold at the moment, but one thing the company has been able to move forward on is an online educational conference that will launch on September 14.

“The culture around meetings and professional development really has changed, and people are now very comfortable with sitting in front of a screen and attending a Zoom meeting or a training session,” explained Bruzzese. “Districts still have the same professional development requirements by law, [so this is] helping them in a way that makes sense, which has been great. Everyone is really looking for opportunities for quality online training.”   sprigeo.com

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.


Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20