Shop Till You Drop

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Leslie’s Holiday Gift Guide

While theoretically fun, in reality, shopping for holiday gifts can be more stressful than a root canal. And you don’t get any Percocet afterward, or even a balloon.

Shopping is so painful that, come December, many newspapers and magazines publish gift guides to “help you out.” These gushing depictions of thingamabobs and doodads aren’t just there as an excuse to obliterate the line between advertising and legitimate content so that the sales staff can take the last two weeks of the year off. They’re also published so that the writers can score free samples and cross a few names off their own shopping lists, while still affording their weekly latte allotments.

In the interest of perpetuating this fine journalistic tradition, here is my first annual holiday gift guide of groovy things you can buy without ever leaving the comfort of your own home. (Note to stores: if you send me free stuff I’ll do a sequel for Martin Luther King Day, a vastly under-gifted holiday in my humble opinion)

For your wandering nephew–who really should be sedated whenever you’re forced to take him to a crowded public place–buy a Missing Milk Carton Costume ( His cute little face sticks out of the label, and his relevant contact information is printed right on the carton.

Your workout buddy would probably appreciate a waistband stretcher ( This ingenious device allows you to stay a size six through the holiday pig out extravaganza by simply stretching the waistband of your jeans. Diet schmiet!

The office Secret Santa Torturama will be lot less nightmarish this year when you gift your coworkers with a fine collection of abusive office rubber stamps (, allowing them to stamp those annoying expense reports in triplicate with sayings such as, “This is F**KING URGENT,” “Staple this to your FACE,” “Confidential – read this and I’ll have to kill you,” “File under T for TRASH,” and “Complete and Utter BULLSHIT.”

Overachieving teenage relatives can multi-task with the SAT Math Shower Curtain (, which has test questions printed right there. No calculators allowed.

Teenage relatives who aren’t on the college track will enjoy the Crime Scene Towel, ( which holds their place at the pool with its classic chalk outline of a victim.

Your brother-in-law will be surprised and delighted by a stylish 100% silk “Ties Suck” Tie (, featuring a repeating binary pattern that, when translated into ASCII, reads: “ties suck.”

Your geeky brother will totally dig the Wi-Fi Detector Shirt (, which displays the current wi-fi signal strength to admirers as far as the eye can see. Talk about a chick magnet. You may have a new sister-in-law before the year’s end if he wears this baby.

Coffee addicts will appreciate a shot of Caffeine Soap ( Who says they’re not a morning person? Lather up in the morning to a dose of 200 milligrams per shower/serving, which should provide just enough perk to hold off the a.m. demons until they can make their way to Starbucks.

I’ve found the one-size-fits-all perfect hostess gift for holiday gatherings: Pick Your Nose Party Cups (

A new spin on the traditional party cup, each goblet comes with printed nose on it so that guests can pick their own nose for an evening of fun. Great stuff like this is why Santa invented the Internet. You’d be smart to stock up.

Your favorite artists will enjoy creating with Chew-By-Numbers Gumball Art ( No need to worry about mastering a paintbrush or pastels, all they’ll need are their chompers to provide the tools for this wadded-up gum masterpiece. I’m pretty sure this is how Jackson Pollock did it.

Your uncle the lush (and the bouncers at the County Bowl) will appreciate the Barnoculars Binocular Flask (, a double-chambered liquor flask disguised as binoculars. Don’t confuse them with your actual binoculars–let me tell you, it burns.

Those endless soccer games will be a lot more bearable for moms and dads with a Cell Phone Flask (, which looks just like a mobile phone but instead of a charge, holds their favorite adult beverage. Ditto with the don’t confuse them advice.

If you’re feeling really generous, your favorite columnist would kvell to receive a His & Hers Double Portrait in Chocolate by Vik Muniz (, featured in the Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog. For a mere $110,000, the Brazilian artist will capture your likenesses in a double helping of Bosco® chocolate syrup and you’ll come away with a one-of-a-kind framed museum-quality photographic work of art.

As long as we’re dreaming big, I wouldn’t mind reserving my spot on the Virgin Galactic Charter to Space ( Boarding begins in 2009 for this ultimate getaway, which is now being “planned, designed, tested, and executed down to the last detail to ensure its safety and success.” The $1,764,000 price tag includes a six-passenger charter, so you’d better send me some nice Hanukah gifts if you want to make my top five friends list.

== When she’s not succumbing to her, “one for me, one for you” holiday shopping survival strategy, Leslie can be reached at For more columns visit

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 30, 2007.

Noozhawk Talks: One on one with David Starkey

David Starkey (courtesy photo)

David Starkey (courtesy photo)

Spending five minutes chatting with David Starkey is enough to make any writer feel like a slacker. The Poet-Playwright-Nonfiction Author-Editor-Santa Barbara City College Professor-Television Show Host is a busy guy. It’s no wonder that family members–he is a father/stepfather to eight children–mime him typing on a keyboard when they play Charades.

Leslie Dinaberg: What are you doing these days?

David Starkey: Right now I’m working on a book length memoir. … I just finished writing a creative writing textbook, which combines four genres, poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction. I have three books of poetry out in the last year and a book, Living Blue in the Red States … that I edited. It’s about progressives living in conservative parts of the country.

LD: Are you able to incorporate it into your teaching at City College?

DS: I haven’t yet. If we had a class on political writing or something like that I might. … I wrote a play about Alzheimer’s. We had a stage reading at this little theatre in Ojai, Theatre 150. …. It is called Crossing the Bar.

LD: Do you have somebody in your family that has Alzheimer’s?

DS: No. I read an article in the LA Times about this camp outside San Francisco where people who are caretakers take their loved ones who live with them up for a weekend so they can get a break, because it’s so overwhelming. … The caregivers are together, the Alzheimer’s patients are together and they finally join up at the end. And a hidden conflict is that this woman has made a deal with her husband that if she finally goes too far she wants him to kill her. So the play is him trying to make up his mind whether or not to go through with it.

LD: Sounds really interesting.

DS: It seemed to me like there was a kind of crazy poetry in a lot of the ways that you hear people with Alzheimer’s speaking. It sounds almost like avant-garde poetry. …

LD: Are you still hosting the Creative Community Show (on Santa Barbara TV Channel 21)?

DS: Yeah, we just won another award. There’s a body that all the community and educational access stations belong to, nationwide, and they submit shows and the last two years it’s won the best talk show in the country.

LD: Congratulations.

DS: Yeah. I’m not sure what the competition is, but it’s a neat thing. … What I enjoy about this is meeting interesting people and getting a chance to talk to them.

LD: Coming from Chicago to Santa Barbara, what’s your take on the cultural arts scene here?

DS: … I think it’s pretty lively for a small town. It’s extraordinary. I know that some of the artists that I speak with say that we’re a community that claims to embrace the arts and yet ultimately it’s more lip service than not. I don’t know. As a poet I don’t really expect to get much money anyway, so it’s not that big a deal to me. There happen to be a lot of people to interview for my TV show, so that’s nice. But I do think that we have a pretty thriving community and even if there are problems.

LD: How do you do all these different things? Do you just never sleep?

DS: I guess I get enthusiastic about things, and I think I’m pretty good at finishing off. So if I have an idea that kicks around with me for a while, I’ll just look for ways to make sure it happens.

LD: Just the fact that you’re showing me these four books that you’ve had published in the last year and the play and you’re in a band (with poet Barry Spacks) and you’re teaching and you have a pretty young daughter, it’s impressive. That’s a lot to get done.

DS: I guess I feel when I get enthusiastic about something I just follow it. And I guess I get enthusiastic about a lot of different things.

LD: That’s great.

DS: And you know a lot of the things that I do are things that can be accomplished in real time in a relatively short span of time. So for instance, to write a poem and to revise it, you can do that in small chunks of time. … I try to make sure that I get a little something done every day. I think that’s important when you’re working on a really long project. When I wrote that creative writing textbook I tried to do that. School inevitably gets in the way, grading papers and stuff like that.

LD: I know how hard it is to work with kids in the house. The idea of writing something where your deadlines are self-inflicted is very impressive to me.

DS: You sort of feel like you want to finish it so badly, because if you don’t do it now you know you never will … there’s obviously gender issues involved in this. When I was with my first wife she worked and I was at home a lot with the kids and while they would ask me for things a little, I think I was able to ignore them in a way that a mom can’t. Or to address them more quickly … I guess that’s partly the way that my mind works. It can focus really intently on a task and then switch off and then switch back on, and I know that some others don’t work that way.

LD: What do you like to do when you’re not working?

(Loud laugh from wife Sandy in the other room) Work.

DS: To me that’s not work. Since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a writer. So that’s what I want to do, that’s my thing. And it might seem like work or it might seem like a way to get me out of this family (laughs).

LD: So seriously, what else do you like to do?

DS: I spent a lot of time on the City College Creative Writing Program where he is the director). I got some release time this year, so we have a website, if you could put that in your story I’d be grateful. … I’ve been Fundraising for that. We’ve got some generous donors that put some money in to bring writers to campus to fund contests. …

LD: What kinds of students are in the creative writing program?

DS: There’s a real community college profile–you’ve got the person with the PhD in English literature and the person who’s never written anything who’s just signed up because it fit into their class schedule. It’s always interesting that way.

Vital Stats: David Starkey

Born: June 28, 1962, in Sacramento, CA

Family: wife Sandy, children Elizabeth (23), Carly (21), Stephen (15), Miranda (6) and stepchildren, Serena (24), Andrea (20), Julia (17) and John (10)

Civic Involvement: Creative Community Show, SBCC Creative Writing Program

Professional Accomplishments: Seven small press books of poems, editor and contributor, four full length plays produced, three plays with staged readings, five 10 minute plays, professor of English and Director of Creative Writing program at SBCC

Little-Known Fact: That he has so many children and step children (8 in total)

Originally published in Noozhawk on November 28, 2007

My Big Fat Carbon Footprint

hand holding earth by jannoon028 at

hand holding earth by jannoon028 at

The weight of my carbon footprint has been keeping me up at night.

I sure do miss the good old days when I’d be overjoyed to find a public bathroom stocked with toilet paper and soap. Show me a recently cleaned floor and seat covers and you’ll see me doing a little “happy dance” as an encore to the “I have to pee dance” I’m usually doing on my way in.

But on a recent visit to the movies, I confronted yet another in a growing number of environmental dilemmas. The facilities were fine, but after I washed my hands I stood stunned by indecision, paralyzed by choices: Should I dry my hands with a paper towel or use the air hand dryer?

“Dryers help protect the environment,” a sign proclaimed. “They save trees from being used for paper towels. They eliminate paper towel waste.” They also suck down electricity and dry out my skin, which increases my hand lotion consumption considerably. Nobody ever considers the Nivea trees.

I also vaguely recall reading something about hand dryers increasing the amount of bacteria in the air, because they suck up your germs then spew them back out onto the next customer. Eww! Just the thought of that is enough to make me resort to my son’s preferred drying method–wiping his wet hands off on my jeans.

“Paper or plastic?” I must have a mental shopping block, because somehow I only remember to bring my canvas bags to Trader Joes, not Vons. I guess I could shop exclusively at Trader Joes, but my husband insists on Kellogg’s Raisin Bran and Tropicana Orange Juice, neither of which TJ’s stocks. Besides, don’t I get some carbon offset credits for reading Star Magazine and the Enquirer in line at Vons and not actually paying for any dead trees that put Britney or Paris on the cover? I suppose if nobody ever read about either of those girls, we might just save the planet. But would such a planet really be worth saving?

I try to do my part. I wish Vons would do theirs, by just charging me for the stupid paper bags (which I always intend to reuse for wrapping paper), so I wouldn’t be embarrassed to leave Ben and Jerry melting in the cart while I run outside to get my canvas bags.

Of course I’m environmentally embarrassed when I do go out to my gigantic gas guzzling Mercury Grand Marquis to get the totes for my melted Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream.

Here’s the thing: I can’t afford a Prius. Plus I’m not a great driver. Tooling around town in a big safe American car that makes people steer clear of that 80-year-old granny driving is really a safety gesture of good will for the whole community. Seems like I should get some kind of carbon credit for that.

If nothing else, I know I get big carbon points for just being poor. Thanks to our frugal packrat of a landlord, everything in our house is recycled, from the carpet remnants on the floor to the river rock on the walls. Even most of our furniture is family heirlooms, i.e. old junk rescued from the dumpster. Yes, this is quite the P.C. household. Our landlord once spent three hours trying to repair a florescent light that I eventually replaced at Home Depot for $5.99.

My greatest virtue is that rather than succumb to the consumerist temptation to “trade up” a model, I’ve made a commitment to stick to the same old husband. Not only does that cut out the environmental impact of maintaining two separate households, think of all that drive time and paper we’re saving for the lawyers. When you add in the extra showers I’d be taking if I were single, and the hydrocarbons from the hair spray I’d be using if I were dating, I can kick off those heavy carbon shoes entirely. Better hang on tight to your peace prize, Al Gore: I’ll be wearing my carbon halo tonight.

When Leslie’s not agonizing over her carbon footprint, she’s usually on email at email. For more columns visit
Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 23, 2007.

Ruth Chris Steak House opens in La Cumbre Plaza

Ruth Chris Steak House (courtesy photo)

Ruth Chris Steak House (courtesy photo)

I got quite a meaty education the other night, when I sat in on an employee training session and menu sampling for the new Ruth’s Chris Steak House in La Cumbre Plaza, which officially opens on Monday, November 19.

If the attention to detail in the training session–conducted by the Irvine restaurant’s general manager Todd Lounsberry, who will serve as a mentor to Santa Barbara’s general manager Chris Goodyear–is any indication, Santa Barbara diners are in for a level of service they haven’t exactly come to expect in our local establishments. Let’s face it: most restaurants here are better known for the beauty of their surroundings and the quality of their food than they are for having staff who go out of their way to make you feel welcome.

With just under 300 seats, the new Ruth Chris Steak House will have to attract a lot of steak lovers to recoup its investment in this location–even at $36.95 for an a la carte filet. A company spokeswoman declined to answer my question about how much was spent on the restaurant build out, but the interiors are lovely, with no expense visibly spared on the heated outdoor patio, roomy bar area, indoor/outdoor fireplaces, two wine cellars (which can be reserved for intimate dinners) and expansive dining room. There also three private rooms, which can be combined to hold about 70 guests, as well as Ruth’s Library, a boardroom type setting that can be used for special events.

Despite the hefty investment and the La Cumbre Plaza location, I wouldn’t bet against Ruth Chris’s record of success. Clearly the company knows something about capturing carnivore customers. Since its 1965 founding in New Orleans by Ruth Fertel (who passed away in 2002), they’ve opened 114 locations worldwide, including Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and now, Santa Barbara.

The excitement level at the training session was palpable, probably in part because the approximately four dozen hosts, servers (who must have a year of fine dining experience), server’s assistants and bar tenders were honored to have been selected out of the more than 500 people who interviewed for their jobs, according to Ruth Chris PR Maven Lanette Jarvis.

The staff was transfixed as Lounsberry showed off various cuts of meat in their raw state and reviewed a gigantic stack of product information cards, including facts about how Ruth Chris buys its meat (“from cows that are fed only corn, which results in richer more flavorful taste”), how the steaks are cooked (“seared at 1,800 degrees, then seasoned with sea salt, black pepper and a touch of parsley, and topped with fresh butter that sizzles on your plate”), and how they’re served (“on a 500 degree plate,” they recited in unison).

According to Lounsberry, all of the meat served at any Ruth Chris Steakhouse (with the exception of the Filets, which aren’t always available in the U.S.) is rated USDA Prime, which means it falls in the top two percent of graded meat. “Ruth Chris takes up almost half of the prime meat available in the U.S. for its restaurants.”

In addition to Filets, those cuts of beef include a Porterhouse (“it has to be a minimum of one and a half inches thick in order to be a Porterhouse”), a Ribeye, a Cowboy Ribeye (includes a bone), a T-Bone, and a New York Strip (“it has that name because it’s shaped like New York”). Seafood, lamb, pork and poultry are also available, but steak is definitely king on this menu.

We tasted bites of the Filet, the New York Strip, the Porterhouse and the Ribeye, each one more mouth-wateringly delicious than the last. “We want our guest to leave Ruth Chris Steak House as raving fans,” said Lounsberry.

So far, so good.

Originally published in Noozhawk

San Marcos High to Celebrate 50th

San MarcosSan Marcos High School alumni and supporters are planning a gala event to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary in 2008. Anyone who is interested in helping to plan the event, or would like to be on the mailing list for invitations and updates should email Cara Gamberdella (Class of 1990) at or call her at 683.7336.

“I am committed to giving back as a proud alumna and community supporter,” says Gamberdella, a former SMHS English and journalism teacher. “San Marcos has been a very important part of my life and my family’s life here in Santa Barbara.

The committee, headed by Assistant principal Ed Behrens , also includes Debbie Keys Thomas, Diane Dodwell, Holly Eubank, Joan Cotich, Shawn Ricci, Helen Murdoch, Aaron Solis, Sadie Hall and Susan Kipp.

The date of the celebration –which will be an evening of dinner, dancing, entertainment and Royals’ nostalgia and will be open to all former students, staff and community supporters–is not yet determined, but the party is slated for February or March of 2008.

Originally published in Noozhawk

Sarah House Lights Up The Night with “The Artizans’Ball”

Sarah House Artizans Ball 2010

Sarah House Artizans Ball 2010

Noted artists Hank Pitcher, Rick Schloss, Matti Berglund, Jane Sun, Brad Nack, Michael Drury, Tom Henderson, Kathleen Elsey, Anthony Ocone, Larry Iwerks and Barnaby Conrad are but a few of the more than 100 artists who have donated their work to assist Sarah House and AIDS Housing Santa Barbara at their annual holiday Light Up The Night benefit at the Santa Barbara Woman’s Club on Saturday, December 8, from 6 to 10 p.m.

Sarah House is the only “social model” home in the nation offering hospice care for low-income or homeless individuals who are in need of a place to die with appropriate care and dignity. Named for the late Sarah Shoresman, whose daughter, Linda Lorenzen-Hughes, remains active on the board of directors, Sarah House does not receive government funding, but relies instead on donations to keep the facility open for those in need.

This year’s fundraiser theme is “The Artizans’ Ball,” which centers on the silent auction of works of art and tabletop holiday trees and wreaths, as well as spectacular vacations in Tuscany, Hawaii, and Careyes, Mexico. This is a different twist for the 16th annual Light up the Night, which has traditionally auctioned off holiday trees designed by local artists and supporters.

“We feel like it’s always good to reinvent yourself,” says chair Kerrie Kilpatrick-Weinberg, who is herself an artist and the founder of Artwalk for Kids. “We’ve done Light up the Night for several years and there’s other people doing trees now, so what this will be is a ball, music, lovely food and drinks, but more importantly art everywhere…It’s very much an auction centered around art energy in Santa Barbara, with the artistic community donating to Sarah House.

The only thing that will be silent will be the auction. The evening includes entertainment by Cats’ N’ Dogs with Lois Mahalia, Tom & Gabe Lackner; the national award-winning San Marcos Madrigals choir; the Living Muses, Buddy Winston, and a surprise or two. Food will be from New West caterers, with local wines from Buttonwood Farm Winery and Alma Rosa Winery and a special bar featuring original concoctions by the Wildcat Lounge, such as a Cosmo Van Gogh and Warhol-on-the-Rocks.

Costumes are optional but everyone is encouraged to come dressed as their favorite artist or in something inspired by a work of art. Tickets are $100 suggested donation. To purchase tickets call 882.1192 or visit

Originally published in Noozhawk

Getting Your Piece of a Beachfront Paradise

courtesy photo

courtesy photo

A jaw-dropping view of the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara’s coastline and the San Ynez Mountains adorn the Santa Barbara Beach Club (, a new oceanfront estate overlooking More Mesa Beach at the end of Patterson Avenue.

Beachfront properties like this are hard to come by–especially without those pesky freeways and railroad tracks nearby–but Kari Ann and Jay Gerlach are willing to share their dream home with five other families.

“We’re hoping it’s other people’s dream house too. We’re going to find out if we have good taste or not, I guess,” says Jay, who was involved in a number of start up businesses before creating the beach club.

courtesy photo

courtesy photo

Membership in the $13 million, 6,300 square foot, New England style property, will cost approximately $2 million, plus annual expenses. This gets each owner an equity share, plus eight weeks a year in the house, which has five suites and features a private beach cove, gourmet kitchen, gym, handcrafted bar, theatre, billiard lounge, wine cellar, walk-in cigar humidor, library, sauna, pool and Jacuzzi. It even has a hydraulic car elevator to maximize parking space. Concierge services such as an on-call masseuse and private chef will be available to members, and the house will be stocked with everything from the owner’s favorite foods and soaps, to their family pictures.

“If you want, there’s no reason for your guests to know you don’t own the house outright,” says Kari Ann. “It’ll be just like it was when you left it.”

While the technical term for the partnership is “factional ownership,” Jay explains it simply: “If you and I bought a house together and both our names were on title, that’s exactly what we’re doing. It’s called tenants in common … but we will have six owners, each with a percentage.”

The Gerlach’s originally bought the property, an empty lot, to develop their dream house. But like anyone who’s ever tried to build a home can testify, development doesn’t come cheap. As the dream house got dreamier and dreamier, the financial realities became such that they rethought the investment, explains Kari Ann.

As construction progressed on local architect Robert Foley‘s design, they shared the work-in-progress with friends, “We got such great response,” says Kari Ann. “Everybody said, ‘Oh this is great. I wish we had a house like this.’ And my husband said, ‘Why not?'”

“If we can share it with other people and still manage to keep eight weeks for ourselves it would be really great investment for us and still a beach house of our dreams,” she says.

The shared ownership model allowed Kari Ann, who worked with Tuvalu Home (, to furnish the house with everything she dreamed of.

Some of her favorite things include chandeliers right out of “The Little Mermaid,” made out of seashells, a settee with quilting inspired by coral, and a custom made curio cabinet. “I didn’t want to be matchy matchy. I wanted it to look more like a collected look over time,” says Kari Ann. She describes the experience of furnishing a house from top to bottom–including every single knob, knick-knack, linen and dish–as “a hellish but wonderful dream.”

“When you’re building a place that luxurious and that large, it just makes more sense to split it with more people,” says Jay. The Gerlach’s already own a beach house in town, and weren’t planning to use the new home full time anyway. They wanted a place where their extended family could come stay, and the estate, at 5277 Austin Road, fit the bill perfectly.

They did a test run over the Fourth of July. “We had multi-generations here and it was kind of fun to see how the house was used,” says Kari Ann. “Women were in the kitchen chatting, the older people were at the table having their coffee, enjoying the main room and the library, and the kids were downstairs, outside, or down the beach in the back. All the men were upstairs in the Jacuzzi (which has a flat screen television tuned to sports to compliment the dolphin and sea lion show on the ocean). … I think this house has something for everybody and something for everybody at the same time.”

When asked about what it’s like to work so closely with his wife for the past three years, Jay laughs. “It’s fun but it also can be very frustrating … everybody’s heard of the old saying that if you can survive a remodel together you’ve got a strong marriage–this was a lot more than a remodel.”

He laughed even harder when asked if he would do a project like this again. “Yes, but not immediately. We need a little time to recover.”

For more information visit or call 805.504.0699.

Originally published in Noozhawk

Noozhawk Talks: One on One with Ben Romo

Ben Romo

Ben Romo

As Director of the County Education Office’s Center for Community Education, Ben Romo oversees a variety of different programs designed to serve the needs of foster children, homeless youth, low income students and children that have been neglected for a variety of reasons. He also works closely with the business community as the Executive Director of Partners in Education, a nonprofit organization working to help children succeed in school and in the workforce.

Leslie Dinaberg: How did you go from politics (as the District Representative and Primary Political Consultant for Congressman Walter Capps and Congresswoman Lois Capps) to education?

Ben Romo: In 2005 I had reached a point in my business where I wasn’t really learning anymore… and I realized that the only way I could continue learning was to go to a much higher level like statewide and multiple congressional campaigns, and that would have been just an absolute life-consuming process.

When this opportunity came to be a part of the education office, it was something that was very appealing to me personally, in terms of the work that we do here at the center, but also was appealing to me intellectually. Plus, it brought me back to Santa Barbara where I was born and raised.

LD: Are you enjoying this work?

BR: It’s been eye opening, what I’ve come to learn about public education and particularly the areas of impoverished, neglected and delinquent youth. It’s been really eye opening. I thought I knew a lot about public education and I didn’t. I didn’t know exactly what schools are being forced to deal with and I didn’t fully understand the level of misperception that I think exists in the community about just how daunting those challenges are and how unfair it is for society to expect schools to meet those needs.

LD: It’s very challenging and in our community particularly, because there’s so much wealth, it’s really the haves and have-nots.

BR: We’re losing our middle class. We’re a community out of balance. … Since 1991, our student population went from 34% Hispanics, it’s now 57%; Anglos were 55%, they’re now 32%. There’s just a complete flip-flop. Almost one in five, 17% of children in Santa Barbara County live below the federal poverty line, and the federal poverty level is $19,000 for a family of four. So that’s a federal measurement that has a completely different reality on the ground here in Santa Barbara where $900 a month might get you a one-bedroom or studio apartment.

LD: I know that Computers for Families works on this issue by targeting the digital divide and providing computers and Internet at home for every student in the fourth grade. What else does Partners in Education do?

BR: Partners is a nonprofit. We are not a school, we are not in the business of doing what schools should already be doing themselves, we’re not about supplanting, we are about finding the right role that the community can play to be supportive of schools. But schools are charged with a particular set of things that they should be doing. We’re not here to take that burden off them. That should be their responsibility. We are here to support them, number one, and also to give business a voice in how schools are preparing the next generation of the workforce.

LD: But a lot of the things that should be the school’s responsibility, like for example technology, they just don’t have the dollars to back it up. It’s not that the will isn’t there, but there isn’t the money.

BR: Exactly. We just talked about this in our last board meeting, we’re very clear that we are not going to be in a position to go find all that money. We found a very cost effective way to meet some of the needs that low income kids have in accessing the Internet and technology and we found that that’s really significantly impactful in their ability to achieve academically and in the school’s ability to achieve system wide. …

I don’t think it’s really been clearly stated to educators and the broader community just what technology can bring in key areas that teachers are worried about, student achievement, parent involvement, student engagement in the classroom, and the saving of teacher’s time, which is a huge issue for educators.

LD: In my experience it still comes down to the level of an individual teacher’s engagement and comfort with technology. If they’re into it, they’ll use it and their kids will really benefit from it and if they’re not, it’s not a factor.

BR: And who can blame them when they’re so stressed and so focused on core curriculum areas? It’s difficult for a teacher to take any time away from a student who is below grade level in math and English.

LD: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that we have in education?

BR: Schools are doing a really good job actually. If you look at student achievement system wide in the state of California, student achievement in every group has gone up. In English learners, in Latinos, in Anglos, in every group, student achievement in math and reading has gone up. The achievement gap is being addressed, but there are societal problems that are being thrust on schools and schools are being forced to deal with these. And I think, in some cases, in a lot of cases, they are unfairly held accountable or they are unfairly expected to do a job that they were never intended to do and that is being a social worker. Teachers are supposed to teach kids how to read and write and how to be good citizens. So I think the biggest challenge in public education are the challenges that society thrusts upon them unfairly.

LD: Switching gears now from society to you, if you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

BR: Modest, good looking and visionary

LD: That’s the best answer I’ve had to that question–and the fastest.

(Laughter overheard from the office next door): Irritating, annoying, deluded …

BR: (Laughs) OK, I like to have fun, I try to be honest, and sometimes I’m insecure.

Vital Stats: Ben Romo

Born: At Goleta Valley Hospital; August 21, 1973

Family: Wife Geordie and daughter Ruby, 4-1/2 months

Civic Involvement: The Granada, Coastal Housing Coalition, CALM, Nonprofit Support Center, Student Aid Committee of the Santa Barbara Foundation

Professional Accomplishments: Founded Romo & Associates; District Representative and Primary Political Consultant for Walter and Lois Capps

Little-Known Fact: When Ben was a child his nickname was Benny Big Ears; he also went by Benjie the Dog.


Want to know more about Partners in Education?

A breakfast event, featuring State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, will be held December 7, 2007 at Earl Warren Showgrounds from 7:15-9:00 a.m. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to Ben Romo by emailing or calling 964.4711 ext 4401.


Originally published in Noozhawk. Click here to read the story on

Menorrhagia: The Body Out of Balance

Most women will experience a heavy menstrual period at some point in her reproductive life. For some women, heavy periods are even the norm. “But if there is a change in heaviness get it evaluated,” says Dr. Carrie Ann Terrell, a specialist in women’s health. If you are soaking a pad or tampon within one to two hours for longer than one day, you should seek medical attention, she advises. It could be Menorrhagia, which the National Women’s Health Resource Center (NWHRC) defines as soaking a pad and/or tampon every hour or less during each menstrual cycle.

While Menorrhagia–which affects an estimated 10 to 20 percent of premenopausal women in the United States–can strike at any time, it is most likely to occur during puberty and the years just before menopause, when reproductive hormones are erratic.

“Women learn about periods, pregnancy and menopause but are unprepared for what happens in between. The fact is, pelvic health conditions can happen at any age, particularly after a woman’s had a baby,” explains Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, RN, executive director of the NWHRC.

The condition can cause fatigue and anemia and restrict a woman’s personal and professional activities. Menorrhagia can also be indicative of more serious medical conditions.

According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, some common causes of Menorrhagia include: hormonal imbalance; uterine fibroids; polyps; dysfunction of the ovaries; adenomyosis; an intrauterine device malfunction; pregnancy complications; pelvic inflammatory disease, thyroid problems, endometriosis, and liver or kidney disease. In addition, certain drugs, including anti-inflammatory medications and anticoagulants (to prevent blood clots), can contribute to heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding. In rare cases, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and cervical cancer can cause excessive menstrual bleeding.

Ice packs, vitamin C, vitamin E and iron supplements can help reduce bleeding, but you should always check with your health care professional before taking any medication, even herbs and nutritional supplements, according to the NWHRC.

Medical treatment options for Menorrhagia continue to evolve.

“We think the sheer magnitude of how many Baby Boomer women are affected matters because such a large group will have the power to set new expectations for pelvic health, driving more women to seek treatment,” says Cahill. “Think back to when the default treatment for breast cancer was a total mastectomy. Those rates have dramatically declined primarily because women advocated for more minimally invasive treatment options. The same needs to be true for pelvic health.”

Currently, progestin–which works by reducing the effects of estrogen in your body, slowing growth of the uterine lining–is the most-prescribed medication for Menorrhagia, with studies finding that it can reduce bleeding up to 15 percent. However side effects, including weight gain, headaches, swelling and depression, lead many women to quit using this option.

Doctors may also prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Aleve, Motrin, Cataflam or Ponstel, which work by reducing levels of hormone-like chemicals that interfere with blood clotting. Studies find they can reduce blood flow an average of 25 to 35 percent. Oral contraceptives can also reduce menstrual bleeding up to 60 percent by preventing ovulation and thinning the endometrium.

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists are drugs that are used only on a short-term basis because of their high cost and severe side effects. Basically, they temporarily send a woman into menopause, complete with hot flashes. However, they are very effective in reducing menstrual blood flow. But because they interfere with the activity of estrogen in your body, long-term use could lead to osteoporosis.

Doctors may also prescribe Danazol, is a form of the male hormone testosterone that blocks the action of estrogen in your body. It causes your period to stop in about four to six weeks, but can have side effects, including acne and reduced breast size.

Some physicians may also recommend using an intrauterine device such as Mirena, which releases a progestin called levonorgestrel, to help control the bleeding. The main side effect of this treatment can be some light bleeding between periods, particularly in the first three months.

Women with Menorrhagia may elect to have an outpatient procedure, endometrial ablation, in which the lining of the uterus is destroyed. In extremely severe cases, women with Menorrhagia may also opt for surgical procedures such as removal of the uterus through a hysterectomy. Other surgical procedures, including myomectomy and uterine artery embolization, may be used if fibroids are the cause behind the bleeding.

“Treatment for this condition is broadly available. What’s critical is that women and their health-care provider discuss menstruation as part of a routine physical exam,” says Amy Niles, President and CEO of NWHRC. “Beginning a dialogue about this vastly under-diagnosed condition and available treatment options– both between a woman and her doctor and among national health-care leaders– is the first step toward helping women live healthier more enjoyable lives.”

Questions to Ask Your Health Care Professional about Menorrhagia

1. Is the amount of menstrual bleeding I’m experiencing abnormal?

2. What tests do you need to conduct to diagnose my Menorrhagia, and why are you doing them?

3. Is this heavy bleeding affecting my iron levels? What can I do about that?

4. Why are you recommending this particular treatment option for my heavy bleeding? If that doesn’t work, what do you recommend next?

5. What are the disadvantages and risks associated with each recommended treatment?

6. Even if you find a problem like fibroids causing my abnormal uterine bleeding, is it possible to avoid a hysterectomy?

7. How many endometrial ablations of this type have you performed in the past year? What is your success rate? What kind of complications have you encountered?

– Source: National Women’s Health Resource Center

Originally published in Coastal Woman

A Helping Place, A Healing Space

Courtesy Photo.

Courtesy Photo.

When Hospice of Santa Barbara was founded in 1974, it was only the second hospice in the United States, dedicated to providing care and easing the pain of dying for both patients and their loved ones.

Now with more than 3,200 programs established in the U.S. and nearly 885,000 people cared for in 2002, it is that same fundamental dedication to compassion that continues to set hospice programs apart from the type of care provided by hospitals and other facilities. According to the Hospice Foundation of America, an umbrella group that provides leadership in the development and application of hospice, “hospice is not a place but a concept of care.”

But fortunately for suffering Central Coast residents, a physical manifestation of the concept has also opened its doors like outstretched arms offering those dealing with painful tribulations a place to find help, understanding, friendship, and peace. And there could not have been a building more perfectly designed for its purpose.

Executive Director Gail Rink describes Hospice of Santa Barbara’s new 6,500-square-foot headquarters as “A place where compassionate care is freely given.” A tranquil, welcoming feeling envelops visitors as they enter what looks more like a high-end health spa than a place designed to deal with death and grief–and in many ways it is. “This office is part office, part spa, part chapel,” says Rink. With an emphasis on humanistic, rather than medical, treatment, the center is focused not just on grief but on healing, and not just on patients, but on their loved ones as well.

Tucked away on a serene hilltop in Santa Barbara’s Riviera area, the facility offers a wide array of supportive services–all 100 percent free-of-charge–for people diagnosed with terminal illness or who are facing the loss of a loved one. Offerings include individual, couples, family and group counseling; educational programs; health and wellness services such as massage, Reiki, yoga, and meditation; community meeting spaces; and of course, a well-stocked kitchen and dining room.

“We feed a lot of families,” laughs Rink. She means that in both a literal and figurative sense. It was the generosity of some of the families nourished by hospice services that helped make this new center a reality.

“One of the things that makes us a highly functional board is the fact that everyone involved has either experienced needing hospice services themselves or within their families … or has someone close to them who has,” says Board President Mary Blair.

The Berkus family was critical to the development of the center. Renowned architect Barry Berkus relied on hospice services when his wife Gail was dying, and designed the building free-of-charge as a testament to her, and as a thank you to hospice for the comfort they provided his family. Paired with his daughter-in-law Dana Berkus’s distinctive interior design, a feeling of peaceful healing practically emanates from the walls of the new headquarters.

Walking in the center feels like getting a big warm hug. “What we want to be able to do is be able to embrace people who need security and help to face their fear and heal their sorrow,” says Rink.

When the organization moved to larger quarters last spring, it had the opportunity to expand some services, like the family and children’s program. Many children were not getting the kind of care they needed during the grieving process. “Children grieve. And adults are awkward when children grieve,” says Rink. “And yet we felt strongly that we needed to start a program that would address the needs especially of grieving children or children who may be anticipating the death of a parent or sibling.”

Starting with support groups for children, hospice then began a mentor program, where children were paired with an adult who had survived a similar experience of losing someone close to them when they were young. Children who “graduated” from the mentor program then formed a mentor associate program so they could help other children who were grieving. The parents of these children also formed a support group just for parents.

“So now our family and children’s program has grown from being a simple support group for grieving children to a more complex program that provides both parents and the children and those who have graduated from the program with things to do to help serve others and help make that relationship stronger. That organic kind of process is very healing,” says Rink.

Hospice recently held its first Children and Family Night, where multiple generations gathered for dinner, then broke into play groups and counseling sessions.

“Think of the reason that they all have in common, the death of a parent, or the death of a sibling or a spouse … it’s amazing that people would gather for such a sensitive reason–and yet, if you create the environment, they thrive,” says Rink. “What we’ve found is with more space and with such a healing and nourishing location, our business has continued to grow and for us. Of course that’s excellent, because we’re reaching more people in the community.”

Other Hospice Services on the Central Coast

“Shiva’s Center for the Human and Animal Bond” supports people who have lost a pet. You can find their information at

Hospice of San Luis Obispo County offers group meetings devoted to such issues as Widowed Persons, Weekly Suicide Bereavement, Parkinson’s, Perinatal Loss, and Pet Loss. They also offer the following events to support Hospice members. Check their website for specific times and locations:

Hospice for the Central Coast: Monterey promotes and supports end-of-life care and services for Monterey and San Benito counties through community education, fundraising, prudent management of assets, and conscientious disbursement of grants to quality, non-profit organizations that provide these services.

Originally published in Central Coast Magazine