Our Annual Edition Dedicated to Ideas and Design, Both Indoor and Out
Welcome to our annual Home & Garden special issue, the edition run each spring where we explore ideas and designs for indoors and out.
In this year’s collection, we feature a new book all about that most iconic of Montecito gardens, Lotusland, and explain how you can create your own sustainable garden in the backyard. Then we turn to a new Home & Design Collective in the downtown Arts District, head to the library to find free decor resources, and take a look at what it takes, and why, to electrify your house.
Show business ran deep through the veins of Madame Ganna Walska, so when the time finally came to showcase her legendary garden in book form, the pressure was on.
And like the creation of Montecito’s extraordinary 37-acre public garden extravaganza, it took a whole cast of characters to bring the new, 288-page coffee table book Lotusland: Eccentric Garden Paradise (Rizzoli, 2022) — stunningly photographed by Lisa Romerein — to life.
Architect Marc Appleton, a longtime supporter and former trustee of Ganna Walska Lotusland, had unsuccessfully tried to drum up support for a book project for years, but the stars never quite aligned until 2019, when the “Book Committee” — comprised of Appleton, current trustee Dorothy Gardner and former trustees Suzanne Mathews and Alex Morse — was formed.
The county permit limits the number of visitors to the garden to just 15,000 people a year, so it’s always a challenge to share Lotusland with as many people as possible
“We raised independent funds from subscribers to establish a publication budget, and we were off and running,” said Appleton.
“Everyone said yes, which is kind of remarkable and a testament to their relationships. It really was volunteer driven and that’s important to appreciate and highlight,particularly in this town where so many volunteers do so much,” said Executive Director Rebecca Anderson.”
Curator Paul Mills, Historian Rose Thomas, Jeff Chemnick, Mike Furner, Corey Welles, Founding Trustee Arthur Gaudi, Eric Nagelmann (who designed the cactus garden) and Madame Walska’s niece Hania Tallmadge (who recently passed away) were but a few of the many people involved in this team effort.
The book has a lot of ground to cover — and it does. Anderson explained, “while it’s meant to focus on the garden today and our future, it’s meant to be a garden book. It’s not meant to be a retrospective of how the garden began. But I really appreciate that we were able to get in there the people who created this place because without a little bit of that it’s not a complete story.”
Indeed the dramatic flair and inimitable spirit of of Madame Walska is woven throughout the book and the world-renowned horticultural showplace, which is home to more than 3,400 types of plants, including at least 35,000 individual specimens,
Another important factor Anderson emphasized is “making sure that people not only have takeaways about inspiration and ideas for design or knowledge of particular plants in that index in the back but also that they understand that this is all done with
organic materials and sustainable practices.”
With such a large scope of the gardens to be documented, Curator Paul Mills worked with photographer Lisa Romerein and her assistant Dean Courtois to shoot over the span of a year, “to try to catch as many moods and happenings in the garden as possible.” Mills said, “Lotusland really is not a ‘flowery’ garden, it’s more about bold and dramatic presentation of plants. But each season does present different opportunities to capture and I would help guide them to these.”
Madame Ganna Walska picks fruit from the lemon arbor, c. 1958 | Credit: J. R. Eyerman, Ganna Walska. Lotusland Archives
He continued, “Every plant on the property has a story, but I would try to lead them to the ones that are more intriguing for one reason or another – a cycad that is now extinct in the wild and only exists in gardens like Lotusland, a dragon tree that dates back to the 1880’s when Kinton Stevens had his nursery on the property, a cactus that is endemic to the Galapagos Islands and rarely seen in botanical collections. The first shoot was in summer, so the main goal was to catch our namesake plant, the sacred lotus, in all its glory. Winter had to focus on the Aloe garden because that is when those plants light up with their torch-like inflorescences and also on the Japanese garden which really shows that season with the golden carpet of Ginkgo leaves and shapely, dormant maples. I would scout the garden before their arrival but so many times we would just happen across things – a flowering bromeliad, a fern leaf unfurling or the perfect lighting for an overall shot.”
With 19 distinct gardens to spotlight, choosing a favorite is like choosing a favorite child, but when asked which section of the book he’s most proud of, Mills confided, “I would have to say the chapter on the Dunlap cactus garden. It’s my favorite garden on the property, not only because I was so involved in moving the collection to Lotusland and helping to oversee its installation, but because of the story behind it. Lisa was also very drawn to this garden so it got a lot of attention and amazing photos in the book.”
He continued, “We’d often be on the cart heading to a different garden, passing by the Dunlap garden, and Lisa would shout, ‘Stop!’ because she saw something looking just right. This garden was installed after Madame Ganna Walska had passed away, but the project actually started in 1966, when Merritt ‘Sigs’ Dunlap wrote to her wanting to bequeath his cactus collection to Lotusland. She saw this as something great and accepted. Luckily Sigs turned it into a donation and we moved the collection in 2001 and built the garden in 2003 where he celebrated his 97th birthday. We know Madame Ganna Walska would approve of this garden – she loved cacti and dramatic landscapes and its completion signified the fulfillment of her and Sigs’ wish.”
“Making the book happen in the right way was challenging, and there were ultimately a lot of interests to entertain along the way, ” said Appleton, who worked on a somewhat similar project with Rizzoli for Casa Del Herrero in 2009, and wrote the introduction to Lotusland. “But I think the book will have a long life as a fairly comprehensive presentation of Lotusland and why it is such a special garden. Lisa’s photos are amazing, and capture its magic.”
Limited spots are available for a Luncheon on the Lawn to celebrate Lotusland: Eccentric Garden Paradise on Saturday, May 21 at 11:30 a.m.
In addition,Lotusland’s 2022 season is now open to reservations through August. Admission is $50 for adults and $25 for children ages 3 to 17. For more information and reservations, visit lotusland.org.
Lotusland: Eccentric Garden Paradise is available at local retailers as well as through the onsite gift shop and online at lotuslandshop.org.
Santa Barbara Independent, May 19-25, 2002. ON THE COVER: Madame Ganna Walska, taken c. 1958. Photo by J.R. Eyerman/Lotus- land Archives. Design by Ava Talehakimi.
Looking for some inspiration for your next home improvement project? For when Pinterest isn’t quite cutting it, our Santa Barbara Public Library librarians Lisa Neubert and Kimberly Crail (have curated this list of books to check out.
Small Space Style: Because You Don’t Have to Live Large to Live Beautifully by Whitney Leigh Morris: Interior design maven Morris shares her ideas and practices for making any tiny space efficient and stylish — whether it’s a rustic A-frame in the woods or a chic micro apartment in the city.
150 Best Tiny Interior Ideasby Francesc Zamora Mola: A smaller living space doesn’t have to mean sacrificing sophistication or comfort. Here are loads of ideas for maximizing space while creating warm and inviting homes.
Design a Healthy Home: 100 Ways to Transform Your Space for Physical and Mental Wellbeing by Oliver Heath: Simple, practical advice on how to design your home for health and happiness through modifications in lighting, air quality, acoustics, temperature, color, and more.
Design the Home You Love: Practical Styling Advice to Make the Most of Your Space by Lee Mayer: A fresh and accessible guidebook to the complicated world of interior design.
Made for Living: Collected Interiors for All Sorts of Stylesby Amber Lewis: Tricks of the trade from a trendsetting designer known for creating effortlessly layered looks and modern eclectic styles.
Home Stories: Design Ideas for Making a House a Homeby Kim Leggett: Everyone has a story worth telling, and every room can become part of that story. Learn how to create rooms filled with warmth, meaning, and your own unique story of home.
Feels Like Home: Relaxed Interiors for a Meaningful Lifeby Lauren Liess: Explore the emotional connection between home decoration and one’s daily life through the lens of a popular social media and TV star.
House to Home: Designing Your Space for the Way You Liveby Devi Dutta-Choudhury: A modern guide to home improvement that will help you create a dynamic, comfortable space that supports your life and the way you want to live.
Hygge & West Home: Design for a Cozy Lifeby Christiana Coop and Aimee Lagos: These notable tastemakers have curated a look into 20 covetable homes designed to promote feelings of coziness, companionship, and comfort.
Bringing the Outdoors In
Home Sweet Houseplant: A Room-by-Room Guide to Plant Decor by Baylor Chapman: Houseplants have the ability to instantly elevate the look of your home and add your own special flourishes. This book shows you where — and how — to begin.
Wild Interiors: Beautiful Plants in Beautiful Spaces by Hilton Carter: A journey in greenery led by the bestselling author’s unique eye and love of plants to show you how to create luscious interiors that not only look amazing but are good for your well-being, too.
Decorating with Plants: What to Choose, Ways to Style, and How to Make Them Thrive by Baylor Chapman: Nothing can add energy, style, and that essential “lived-in-ness” to home spaces better than a little bit of green. Chapman shows us where to begin.
Houseplants for All: How to Fill Any Home with Happy Plants by Danae Horst: A useful guide to selecting and growing plants for your home, including a plant profile quiz.
Handpicked: Simple, Sustainable, and Seasonal Flower Arrangements by Ingrid Carozzi: Organized by season, Carozzi’s book reveals her secrets for creating flower arrangements that are modern, original, and organic in style.
Mindfulness and Minimalism
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson: In Sweden, there is a kind of decluttering called döstädning (dö =“death” and städning = “cleaning”). Magnusson gives instructions for this surprising and invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings sooner, rather than later.
Minimalista: Your Step-by-Step Guide to a Better Home, Wardrobe, and Life by Shira Gill: Help to find your own style with this fresh and accessible guidebook to the world of interior design.
The New Mindful Home: And How to Make it Yours by Joanna Thornhill: Our spaces can play a big part in our emotional well-being. This book explains how to harness the power of mindfulness to help your home support a more considered lifestyle.
The Home Edit Life: The No-Guilt Guide to Owning What You Want and Organizing Everything by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin: The New York Times best-selling authors of The Home Edit show you how to contain the chaos and organize every aspect of your life.
Living Simply: A Teen Guide to Minimalism by Sally McGraw: A discussion of minimalism as a way of living for teens, this book provides a number of suggestions and resources for young people who want to scale down their carbon footprints.
Color and Creativity
A Colorful Life: Gere Kavanaugh, Designer by Louise Sandhaus and Kat Catmur: The designer Gere Kavanaugh is an irrepressible force of nature who epitomized the craft and folk vibe of the ’60s and ’70s California design scene and remains a larger-than-life personality today.
My Creative Space: How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovationby Donald M. Rattner: Written by a noted architect, My Creative Space turns the rich trove of psychological research on workplace productivity and innovation into practical techniques for shaping a home.
Jungalow: Decorate Wild by Justina Blakeney: A guide to designing creative and personal interiors with bold choices in color and patterns, cues from nature, and inspiration from personal heritage and travels.
Wonder Walls: How to Transform Your Space with Colorful Geometrics, Graphic Lettering, and Other Fabulous Paint Techniquesby Phoebe Cornog and Roxy Prima: Learn DIY wall-painting techniques to help discover the possibilities of paint and see walls as a canvas. This book covers wall preparation and paint selection, as well as step-by-step instructions.
Living in Color: Color in Contemporary Interior Designby Stella Paul and India Mahdavi: An inspirational visual journey along the color spectrum, brought to life via the best contemporary residential interior design.
A Sense of Place
At Home in Joshua Tree: A Field Guide to Desert Livingby Sara Combs and Rich Combs: This beautifully illustrated lifestyle guide from the creators of The Joshua Tree House shows you how to infuse your life with desert vibes, from home designs and entertaining plans to wellness rituals.
Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Homeby Danielle Postel-Vinay: A lively, sophisticated, and practical illustrated lifestyle guide that shows how to live like the French every day, transforming your house into a home defined by beauty, family, and accessible elegance.
The California Casaby Douglas Woods: A sumptuous and comprehensive look at Spanish Colonial Revival design, presenting a lavish portrait of the style through more than 300 color photographs.
Living in Mexicoby Barbara & René Stoeltie: A breathtaking look at some of Mexico’s most remarkable abodes. The authors have traveled far and wide, from Costa Careyes to the Yucatán Peninsula, seeking out homes to surprise, delight, and inspire.
Red Tile Style: America’s Spanish Revival Architecture by Arrol Gellner: A comprehensive survey of one of the most widespread and popular forms of American architecture. From bungalows and mansions to gas stations and government buildings, Gellner explores this diverse category of design.
Santa Barbara Style by Kathryn Masson: Explore the work of such architectural luminaries as Addison Mizner, Bertram Goodhue, Reginald D. Johnson, and George Washington Smith, among others.
Santa Barbara Living by Diane Dorrans Saeks: A beautifully photographed book that takes readers inside the mansions and estates of contemporary Santa Barbara.
Making Midcentury Modernby Christopher Kennedy: This book features 100 tips for bringing the principles of midcentury modern style to any home, from the acclaimed interior designer.
American Bungalow Style by Robert Winter: Showcasing two dozen American houses that capture the bungalow spirit that enticed thousands of buyers during the form’s heyday from 1880 to 1930.
Spanish Colonial Style: Santa Barbara and the Architecture of James Osborne Craig and Mary McLaughlin Craigby Pamela Skewes-Cox and Robert Sweeney: An ode to these influential architects, whose designs included the historic Casa de la Guerra and the Plaza Rubio complex across from the Mission Rose Garden.
Private Gardens of Santa Barbara: The Art of Outdoor Living by Margie Grace: A peek into 21 distinctive private gardens: large estates, modest homes, and surf retreats that run the gamut from sublime and naturalistic to bold and urban.
Organization Tips and Tricks
Martha Stewart’s Organizing: The Manual for Bringing Order to Your Life, Home & Routines by Martha Stewart:Tips, projects and ideas on how to organize everything from America’s most trusted lifestyle authority.
In addition to a wide selection of books, the Santa Barbara Public Library’s Databases & Resources page has information on how people can get signed up for free with LinkedIn Learning, which offers a number of courses on interior design and related skills. It also has information about accessing Skillshare (provided courtesy of the California State Library’s Career Pathways initiative), which has a great offering of interior design courses as well.
Santa Barbara Independent, May 19-25, 2002. ON THE COVER: Madame Ganna Walska, taken c. 1958. Photo by J.R. Eyerman/Lotus- land Archives. Design by Ava Talehakimi.
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante was one of my favorite books I read in 2021.
So many books, so little time—part 15.
My son started keeping a reading list in third grade, so I did too. This is the 15th year we’ve done this.
2021 was another weird year (with f-ing COVID still raging) but I finally got my reading mojo back. Between long walks with audio books and nights that were once spent socializing with friends and colleagues now spent curling up with books, I definitely read even more than in previous years.
Learning new things and maintaining a vibrant social life are two of the key pillars that experts say will keep our brains sharp and healthy. This is exactly what the nonprofit Vistas Lifelong Learning (vistaslifelonglearning.org) offers to the community.
This volunteer-run organization, which started in 1999, is dedicated to keeping aging brains nimble with ongoing educational programs on a wide variety of topics. Recent
courses included Foods That Changed the World (exploring foods that have changed the world in profound and delicious social, political, and economic ways); Unpacking
the Dementia Epidemic (current thinking about the causes of dementias, dementia management, and how to stay on top of new developments); and Politics and
Religion in Verdi’s Operas (with audio and video extracts from modern performances of the operas).
The depth and variety of the programming is impressive, but the social component of Vistas is equally important to its success. “I think of all the connections that people find through Vistas,” said President Jim Hemmer. “There are two book clubs; there’s a short story class; there are memoir writing classes. And in our in-person programs — which moved to Zoom during the pandemic and will resume in the fall — there’s always a 20-minute coffee break in the middle so people can socialize and see old friends and meet other similarly situated people.”
For Hemmer, who retired from a career as an attorney in Chicago and moved to Santa Barbara with his wife, Francine, in January 2017, becoming part of Vistas has been a great way to engage his brain and find a community. Though it’s not a requirement, many of the Vistas presenters are members as well.
A longtime history buff, Hemmer found his way to the organization through a presentation on the Silk Road that he made to a luncheon group called The Cosmopolitan Club (sbcosmo.com). A Vistas member suggested he present to that group, and the response was so positive that Hemmer ended up teaching three different courses on the journey of the historical Silk Roads through China’s current efforts to reinvigorate them today.
“Vistas really attempts to satisfy this desire to learn things, and being a presenter is a wonderful way of doing that,” said Hemmer. “Taking other people’s classes is also great. I find that because I’m busy preparing presentations, I don’t have time to take all the classes I’d like to. I’ve been very busy during the pandemic, and it’s just great.”
Vistas is a small group, explained Hemmer, fluctuating between 300 and 400 members, and is not affiliated with any college or other institution. Programs are open to the public for a small fee, and the fees are less for members. (Annual membership fees are $40 per person for email-only communications and $50 for snail mail, with individual classes averaging $9 per session for members and $14 for nonmembers.)
“It’s a really varied and interesting group of people,” Hemmer says. The mostly retired members come from very diverse careers, ranging from former judges, teachers, and
docents to social workers, librarians, and secretaries, just to name a few.
Upcoming programs in the fall include a reprise of the Silk Road series; the short history of cryptography; the writer James Baldwin; climate change and the impact on the Great American Waterways; criminal procedure; economic issues; and the social safety net in the U.S., with additional courses and details still being finalized.
“We have a very, very wide palette. There’s somebody for everybody,” said Hemmer. “It’s a wide variety of programs on science, history, current events, music and fine arts, and so on.” Research suggests that humans learn better in social environments. “The brain is triggered more through discussion and questions than from solitary activities such as
independent reading,” said Hemmer.
“So it turns out that Vistas’ cooperative spirit that we’re all in it together and we get our ideas from other members is particularly beneficial in the case of seniors.”
Book face photos by Erik Mendez, Santa Barbara Public Library.
Bringing book covers to life scores volumes on social media via #BookfaceFridays on the Santa Barbara Public Library Instagram account (@sbplibrary). A popular meme in the
book-loving community for quite some time, Bookface photos—images in which a person
is strategically lined up with a book cover so that life and art appear to meld—are a great
way to showcase literature from the library’s collections, according to library marketing
specialist Erick Mendez.
“We get a lot of positive feedback and a lot of reposts,” says Mendez. “It’s great to see the
community of books and libraries sharing and getting inspiration from one another. It’s
never about competing to see who can do the best one, it’s always about showcasing books we love and finding a way to promote literature through covers.”
Originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of 805 Living Magazine. Cover photo by Gary Moss. To see the story as it originally appeared click here.
Seasons Star in Lush Life Cookbook, originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on May 20, 2021.
Valerie Rice brings a seasonal symphony of gardening, cooking, and entertaining to Lush Life, a glossy new cookbook from the author of eatdrinkgarden.com. “We’re so lucky that you can grow year-round gardens here,” said Rice, who populated her first book with 150 seasonal recipes, including cocktails, entertaining tips, wine pairing advice from renowned expert Rajat Parr, and gorgeous photography by Gemma and Andrew Ingalls.
“It’s kind of a handbook for life here in Santa Barbara,” said Rice, who believes the key to deliciousness all starts in the garden. “When you grow in season, it not only tastes better and works better but also is great for palate fatigue.” She suggests starting “with a sunny spot in your garden and make sure you have great soil” and then mixing compost and organic potting soil together and calendaring at least two days a week to work in the dirt. Keep the garden where you can see it from the kitchen. “Grow something that you really
love to eat so you’re excited to go out there and harvest it,” she said. “And grow what is
appropriate for the season.”
With this in mind, each section of Lush Life starts with tips on what to eat for that season and what to plant for the next season. “What grows together goes together,” advised Rice, “so whether you’re pulling it from your garden or walking around the Tuesday Farmers’ Market, a lot of the stuff that’s offered is just delicious together.”
Golden Beets & Blood Oranges with Citrus Vinaigrette, from Lush Life by Valerie Rice. Photo by Gemma and Andrew Ingalls.
Here is a streamlined version of her spring recipe for Golden Beets & Blood Oranges
with Citrus Vinaigrette.
CITRUS VINAIGRETTE: In a mason jar, shake ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons
white balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons fresh blood orange juice, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper.
SALAD: Boil 6 to 8 medium golden beets and cool. Slice 6 blood oranges into ½-inch-thick slices, and place in a bowl with any reserved juices from the cutting board. Toss the beets with 2 cups of lightly packed watercress or mâche, arrange in a shallow bowl or platter, and tuck in the orange slices. Taste for seasoning and add more dressing, if needed. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with mint.
Event sponsors and A&L Council member Tim & Audrey Fisher with Joe Biden. Photo: UCSB Arts & Lectures.
For a town of its size, the cultural life of Santa Barbara is impressively full, say patrons Tim and Audrey Fisher. The couple have been involved with UCSB Arts & Lectures (A&L) since they bought a home in Montecito in 2000, and attended their first performance at Campbell Hall shortly afterward.
Miller McCune Executive Director Celesta Billeci and her team introduced themselves at intermission and the rest, as they say, is history. “We’ve been great friends ever since – we just love them,” says Audrey, a fashion designer and the retired president of a custom couture clothing business.
Tim was part of the creation of the Arts & Lectures Council in 2013. “We raised 25 million over three years and that really financially created a much better environment for A&L,” said the longtime businessman and philanthropist, who recently retired after more than 45 years of leadership in The Hillman Company. As a Council member, Tim guided the establishment of A&L’s legacy giving program and advocated enthusiastically for planned giving.
Audrey is a big fan of A&L’s expansive dance programs, as well as “the variety and the fact that they bring in just about every student, all ages. I like the educational aspect of it and exposing these kids to absolutely world-renowned performers and having it be a part of their everyday lives. … The cultural life is so enriched here.”
As for Tim’s favorite A&L memories, he says, “There have been so many over the years, but I would say most recently Joe Biden was really outstanding. He was very generous with his time and he did a Q&A and interacted with the students. I think it was really special.”
The Fishers recently made a generous donation to the endowment fund, which is important for arts funding, as Tim explains. “The reason nonprofits are called nonprofits is they don’t make money. What an endowment does is it creates a strong capital base. For instance, during this shutdown period A&L would really be struggling financially without the resources of the endowment. Endowments provide financial stability and they are also important because you don’t want the executive directors of nonprofits spending all their time raising money.”
Adds Audrey, “One reason that my foundation decided to support the endowment is because it’s the least appealing gift option for many contributors. It’s the hardest money to raise because people traditionally want to see what they are paying for. While we enjoy sponsoring performances, which we do every year, I think the endowments are kind of a lonely lost child in the family (laughs) and they really need support. I think when people become educated about their merits they do support endowments because there is a security factor.”
Supporting A&L is a family affair for the Fishers. As chair and a trustee of the Audrey Hillman Fisher Foundation, Audrey has given generously to A&L. Their son Matthew has sponsored musical performances and Tim and Audrey have supported a variety of events over the years, ranging from Joe Biden to the Vienna Philharmonic.
The Fisher family also sponsored the Forces of Nature environmental series in 2019-2020, in memory of their son Brooks, who was very good friends with filmmaker and environmentalist James Balog. “They used to go on these incredible exploits together,” says Audrey. Tim adds, “He was a friend of our son, who was an ardent conservationist. I think that for A&L cleaning up the environment is such a strong theme as it is in this country and globally. It’s a very worthy cause to support.”
The Fishers split their time between Santa Barbara and their hometown of Pittsburgh, and the cultural offerings of A&L make it easier for them to go from a bigger place to a smaller place. “In the early ’70s Jack Heinz created the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust which is a really big arts organization. Their budget is over 50 million and they have five theaters and they own a lot of downtown real estate. It’s a big operation, but I would say that we probably attend more events per year in Santa Barbara,” says Tim. “The cultural life here is every bit as full, in large part thanks to A&L.”
This story was originally published by UCSB Arts & Lectures. To see it as it originally appeared, please click here.
Admiring Santa Barbara Public Library’s Adult Literacy Programs
The Bridge to Somewhere (SB Public Library’s Adult Literacy Programs) was originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on March 18, 2021.
Pivoting, but still paving the way to knowledge, despite budget cuts and so many services shut down during the pandemic, the Santa Barbara Public Library’s Adult Education Programs have found creative ways to provide service during the past year. I recently joined the City Library Advisory Board and was impressed with all of the free programs they still offer, despite their physical doors being closed to the public.
Headed by Devon Cahill, an adult education librarian and former volunteer tutor, the Adult Literacy Program trains volunteers to work one-to-one with learners to help them achieve language literacy and other adult education goals. Prior to the pandemic, the tutor-learner pairs would meet up at the library to work on their language skills together. Since last spring, they’ve switched to 100 percent remote and have about 50 tutor-learner pairs
Though it’s challenging, Cahill said that pandemic learning has been a success. Grants provided funding for Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots for those that needed them. “Our success rate normally is over 90 percent with learners reaching the literacy goals that they have set,” he said. “During the pandemic, we’re working with fewer learners and tutors, but our success rate has gone almost up to 100 percent—it was at 98 percent last quarter.”
Rachel Altman, a retired grant writer, has been a tutor for the past four years, working the entire time with Cecilia, a native Spanish speaker. Part of Cecilia’s motivation is that she works as a housecleaner and her employers want to be able to leave her written instructions. In addition, she is in her fifties and would like to be able to find less physically demanding work eventually, explained Altman, who was partially motivated to volunteer because her own parents were immigrants who learned English as a second language.
The two women meet for about an hour twice a week (one hour a week is the minimum requirement). They are currently meeting by phone, which is a bit more challenging than in person or on Zoom, but Cecilia is not computer savvy. Rather than read side-by-side, Altman mails materials to Cecilia from the variety of resources the library offers. “She’s very interested in history and current events,” Altman said.
While being apart isn’t ideal, there are some upsides. “I think the biggest advantage to the phone is we talk more … and she needs to practice more conversational English,” said Altman. “It seems like the phone allows for that a little more, rather than just going right to the book.”
Improving her conversational English was also one of the reasons Sebnem Vural joined the program about a year ago. “I have always struggled with my English pronunciation in the past, so I decided that it would be a good idea to obtain an environment where I could hear the language more often,” said the native Turkish speaker. “I’ve had tons of people supporting me and encouraging me all throughout my journey. I can’t explain how helpful
this program was.”
The tutors go through eight hours of initial training, with an emphasis on a learner-centered peer tutor approach, patience, cultural competency, and empathy. The nuts and bolts of how to help a learner achieve their goals depend on the person and what they want from the program. Learners’ goals run the gamut, Cahill explained, from being able to read a story to their children or help with homework to passing a citizenship test or getting a GED or driver’s license to shopping at a retail store, improving digital literacy, or being able to read and write in graduate school in a second language.
Being able to read to kids or talk to their teachers is a common goal, said Cahill. Malena Mackinlay, whose first language is Spanish, joined the program about four months ago. “I’ve always found motivation in wanting to be able to communicate in English, but my one-year-old granddaughter inspired me to continue learning,” she said. “My experience has been amazing. I got the best tutor, and I’m finally able to enjoy each of my lessons.”
Working remotely has been a plus in some cases, Cahill said. He’s been able to record his Zoom tutor trainings, so if someone isn’t able to attend, they can make it up later. In addition, “Sometimes that one hour a week that the tutor and learner meet is the only hour
that that learner has to work on their English because they’re so busy working multiple jobs or caring for kids,” he said. “This really frees up all that extra time it would take for the tutor or the learner to get back and forth to the library.”
He anticipates they will continue to offer a hybrid option for training and tutoring sessions when the pandemic is over.
Library technicians also run weekly English and Spanish conversation groups, which are open to all learners, with no registration required.
To learn more, call (805) 564-5619 (English) or (805) 962-7653 #3 (Spanish), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit santabarbaraca.gov.
Writers & Lovers by Lily King, was one of my favorite books I read in 2020.
So many books, so little time—part 14.
My son started keeping a reading list in third grade, so I did too. This is the 14th year we’ve done this.
2020 was such a weird year for everything, including reading. I’m usually a very avid reader, but once the pandemic hit and everything shut down I really couldn’t concentrate on books for the first few months. I felt like I was reading the same line over and over again. It made me so sad that on top of everything else, losing one of my favorite leisure activities was heartbreaking—especially when it was one of the few things we were still able to do. I’m not really sure when I started being able to read again, but when it kicked back in I had more time to read than probably ever before. Thank goodness. Traveling with my favorite authors was the only way I could escape this year.