The science of happiness

Stuart Miles,

Stuart Miles,

If you can get a grant to pay for the research, then just about any topic is ripe for scientific analysis. Once the province of poets and playwrights, happiness is now emerging as a significant field of academic inquiry.

Psychologists, ethicists, scientists and researchers all over the world have been working diligently to dig up hard data on a question philosophers have been pondering for years: What exactly is it that makes us happy?

There are lots of books on the subject–with sexy titles like, Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, and Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier–but I decided that buying and reading all those books wouldn’t actually make me happier.

Instead I read an article in “Yes” Magazine by someone named Jen Angel (Is that a perfect name or what?) who read the books, thereby demonstrating the first of my scientific rules for happiness (hereafter known as Leslie’s Science of Happiness Rule #1)–You’ll be happier if you let someone else do the heavy lifting.

Here are some other scientifically proven strategies for finding happiness, according to “Yes.”

Savor Everyday Moments

This is pretty good advice and I do try to follow it. For example, tonight after we lit the Hanukah candles and my son swung his new Rugby Shirt around the room as though it were the Howler Monkey he was secretly hoping to unwrap, and he barely missed knocking over my wine glass onto a pile of clean white laundry I had yet to fold and he didn’t set anything on fire when he knocked over the menorah, I paused, took a sip of wine and a deep breath and simply savored the moment.

Leslie’s Science of Happiness Rule #2–Hold onto your wine glass, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Avoid Comparisons

It’s tough to avoid comparing yourself to other people, and trying to keep up with the Joneses in a wealthy town like Santa Barbara is downright impossible. The scientist’s advice: “instead of comparing ourselves to others, focusing on our own personal achievement leads to greater satisfaction.” This makes sense, but I’ve found that being married to someone with a huge ego is another way to do this. My husband’s delusions of grandeur almost never fail to make me smile, or at least feel better about myself by comparison.

Leslie’s Science of Happiness Rule #3–Marry someone who makes you laugh.

Put Money Low on the List

People who put money high on their priority list are more at risk for depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, according to research. Obviously I would never have gone into journalism if money were high on my list. Although I can’t say that NOT having much money has ever made me particularly happy, NOT selling my soul for a paycheck certainly has made me happy in my professional life

Leslie’s Science of Happiness Rule #4–Get a job you like.

Have Meaningful Goals

“As humans, we require a sense of meaning to thrive. People who strive for something significant, whether it’s learning a new craft or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations,” say researchers Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener. This is why I put “keep Koss alive,” “sleep,” “eat chocolate,” and “breathe” at the top of my to do list every day–not only does checking them off make me happy, it also gives me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment of my goals each and every day of my life.

Leslie’s Science of Happiness Rule #5–Sleep, eat chocolate, breathe, and try to keep your kid alive.

Make Friends, Treasure Family

Happier people tend to have good families, friends, and supportive relationships, say Diener and Biswas-Deiner. But we don’t just need relationships; we need close ones that involve understanding and caring. It’s science, baby.

Leslie’s Science of Happiness Rule #6–Besides wine, chocolate and a husband that makes you laugh, the secrets to happiness are having family in town to baby sit for nights out with your friends.

Smile Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

A wise friend of mine once told me to “smile like you mean it until you actually do mean it.” Oddly enough, she was right. I’ve found that smiling works wonders. It’s really hard to be mad when you smile and it’s really hard for someone else to be mad at you when you smile at them.

Leslie’s Science of Happiness Rule #7–Keep smiling and don’t forget to floss and check for lipstick on your teeth. (And by the way, if I have lipstick on my teeth, would you please tell me.)

Say Thank You Like You Mean It

People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis are healthier, more optimistic, and more likely to make progress toward achieving personal goals, according to Robert Emmons. And people who write “gratitude letters” to someone who made a difference in their lives score higher on happiness, and lower on depression–and the effect lasts for weeks, according to Martin Seligman.

Leslie’s Science of Happiness Rule #8–I couldn’t have said this one better myself. Thank you for reading my columns week in and week out. Have a wonderful New Year.

Share your own science of happiness with Leslie at email.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 27, 2008.

Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Ann Peyrat

Ann Peyrat has lived with diabetes since she was 16. Rather than give in to the disease, she was inspired to create an apparel line that would help others — particularly girls — feel better about themselves. (Betes Babe photo)

Ann Peyrat has lived with diabetes since she was 16. Rather than give in to the disease, she was inspired to create an apparel line that would help others — particularly girls — feel better about themselves. (Betes Babe photo)

Diagnosed with diabetes as a teenager, Ann Peyrat didn’t like the sound of the word diabetic-especially the “die” part-and quickly declared herself a “betes babe” instead. Now she’s developing a fun and fashionable line of accessories called Betes Babe ( to help others wear their “betes” in style.

Leslie Dinaberg: Tell me about your business.

Ann Peyrat: I was16 when I was diagnosed. I remember that because for most people it’s their sweet sixteen, but for me it was my no more sweet sixteen. I was always looking for products, new things to manage my disease and everything that was out there was either black or a steel kind of cold hard medical look and that’s not me. I’m pink and girly and match my outfits and I just didn’t see anything out there that was beyond this kind of utilitarian look. So in the back of my mind I was always searching for something and then got to the point where I said, “well, why don’t I just make something that I like?”

It blossomed from there, but I never really had the big push to go out and do something as a business for other people until everything that happened with the News-Press went down. All of a sudden I knew I couldn’t work there anymore … so that was kind of the push to say, “Hey, let’s dig in your heels and this is the time.”

LD: So were you making things for yourself?

AP: Yes and just designing. I like to sketch or do little drawings, so I have a journal of all these ideas that I want to do. Some of them I don’t have the technical know how to do. But for me that is one of the challenges. I’ve never run my own business before I don’t know all the steps … but to me, it’s more satisfying to figure it out myself rather than just having to pay somebody to do everything for me. … I started out with just some small graphic design things, some t-shirts and things that are at, so I didn’t have the overhead of having a warehouse … I’ve gotten responses from all over the place. … I’ve got orders from New York, Illinois, Michigan, just all over.

LD: Teenagers and young girls seem like a natural market for your products.

AP: Yes, I actually have a young friend, a school mate of mine, her daughter who is in third grade was just diagnosed and so I took her out just to be sort of a betes buddy, just so that she would know somebody else who had it who was maybe a girl. …I think girls and boys go through different things and especially girls with hormones. It’s a different animal to have girls.

LD: I also think girls, for whatever reason, are so much more fashion conscious. What are all your products?

AP: Right now I have t-shirts and bumper stickers and I’ve got a messenger bag, a canvas tote bag and all of these things have different messages on them, like “I heart insulin” or “I try not to be too sweet, it’s a betes thing.” I’ve got a tank top, I’ve got a golf t-shirt, you can check them out online at And then I j have a few things for people who do want to wear their medical alert. I have a charm bracelet and I have a few different charms that can be put on it just to give maybe a little bit more attention to it. They don’t have any writing on it, but they have a red cross type of medical symbol on them, and what I like about them is they’re silver but they all have kind of a stamp indentation on them, so if you want to change the color or you want to match your outfit, I’m sure a real jeweler would tell you not to do this, but I just use nail polish. … I also have some bracelets that have a satin ribbon and a felted wool flower on it.

LD: Those are really cute and they don’t look like a medical thing at all.

AP: And because I am manufacturing them myself, I can customize them. We make those specific to your disease, so if you have asthma, I can put asthma on there instead of diabetes.

LD: What is the best seller?

AP: Actually it’s been one of my very basic “I heart insulin” shirts.

LD: Ultimately what is your goal with the business?

AP: My goal is definitely to grow it into a really big business and then sell it to somebody and maybe remain the face of it or help out in some capacity. But it just always really appealed to me to have something that was my own and to see it happen and if I have an idea to see that come to fruition. … But I got a part time job because I need health insurance.

…I did go through the WEV (Women’s Economic Ventures) program so that did help a little bit with getting going but I still don’t know a lot.

LD: It’s a new market, so that makes it harder to figure out how to do things.

AP: Exactly. And because I have diabetes myself it makes it more personal to me and I think that I’m maybe more passionate about it than somebody else might be. It’s really one of those things where even if it’s slow at first, I’m not going to drop this idea just because it’s hard. I really want this and I want to do this for the diabetic community at large and that’s inspirational to me to keep going.

LD: I know it’s hard sometimes with a chronic illness. Do you have any advice for somebody that was recently diagnosed with diabetes?

AP: Don’t be afraid to talk about it. You’ll be less alone if you’re able to talk about it. I think a lot of people are really interested. Nobody is going to make fun of you. I think people are sometimes afraid to be different. But especially with my business and having something cute that you can carry, I want people to feel like okay maybe you are special but it’s not special bad it’s special good. And again, for me being really open about things, I think it just starts a conversation. Somebody sees me carrying a cute bag and says, “Hey where did you get that bag?” That’s an opportunity for me to educate them a little bit and tell them a little bit more about what diabetes is, that you don’t have to be scared of it, you don’t have to worry too much.

Also I think going along with talking about it is finding a support group or finding other people that you can talk to if you’re feeling alone, believe me you’re not.

LD: What else do you do when you’re not working?

AP: I wear many different hats and one of them is dog walking and dog sitting. I actually just got my first dog three years ago and I can’t believe I didn’t do it before that. There was no life before I had my dog. … I like to go to movies; I like to go out for food. … I’ve got a group of friends we do Bunko every month and then I’ve got a group of friends we go out to dinner once a month and then I’ve got a book club we do once a month, things like that.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

AP: I guess optimistic would be a good one. Not always, but usually. I hope that I’m a good friend, that’s really important to me, friends and family, and I’m creative.

Vital Stats: Ann Peyrat

Born: October 7th, at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital

Family: Parents Adrian and Gloria Peyrat and brother Alan.

Civic Involvement: Volunteers at Fund for Santa Barbara and Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, donates money to others.

Professional Accomplishments: Santa Barbara News-Press Public Square Editor,

Special Sections Editor, and editor of Woman Magazine; UCSB, Assistant to Chancellor Henry Yang; Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Foundation Development Coordinator; Founder of Betes Babe.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Naked by David Sedaris

Little-Known Fact: “When I was 29 I lived in a van for a year to save money.”

Local Resources for Diabetics

Diabetes Resource Center of Santa Barbara County

Carpinteria Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative

Betes Babe

Sansum Diabetes Research Institute

Originally published in Noozhawk on December 21, 2008. Click here to read the story on that site.

Not buying it

Stockimages at

Stockimages at

Like my shopaholic foremothers, I usually indulge in the “one for you, one for me” method of gift buying. Not only does this help the economy, but it also motivates me to cheerfully take on the majority of family shopping duties, for which my husband is eternally grateful.

But as you can imagine, Chrismukkah season is a huge challenge for my wallet. My family celebrates both Hanukah and Christmas, with multiple events and multiple present buying requirements, then there are hostess gifts to buy, and birthdays this month, plus it’s my parent’s anniversary. Also, the displays in all the stores are so cute and everywhere you look everything is on sale. There are almost too many shopping opportunities for my microscopic MasterCard limit–not to mention our dwindling 201-K account–to bear.

No wonder I feel overwhelmed and underfunded.

When I read about Andrea Tringo and Steven Posusta’s pledge to refrain from buying anything new for a year, the story hit me right in the purse strings–an area where I was already hurting. If this Colorado couple was able to go without buying anything but essentials for almost a year (they started the challenge on January 1, 2008) surely I could go for a week in December without buying anything for myself.

That doesn’t sound so hard, right?

You’d be surprised.

Monday-I wake up inspired. Getting out of the retail rat race this holiday season will be a piece of cake. I’ll make homemade gifts for the majority of my list, so I won’t even be tempted to buy anything for myself. Okay, maybe someday I’ll use that Creative Versa-Tool I bought on a wood burning or soldering project for myself someday, but right now it’s all about giving. Expenses: $97.50 at Michael’s for “miscellaneous supplies.” At least I had a coupon.

Tuesday-I forgot a few things, so I still haven’t started those hand tooled leather ID bracelets I’m making for everyone in my family. It’s back to Michael’s to celebrate, “At Least Twice Tuesday,” an annual holiday event where I go to the same store at least twice to comb through the same items in the same aisles to find the thing I forgot that I needed, but I pay double the original price because I’ve already used my coupon. Expenses: $17.97 on more “miscellaneous supplies.” If you don’t count that pack of sugarless gum I threw in at the last minute–and I certainly don’t think anything under $1 should count–then I spent nothing on myself.

Wednesday-Oh dear, I can’t avoid it any longer. My son insists that his cousins will think my handcrafted presents are “totally bogus.” If I want to buy and ship my gifts out to them, then today’s the day I have to go to the mall. I try to confine my purchases to toys and sporting goods, since neither of them is particularly tempting to me. Unfortunately they had purple slippers on sale at Big Five. PURPLE on SALE! I wish I could say I was virtuous and walked away without a giving those adorably comfy purple slippers a second thought, but the truth is they didn’t have my size. However, I did walk away without asking them to call other stores to see if they had the slippers in my size, so I think I should get some credit for that. Expenses: $237.83 on gifts for other people, $250 to ship them.

Thursday-A workday, so it should be easy to avoid spending money on myself. Except, I work out of a home office, so if I interview someone in town, we usually go out for coffee, which costs money. Hmm…I go out on a limb and ask my interviewee if she’d be willing to go for a walk on the beach. She’s game, the interview goes well, and I save myself the eight bucks I would have spent on lattes. Expenses: zero. Joy of feeling virtuous: priceless.

Friday-Otherwise known as “Freak Out Friday,” when I realize that none of my craft projects are complete, and even if I stay up till 2 a.m. every night until Christmas, I still don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of finishing them. I panic and decide to both bake and craft my gifts. It’s too crowded to park at Vons, so I go to Gelson’s and spend twice as much money but the shelves are much neater. Expenses: $42.57, all I buy for myself is a Diet Coke and a new muffin pan.

Saturday-Spending money forms much of our social life. Our house is too small to entertain in, so if we want to meet friends, we go out for dinner, which involves spending money on myself. I talk my friends into going somewhere inexpensive, and then justify the expense because it’s not much more than eating at home. I’m feeling great until M wants to do some holiday shopping afterward. I agree, hoping she wants to go to Abercrombie, where nothing fits my body or my budget. Nope. Urban Outfitters is having a sale on these really cute purses. I decide to buy one for myself “from Santa,” and throw in some cute scarves, hats and gloves that may or may not be for gifts. That doesn’t count, right? Expenses: zero for me; $159.27 for Santa.

Sunday-This is my final, self-deluded day to attempt outlandish holiday crafts and baked goods, knowing full well there isn’t enough time, talent, sugar, glitter or glue sticks in the world for all of the ambitious projects I have planned. I feel like a complete and utter shopping failure, about to gift everyone on my list with gift cards once again.

But then I re-read the story about Andrea and Steven and realized that their pledge to buy nothing had more to do with living a greener, more socially responsible life than saving money.

That’s when I get the brilliant idea to save the gas and the plastic and the time required to give gift cards and just give out cash instead. What could be greener than that?

Plus I did save money by passing up those purple UGG boots.

When Leslie’s not avoiding the retail rut, she can be reached at Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 19, 2008.

The naked truth about communication



Communication is complicated, especially when it involves men and women.

Men don’t understand our obsessions with the shoe department at Nordstrom, our friend’s relationships, and Grey’s Anatomy. And we don’t remotely understand their fascinations with remote control anything, video games, or the Three Stooges. I’ve also yet to meet a woman who has figured out why men take so long in the bathroom when they’re not putting on makeup or drying their hair.

Luckily, my careful research into the male species has enabled me to compile this translation guide, “the naked truth about communication.”

Keep in mind, as relationships evolve, so does the conversational code. Here are some clues for the beginning stages, when you first meet.

The guy you’re flirting with says: “So maybe we could get together or something?

You hear: “I like you, but not enough to ask you out.”

He really means: “I really want to ask you out, but I’m too chicken to say so.” Also, “I’d like to see you naked.”

Or in the beginning stages, another loaded question when you meet a man is, “What do you do?”

What he hears you say is, “Are you making enough money to support me in the style I’d like to become accustomed to? Then you can see me naked.”

Of course you really mean nothing more than “What do you do?” but a safer question might be “What do you like to do?” If he makes up an answer that sounds sophisticated and smart (“I like to go wine tasting in the Valley or read Yeats by the fireplace at my house on Padaro Lane”), he’s lying, but at least you know he’s trying, and he probably likes you. Milk this, because he’ll actually converse with you during this courtship period.

Once you start dating regularly, you may have months or even years of “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” conversations ahead of you, so don’t be afraid to take over the social planning. You can be pretty sure he’s happy if your plans involve his seeing you naked. And if he really doesn’t want to do something, don’t worry; he’ll let you know with a grunt or sometimes even a funny face or an audible noise.

Once you’re married, you may be less apt to be naked, but that doesn’t mean communication gets any easier. Here’s an example.

Wife gets home late from work. Husband’s eyes are glued to the TV. “Hi, honey. How was your day?”

He barely looks up. “Hi.”

Wife: “Are you okay?”

He says, “Fine.”

You hear: “Leave me alone. There are lines around your eyes and you look fat.”

He really means … “God, I know you want to talk about my day and all my relationships with my colleagues and boss but I just want to drink a beer, eat a bag of chips for dinner and zone out on the Three Stooges.” Also, “I’d like to see you naked.”

Here are a few more things I’ve learned about how to talk to a man so he understands you.

Men–and nine-year-old boys–can only take directions one at a time. So, if you have a 104-degree fever and you want him to go into the kitchen and get you a drink of water, make it a two-part request. Pictures and props are also useful. Your Charades techniques can also come in handy here.

When men bother to use words instead of gestures or grunts, it’s to inspire action. If a guy insults another guy, he automatically thinks he wants to fight, unless they’re friends, and then its in lieu of a kiss and a hug hello. And if you say you like his shirt, he thinks, “Cool, she wants to see me naked!”

A man will say, “I’m fine,” even when being tortured or held up at gunpoint. It’s not in his nature to reveal weakness because that betrays vulnerability. It’s an evolutionary thing. I found this same tough guy mentality also goes for little boys (but only if there are other little boys around). Keep in mind that he’s not fine if he’s bleeding, his face is wet around his eyes, the Gaucho’s just lost or he has to pay for parking.

Otherwise he’s probably fine–just don’t ask him about it–unless of course you’re naked.

Little by little, Leslie is becoming fluent in guy speak. Share your insights at

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 12, 2008.

29 Gifts Bring Bountiful Blessings

29gifts-bgThe story is right out of a Lifetime movie, only this time it’s true.

Lovely 30-something Cami Walker was on top of the world. She had conquered addictions to alcohol and drugs–now her career was thriving and she just married the man of her dreams. Then, two weeks after her honeymoon, her whole world came crashing down around her. Her hands didn’t quite work, then one of her eyes stopped functioning, and she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It isn’t fatal, but it can result in serious physical and cognitive disabilities, depending upon the form it takes. Soon after being diagnosed, Cami didn’t have the strength to keep working. Feeling desperate, hopeless and depressed, she decided to perform a simple ritual suggested by one of her spiritual teachers, a South African medicine woman named Mbali Creazzo. The idea was to take her mind off her disease–and herself–by focusing on helping others and giving something away each day for 29 days in a row.

“I thought the suggestion was crazy at first, but decided it couldn’t hurt to try it. Things couldn’t get much worse,” said Cami. “I was shocked by how quickly things turned around for me. For me personally it’s totally helped turn my health around in pretty miraculous ways. When I started this I was extremely sick and I was very lonely, I really had gotten to the point where I isolated myself from people. I was feeling totally alone, I was broke, I was so ill I hadn’t been able to work in months and I was very much in a downward spiral in my life.”

By day 14, Cami was able to walk without her cane, and was able to start working part-time again by day 29. “And my bank account was actually greatly improved because I was able to start working part time again and work just started showing up for me … it was crazy, like my phone just started ringing and clients just started showing up and it blew my mind. And, I think most importantly, I had reconnected with friends and family by the end and made some new friends as well,” she said.

Now in her ninth giving cycle, Cami was so inspired by the improvements in her life that she decided to turn the 29-Day Giving Challenge into a worldwide giving movement. Today has more than 3,200 givers in 38 countries, including–drum roll please-—yours truly.

“I have definitely been surprised by how quickly it’s grown,” said Cami.

I’m not that surprised because it’s fun and it’s mostly easy. Gifts can be as big or as little you like. The important thing is to make a mindful effort to do something nice for somebody else. One day I played 12 games of checkers in a row with my son, without a single grumble or complaint from me. Another day I bought lunch for a stranger without a single grumble or complaint from me. I’m pretty sure the not complaining part is important. It doesn’t matter what you do, but the website is full of great ideas for gifts of time, money, things, or kind words. In fact, so many great stories have been posted online that Cami got a book deal out of it. Her book will be coming out in the fall.

“I think one of the coolest stories that’s come out of the site is Operation Teddy Bear Care,” she said. “It started with a woman named Maureen Forbes who lives in the bush in South Africa with no electricity. She powers her computer with a solar panel that charges up a generator so that she can have two-three hours of light and use her computer. She posted on her blog that she had been visiting children in some of the remote AIDS clinics and she was just appalled by the conditions that they were living in and the level of poverty and that none of them had anything to call their own. She posted that she sews and she wanted to sew 100 teddy bears to give away but she only had enough fabric for 20.”

Flashes of the Hanukah story go through my mind, as Cami continues. “Someone on the U.S. side, his name is BJ in Georgia, he read her blog and said, ‘I’m going to help you out. We’re going to help you get enough materials to do 1,000 teddy bears.’ … One of my gifts was to help them create a website and an identity for themselves and get their organization functioning on its own. … Our goal is to help them give 1,000 gifts to South African children living in poverty by the 31st of December. And so far I think we’ve given almost 400 already, so we need about 600 more donation packages to be purchased. Go to if you want to check them out.”

I went to the website, and guess what Day 25 was for me?

I asked Cami why she thinks the 29 gifts challenge has caught on. “It’s a time where I think a lot of people are tired of the negative messages they see in the media over and over, and feeling kind of scared and frustrated with the state of the economy and some of the other things. The reality is that there are a lot of problems that we’ve got to deal with, especially in America but pretty much everywhere. And I do think that part of the reason this has caught on is that people are looking for something positive that they can feel like they are part of.”

Sounds like a happy ending to me.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 5, 2008.
If you’d like to be part of the 29 Gifts Challenge visit for more information, and tell Leslie you’re doing it at email. For more columns visit

Drive Through Ditch

Photo by David Castillo Dominici,

Photo by David Castillo Dominici,

The golden rule has always seemed a little selfish to me.

I love to do things for other people in part because there’s a buzz I get when I do volunteer work, for example, that makes me feel good about myself. It’s not selfless at all. It’s intentional kindness and I always feel like I get just as much out of it when I volunteer or do something nice as the people I’m trying to help–maybe even more.

But this time I wanted to try to be randomly kind and anonymous.

I sometimes tell my son, it’s easy to do a nice thing when adults are watching, but you show your true character when you do a nice thing and no one’s watching. It was time for me to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, and do some nice things for other people without getting anything in return.

But what could I do? There are almost no parking meters for me to feed in my town and besides; I read somewhere that it’s illegal to put money in someone else’s parking meter. Go figure. When I helpfully tried to gather up the stray grocery carts in the Ralph’s Supermarket parking lot, the box boy on duty accused me of “trying to put him out of work.” So much for that idea.

This anonymous do-gooderness was getting to be frustrating. I couldn’t catch a break trying to give someone a break.

Then I saw this thing on the news, where the drive though Starbucks in Loveland, Colorado reported that a customer wanted to pay for her own drink and also buy one for the person in the car behind her. That person then passed on the gift to the next car and on and on, cycling through 109 cars in a row, each willing to pass on the freebie to the next person. Like ding dong ditch, only the opposite. Drive through ditch, where you leave something good for the next person instead of leaving a bag of dog poop on their doorstep. I loved that idea!

Unfortunately there’s no drive-through Starbuck’s where I live, and there’s always a line, so no chance for me to buy someone’s morning coffee anonymously. But we do have a drive through McDonald’s, so I decided to buy my coffee there the next day and drive through ditch the person behind me.

I looked nervously through my rear view mirror at the elderly man in the big white car. He looked sort of grumpy, but hopefully my gesture would put a smile on his face. The brown-capped McDonald’s girl who took my money looked confused–after all, it was 8 a.m. and she probably hadn’t had her coffee yet either–but she eventually understood me after I repeated myself three times and included some hand signals.

I drove away quickly, as I imagined the man in the white car with a smile on his face.

Later that day I drove through the Carl’s Junior line, this time for a Diet Coke, and I only had to tell the guy working twice that “I’m doing a drive through ditch” meant I wanted to buy the person behind me lunch. There was no one behind me yet, which confused him a bit, but I was less nervous that time, so I think I explained myself a little better.

Again, I drove away quickly, fantasizing about the harried mom or cash-strapped teenage boy who would drive through next and receive my drive through ditch gift.

I got my caffeine fixes–and my drive through kindness attempts–a few more times that week at various drive through windows, always anonymously.

It was a slow news week, and every morning I half expected to see a headline about the random acts of kindness that were popping up at drive through windows around town. Nope, nada, nothing. Not even a passed on story from a friend about how some nice person had treated her to coffee in the drive through.

By my tenth attempt at a random act of kindness in the drive through line I started to wonder–how could this not be catching on? Were the people in snowy Loveland, Colorado more gracious than those in my sunny hometown of Santa Barbara, California? It was hard for me to believe. Still I continued with my drive through ditches in the lines at In and Out Burger, Jack and the Box and even Burger King. Still, it didn’t seem to be catching on.

I swore off fast food for a while and had almost forgotten about my drive through ditches until this week, when I found myself in a drive through line once again. I pulled out a twenty and told the guy to buy the person behind me lunch with the change. This time I didn’t even glance in the rear view mirror to check out who would be the recipient this time. I drove away smiling and teary-eyed and feeling better than I had in a long time. Who cares if drive through ditches aren’t catching on the way I thought they would? It’s a nice thing to do anyway, and wasn’t that the point?

Later that day when I picked up my son from school, one of the moms had a big grin on her face. She told me a story about how someone had treated her to coffee that morning in the drive through line. “What a great idea,” I said, with a great big, anonymous, not-so-selfless smile on my face. “I’ll have to do that for someone sometime.”

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 28, 2008.

Don’t Lock the Libraries

Photo by Stoonn,

Photo by Stoonn,

“Libraries are not safe places, and the reason for that is there are ideas to be found.” –John Bookman

“You know the republic will survive when there is new money for libraries.” –Denis Hamill

A lot of the people I grew up with were surf rats or skate rats or gym rats. I was a library rat. From the first time I signed my name on a card at the public library downtown, I was addicted to being around all those books.

But my obsession with libraries really began when I was nine years old. I had just transferred to Harding School. Sherry Thompson was the librarian.

“Where are the books about the CIA?” I asked her. “I want to learn about them because I think I might make a good spy when I get older.”

And her magic answer: “Let me show you how to find them yourself.”

She led me to the card catalog–for you youngsters who have never heard of such a thing, the cards were like Pokemon cards, only with less information on attack points, and more information on how to find a book–and she showed me how it worked.

Not only did I learn about the CIA, the FBI and James Bond that day, I finally solved the mystery of who that Sarah Bernhardt lady was that my grandma was always comparing me to when I’d get a bit dramatic.

All of those cliches about libraries opening doors came true for me that day. I was hooked. It wasn’t about falling in love with reading; I had caught that bug years before. My mom was a teacher, so I certainly didn’t need a librarian to encourage me to read. But Mrs. Thompson introduced me to research, and I dove right in with vigor, the beginning of a new life-long love.

Learning how to find information, to answer questions all by myself, gave me such a sense of sovereignty over my world. Learning to explore the world of information was just as important to me as learning how to flirt with boys or learning how to swim. I felt like I had harnessed the powers of Wonder Woman, Nancy Drew and Batgirl (a librarian in disguise). I could solve just about any mystery in the world by wielding my magical powers over the Dewey decimal system. What could be better than that?

Mrs. Thompson became my concierge into the world of information. She was always encouraging me to try to find out the answers by myself, but keeping an eye on my progress–and always right there when I needed help. For me she was the perfect kind of teacher.

I keep thinking about Mrs. Thompson when I read about all the budget cuts in the elementary schools. Our libraries have already been hit hard and they’re threatened with being hit even harder. I can’t imagine what my elementary school years would have been like without the library–and the librarian–to rely on.

Mrs. Thompson noticed my preference for fiction and promised me a lunch at the Yacht Club if I could read every biography in the school library. To this day, that was still the best burger I’ve ever had.

Mrs. Thompson was the first person I ever knew that died. I was 13 and knew enough to do some research about cancer, thanks to her.

I know the public schools are in a budget crisis, but asking a school, “an institution of learning,” to cut their library programs seems absurd to me, like asking someone whether they’d rather have an arm cut off or a leg. Cutting off our kids from such an important resource seems just as awful. There has got to be a better way.

“A library that is not accessible out of business hours is of as little value as gold horded in a vault and withdrawn from circulation,” said Alexander Graham Bell. I looked it up–at the library.

When Leslie’s not researching obscure quotes at the library, she’s online writing them at For more columns visit or read Leslie’s columns every Friday in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 21, 2008.

Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Lynn Montgomery

Lynn Montgomery (courtesy photo)

Lynn Montgomery (courtesy photo)

Children’s book author sees the beauty in every opportunity.

Award-winning documentary producer and television writer Lynn Montgomery
recently turned her talents to Butt Ugly, a children’s picture book that tells the
story of a loveable little green mutt who needs a home. Not only does this heart-
warming story teach children important lessons about self-esteem, the book was
printed in a 100% green manner.

Leslie Dinaberg: How did you go from writing television to writing your book, “Butt

Lynn Montgomery: When I was writing television I was working 100 hours a week and didn’t
have children … I stayed in television for about 10 years, the amount of money
that they give you to write for television is obscene. And I was never doing it
really for the money, I was doing it because I loved to write and I loved to write
more than I loved to get all this money, so eventually the love of writing went out
for me in television and I decided that I would just write features and continue
with writing some books that I had started.

LD: So you’re working on both picture books and young adult books. Are they all

LM: Well I have a comedic voice. … My goal is to make you laugh and make you
cry and if I accomplish both of those then I am really happy.

LD: How did you decide to incorporate the green aspects into the book?

LM: I have always been passionate about the environment. … In writing a
children’s book, this was an opportunity to make it as green as possible. The
story is for children that is an uplifting important story about self-esteem with the
name-calling, but also is a way to educate the children about the environment
and about recycling. This book is made 100% recycled- the paper is 100%
recycled, the paper is not bleached, so it doesn’t produce any dioxins in the
bleaching processing, … most ink is petroleum-based ink, this ink is vegetable
based ink and then I even was able to go a step further. It was printed in the U.S.
because most four-color children’s books … the vast majority of four-color
children’s books are printed in Asia, in Singapore and China, and there are no
environmental standards. Ancient forests being cut down to print children’s books
where we tell stories about preserving the environment. It makes no sense to me.
So this was printed in the U.S. and it was printed by a printer in St. Louis that
runs on wind power.

LD: Wow.

1117-Butt_Ugly-540LM: I just did as much research as I possibly could to find out how could I make
this as green as green can be. … Then after the book was printed, I found out
about this new wonderful organization called Eco Libris … it’s a tree offset
company … when you make a contribution to them a tree will be planted in a
developing company. … So not only is the book green and no trees were cut
down to create this book, but also trees are being planted if you buy this

LD: That’s great. That’s really a nice give back.

LM: So you can feel good about buying the book.

LD: How does that pencil out in terms of the cost of the book?

LM: It’s twice as expensive to publish a book this way, but we have to start. I’m
not going to make a lot of money on this book, but what I’m trying to do is start a
conversation within the publishing world.

LD: And you are also donating some money from the book to CALM.

LM: Yes, some of the proceeds are going to CALM. I used to be on the board of
CALM … also some of the proceeds will go to animal rescue

LD: Are you working on another children’s book?

LM: Yes, there’s another on in the series which is called Butt Ugly Love, he falls
in love with the most beautiful dog he every saw. She’s absolutely perfect and
he’s smitten at first sight. It’s about true love and you find out on the last page as
they are strutting off into the sunset that she only has three legs. Of course he
never saw that and it didn’t matter he’s in love and she’s perfect she’s

LD: That’s very sweet.

LM: … Then there’s a third in the series,Butt Uglier, and that’s of course when
they have puppies. And then that’s it.

LD: So where are you with the books?

LM: Butt Ugly Love will be out around Christmas 09, the story is written and the
illustrator is working on the illustrations and right now she’s at the point of trying
to conceptualize what this beautiful dog that he falls in love with will look like.

LD: Is the illustrator someone you had a connection to?

LM: The illustrator is Terrie Redding, she was from Santa Barbara and she
moved to Dallas, Texas a couple of years ago. … Then my husband does all the
coloration and then the layout. I had no idea what a huge aspect of book
publishing art direction would be.

LD: What’s your husband’s name?

LM: Richard Kriegler. He is an Art Director, Matte Painter and Concept Artist and
he’s done scores of movies, and children’s films, he’s done Stuart Little and
Pinocchio and Thomas and the Magic Railroad and he also did Contact and
What Dreams May Come.

LD: That was a beautiful looking movie.

LM: What Dreams May Come, what inspired him, he did the concept work for
that movie, and do you remember the art that he disappeared into? Those were
inspired by Richard’s paintings that are hanging in our house.

LD: Oh, those are gorgeous.

LM: So I always say thank goodness I’m married to Richard because otherwise I
never would have been able to afford him … He’s also the art director for one of
the top selling videos games in the world. So I tell him that this is his penance he
has to pay for taking children away from reading, he has to art direct all of my
children’s books.

LD: How long have you been in town?

LM: We’ve been here going on 11 years. I first moved here, our big entree into
Santa Barbara, this big old run down house that had been on the market for four
years, I think. And then when we bought it somebody told me about CALM and
how they do the designer showcase house. And we had done houses before and
renovated them but never one quite this large and never one where we had two
small children. Hannah was six months old at the time. So we put the house up
to be a design showcase house … so it’s like we came into town and opened our
home to thousands of people. So I am always running into people that say, “Oh
yeah, do you still have that train bed in your son’s room?” (Laughs) Everybody in
town has been in our house.

LD: What else do you do when you’re not working?

LM: Well I love to garden, I love to go on walks through beautiful Santa Barbara,
and I mean we’re so lucky to live here. I explore areas up the coast, I love to
hike. To take care of my chickens. I love to watch the chickens in the garden. I
always feel like I’m looking at an old painting, just watching the chickens walk
through and free range in the garden, it’s so beautiful and peaceful. I think it must
lower your blood pressure.

… I’m always working on some cause. Right now it’s to the send the fifth graders
at Roosevelt to Astronomy Camp. … We need to raise $15,000 to send the kids,
and I happened to raise my hand at the meeting and said I’ll take that

LD: It’s supposed to be a great camp.

LM: … Our fundraiser is going to be a Chicken Coop Tour, Loupe de Coop on
March 22.

LD: That sounds really fun.

Vital Stats: Lynn Montgomery

Born: Upland, CA, on April 24th

Family: Husband Richard Kriegler; daughter Hannah, 10; and son Austin,

Civic Involvement: CALM, Roosevelt School, Pearl Chase Society

Professional Accomplishments: Won a Writer’s Guild Award Adapting Mrs. Piggle
Wiggle for Showtime and Universal; won an LA Emmy award for writing and
producing a documentary that dealt with the failures of the child abuse protective
system in Los Angeles; produced a 100% green children’s four-color children’s
picture book, Butt Ugly.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, It was
wonderful for getting inside the head of a dog; there are some chapters in there
that I will re-read many times in my life, but they’ll always make me cry.”

Little-Known Fact: “I have never had a beer in my life, but I love wine.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on November 16, 2008. Click here to read it.

Family first

8ball2Sometimes I feel like a Magic 8-Ball, making mundane yet still crucial decisions for my family all day long.

“Should we have pasta for dinner?” “Signs point to yes.”

“Can I wait till after dinner to start my homework?” “Outlook not so good.”

“It looks sunny, should I wear shorts today?” “As I see it, yes.”

“Can we bring snack to soccer on Saturday?” “Reply hazy, try again.”

“Can the classroom rats come home with us for Thanksgiving break?” “My sources say no.”

“Pretty please.” “Don’t count on it.”

Quite frankly, other than the rats, I could go either way on most of these day-to-day decisions, which is why I try to not to waste a whole lot of thought on the more mundane matters of motherhood. Sometimes I actually do use a Magic 8-Ball to make decisions and nobody cares.

This past week, I couldn’t help thinking about how different things must be now for Future First Lady Michelle Obama when she makes family decisions. She has described her upcoming role as “Mommy-in-Chief” to emphasize that the girls will be her top priority while living in the White House. It’s not that I don’t think Barack will be involved too, but let’s face it, he’s got a new job and he’ll be traveling a lot and most of the day to day decisions will fall into Michelle’s more-than-capable hands.

Decisions decisions.

She can’t just pick an outfit out of her closet–or dress her kids–without being scrutinized to death. Just days after the election, “The Wall Street Journal” reported that stores across the country were selling out of the Biscotti Inc. dress Malia wore on Election Night, and that Gerson & Gerson Inc., maker of Sasha’s dress, has been calling retailers to let them know it’ll soon be coming out with a new version of the dress (“The Sasha”). What are the girls going to wear? She has to decide–and other people really care.

Everyone and their brother are weighing in on what kind of puppy she should get the girls. Should it be a pure bred or a shelter dog? Should it be hypoallergenic or is there really such a thing? Should it be black or white or black and white, or are we beyond caring about such matters? She has to decide–and other people really care.

She also has to pick a new school for the girls, which she is reported to be researching now. Public or private? It’s a big decision. Amy Carter went to a public school in part to bolster her dad’s everyman image, but she wasn’t allowed to play outside during recess because the playground was too close to the street.

Chelsea Clinton went to Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker-run school, but her parents also took flack for that. Then again Tricia Nixon is also an alum, so it could be considering “reaching across the aisle.” This whole school decision is awfully complicated. She has to decide–and other people really care.

The world already knows that Malia and Sasha set their own alarm clocks and adhere to a strict 8 p.m. bedtime. But what if their schedule changes in Washington? What if they have too much homework at their new school and need to stay up a little later to finish it? Not to mention staying up a little later to get some face-time with daddy. Mom has to decide about that–and other people really care.

And what if the girls need a raise in their $1-a-week allowance. Mom has to decide about that too–and other people really care.

The latest thing I heard–courtesy of “The Rachel Maddow Show“–is that the producers of “Hannah Montana” have asked the Obama’s daughters to come on as visitors or in a guest role “any time they would like.” So all of the sudden it’s not, “Mom can we watch ‘Hannah Montana?'” It’s, “Mom, can we be on ‘Hannah Montana?'”

And not only does Mom have to decide whether to let her daughters appear on their very favorite TV show, she can’t even stonewall them with my favorite Magic 8-Ball phrases like, “Ask again later” or “Cannot predict now,” because the show has agreed to work around their schedule. Oh boy. She has to decide–and other people really care.

I wish I didn’t care so much about this particular Mom’s decisions about her two little girls. I’m conflicted about my desire to watch Sasha and Malia grow up and I’m uncomfortable with the fact that I have such access to the lives of little girls who aren’t related to me.

Should we really care so much about the lives of the First Family? I’m not sure. So I pull out the Magic 8-Ball. My answer: “Concentrate and ask again later.”

Some girls dream of fancy cars, furs and jewels. Others fantasize about being the first president of the United States or running the United Nations. Leslie, however, has always fantasized about one thing: writing a book. She wrote this one with local writers Cheryl Crabtree, Zak Klobucher (“Mr. Leslie”), Nancy Ransohoff and Starshine Roshell. Come meet the authors and check out their new book, “Hometown Santa Barbara,” on Thursday, November 20 at 7 p.m. at Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State Street.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 14, 2008.

Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg sits down with Clay Nelson

Clay Nelson walks workshop clients through the steps necessary to achieve purpose, personal and business planning, fun, effective delegation through team management, and accountability. (Clay Nelson Life Balance™ photo)

Clay Nelson walks workshop clients through the steps necessary to achieve purpose, personal and business planning, fun, effective delegation through team management, and accountability. (Clay Nelson Life Balance™ photo)

Life Coach Clay Nelson has been working with businesses and individuals to improve lives for more than 25 years. Starting this week, he’ll share with Noozhawk readers his time-tested techniques for helping people and companies fulfill their potential, maximize profits, and make themselves, their clients, and their families happier.

Leslie Dinaberg: What are some of the basic ideas that you teach with Clay Nelson Life Balance(tm)?

Clay Nelson: … I’ve been teaching people for 25 years to take care of themselves first and to put their family first and to have a billing system that serves them and they understand, and to understand what margins are and to understand marketing and to understand the value of writing down what you want so you can create what’s next, just not store what you already know.

…Family comes first. Think about that. You’re on your deathbed; money can’t hug you, number one. Number two, I doubt any of your previous clients will be there, so you have to really be looking at what’s really important, and that’s family. Then who are we the roughest on? And that’s family. So I’ve been getting people straight.

A lot of what I speak on in my speaking endeavors and my radio show and my newsletter and my blog and my “Just a Thought” email bulletins is all about communication and all about hugs and all about effective listening and all about having a plan and all about getting what you want first so you can teach others.

… Plus if you’re over 40 years old nowadays, whether you like it or not, you’re a leader, everybody’s watching you. So if you’re broke, bent over, tired and your truck’s all dirty, who is going to want to follow you? So you’ve got to be healthy, you’ve got to be able to forgive on your feet, you’ve got to be able to dance with the future, you’ve be able to stand around and say “I don’t know but let’s get it on because that’s what we do.” Then everybody dies at the end. (Laughs).

LD: It seems like now, as opposed to 25 years ago, people are starting to get that idea that it’s not just about how you are in the office, it’s about how you are in life. But I would imagine when you started out that was not something that everybody bought into.

CN: No, 25 years ago people would listen to me and go what planet did you come from? But now people want to hear what I have to say. My speaking career has tripled in the last 15 months. And you know the truth is what I’m saying now just has a different title, but what I’m saying I said 25 years ago, and it’s not about how cool Clay is, it’s just what human beings need to be with each other.

I mean stop being jerks. And if you don’t like what you’ve got, plan to have something different. And if somebody’s got something more than you got, take them to lunch, ask them how they did it and then be quiet. They’ll tell you.

LD: So what will the column for Noozhawk be about?

CN: The column is going to be talking about how you can have what you want, talking about planning, talking about forgiveness, talking about health, talking about how we merge all of it together, your spiritual side, your financial side, your family side and everything else all together because that’s what it’s all about.

… Life is all about the choices that you make. Everybody talks about how they were influenced one way or another and the truth is you may be influenced but the choice you made was yours … You are the only person that has a say in how your life turns out. So if you don’t have what you want or if you don’t have the health you want or if you don’t have the relationship you want or if you don’t have the money you want, you can change it because you did it.

… There is no past eraser, all you can do is learn from it and if it felt good and didn’t hurt anybody, do it again. (Laughs) If it didn’t feel good or it hurt somebody, say you’re sorry and don’t do it again. And that’s life. There isn’t anything else.

LD: That’s powerful.

CN: I mean what else can you do? You know if you want to live from feeling bad for what you did, okay. But it’s in the past, you can’t change it. You can only learn from it.

LD: It sounds like what you’re talking about would have an application for almost anybody.

CN: Anybody. If you’re over eight and you can read, all the way up to 80 and you still want to read. I don’t care who it is, male or female, we’re all the same.

LD: And when you’re preparing to speak to a group of teenagers versus a group of contractors, are the basics the same or are they different?

CN: I think where I want to leave them is the same, in that they are the only person that has a say in how their life turns out, and if there’s something driving them from their past they have to forgive it, make room for it, if they don’t whatever stays in their conscious mind the longest they become.

… My biggest problem with the talks I give is I’ll get in trouble either with the Fire Marshall, because there are too many people who want in the room, or I get in trouble with the next speaker that is coming in because nobody wants to leave. They come up to me and say the same thing; you were talking just to me.

LD: That’s great that you can connect with people in that way.

CN: Yeah. They get that I’ve lived where they are and I’m not telling them to go change or fix anything, I’m saying, “hey, if you don’t have what you want, choose something and get moving. ”

… The human mind is a wonderful tool, but it’s designed to keep you safe, and safe lives in something you’ve already done. Or the past. So if your mind is designed to keep you in the past, if you think about stuff do you think your mind is going to let you step out there and do something you haven’t done? No, your mind’s going to say you’re going to die, your mom’s going to be mad at you, you’re going to prison, you’ll have to eat worms, your pants are going to drop off. (Laughs). I don’t know, whatever it is, whatever it takes to stop you your mind will do. So I live my life with enough fear in it so that the hair stands up on my arms all the time, but not so much fear that I get stopped. So I want to have just enough fear to feel alive, but not so much fear that I have to be stopped. And if there isn’t enough fear to have my hairs stand up on my arms, I go make some because that’s life.

Also it keeps me from bending my elbow and putting too much food in my mouth.

LD: I can’t wait to see what you do on Noozhawk. How long have you been in Santa Barbara?

CN: For 31 years.

LD: What else do you do when you’re not working?

CN: I love to go fishing and not talk. … I have a Harley that I ride and you don’t talk on the phone when you’re on that thing. … I love to garden. … I have Hitch, my new 9-month-old English bulldog who is my best friend. No matter what I do it’s okay with him. We go to the beach two and three times a week so it gets me out more and away from the telephone and I get to play with him. I’ve been married for 24 years, living together for 30 years and I’ve almost lived through the hormone change. I get to know whether I’m going to live or die first thing in the morning. That’s supposed to be humorous.

LD: It’s too close to be humorous. If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

CN: Intuitive, unstoppable, energized-that assumes I know what an adjective is, by the way.

Vital Stats: Clay Nelson

Born: “On April 28, 1944 in El Paso, Texas in an airplane with my twin sister. My mom was flying from the East Coast to the West Coast; my dad was building Camp Roberts. … They had to put the plane down in El Paso because the twins were born on the plane.”

Family: Wife Susan Oyloe Nelson; Audre, age 36, lives in Santa Cruz, and is getting her Ph.D. in psychology; Elizabeth, age 22, attended Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and is now working for Jacqua Beauty in Carpinteria; C.J., age 17, is a senior at Dos Pueblos, and taking classes at SBCC.

Civic Involvement: His own 501(c)3 Transforming America’s Youth (TAY), Special Olympics, Unity Shoppe, Safe Harley Riders, Toys for Tots Ride

Professional Accomplishments: 30 years of corporate leadership, founder of Clay Nelson Life Balance(tm), a division of Consulting Services Network LLC.

Little-Known Fact: “My secret desire is to build a go-cart out of a Harley engine I have in my garage.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on November 11, 2008. Click here to read the article on that site.