Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg sits down with Nancy Harter

Nancy Harter, courtesy photo

Nancy Harter, courtesy photo

After eight years of service of service on the Santa Barbara School Board, Nancy Harter has earned some reflection time. She talks about what it was like to sit on the board, and what she has planned for the future.

Leslie Dinaberg: How did you get interested in running for school board?

Nancy Harter: In March of 2000 when the secondary bond (a $67 million bond to
improve the infrastructure and modernization of aging campuses)
was on the ballot, Irene Falzone and I co-chaired the campaign. She was a
Santa Barbara High parent at the time; I was a Dos Pueblos parent. Once I got
through that election I started to become a regular at board meetings, then I
decided to run in November.

LD: Are your kids out of the school system now?

NH: Yes, long since. People run who don’t currently have kids in the system and
I think that they can do a terrific job, but for me, a big part of being on the school
board was having that network and knowing at least a couple of staff members
on every single campus and on some campuses knowing a lot of the staff
members, so when issues would come up you had people to call, people to
network with and find out what would be the impact would be on the school.

LD: I think you get less agenda-driven information if you’re calling them as
someone that you’ve known for a while, as opposed to as a board

NH: Right, for me it made a big difference. Actually one of my favorite columns of
yours was the one about going to the PTA meetings because that’s what
happens, you start going to the PTA meetings, you take on more and more
responsibility, the next thing you know you’re the president and then low and
behold, the next thing you know you’re running for school board.

LD: The whole thing has been interesting to me because I started covering
school issues before my son was in school. My perspective definitely changed
having been involved on the inside.

NH: Yes, your perspective changes. You personally have a lot more invested and
there’s just that unbelievable personal connection.

LD: That probably gives you a good insight too.

NH: I think it did. My kids attended the Goleta Elementary Schools but for
secondary, I was a secondary parent from 1992 until 2005, so for 13

LD: Were you ready to be done?

NH: I wouldn’t say that, because there are still issues simmering on the stove
that I would really like to be a part of but, you know, better to leave a day early
than a day late was how I felt about it. I really was not anxious to do another
campaign. Sort of the upside and the downside of school boards in Santa
Barbara is that really good people always run, but it’s an election. You can’t just
assume that you’ll be able to retain your seat without running a

LD: What were some of the highlights of your school board experience?

NH: … A big part of it was building relationships, creating a bigger network,
creating relationships with other agencies. The City of Santa Barbara for
instance, we’ve got a great relationship with them now and it was virtually non-
existent when I came on to the board.

… Another big piece for me was the whole paying it forward sort of piece. When I
came on to the board it was a great board-Fred Rifkin, Claire Van Blaricum,
Bob Noel, Steve Forsell-and Claire really helped me with my campaign and
mentored me as a new board member. I took that responsibility really seriously,
so there wasn’t a single election cycle that went by in my eight years where I
didn’t encourage somebody to run, help them with their campaign and then help
them get started on the board.

LD: Are you going to stay involved in local politics or local school issues?

NH: For me it’s about educational policy. I’m not interested in running for
anything else, I’m really happy to be involved in the nonprofit world and efforts
surrounding the schools but I don’t think I’ll ever run for anything again. (Laughs)
It’s a really different skill set to put yourself out there and sell yourself to
somebody with that tape running in your head of your mother saying that the
least interesting topic of conversation is yourself, it’s just hard to put yourself out
there. But I find it very easy to work with other people and collaborate with other
people over issues to come to resolution. I’m not a natural born campaigner,
that’s for sure.

LD: When we scheduled this interview I thought it would be completely non-
controversial, but I did read your op-ed piece in Noozhawk and I have to ask you
about the Bob Noel editorial. Why did you finally write that?

NH: You know, I’m not interested in rehashing it. I stand by what I said and I
don’t need to keep beating the drum. It really had to do with calling for the
superintendent’s resignation and then not participating in the process. … it was
more about the method than about the message.

LD: Is there anything you wish you would have said or done differently in

NH: … I’m not a regretful person, so I would say no. I think I worked really hard
to keep a high level of discourse, and that was the kind of board that I came on
to, and I think I succeeded.

LD: So what’s next?

NH: I have always been involved in the nonprofit world and I’m taking on some
new nonprofit responsibilities and I would just really like to pour myself into that in
the short term and then see how things play out. There’s no grand plan in place.
You acquire this incredible body of knowledge about educational policy and then
you go off the board and it’s like, so now where do I take this? So hopefully there
will be some opportunities that allow me to tap into that expertise, but I don’t
know what they are yet.

LD: Do you have any advice for anyone considering local public office?

NH: I think a lot of people don’t run because they think that as a school board
member that you have some sort of legacy building obligation, that somehow you
need to create some new program or accomplish some grand achievement and I
really think that that is a mistake. I think that you can build a legacy by coming
really well prepared to every single school board meeting, by talking to your
friends and neighbors about issues and getting different opinions. I don’t think it
has to be something physical left behind when you’re done with your

I think that there are a lot of really smart capable people out there who have a
really passionate interest in schools and then talk themselves out of it. And we’re
lucky in this area in Santa Barbara and in all of our surrounding school districts;
there are a lot of really smart people who are willing to run for school board. But
you know I don’t think that people should be, certainly they shouldn’t be scared
away by the issues. You know you’re involved in group think, you’re problem
solving with other people, the burden isn’t solely on you. But also, I think people
get scared away when they read in the paper about the occasional inflammatory
public comment and that’s not every board meeting.

LD: I would imagine you would have to get used to that somewhat too, not that it
would ever become easy.

NH: Well if you have a good internal compass you know which public comments
to pay attention and to take to heart, and you know which to just flip the switch
and just not pay any attention.

… I think we’re lucky, especially in the secondary district, we’re one of the few
areas where everybody takes advantage of the public school system with a
handful of exceptions and I think the secondary is one of those school districts
where you probably have the biggest group of haves and have nots who come
together every school day. And that doesn’t happen in a lot of communities.

… When you have a really bad night at a school board meeting, the best antidote
is to get to a school campus some time before the end of the week because the
energy is just unbelievable on any of the campuses. I really like it.

Vital Stats: Nancy Harter

Born: San Francisco, April 29, 1953

Family: Husband Larry; daughter Anne, age 28; son Jake, age 25; and daughter
Julia age 21.

Civic Involvement: Santa Barbara School Board; Santa Barbara Education
Foundation; Future leaders of America, Berkeley Alumni Association’s
Achievement Award Program; joining the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in

Professional Accomplishments: Eight years on the Santa Barbara School Board;
Masters Degree in English, taught freshman English at the University of
Nebraska; has a law degree but never practiced law. “My oldest was born my
third year of law school, so my involvement in the world has almost always been

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of
Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder, but I
usually read fiction.

Originally published in Noozhawk on February 29, 2008.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Mammography patient (1)

By Bill Branson (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Take deep breaths, I console. It’s only once a year and it’s for a good cause, I reassure. I’ll give you chocolate afterward if you behave yourself.

No, I’m not bribing my son to sit still for the annual performance of the Nutcracker. I’m bribing myself to get through round 13 with that stupid machine. You know, the one that was invented by the same sadistic guy who came up with stiletto heels and thong underwear. That’s right, it’s time for my annual pressing engagement with the slammogram.

A perky technician shows me to the dressing room while she goes to prepare the torture chamber. I try not to hate her. She didn’t invent the stupid machine. She’s just doing her job, like a good Nazi.

Yes, I realize this is an x-ray that could actually save my life–as opposed to the two grand it ends up costing me every time I get x-rayed at the dentist–but does it have to smash my breasts into pancakes? And if so, could I please get them Mickey Mouse-shaped? When did the ability to do gymnastics become a requirement of mammary glands? Breast-feeding was hard enough. The girls aren’t that agile any more. They’re not up to the task this year. Can’t we just skip it?

That little voice in my head (my mother’s this time) tells me to carry on. I console myself with a recent article I read that found left handedness to be associated with pre-menopausal breast cancer. Thank God I’m a normal, right-handed person.

Chin up and right hand tingling, I let the tech push me through the door of the x-ray room.

There’s no way on earth that a woman could have invented this torture machine. What female would ever imagine that you could take a 36-B cup and morph it into a 48-long in 47 seconds flat. That’s 47 seconds FLAT, get it? Who knew that the human breast could be stretched, pulled, twisted and squished over a freezing cold piece of plastic machinery, and still pop back into a reasonably satisfactory shape sometime within the next 72 hours (I hope). If guys had to get peckergrams, you know that machine would be velvet lined, and have a cup holder for beer.

“That’s great,” says the torturer. “Can you swing your right arm over the top of your left ear, stand on your tip toes and twist your hips to the right so they’re at 65 degree angle? Okay, now I need you to hold your right breast back with your left pinkie so we don’t get a shadow.”

See what I mean about gymnastics?

“Now hold your breath.” I try my best, but the giggles start to slip out. I remember how excited I was to get my first bra. Who knew that it would someday come to this?

“That’s great, you’re done,” says the tech.

I’m feeling better already. It’s the right thing for my health, and I don’t have to do this for another year. Plus I get chocolate. Yippee.

The tech taps me on my shoulder. I haven’t quite escaped.

“Now put your breasts into this stamped, self-addressed envelope and we’ll send it back to you in two weeks with the results.”

Singing mammograms can be directed to Leslie via email.

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

When the pain of rain meets the joys of boys

Photo by Harrison Keely

Photo by Harrison Keely

Santa Barbara isn’t very well equipped for rainy days.

Neither is my son.

Eventually, when you coop up 59 pounds of eight-year-old boy energy inside a teeny tiny house for too long, something’s got to give.

Usually it’s my sanity.

While I would be perfectly happy — ecstatic, in fact — to spend a rainy day inside, curled up on the couch with a good book, my son looks at that same couch and sees a trampoline, a mountain to climb, or a boxing ring.

At first it’s kind of amusing. After all, we have old furniture for a reason.

But the last weekend it rained here was four days long, thanks to a teacher in-service day. They got trained and I got drilled. That’s 96 hours of rain, and what felt like 906 hours of being cooped up indoors.

When Koss started playing vaseball, with an aim at my roses, I lost my sense of humor, took a few deep breaths and tried to imagine how other moms of boys (MOBs) would handle it.

I remember Sally Cappon telling me about how when it rained on one of her three son’s birthday parties, she had the boys do indoor relay races up and down her hallway. They loved it.

Unfortunately, in my house, the “hallway” consists of the living room, which adjoins the bedrooms to the kitchen. So much for that plan.

Another MOB friend, Andrea Peterson, encourages her three sons to play outside in rain, sleet and snow. “So what if they get dirty, it comes off,” is her philosophy. Great logic, unless of course, like me, you only have one child, which means I’d be the one to brave the elements.

No thanks. I’m still sneezing and injured from the last three minutes I tried to play mudball.

Even if I were willing to break the rules about television and computer use for the weather, the poor kid can only sit still for so long.

No matter how much you try to civilize them, little boys are wired for action.

Before he was born I was sure I would raise him exactly the same way I would have raised a girl.

Then I woke up and discovered how little it mattered what I did.

It took Koss about 10 minutes to decide he liked his stuffed football toy better than his teddy bear and another 10 minutes to decide that peeing in my face was hysterically funny.

I’ll never forget pushing one-year-old Koss and his friend Sophia on the swings at La Mesa Park. A gardener drove by on a mini tractor.

You would have thought Barney had landed in a giant space ship and was handing out lollipops the way Koss jumped up and down on his swing.

Meanwhile, Sophia was happily gazing at the trees.

Big machines became one of the highlights of our lives. We would stake out construction sites — to the point where I’m sure the crew thought I was a stalker. For a really special outing, I’d take him to climb on the lawn mowers at Home Depot.

Rather than imagine the beautiful rows of peonies he might plant, when he climbed on the mower, he’d pretend to shoot aliens or be racing through the desert. Whatever the imaginary game, he always won.

Boys, apparently, can make a competition out of anything.

We recently went to the Long Beach Aquarium, where the highlights of Koss’s day were shooting the life-sized dolphin- and whale-shaped squirt guns at brave passers-by and watching the harbor seals compete for a raft. Koss and several other little boys actually got the crowd chanting, “Go Red, Go Red” (for the seal with the red identifying tag) in his battle to dominate “Yellow” for play pool superiority. The boys were so enthusiastic that I half-expected a flurry of Pokeman cards and marbles to change hands after each round.

Ah, the joys of MOB-dom.

Ah, the joys of rain.

Since we had already taken Koss to every movie that could conceivably be deemed appropriate, we took him to run some errands, just to get out of the house.

He dismantled the children’s section at Borders, and then created an obstacle course at Long’s.

If this weather doesn’t let up soon I’ll be destined to spend the rest of his childhood disguised in dark glasses and blonde wig, lest someone should associate me with this miniature wild man wrecking havoc on what used to be our sleepy little town.

On the way home I called the newslines, checking to see what other havoc the weather has created. Surprisingly, the only thing on there was a fire department report from Santa Maria about a bull with a plastic bucket stuck on his head. Apparently the bull was able to get the bucket off without firefighter intervention.

I laughed as I told Koss about the “big news story” of the weekend.

I could almost see the light bulb light in his boy-wired brain.

“Do you think the firefighters would come to our house if I could get a bucket to stick on my head?”

Maybe, just this once, I’ll let him have a little extra time on the computer. Eight hours of can’t be that bad, can it?

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on February 19, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Chris Mkpado

“Saving the world, one piece of trash at a time,” is the motto for Textile Waste Solutions. Since Christopher Mkpado founded the company in 1995, he has quietly recycled tens of millions of pounds of textiles that would have otherwise ended up in our local landfill.

Leslie Dinaberg: Tell me about Textile Waste Solutions (

Chris Mkpado: Basically … it is a new kind of trash company. The difference between what we do and what the regular trash companies do, the big difference, is they take trash from homes or from wherever they pick it up, take it straight to the landfill and bury it. We have a different idea. The idea is to take this specialized stuff that is recyclable and recycle it so that it doesn’t go into the landfill.

Textile waste is about eight percent of our total waste; it’s a very valuable number in the sense that 95 to 98 percent of textiles are recyclable. The economic benefit from that is huge. It outweighs other recyclables. … Let’s take our immediate environment, Santa Barbara County. The need for industrial rags in Santa Barbara County is huge. Santa Barbara County will spend up to $1 million every year on rags.

LD: Wow. That’s a lot of money.

CM: So here you have $1 million of product that is used in this county that used to come from outside of the county. The raw material was right here, but in the past it was buried in the landfill. You lose on tax revenue when you do that too. … When a contractor … picks up a bag of rags or a box of rags, he pays sales tax, right? Where does that sales tax end up? It goes back to Orange County or San Diego or wherever. Basically it goes out of the county. So look at the $1 million industry that the county must pay on rags, $75,000 of sales tax is lost.

LD: My speculation is that most people probably don’t realize that the product is actually available locally. They’re probably patting themselves on the back thinking, “Oh, this is recycled.”

CM: You’re correct. We’re very happy to hear about the green movement now and all this excitement that people are getting into, but thing is we’ve got to do it and do it right. … We want to do it where we can reap the most economic advantage. That’s what it’s all about.

… When I started, my business was export-based … now I realize there is this local need for this product. We can serve this market in this county. The county will be making extra tax dollars.

LD: How did you start this business?

CM: We started when I came to this country (He’s originally from Cameroon). My wife Sharol (Mulder) and I were married in Korea. We came to Santa Barbara, her hometown, when she was pregnant with our son Christian (now 15). … I was looking for what I could do and I have a background in export. … So I decided I would start looking for things that I could export.

LD: And you started out sending used clothes to third world countries?

CM: Jim DePew (who lived in Montecito and owned thrift stores all over) had been trying to export used clothing and failed. …. That’s how it all got started.

… But he couldn’t supply us the quantity we needed. So then I started looking into how else can I get extra supplies. And I found that there are thrift stores all over the place, right here where I live. So then I decided to approach all these thrift stores and introduced myself. Some of them were kind of lukewarm about the whole idea. Some of them embraced the idea right away, Alpha Thrift Store being one of them. And so we … started taking from thrift stores and decided hey, we need a warehouse, we need this, we need that, and that’s how the whole thing came about.

LD: So at that point in time, your goal was to find stuff that was reusable?

CM: Right.

LD: And assuming there was stuff that wasn’t reusable, was that then being recycled at that point or was that being thrown away?

CM: At that time it was being thrown away. … About 30 percent of everything at that time went to the dump.

… When the idea of the industrial rags came, I said why not. If we can recover 30 percent of this material we turn over it’s going to balance what we’re losing on export. And that’s why we are where we are today.

LD: And now all your materials come straight from thrift stores.

CM: That’s true. … Thrift stores dispose of about 80 percent of all donations. … At Alpha Thrift Store, for example, … every week we are there with a seven-ton truck.

LD: Wow.

CM: Yes, every week seven tons. And that’s one store.

LD: Now I know the city of Santa Barbara has started to buy your product through Buena Tools, and you’ve got the city of Santa Maria on board.

CM: Yes, actually we’ve gotten the most help from the city of Santa Maria. The city of Santa Maria took leadership from day one.

LD: Can you talk a little bit about why textile recycling is so low impact compared to other types of recycling?

CM: Textile recycling is the only recyclable that does not consume a lot of energy to be able to develop it for reuse. It is the only recyclable that you may not need water to make it useable. You don’t need any chemicals to recycle textiles, compared to say plastics, where you need tons of powerful chemicals to recycle plastic. Not that I’m against that, but I’m trying to point out the advantages of recycling textiles. Textiles use the least amount of resources. …. after recycling about three million pounds of textiles, my electric bill every year is under $1,000.

LD: That’s phenomenal.

CM: That’s the energy consumption to recycle about three million pounds. Go recycle three million pounds of cans and see how much you pay in your electricity bill. … You just need the machine to compress it, a little bit of wire, and send it out. … The beauty of this whole thing is that right now as we speak there is a need for industrial rags. This product is going to come from somewhere.

Take the city of Santa Barbara for example, the city was bringing in close to 80,000 pounds a year of rags. And that 80,000 pounds went into the landfill. It’s a disgrace. And now by changing the way things are done, the city has prevented an extra 80,000 pounds from going into the landfill, without even hiring anybody to do the job. I mean how much would it cost the city to divert so much waste?

LD: Your enthusiasm is so infectious. What do you like do when you’re not working?

CM: I like to coach AYSO soccer, that’s my passion. … I can’t wait for the next soccer season.

Vital Stats: Chris Mkpado

Born: Cameroon, West Africa; July 29, 1963

Family: Wife Sharol Mulder; children Christian, 15, Alexandra, 10, and Kele, 10

Civic Involvement: Coaching AYSO soccer; Santa Barbara County Foster Parents Association (

Professional Accomplishments: Worked in the international export business throughout Asia, creating markets in China, Africa, the Philippines, and the former Soviet Union, among others; owner and founder of Textile Waste Solutions

Little-Known Facts: Chris’s middle name is Udodi, which means “peace.” Chris and Sharol adopted their daughter Alex through the foster care system.


Originally published in Noozhawk on February 18, 2008.

Grief Book Benefits Hospice and the Temple

The sun shined on Hospice of Santa Barbara and Congregation B’nai B’r61DjnDCK+3L-1._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ith Sunday afternoon at a special event honoring the publication of Sissy Taran’s new book, The Sun Will Shine Again: Life Lessons from a Year of Grieving, ( with all proceeds going to support the two organizations.

“This is the first time in history of Hospice of Santa Barbara that we’ve ever sponsored a book,” said Executive Director Gail Rink, who interviewed Taran and Rabbi Steve Cohen about their experiences working together. Taran and Rabbi Cohen wrote the book–which documents Taran’s first year of grieving the death of her husband Bernie–through a series of conversations. They met once a week for seven months, primarily at the Breakwater Restaurant, to share the journey Sissy went through.

Rabbi Cohen said he viewed the project as a unique opportunity to learn more about the grief process. He was with the Taran family when they learned of Bernie’s cancer diagnosis, and with them shortly afterward when he passed away. “It was a wonderful but very short-lived period of intimacy,” which he welcomed the opportunity to extend through collaboration on the book project.

He initially decided to become a rabbi because it was important to him to be close to people in key moments of their lives, and saw this project as a rare opportunity for that type of closeness.

One of the most important lessons he learned was that there is not a linear progression from devastation to happiness, Rabbi Cohen said.

“We walk it all differently, but it’s our individual walk. So this, somehow, and I don’t know why, this book was burning within me. Somehow. Because I’ve never written and if I had to sit down at a computer I still wouldn’t have written a book,” said Taran, who taped all of her sessions with Rabbi Cohen and pieced together the book from the transcripts, with the help of editor Laurie Deans Medjuck. “We ended up throwing out about 75 percent of it,” said Taran.

Even though she was, and still is grieving, Taran said she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. “How can you have pity for yourself when you have someone who’s there for you with so much love,” she said of her collaboration with Rabbi Cohen.

“I don’t know how I or Sissy or any of us would have faced this journey alone,” said

Congresswoman Lois Capps, who was widowed in 1997. “You’ve created a beautiful thing out of most deep and personal pain. What a lesson and what a gift!”

Through writing this book I found something within me that wanted to help myself and other people, said Taran. “Today’s benefit is my way of giving back to two organizations close to my heart.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on February 12, 2008.

Valentines Day is Not For Wimps

lovebirds by smarnad via

lovebirds by smarnad via

I know a lot of people feel pressure around the December holidays, what with coming up with the perfect card, trying to buy eight nights worth of Hanukah gifts that make your kids kvell but don’t make your wallet groan, and attempting to make it snow in Santa Barbara. Despite what your friends may have told you, I’ve tried both the disco version and the salsa style and I’m 99.37% sure that doing a snow dance doesn’t work.

But the end of the year holiday pressure is nothing compared to Valentine’s Day. It’s not what you think … so quit trying to picture me in my underwear. Despite the overabundance of Victoria’s Secret ads, I don’t feel the need to get in touch with my inner porn star this month or surprise my honey with a heart tattoo. No, it’s my inner Martha Stewart who’s tugging on my ear this week.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, when my husband and I were young and in love and didn’t know any better, we started a Valentine’s Day tradition of making something for each other.

It all started with a six-pack of wine coolers. I made that first painting on a cardboard box canvas, with nail polish and lipstick–I’d had too many Bartles & Jaymes to go out and buy actual art supplies.

Little did I know what a monster I’d unleashed.

Zak made me a window box the next year, and a tradition was born.

There would be none of that wimpy Hallmark holiday stuff for us. No silly stuffed teddy bears, boxes of candy or overpriced roses for us. No sir. We wouldn’t get sucked into the commercialism of Valentine’s Day like those other saps. Never mind that I like roses and chocolate. I don’t even hate teddy bears. But buying something off the shelf for Valentine’s Day was for people who weren’t creative. Our gifts would come straight from our hands, and our hearts.

Over the years I’ve made books out of doilies and heart stickers, penned poems and plays, glued popsicle sticks into picture frames, and fashioned pink and red plastic wires in boxes. I’ve made candles, soap, ceramics, mosaics, pop-up cards, scrapbooks, and just about anything else you can find in the craft aisle. You name it, I’ve made it, and I’ve inadvertently ingested gallons of glitter and glue along the way, which can’t be good for my few remaining brain cells.

After 18 years of romantic, ah, gestures, I’m beginning to see why those Hallmark people keep resorting to talking teddy bears and puerile poetry. They’ve been coming up with Valentine ideas for a bazillion years now and I’m ready to wimp out after less than two decades.

While Hallmark cranks out hundreds of cards and cheap little dust collectors each year, I struggle to come up with one measly new Valentine idea for my husband every February.

There are only five days left until V-Day and I’ve got a new challenge this time.

See, last year our son, Oedipus, pitched a fit when he found out that mommy made daddy a set of fuzzy heart-shaped golf club covers for Valentine’s Day, while all he got was a new soccer ball that wasn’t even handmade. So now I’m feeling pressure to create not one, but two perfect Valentine’s Day gifts.

Do you think I could get away with putting handmade bows around a puppy and a beer?

If not, does anyone know where I can get a beer making kit? And, no, I don’t want the puppy making kit. The last thing I need around here on V-Day is some bitch in Victoria’s Secret.

I’ve got it! Two birds, one stone. Honey–I wrote this column just for you. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on February 8, 2008.

Behind the Scenes at the Election Office

If the seventh and eighth grade students from Anacapa School are any kind of a barometer, then, as the national media predicts, young people are engaged in this presidential election with an extraordinary level of interest.

County Clerk, Recorder and Assessor Joe Holland took the students on a behind-the-scenes tour of the election office on Thursday to demonstrate what happens to the 35,000 absentee ballots that had already been received by that day (he expects that 50,000 of the 183,000 Santa Barbara County registered voters will have voted by mail by election day).

With the increasing numbers of people that vote by mail, “election day is actually 29 days long now,” Holland explained to founding headmaster Gordon Sichi’s American History and Society class.

The first step in the envelope’s journey to being counted is the signature on the outside, explained Holland. “There’s a bar code on there that tells us who you are. So when we receive that envelope back, we send it through a machine that’s called an ASR, automatic signature recognition machine. It goes through and compares your signature with the signature that we have on file for you with your voter registration card, and if it matches then it accepts it. If it doesn’t match, like for me, I’m Joseph E. Holland, if I leave out the ‘E’ it won’t match. So then what we do with the ones that don’t match, we’ll actually have a person pull that up, oh look at it’s the same J and the S and the PH, and accept it. But this machine actually accepts about 80 percent of all the envelopes that are returned,” he said.

If someone sends in an envelope without a signature, the elections office tries to contact him or her in order to have him or her sign the ballot so that it can be counted. Once the signatures are verified, the next step is to open the envelopes. The eighth grade students who had taken the elections office tour the year before were impressed to see that a new automated ballot-opening machine had replaced the tables of people with letter openers.

“How much did the new machine cost?” asked a student.

“We’re leasing it right now, but it’ll cost us about $80,000 to buy,” answered Holland.

“Is it worth it?” asked another student.

Holland thinks it is. The machine, which can open about 5,000 envelopes per hour, cuts them open on three sides to make sure that no ballots are stuck inside. Part of the reason for this security measure, he explained, is that in the 1992 primary there was a really close race for county supervisor (between Willy Chamberlin and Bill Wallace, who eventually won the seat). The recount results found that about ten absentee ballots were still in their envelopes and had not been counted. In addition, there are also privacy issues with having the envelopes opened by hand which are avoided by using the machine.

Once the ballots are opened they unfold them and run them through the tallying machines, which are the same machines found in the county’s 215 precincts on Election Day. The results will not be available until 8:05 p.m. on election night. Until then they are then stored on a computer, which is kept under high security. Only two people have access to the machine, and there are cameras all over the office to make sure no one tries to get in the locked room where it is kept, said Holland.

“What about a hacker getting into the results?” asked a student.

That’s a good question, acknowledged Holland, explaining that there is no Internet access allowed in the room, for that very reason. Another new security measure in place for this year is the secretary of state has given a directive to all counties not to modem results over phone lines, as was done in the past. Instead the results will be driven in to the elections office, which in the case of far away precincts like New Cuayama, may delay the tallying of the final results by as much as two and a half hours.

“If the election is really close, we may not know who won in California until all of the absentee ballots are counted,” said Holland. He has up to 29 days to certify the final results of the election.

The students got to vote in a mock election, where Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt vied for president. Roosevelt and Kennedy tied with only four votes each, but there were 11 write-in votes, which weren’t officially counted.

“I wrote in Barak Obama,” said eighth grader Emily Welkowitz, who wore an “Obama ’08” bumper sticker on her back.

“I think it’s totally interesting,” said eighth grader Jessica DiMizio. “I like all the new machines and stuff. Last year we saw them opening the absentee envelopes and it was just a bunch of people sitting around a big table.”

Part of the philosophy of Anacapa School is to bring the students into the community, said Sichi. “I can go anywhere in this town with a little notice and people will open up their businesses to us. People in Santa Barbara are so generous.” He planned to follow up the field trip with a lesson on voting machines and a discussion of the controversies surrounding them.

When asked if they talked a lot about the presidential primary in class, eighth grader Haley Yuhas said: “Oh yeah, that’s all we talk about. It’s great. It’s really, really interesting.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on February 5, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Sissy Taran

Author Sissy Taran, courtesy Noozhawk

Author Sissy Taran, courtesy Noozhawk

A combination of laughter and tears helped Sissy Taran survive the sudden death of her husband Bernie, in June 2005. “There aren’t any magical answers to survive the loss of a loved one,” says Sissy, but she hopes to help others by bringing that same bittersweet combination of humor and compassion to her new book.

Leslie Dinaberg: Tell me about The Sun Will Shine Again: Life Lessons from a Year of Grieving? How did you come to write the book?

Sissy Taran: People kept asking me how I was doing, and I had no answer. Usually I’m not shy and I’m not at a loss for words … Finally I came up with, “Well I’ll just write a book.” (laughs) That was my response to “how are you doing” because I didn’t know how to say it any other way.

So (five months after her husband’s death) I’m at the temple…and I see the Rabbi’s door open and I decide I’m going in and I’m going to ask the Rabbi to write a forward for this book that I’m going to write.

Now I have no idea how to write a book. I don’t have the foggiest idea how to write a book. But the door was open, so I went in and I spent an hour with him and when I was through, I said, “Gee, do you want to co-author this book with me?” … Then I went home and I called my neighbor (Laurie Deans Medjuck) to ask her how to write a book. … She ended up being the editor.

…The Rabbi started to interview me, he interviewed me for seven months, an hour and a half, every week, and I spoke, we spoke, 500 pages, 100,000 words. … The whole book came from the transcripts.

LD: Did you feel like in reflecting on what you had said originally that your feelings about some things had changed?

ST: What happened was I didn’t feel like the same person anymore. When we started writing it and making it into the book, it was this person I watched grow. This person I watched from the very beginning of her baby steps. It was almost like taking myself and putting myself over here and being totally removed and watching the growth and how she became empowered and looking at it now, two years later, I still look at her as another human being. It’s fascinating.

LD: How much of how you feel now do you think has to do with the act of writing the book, as opposed to going through the whole grief process?

ST: Well, interesting enough, I didn’t think of the book as being cathartic. It was only after I did it, it was like visiting a therapist, but I didn’t know that.

… We were doing something for somebody else. It wasn’t for me. I was writing this because there was nothing available I felt that people could relate to. So I had a project and I like projects.

LD: One of the things that really struck me was how you always think about someone grieving the big things like holidays, but not how many little day-to-day reminders there are.

ST: I think probably the turning point for me was putting in the new driveway. … when we make a decision we bounce it off of people. … But in the driveway I didn’t do that. In the driveway I shook hands with the person that put in the driveway. I didn’t have a contract, I didn’t bounce it off of anybody and I said, this was it. Now I didn’t know at the time that that was going to be as monumental in my life … when I drive up to the driveway every single day … and I drive up to those rocks. Those are MY rocks. I did that.

… we walk it all differently, but it’s our individual walk. So this, somehow, and I don’t know why, this book was burning within me. Somehow. Because I’ve never written and if I had to sit down at a computer I still wouldn’t have written a book.

LD: But it’s interesting how you came up with a way that worked for you and you were able to do it and it felt comfortable and it reads like you too. And I think there are a lot of levels to relate to it.

ST: The interesting part was that I thought that it would be much more about Bernie and it ended up not being. It started out where the rabbi and I were co-authors. It didn’t turn out that way, because he’d ask a question and I’d spend an hour talking. And then it turned out that it became a legacy to my mother.

So it changed its direction. Bernie was the vehicle for me to experience all of this, but the lessons that I learned as a child and the things and the sayings that she taught me, that was really the bread and butter of it. … Throughout this book you will find quotations from my mother, Buddie Shrier. Some of these I found after she died, written on lists or pieces of paper and collected in a small wooden box. Others were simply things I heard her saying on an everyday basis. The life lessons they express form the foundation of my life and had an enormous influence on how I coped as I mourned the loss of my husband. … So for me, this is really a tribute to her. So as it started it out, where it was co-authored with the rabbi. Didn’t happen. Where it was about Bernie, didn’t happen. It’s my journey.

LD: It’s interesting too that you say that because that’s something that has struck me about people that I’ve known that have lost a spouse. One of my friends lost her husband when she was pretty young and she’s gone to accomplish things professionally that she would never have done if she were married, because she wouldn’t have had to. It’s definitely an example of one of those one door closes another one opens kind of thing. …

ST: That’s right. And it’s a choice, Leslie. It’s really, really a definite choice and you can watch those who do it and you can watch those who don’t do it and I think we’re born genetically with our certain DNA that we’re positive or we’re negative and then you have a choice after that. And my choice and was to do this, to make a difference.

… I’m just along for the ride and wherever it goes, it goes.

LD: Well it’s a great accomplishment to have written a book and have it sitting in front of us here, even if it never goes anywhere else. The fact that you wrote it and you got everything you got out of writing it. And the product itself is a whole other journey.

ST: I did it and I love it. You know it’s interesting, I look at it, and just like they can’t ever take your education away from you, I am always going to be a published author.

Vital Stats: Sissy Taran

Born: Detroit, Michigan, November 26, 1944.

Family: Three grown daughters, Tiffany, Francine and Nadine; Son-in-laws Scott and Zach; and grandchildren Ethan and Blythe.

Civic Involvement: Mentor to two children in the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse’s Fighting Back program; CALM; Anti-Defamation League; Coalition Against gun Violence; Hadassah; B’nai B’rith Temple.

Professional Accomplishments: Former elementary school teacher who has been honored with outstanding service awards from the Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara PTAs.

Little-Known Fact: “My dad was part of the Kennedy administration and I was raised on a ranch outside of Bakersfield.”

Benefit for Hospice of Santa Barbara and Congregation B’nai B’rith

On Sunday, February 10, from 2 to 4 p.m., Hospice of Santa Barbara’s Executive Director Gail Rink will interview Sissy Taran and Rabbi Steve Cohen about their experiences working on “The Sun Will Shine Again: Life Lessons from a Year of Grieving.” Then refreshments will be served and all book sales from that day will go directly to Hospice and the Temple.

Originally published in Noozhawk on February 3, 2008.

Women’s Heart Health

courtesy stockimages via

courtesy stockimages via

The simple facts are enough to make any woman’s heart skip a beat.

Heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death in American women, claiming more than 460,000 lives each year. That’s more than the next five causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer. According to a 2007 study by the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease causes about one female death per minute.

“The lifetime risk of dying of cardiovascular disease is nearly one in three for women,” said Dr. Lori Mosca, a cardiologist working with the American Heart Association. “This underscores the importance of healthy lifestyles in women of all ages to reduce the long-term risk of heart and blood vessel diseases.”

While heart disease becomes more prevalent as people get older, even children need to take care of their heart health. “From the second you start eating food … you’re really affecting the plaque on the artery walls, so you really need to be conscious of that whether you’re 14 years old, 30 years old or 60 years old,” said Liz Adams, executive director of the Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura County branches of the American Heart Association.

Getting the word out about the importance of early awareness of cardiovascular disease is a passionate cause for Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf, who had a heart attack in 2004, at age 50, and has since gone on to train in the Woman-Heart Program at the Mayo Clinic to become a women’s heart health spokeswoman. Wolf testified in Congress on behalf of the Heart Disease Education, Research and Analysis, and Treatment (HEART) for Women Act, co-sponsored by Congresswoman Lois Capps, and is very active in the community as an advocate for greater awareness for women about heart disease. She emphasizes the importance of being aware of your family history (her father had triple bypass surgery in his 50s), as well as maintaining a healthy exercise program and diet.

“We need to work harder about letting people know about the increase of heart disease among women,” says Wolf. “We must be proactive.”

It’s also particularly important for women to be aware of their symptoms and take swift action when needed. “My gut assumption about what happens with women is we’re traditionally the caretakers, we’re the last ones to actually stop and say is there something wrong with me,” said Adams. “Instead we’re worried about our kids, our family, husband, and a lot of times women will start to feel pain in their chest–which for women tends to be more of a grasping anxiety feel than an actual elephant on the chest, which is what a man experiences–and so they think ‘oh it’s just stress, I’ll go to sleep and tomorrow morning I’ll be okay,’ and they don’t get immediate help like their male counterparts are doing.”

Both heart attacks (where a blood clot on the artery walls prevents blood from flowing to the heart) and strokes (where a blood clot prevents oxygen from going to the brain) are life-and-death emergencies where every second counts.

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, like in the movies, where no one doubts what’s happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. The most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort. Other symptoms are discomfort in other areas of the upper body besides the chest, such as the arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; or breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. Experts advise calling 9-1-1 as almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment.

The American Stroke Association says the warning signs of stroke are sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; or sudden, severe headache with no known cause. As with heart attacks, don’t delay in calling 9-1–1 if you experience these symptoms. A clot-busting drug can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke if given within three hours of the start of symptoms.

Not all heart related ailments are easily identified.

It was about three years ago, at age 48, when cardiology nurse and Santa Barbara City College Associate Professor RN/MM Evan McCabe began having chest pain and tingling up her left arm while walking up a hill on campus. When she saw her cardiologist her tests were normal, but she continued to have chest pain when she exercised. After a series of tests and visits to a woman’ s health clinic at Cedar’s Sinai Hospital in Los Angles, McCabe was diagnosed with Endothelial Dysfunction, a disease in which the blood vessels function abnormally and constrict rather than dilate when you exercise.

“I felt really lucky because my doctors listened to me and very lucky in that I had the knowledge base to know when something is not right,” said McCabe, who now has her symptoms under control with medication.

Sometimes other cardiovascular diseases will mimic the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke. In 2007, Ada Connor, director of programs for the Alpha Resource Center of Santa Barbara, thought she was having a heart attack. But when she went to the hospital for an angiogram, they found no blockages in her arteries. They later found out that a virus had settled in her heart, creating a condition called Cardiomyopathy, in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed and doesn’t work as well as it should. In her case it took about 12 weeks of treatment to get her heart back to normal functioning.

“It was pretty scary,” says Connor, the single mother of two teenagers. “But to have gotten a clean bill of heart health was pretty amazing…this really opened my eyes to how lucky I am. I’m very thankful.”

Heart problems can strike women at any age. Laura Pinner, who grew up in Santa Barbara and is now an 18-year-old student at UCLA, caught a virus that settled in her heart when she was only four weeks old. It caused congestive heart failure, and then Cardiomyopathy, which she still lives with today.

“Heart disease is so unknown. It is a silent killer. It also tends to be a, ‘that cant’ happen to me, I’m not a 60-yearold male’ disease,” said Pinner, who has been a volunteer with the American Heart Association for most of her life. “People, women especially, need to be educated that heart disease can happen to anyone. When people know this, then they will have the drive, and provided with education they need, to take actions to prevent heart disease. You can take steps to save yourself, and loved ones, from heart disease. …It is crucial that attention is drawn to how many women are affected by heart disease, in order to decrease the number of women dying and affected by the disease.”

Ten Ways You Can Help Yourself Prevent Heart Disease From the American Heart Association

1. Schedule a yearly checkup.

Have your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels checked on an annual basis and ask your doctor to help you reach or maintain a healthy weight.

2. Get physical.

Get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

3. Drink more water.

Take a water bottle with you wherever you go to keep you hydrated.

4. Eat healthy.

5. Control cholesterol.

To help keep your cholesterol levels down, eat foods low in saturated fat and trans fat, such as lean chicken or turkey, fruits and veggies, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and whole grains.

6. Cut down on salt.

To help lower high blood pressure, watch your salt intake.

7. Quit smoking.

8. Maintain a healthy weight.

Excess weight increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

9. Stay positive.

If you get off your exercise schedule, have a cigarette, or eat a fattening meal, immediately get back on track toward re-establishing a healthy lifestyle.

10. Give yourself credit

To maintain momentum with exercising, losing weight, or quitting smoking, keep track of your achievements and reward yourself by doing something you enjoy.

Originally published in Coastal Woman


Art Luna, courtesy photo

Art Luna, courtesy photo

Designer Art Luna is planting roots in our local soil

Enhancing nature’s gifts is nothing new for Art Luna. Long before he developed a reputation as a top-notch landscape designer, he was known as a swanky celebrity hair stylist–which he still is. But more and more often these days, he’s trading his scissors for gardening shears. His formally structured, yet free-flowing creations are now gracing landscapes on both coasts, including New York City, Los Olivos, Montecito, Santa Barbara, and Carpinteria.

His passion for gardening began with the creation of an outdoor garden waiting room for his Hollywood salon, then was sparked here during a visit to Lotusland in 2002, with esteemed British gardening book author Anna Pavord. She advised Luna to always remember, “Structure first, flowers second.”

Building the structure first was embedded in his approach as a hair stylist. Suddenly it all clicked for Luna: “Think of it as if you’ve built this beautiful house out of green, and then you furnish it with furniture that is flowers.”

Here, Luna shares his expert take on our local offerings:

Favorite Places

ABE NURSERY3894 Via Real, Carpinteria, 805-684-3335.
Richard Abe has lovely material. He doesn’t let anything leave his nursery that isn’t of good quality. Also, I can buy 70 to 100 of one thing to do mass plantings–that’s really important for me.”

EYE OF THE DAY 4620 Carpinteria Ave., Carpinteria, 805-566-0778, “They have an amazing eye for pottery and shape. There is always really good statuary, which I think is the dying art of the garden. I think people are a little freaked out about statuary in terms of the garden. … It can be lovely if done right.”

LOTUSLAND GARDEN SHOP 695 Ashley Rd., Montecito, 805-969-3767 ext. 101, “They always have wonderful things there, such as bird feeders for the trees and bird nests for the cages.”

RUE DE LILLIE ANTIQUES 2496 Lillie Ave., Summerland, 805-695-8180, . “I go there for beautiful antique bird cages and unique things like unusual lanterns and mirrors.”

SAN MARCOS GROWERS 125 S. San Marcos Rd., Santa Barbara, 805-683-1561, “I try to buy all of my flowers from local vendors. This one is amazing. It’s all good quality, and they usually have anything that you want.”

TURK HESSELLUND NURSERY 1255 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, 805-969-5871. “If I want to buy a pot with a beautiful plant to put it on the steps of a garden, I know I’ll find something very interesting and lovely here.”

Favorite Plants
African BoxwoodI love the red vein, that it has, how small the leaf shape is, the color olive green that it is. Here in Santa Barbara, especially, the greens that are more olive and gray do well in the landscape.”

Agave “The shapes are so magnificent–it’s just mind-blowing how they can survive under the poorest of conditions and then be the focal point of a garden with their dramatic shapes and colors.”

Gardenias “You have to have the most perfect conditions for a successful gardenia–they love food. I love those glossy tropical flowers like gardenia, rhododendron, and philodendron for a border.”

Pittosporum “One of the most underrated plants ever–I love its silvery sheen.”

Salvia Waverly “I love it because it attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, but not bees.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara Magazine, 2008.