Promises Promises

© Dushenina | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Dushenina | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

“But mom, you promised we could!”

We could … fill in the blank. Make cookies, play tennis after school, do watercolor salt collages, go to the bank and make a deposit in that cool pneumatic tube. You name it–whatever the thing was that I had woefully neglected to do is beside the point. The point is that once again I had fallen sadly short of the perfect mother benchmark. And once again my son was shaming me with my shortcomings.

If there’s a parent out there who has never disappointed their child, please stay far away from me. I feel guilty enough already. I certainly don’t need you flaunting your perfection in my face.

I know I should have learned the perils of promises a long time ago. Isn’t it always better to under-promise and over-deliver? I seem to recall being tested on that a few times in my life. Plus it’s so logical: don’t promise more than you can deliver and you won’t disappoint anyone, right?

But the problem with kids is they interpret every word you say as a promise. Except of course when they don’t.

What seems like merely a rather vague plan to my muddled mind is often a promise in the eyes of my son. The moment words like “yes, we should do that” leave my mouth, my 8-year-old interprets them as a sworn-in-blood pledge–sometimes. And that’s the kicker. He forgets what we had planned to do just as often as I do, but when I forget I’m a terrible parent and when he forgets, well, he’s just being a kid.

Really, I never intended to be crushing the hopes and dreams of my sweet little guy. Of course I know that kids believe us when we promise them something. It’s just that, well, I didn’t know you were serious about that. Or I thought you changed your mind after school. Or I completely forgot about it. Or, once in a great while–something better came up.

Surely you realize that I didn’t realize how important it was to you. Surely you must know that I never meant to break your sweet, innocent little heart. I’m so very sorry.

Before I was a mom I spent a lot of time apologizing to the plants. It’s not that I was negligent per se; it’s just that there was so much going on in my life. Sometimes I would completely forget to water a plant for, say, the winter, and then, to make up for it, spray the others with a fire hose for the month of March.

I’ve gotten much better about this. Really I have. I never even buy plants anymore and if someone gives me one, I know better than to get too attached.

Seriously, I’ve only forgotten to feed Koss a few times. Eventually he reminds me, usually by screaming “I’m starving, mom. You forgot to make me breakfast again!” in the middle of a crowded room of appalled parents and teachers. I’m embarrassed about this, of course, but it’s not like the plants. As soon as he starts to smell, I drop everything and hose him off. I would never just toss him in the trash.

See, I promised when he was born that I would always love and cherish him, and that’s one promise I’m sure I can keep.

If you email Leslie at email she promises to write back. For more columns visit
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 28, 2008.

Women’s Festival Debuts

wf-logoThe inaugural Women’s Festivals launched in Santa Barbara March 7-9th and Arizona March 14-16th. Founded by local businesswoman Patty DeDominic and her partner Mary Schnack, these conferences were created to “celebrate the accomplishments of women and inspire others to realize their dreams,” with forums focusing five key areas: personal, professional, philanthropic, political, and planet.

The Saturday morning “personal” panel on “Transition: The Best is Yet to Come,” was thought-provoking for the approximately 50 people (predominately women) that attended.

Introducing the panel, Alberto G. Alvarado, the Los Angeles district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration, started out the morning with a laugh when he asked the audience, “When does a woman most enjoy a man’s company?” The answer: “When she owns it.”

Then it was on to a dynamic discussion of transitions–both in life and in business–with four very different women.

“Your experiences turn to lessons and hopefully those lessons turn to wisdom,” said Tessa Warschaw, Ph.D., founder of Big Thinking Women and the author of “Winning by Negotiation,” and “Resiliency: How to Bounce Back Faster, Stronger, Smarter.” As you age, “if you don’t have your marbles and you don’t have cash, you’re in trouble,” said Warschaw.

“If you live in the future or in the past, you’re wasting your time,” said Linda LoRey, President and CEO of Frederick’s of Hollywood, who related her story of taking the company public and in the same year becoming a mother for the first time at age 52. “You can do it all, but you can’t do it all at once,” she said, though it sounds like she, at least, can do an awful lot at once.

Maureen Ford, an entrepreneurial education expert and author of “The Turning Point,” said that a dream about her dead mother inspired her to write the book for which all profits go toward Women for Women International, a nonprofit humanitarian organization dedicated to financial, educational, and interpersonal support of women survivors of war, poverty and injustice.

Joan Frentz, author of “Life Begins at 60,” who works as a personal trainer in Carpinteria, talked about the importance of staying in good physical health. “The good and bad news is that we’re going to live to be 100,” said the impressively spry 72-year-old. “We have to take care of ourselves to make those years worthwhile.”

A fundamental objective of the festivals was “to bring together a unique gathering of extraordinary women to share their experiences and wealth of knowledge with the goal of transforming the lives of participants,” according to the organizers. Other featured speakers included: Dr. Susan Love, U.S. Representative Lois Capps (D-CA), Sara Miller McCune and LeVar Burton.

Originally published in Noozhawk on March 25, 2008.

Recipe for a Healthy Marriage

Photo by theswedish

Photo by theswedish

We’re going to a wedding this weekend, the first one we’ve been to in a while. I’m feeling sort of rusty. I know they throw birdseed instead of rice, and no one drinks wine coolers anymore, but do they still do the Macarena?

I feel so out of it. It wasn’t always that way. We did the “wedding circuit” for years. I used to be an expert in bridal gown bathroom assistance, buying blenders in bulk and slyly switching place cards when we weren’t assigned to the “cool table.” But that was–gulp, gasp, gag, boy am I getting old–more than a decade ago. Now our social life consists mostly of waving to friends from the carpool lane, hanging out at the Little League Fields or (whoo hoo!) the basketball team party at Giovanni’s.

I’m certainly older than I was when I got married, so I must be at least somewhat wiser and therefore qualified to give advice to my soon-to-be-wed friends, who are close to 40 and have–miraculously–never walked down the aisle before. Here goes:

I know you’re Jewish, but did you have to pick Easter weekend to get married?

Clearly you have no children, baskets or bunnies to worry about. But someday you’ll look back on this and feel a teeny, tiny little bit guilty for making my son’s grandma deal with all of that plastic grass embedded into her carpet.

Science has now revealed that married men are significantly more satisfied with their life when their partner is satisfied with life, so make sure your wife is happy.

Okay, the study also found that married women are more satisfied with life when their husbands are happy–but really that equation is so simple, boobs + beer + control of the remote = male happiness–it doesn’t seem worth discussing.

In marital disputes, silence isn’t golden.

Wives who don’t express themselves actually increase their risk of illness. So talk it out, and if he’s not listening, keep talking and talking and talking until he hears what you’re saying and gives in. I have personal experience with this, but there’s actually science to back this one up. New research shows that married women who keep silent during disputes have a greater chance of dying from heart disease and other conditions than women who speak their minds. So go ahead and tell him what you really think. It’s good for your heart, even if it’s not so good for his eardrums.

There are Different Rules for Husbands and Wives.

Married men who keep disagreements to themselves actually have the same life expectancy as men who speak out. So men don’t get bonus years for speaking up, but they will get bonus points for walking down the aisle. Married men live seven years longer, and married women live two years longer, than single men and women, respectively. According to actual bona fide social scientific research, married people as a group have better psychological health than people who have never married. Years from now, when your idea of a big night out is a martini after the PTA meeting, you should remember that science is on your side.

“Whatever you want, the answer is yes.”

I taught my husband that phrase even before we got married and those magic words have served him well over the years. Now my son has also come to understand the wisdom of keeping me happy. After all, if I’m not happy, nobody’s happy. Plus it helps, a lot, if you want to stay married.

Share your marriage advice with Leslie at email. For more columns visit
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 21, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Ken Saxon

Ken Saxon

Ken Saxon

Since arriving in town 12 years ago, Ken Saxon has served on the boards of some our most successful community endeavors, including the Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation and the Santa Barbara Foundation. Now he’s taking his experience with the unique challenges nonprofit leaders face and using it to develop a new program called “Courage to Lead.”

LD: What first brought you to Santa Barbara?

KS: My wife Jo and I moved here when our twins were 1-1/2 years old. We felt that this would be a great place to raise children and it’s really turned out to be that. I remember we came at the beginning of June and two days after we showed up was the second annual Big Dog Parade … and a couple of weeks later was Solstice and then there was July 4th and then there was Fiesta and we just thought this town was one giant parade just to welcome us to Santa Barbara.

LD: I know you left a business in the Bay Area. What is your business now?

KS: What I’ve been doing for most of the last 12 years is I’ve taken my business skills and applied them to the nonprofit sector, mostly as a volunteer. … The venture that I’m most involved with right now is a program called Courage to Lead. I’ve worked with a lot of nonprofit executive leaders, and one of the conclusions that I’ve come to from this dozen years of experience of working with them, is that I think they have a harder job than business leaders because business leaders have one bottom line they are managing to. Nonprofit leaders have at least two: a financial bottom line and a social benefit bottom line. At the same time they have less resources to draw upon and also a lot less has been invested in them.

… Also I find that nonprofit leaders are very isolated from one another. Sometimes there’s a sense that only they know what the challenges are and sometimes there’s a sense of competition. … So I helped to develop Courage to Lead. … The goal is to nurture and support them in renewing themselves and in rekindling their passion and commitment for their work. And because it’s done in a group in retreat over time, they build a deep community and they provide each other with mutual support and inspiration. … The program is based on the work of a national group called the Center for Courage and Renewal.

LD: What stage are you in the development of the program?

KS: We are launching a group this year that’s going to start in November and they are going to meet quarterly in retreat for at least a year up in Mount Calvary Retreat Center for two days at a time. … From May 7-9th, we’ve arranged for an introductory retreat … people who are potentially interested are invited to come and experience what one of these retreats is like.

LD: Is there a religious or a spiritual component to it?

KS: There’s not a religious component. Spiritual is always a challenging word because it means so many different things to different people, but yes, there’s a spiritual component in that people are given opportunities and time for reflection and inspiration relative to core questions of meaning and mission and passion and they are given space to reflect and hear their inner voice and to tap into what it is that most motivates them in life that they want to do in the world. And I would call that a spiritual. But the text and things that we use most often is actually poetry and other inspired readings that help people think about their careers and their lives on a deeper level, rather than kind of a religious text.

LD: How will you select people the first people?

KS: We have gone out to leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic world and we have asked for nominations of nonprofit leaders that they feel would benefit from this experience given who they are and where they are in their careers. But it is also open for application. We have a website that is, where people can get more information about it. … We talk about environmental sustainability but there’s a big discussion as the nonprofit sector continues to grow it’s filling a huge need in our society, but whether we can run it in a way that is sustainable, rather than just burning everybody out. That’s a tough question. I’d like Courage to Lead to be part of the answer.

LD: I think you have a unique perspective in that you’re still in your 40s and able to devote yourself to nonprofit work fulltime.

KS: Absolutely, but it doesn’t mean that other people can’t be involved. The Katherine Harvey Fellows are an example. Another example is Craig Zimmerman and I created a group called FUND, Families Uniting to Nurture Dreams. There are 20 families with children who are mostly between the ages of 6 and 16, and we got together partly to raise college scholarships for local kids, but the biggest thing that we do is we create opportunities for our children to learn about the community and really about their world through hands-on ways of getting involved in the community.

… Our group the last three years has partnered in something called Project Healthy Neighbors that is done by Casa Esperanza and Santa Barbara County and Doctors Without Borders … they put on a health fair to try to try to attract the local homeless population to come in and get check ups, to get their immunizations and to get referred out to other services that they might need … (My son Griffin) was down with me at Casa Esperanza handing out the bags to the people that came through.

…The only way I know people in town is either through my kids, their school, but mostly it’s through volunteerism, the nonprofit boards and so on and what a generally terrific group of people. I’ve developed so many relationships with people that I like and respect through volunteering.

Some people move here and want to engage and other people move here and want to hide out and that’s fine and that’s their choice, but it’s awfully fun to engage.

Vital Stats: Ken Saxon

Born: Baltimore, Maryland, January 9, 1962.

Family: Wife Jo and 13-year old twins Griffin and Hope.

Civic Involvement: Courage to Lead; Santa Barbara Foundation; Katherine Harvey Fellows Program; Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation; Santa Barbara Middle School; Eleos Foundation: Unitarian Society; FUND (Families United to Nurture Dreams); Foundation for Santa Barbara City College.

Professional Accomplishments: “I ran a business in the Bay Area for a dozen years (FARM, First American Records Management) that was acknowledged as both a financial success and a really fine place to work and really good at customer service and I’ve been a volunteer leader here. I approach things like, as the chair of the scholarship foundation, I didn’t approach that in any way differently than being board chair of my company. … I do look at my volunteer service here as professional.”

Little-Known Fact: “My kids perform in this musical theatre group called the Adderly School, and a year or two ago they created an opportunity for parents who were willing to subject themselves to it to have the same experience as their kids did, and so I was up on stage for three nights at Victoria Hall in ‘Mama Mia.’ … I performed on stage for the first time since 8th grade and the last time.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on March 18, 2008.

Big Wisdom From a Little Person

Photo by Arsel Ozgurdal

Photo by Arsel Ozgurdal

My 8-year-old son came home on Saturday with a giant trophy in his hands, and an even bigger smile on his face. He had won second place in a chess tournament for grades K-3 (or as I like to call it, Nerdapalooza). He couldn’t have been happier if he had won the lottery. Unlike his father and I–who can read each other’s minds at this point in our marriage–it had never occurred to Koss that as a third grader and one of the oldest kids competing, he had a very good chance of winning that tournament without exhibiting any actual aptitude for the game.

But rather than second guessing the competition, or doubting his own skills, as I probably would have, winning that trophy made Koss happy, and that was all there was to it. As his mom I’ve spent most of his life teaching him things–how to cross the street safely or how to cross his eyes–but that Saturday I realized that he has a lot to teach me as well.

Here’s what I’ve learned recently:

When you do something well, be happy about it.

It’s easy to forget to feel proud of yourself. While Koss is not going to be challenging Bobby Fischer any time soon, he learned how to play chess this year and he loves it. The look of pure satisfaction on his face when he gets to say “checkmate”–which is pretty often when he plays against me–is so much fun to see. We should all take such delights in the pure pleasure of doing something better today than we did yesterday.

It’s all about perspective.

Our house is not exactly a showpiece. We live in a shack. Literally, the embroidered pillow on our couch that says “Unabomber Shack” is not an exaggeration. But Koss loves our cozy little house and can’t imagine living anywhere better. When friends come over after school, he brags to them that, “this is probably the smallest house you’ve ever seen,” and he can’t wait to show it off. Life would sure be a lot easier if I felt that way.

Eat until you get full, then stop.

Sometimes Koss eats a ton. Sometimes he has a bite of everything on his plate (usually at my insistence) and then he’s outa there. Unlike most adults, he actually eats when he’s hungry and stops when he’s full. He’s lean, he’s active and he likes to eat his vegetables. Except of course when he doesn’t like to eat his vegetables, because he’s not hungry.

There’s nothing to be gained from being shy.

From the time that he was teeny, Koss has made new friends almost everywhere we go. He never hesitates to walk up to someone and say hello or ask questions if there’s something he wants to know. He never worries about looking stupid or being rejected. “If you want to know something you’ve got to ask, mom.” No kidding.

Good trying is sometimes even better than good results.

I burned his bagel the other morning. When I apologized, Koss said, “That’s okay, it was good trying, mommy,” then proceeded to eat around the burnt parts.

Whatever you’re doing, don’t forget to make it fun.

Koss has a way of making a game out of just about anything he does. Why? “It’s more fun that way, mom.” Even in the midst of the most mundane task, like putting recycling into our bin, he’s juggling plastic bottles, shooting baskets with them, never missing the opportunity to make the most of every minute.

What a great lesson. I think I’ll go play with him right now!

Tell Leslie what your kids have taught you lately at email.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 14, 2008.

CALM’s 22nd Annual Celebrity Author’s Luncheon

CALM-logoCALM’s (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) 22nd Annual Celebrity Authors’ Luncheon last weekend was, as always, a rousing success, thanks in large part to the dynamic duo of Sharon Bifano and Stephanie Ortale, who have co-chaired the event every year since its inception in 1987.

Board president Meredith Scott gave a lovely tribute to retiring executive director Anna M. Kokotovic, PhD. That, along with a moving video presentation produced by Surf Media Communications, brought the work that CALM does in the community to the forefront of the luncheon–to prevent, assess, and treat child abuse by providing comprehensive, services for children and their families–inspiring the approximately 500 supporters at the luncheon to dig deep into their pockets to help abused children.

Retired KEYT anchor Debby Davison and Borders Books’ Kate Schwab interviewed an interesting panel of authors: Lisa See (Peony in Love), Andrew Klavan (Damnation Street), Deborah Rodriguez (Kabul Beauty School) and Gary David Goldberg (Sit, Ubu, Sit).

See’s book follows the lives of two young Chinese women in remote 19th century China. Her comparison of the tortures of female foot binding to the “plastic boobs” of today’s women (“they’re both painful things done to women as status symbols for men”) had the mostly female crowd in stitches.

When asked about the vivid characters he creates, Klavan said, “I really enjoy the fact that people are immensely different.” Another vivid character was Rodriguez herself, a hairdresser from Michigan who went to Afghanistan as a relief worker and ended up training Afghan women to do modern beauty treatments. “I mean Taliban are but this perm was really bad too,” said Rodriguez, describing the woman who inspired her to start the Kabul Beauty School.

“I couldn’t believe that you could make a living doing what I got to do,” said (Family Ties and (Spin City creator Goldberg, who spoke about writing a memoir about his life as a television writer/producer.

They joined the ranks of more than 70 authors interviewed over the years, including Sue Grafton, Jane Russell, Barnaby Conrad, Michael Crichton, Julia Child, Ray Bradbury, Fanny Flagg, Maria Shriver and Jonathan Winters.

In addition to purchasing books by the interviewed authors (with a portion of the proceeds going to CALM), authors Mindy Bingham, Polly Bookwalter, Joe Bruzzese, Jack Canfield, Kathryn Cushman, William Davis, Karen Finell, David Gersh, Beverly Jackson, Susan Jorgensen, Jennie Nash, Katie Nuanes, Sissy Taran and Flavia Weedn were also on hand to sign books and donate part of the proceeds to CALM.

For more information about CALM, visit

Originally published in Noozhawk on March 12, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Renee Grubb

Renee Grubb

Renee Grubb

When Renee Grubb and Ed Edick founded Village Properties in 1996, they strove to create a community-conscious real estate agency. Part of that dedication to Santa Barbara involved creating the Teacher’s Fund, a nonprofit that makes it easy for teachers to get much-needed financial support for schools. Now Grubb is paying that community-minded spirit forward even further. As the new chair of the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, she has already begun raising scholarship money for at-risk students.

LD: Let’s start with real estate. How is the market right now? Is it a good time to buy?

RG: Well the market is good. I’ve been busy because the number of sales has increased, but this in the last two and a half weeks. … One of our agents yesterday in the meeting gave a number of how many properties went this year so far, and that’s back from January, and three quarters of them went in the last two and a half weeks. So all of the sellers and the buyers who have been, rightly so, a little nervous about the market, are definitely getting off of that and making offers.

LD: So does that mean it’s a good time to buy right now because prices are lower?

RG: Yes. There are deals and the time to buy is when somebody isn’t already making an offer on a property or something, A lot of people they say, “Oh I want to go back and see it three or four times,” and then by the time they go back and see it the third or fourth time there’s either an offer on it or it’s gone. But we’re seeing more multiple offers. There was a property on Sea Ranch, just outside of Hope Ranch. They put it on the market for $1,990,000. It was kind of a fixer and it had something like 12 offers. It went for $300,000 over the asking. I was like what was that all about. We’re starting to see some of that happening again.

LD: Have you always worked in real estate?

RG: No. Before I got into real estate I was pretty much just raising my children but before that I was in the medical industry. I was actually an assistant for an ophthalmologist.

LD: How did you come to start the Teacher’s Fund? I always thought you must have been a teacher before you went into real estate.

RG: Not me, but teachers can make the best real estate agents because they’re already attuned to service and caring … The Teacher’s Fund started in 2002. When we started Village we made a decision that we were going to pretty much support children and children’s causes because you know, you get so many requests. …What happened was we were doling out money for this and that $50 for that and $500 for that … and then one day we hired a PR person. It was really her idea. Her son had come home from kindergarten and he had this long list of things that he had to bring to school. So she said to this teacher … “How do kids bring all of this if their parents can’t afford it?” The teacher said, “Well I make sure every child has the same. I buy it.” So that’s where the idea came from.

… We started out doing just pretty much South County elementary schools, kindergarten through sixth grade, and we were being able to manage that but we weren’t getting very many donations. We did a couple of fundraisers but then Orfalea Family Foundation actually saw in the South Coast Beacon, that wonderful editorial on the Teacher’s Fund, and they called us and they said “Hey we’re interested in that.” I will be forever grateful for that.

LD: That’s wonderful that Orfalea is working with you.

RG: Since Orfalea came aboard we have gone countywide and we’ve gone to junior high, so we are really covering a lot of classrooms … As of this year, I didn’t count the last month, but we have funded $450,000 to 1,090 classrooms since we started and we’ll definitely hit the $500,000 mark this year.

LD: You’re chairing the Chamber of Commerce too.

RG: I’ve been on the board for four years … a lot of people come and ask for endorsements. … This year we are trying to be supportive of the city with the green awareness we’re trying to inform business people so that they are aware of the different ways that they can do that within their businesses and their homes. So we’re kind of pushing that a little bit, I am also trying to support as many of the new businesses in town as possible.

At my installation on January 31st, we decided that we were going to try to raise some funds for at-risk students. The scholarship is called “Chance for Change,” and we set it up with the Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation, … it’s basically for students … who choose the better path, rather than going into a gang. … We had a speaker, we had a young man who, his brother is in jail and his dad left him when they were kids, you know pretty typical thing, he was raised by his mom and his sister… so he’s being sent through school by a scholarship and he came and spoke.

We had decided that we would try to raise $20,000, which would send five young people to City College for two years. We talked about it and had this young man speak and raised $114,000 that night.

…. It’s just been amazing. It was 250 people in the room and we had donations from as high as $20,000 down to $100, and it felt like almost everybody in the room gave something. It was great. It was an amazing evening.

LD: He must be a great speaker.

RG: I’m telling you, he was so sincere and you knew and his mom was there. It was very exciting. They were just like in amazement that we were able to do that in one evening, but that just shows the generosity in this town.

LD: If you could be invisible anywhere in Santa Barbara, where would you go and what would you do?

RG: Well this is going to sound silly, but I love movies and if I see movies a year in a theatre I’m lucky, so I would love to be able to go to the movies and not have to worry about my cell phone and in the middle day. I would love to do that. That would be just a real treat for me.

Vital Stats: Renee Grubb

Born: January 22, Long Beach, CA

Family: Husband Ed, Daughters Erin and Natalie, and grandchildren Sydney (6), Kelsey (3), Hope (2) and Luke (18 months)

Civic Involvement: Chair of Chamber of Commerce, Founder of the Teacher’s Fund, Montecito Union Education Foundation, Business and Technology Awards Committee, California Association of Realtors Director, Budget and Finance Committee for Santa Barbara Association of Realtors, City of Santa Barbara Infrastructure Financing Task Force.

Professional Accomplishments: Co-Founder and Owner of Village Properties, has sold real estate in Santa Barbara since 1983.

Little-Known Fact: “My husband and I have been married 37 years and we’ve lived in 32 homes. So we fixed and flipped. And I’ve been in my current house ten years, so you can imagine how many houses we lived in.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on March 10, 2008.

American Riviera Wine Auction to Benefit Direct Relief International

Foxen Winery’s Bill Wathen and Dick Dore will be honored with the “Santa Barbara Vintners’ Foundation Humanitarian Award” at their biannual 2008 American Riviera Wine Auction weekend, March 14 and 15, with all proceeds benefiting Direct Relief International.

John Cleese will be presented with the “Santa Barbara Vintners’ Foundation Wine Diplomat Award,” and Andrew Firestone will host the event. Firestone, who will soon marry Serbian model Ivana Bozilovic, has also asked his friends to make donations to Direct Relief International in lieu of gifts.

The two-day event will include a weekend of wine tasting and elegant dining involving Santa Barbara County’s finest winemakers and chefs, in addition to highlighting the humanitarian work being done by Direct Relief International. Both nights will feature wine tasting and auctions featuring wine lots and winery parties at renowned local vineyards.

The weekend starts Friday night with “Viva Vino,” featuring entertainment from Cuban band Somas Son and salsa dancing at the Direct Relief International Warehouse in Goleta. Hungry Cat, Brothers at Mattie’s Tavern, and Seagrass will provide food, with wine tasting provided by eight Santa Barbara Vintners.

Saturday night is the black-tie gala “Wine, Dine and all that Jazz!” at the Four Seasons Biltmore. It will include a gourmet dinner created by nationally renowned chef Suzanne Goin, paired with an array of the region’s award winning wines, and entertainment provided by the Nate Birkey Jazz Group and a live auction led by celebrity auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski.

The American Riviera Wine Auction is part of an eight-year collaboration between Direct Relief International and Santa Barbara’s wine makers. This partnership has helped raise $1 million for the efforts of Direct Relief International, a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organization focused on improving the quality of life by bringing critically needed medicines and supplies to local healthcare providers worldwide. Recently, Direct Relief International played an integral role in providing aid to victims of the San Diego Wildfires, Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh, and victims of the storms which ravaged the Southeast United States and took the lives of 52 people just weeks ago.

Tickets for Friday, March 14th can still be purchased by contacting Mann Productions at or by calling 323 314 7000. Tickets for Saturday, March 15th are sold out (wait list only).

Originally published in Noozhawk on March 3, 2008.

Backstory: Behind the Scenes of “Citizen McCaw”

Citizen McCawThe implosion of the Santa Barbara News-Press newsroom 18 months ago sparked a labor battle, which led to the departure of dozens of staffers, the creation of a union, and a swarm of legal actions. Now the story is reaching the big screen, with the March 7th world premiere of Citizen McCaw, a full-length documentary examination of the past year and a half at the local daily and its effect on the community.

For the film’s co-producers–Rod Lathim, Charles Minsky, Peter Seaman and Sam Tyler, all locals–the project has been a time-consuming, pro bono, labor of love.

Asked what made them decide the events at the News-Press would make a good topic for a documentary, Tyler said, “It’s a great story. … You have a newspaper, you have a community, you have the courts, you have national voices, national interests, and they are all involved in this really bizarre and very, very unusual meltdown of a hometown daily paper. … You have a wealthy woman. You have her boyfriend, you have people quitting into an uncertain job market, you have community protesters, and you have judges and lawyers. I mean it’s just a wild, crazy scene, and all of the elements of a really interesting story.”

It was Tyler, the producer of documentaries such as In Search of Excellence and Good to Great, who got the ball rolling.

“He called me up one day and we had coffee and he mentioned it was a shame what was going on with the News-Press and wouldn’t it be great if we made a documentary about it? I could tell he was passionate about it, and it turned out, so was I,” said Minsky, director of photography for films such as Pretty Woman and The Producers. “What has happened to the News-Press hit me hard. I like getting up and reading the paper every morning and we had a very good paper here, before all this happened. So I guess I was a little mad as well, and wanted to find out what everyone else thought about our situation.”

“You can’t write this stuff. … If you made up all this stuff, people would go ‘Oh, c’mon, you’re trying too hard to come up with something,'” said Lathim, a fourth generation Santa Barbara native who founded Access Theatre and spearheaded development of the Marjorie Luke Theatre. “They are writing the story. It’s not our story, although we are a part of it because we live here. … Another reason why we’re doing it is that whether we want to be part of the story or not, we are because we’re Santa Barbara residents. We care about our community. We want to know what the news is and we want to make sure that people are treated fairly and that we can trust our news and get our news in places where it’s trustworthy.”

“Personally, I got angry every time I went to the end of my driveway here in Carpinteria and picked up my News-Press. I’d been doing that every morning for the last 15 years and, like a lot of people in Santa Barbara, got very attached to the paper and its writers. Suddenly everything changed. Where’d Barney Brantingham go? John Zant? Melinda Burns? What the hell happened to the paper I used to know?” said Seaman, writer of films such as Shrek the Third and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. “So that’s where the interest started for me. Plus I knew Sam Tyler and Rod Lathim and Chuck Minsky, and their own interest in doing the film fed mine.”

The story is told in a timeline, started with Thomas Storke and the history of the News-Press, and then on through Wendy McCaw’s reign. “What’s happened here in Santa Barbara is a cautionary tale for comparable issues potentially around the country,” said Tyler. “It hasn’t exploded this way anywhere else, When Rupert Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal, ” there wasn’t one-hundredth of the smoke around there that there is here in this inferno around Santa Barbara. They’re comparable issues.”

While the documentarians are clearly passionate about their subject, “we don’t insert ourselves in this film. We never intended to and we didn’t,” said Lathim. “The story is told onscreen by the people involved in the story. Our role in this really is to piece all the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Those pieces include interviews with national leaders in journalism, such as Washington Post Executive editor Ben Bradlee, former NBC News reporter Sander Vanocur, and Harvard’s Alex Jones. The ex-News-Press staffers are represented, as is McCaw, although not willingly.

“She refused half a dozen requests for interviews, had her lawyer send us four nasty letters and subpoenaed our footage,” said Tyler. With that caveat, the filmmakers insist her point-of-view is still represented. “I think she’s probably in it six times herself, her own words in black and white, put fairly up in context representing her point of view,” he said. “She actually appears speaking a couple of times, and her lawyers are in two or three times. So she has at least a dozen presentations of her point of view in this film, directly countering the other. Like Jerry Roberts said, ‘I quit because of ethics,’ Wendy McCaw said, ‘No he didn’t. That’s a lot of bull.’ What goes on here is the same thing that goes on in newsrooms everywhere. I mean viewers make up their own minds.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on March 1, 2008.