Winter Activities: Ho Ho Holidays

Casa Del Herrero, courtesy photo.

Casa Del Herrero, courtesy photo.

Say bah, humbug to the snow. Our warm-weather winters offer plenty of opportunities to fill your calendar with holiday cheer. Whether you’re looking for glittering lights, glitzy trees and glow-in-the-dark Santa Clauses, or more refined merry making, here are some of our favorite ways to celebrate the season, Santa Barbara style.

Historic Casa del Herrero’s Holiday-Themed Tour

Step back in time to the 1930s and cas enjoy the ambiance of Casa del Herrero (House of the Blacksmith), one of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial Revival Architecture. Reservations are a must for the special holiday-themed tours featuring classically elegant holiday decorations and special refreshments, alongside this historic landmark Andalusian-style country house and its lavish grounds and gardens.

Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, December 9,11,12,16,18 and 19th at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets are $20. Children 10 and over are welcome. For reservations call (805) 565-5653 or email 1387 East Valley Road, Montecito.

Holidays at the Historic Stow House Ranch

The Stow House, dating back to 1873, will be dressed in a full festive array of finery for its annual holiday open house, featuring oodles of decorations both inside and out. Photo opportunities abound with Santa and his rein-goats offering a warm lap to visitors old and young; tours of the beautifully decorated house, where an old-fashioned toy train circles the base of the living room Christmas tree; crafts, including cookie-baking and decorating for the kids and live music.

December 12 and 13. Free admission. Call (805) 681-7216 or email for more information. 304 N. Los Carneros Road, Goleta.

10th Annual Trolley of Lights Tour

Enjoy an incredible show of holiday light artistry when you take this 90-minute trip through town on the Trolley of Lights. Both the young and young-at-heart are sure to enjoy this dazzling display of decorations, as well as the hot apple cider and holiday treats. This tour is a local holiday favorite that always sells out, so make your reservations early.

From mid-December and throughout the month meets at 6:30 p.m. nightly at Stearns Wharf Dolphin Foundation, intersection of State Street and Cabrillo Boulevard. For more information call (805) 965-0353 or visit

Originally published in the Winter 2009/10 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.


Lucy Stoners

Lucy Stone and her daughter

Lucy Stone and her daughter

I, Leslie Dinaberg, nee Dinaberg, am a Lucy Stoner. This may surprise some people-or explain some things about how I write my columns-but the time has come to discuss my radical views.

I don’t think of myself as an extremist, but I guess I am, at least according to a survey done by the Center for Survey Research at Indiana University. In a national poll, 71 percent of respondents agreed that it is better for women to change their name upon marriage.

Seriously, this study was presented at the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting. Seventy-one percent!

That just blew me away. Unlike Lucy Stone (1818-1893), an American suffragist and abolitionist married to Henry Blackwell, who made a national issue of the right to keep one’s own surname as part of her efforts for women’s rights, most women who marry today still take their husband’s name.

An informal study of the holiday cards we received this year backs up that data. The vast majority of my high school and college friends who are married took their husband’s name.

For the most part these are not women who moved from their parents’ homes in with their husbands. These are not shrinking violets by any means. These are accomplished women with educations, careers, and independent lives. So why did they change their names when they got married?

I wish I could say I understood it. But honestly, I don’t. When my sister got married and changed her name she said it was because they wanted to be Duggan Family, not the Dinaberg-Duggan Family.

I agree, hyphens can be awkward. Zak and I briefly discussed hyphenating our names when we got married, but “Dinaberg” is a mouthful all by itself and when you add “Klobucher” to it there’s no way we’d ever be able to fit it all on a credit application. “Kloboberg” and “Dinucher” didn’t exactly roll off the tongue either. Besides, I’d been Leslie Dinaberg for almost 30 years at that point. I had no interest in becoming someone else when I got married.

I kept my name because it was my name-I was used to it, and replacing it with my husband’s made me feel like I was pretending to be my mother-in-law. I didn’t want to slam the door on the person I had worked so hard to become; besides, I was the last of the Dinabergs with no sons in my generation to “carry on” the name. Despite the mispronunciations, I just couldn’t stomach being the one to kill it off.

Piercings and tattoos have become commonplace, and pantyhose are harder and harder to find, but in this one area people have stayed conservative. I don’t get it. The number of women (5-10 percent) who have kept their names has held steady since the baby-boom generation began to marry, according to a New York Daily News interview with Lauren Hamilton, one of the Indiana University researchers. “The results were surprisingly conservative,” she said. “Even though there is a general movement toward neutral language, like saying chairperson instead of chairwoman, people seemed to feel it was better for a woman to change her last name to her husband’s.”

“The figures were a bit sobering for us because there seems to be change in so many areas. If names are a core aspect of our identity, this is important,” said Brian Powell, another researcher at Indiana University. “There are all these reports and indicators that families are changing, that men are contributing more, that we’re moving toward a more equal family, yet there’s no indication that we’re seeing a similar move to equality when it comes to names.”

“A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost,” said Lucy Stone. Get it? Women who choose not to use their husbands’ surnames are called “Lucy Stoners”-or Leslie Dinabergs.

Leslie’s not alone; the Lucy Stone League has a web page at Tell her what you think at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 18, 2009.

Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Michael Wyrsta

Michael Wyrsta at Opal Restaurant. Photo by Lara Cooper, Noozhawk.

Michael Wyrsta at Opal Restaurant. Photo by Lara Cooper, Noozhawk.

Attacking complicated problems is nothing new to chemist Michael Wyrsta. The
“Gaucho purebred”—who received both his BS and PhD at UCSB—lends his
considerable talents to developing vaccines, solar energy cells, green carbon
technology and eco-friendly building materials and making natural gas into
gasoline and green carbon technology. Now he’s turning his talents to creating
RND Vodka (, which hit the shelves of Santa Barbara restaurants and
retailers this summer.

Leslie Dinaberg: How on earth did you decide to start this vodka

Michael Wyrsta: (Laughs) That is a really good question. … I was in a liquor store
looking at all the stuff on the shelf and I thought it was pretty unfortunate that all
of the brands on the shelf were pretty much imports.

I mean the good stuff.

… I was like, “why don’t we have something up there that people like or …
people respect or just think that there is some kind of cachet to it?” … So then I
went to lunch with my friend Mark Collins and I said, “You know this is lame. We
should have our own great American vodka.”

He said, “Yeah we should, let’s do it.”

Seriously it was a snap decision.

LD: To try to do it on your own.

MW: Yeah. I wrote a check right there and we just started working on it.

LD: Wow.

MW: We didn’t know anything about making vodka at that time and then we
quickly learned about it. For me as a chemist it’s easy to understand the
chemistry part of it. … But in terms of how do you put a package together, how
do you do all of this stuff we had a lot of stumbling blocks in the

Then we got our art director, Kim Kavish involved and she’s great. … She really
helped right the ship and corrected a lot of the mistakes we’ve made in terms of
the design. Then there was a long process of licensing.

LD: So about a year ago you came up with the idea. Did you start developing the
product itself at the same time you started developing the

MW: Exactly. We have a distillery in Colorado that we worked on our formulation

… What we actually do is ferment our sugar source which comes from corn, and
then go the whole process, fermentation, distillation, purification. We use really
good Colorado Spring water. It’s really clean, it’s really pure and we do our own
filtration, so we do the whole process from grain to bottle.

Then it became a logistic thing. We had to develop the identity, develop the
formulation and then develop the logistics to support all that because we wanted
it to be a unique bottle.

LD: It’s definitely a unique shape. I can also see where this would stand out in a
bar. A lot of vodkas have really pretty designs but they’re just

MW: Exactly. They fade. We call that snoozing on the shelf.

LD: It seems like you’re getting a lot of recognition, including a piece in Sunset
Magazine, especially for how early in the process it is.

MW: Yes, we just launched end of July/early August.

LD: What part of your time is this endeavor?

MW: It does take a lot of my time right now … I have two other companies. A
CO2 company and I also am the CEO and president of a vaccine company up in
San Diego, so I have quite a bit of responsibility with that and I’m really busy.
That’s okay; I like doing all that stuff. For us it’s just something we have to do
until we get up to speed. My wife Inez and my best friend Lindy Lindstrom really
help a lot too.

LD: With high-end vodka is the push more on being in bars and restaurants
versus liquor stores and grocery stores?

MW: We have to be in all of them. We have to be everywhere basically because
they both support each other. … We are an ultra premium vodka, we’re
handmade, so we have more costs, we don’t do mega-scale, which a lot of
people do. So in that respect we’re focused on higher end stores, higher end
restaurants just because of the clientele.

It’s not different than a bottle of wine, if you get a good bottle of wine from Santa
Barbara it’s really expensive but you’re getting something that’s really high

I’m a scientist, so what I’d like to do is when this thing gets up to speed and we
get some real money coming in and profits, part of our goal is to donate some of
our profits to science education here in Santa Barbara.

LD: That’s great.

MW: Which would be probably through UC Santa Barbara or at that

LD: I was thinking about that because I do a lot of fundraising for the elementary
schools and I can see people objecting to donations from a liquor

MW: And that’s okay, I wouldn’t be against doing anonymous donation because I
understand there’s a perception issue and we wouldn’t want to be encouraging
kids to drink vodka at all. This is isn’t a 9 a.m. vodka; this is a high end sipping
vodka. We’re not promoting that lifestyle so if we were to go that route we would
definitely do something in a more low key, anonymous route.

But for me at least, science is really important and it is to the company too. In a
philosophical sense to us science is one of the few things that has been giving us
answers. We look to it when there is trouble. For example, whether or not it’s
global warming we’re looking towards a whole bunch of solutions but obviously
science plays a part in that. For example, look at the swine flu; we’re looking for a
vaccine to help us out or a drug. People to look to science for answers for really
discrete problems … it’s just sort of a way of thinking about problems and how to
solve them. It’s not about displacing any other belief system or a way of living just
taking stock on how we look at the world and addressing problems head on. I
think that’s important for us and if this is a vehicle to help do that, that’s

LD: Absolutely.

MW: If we can give something back that would be great. That’s how we’re trying
to position it and work it. I live here, Mark lives here, Kim lives here. … We’re
always supporting local events; we did the museum nights for example. We like
to support the arts too, we’ve done Santa Barbara Trustees and the Alumni
Association at UCSB, so we try to be involved in all that stuff.

LD: My best gauge of how good a vodka is, is usually how I feel the next day.
How does one tell a good vodka from a not so good one in terms of taste?

MW: For me-I’m not a heavy drinker and I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to
hard alcohol-so for me I wanted the smoothest, easiest drink of vodka because
ultimately if it’s going to go in a mix, or if you’re going to drink it straight, you want
it to be able to mix well with everything and you want to be able to drink it on the
rocks or with just a little bit of something.

… It has to be really smooth and it has to have a really low burn and really light
feeling … It’s an interesting spirit because it’s very neutral in a lot of ways but
what most people don’t notice there’s a harsh feeling, a burn with a lot of lower
end vodkas and that’s a function of what’s in it. There are other molecules that
are in vodka typically that produce that feeling.

We’ve come up with a formulation that allows up to have a smoother, lighter
feeling. Sunset Magazine recently described it as ethereal and that’s a good way
of describing it.

LD: You’re launching in Santa Barbara at a really good time. There’s this trend of
Farmer’s Market cocktails where people are using all of these fresh ingredients
and sort of the sweet with the sour with the savory, all of this kind of wild stuff
that is pretty new.

MW: I think it’s great. It follows that whole foodie trend so they want high quality
drinks with really fresh ingredients.

LD: I have the list of where it’s sold locally-Roy’s, Opal. Elements, Lazy Acres,
Gelson’s, Liquor and Wine Grotto and on and on. You must have a marketing
person that’s on that.

MW: It’s just me really.

LD: That’s a big job.

MW: Yeah, I know.

LD: How did you come up with the RND Vodka name?

MW: … RND fit a lot with my background in science and markets and also
funding science. It’s a play on research and development, clearly, but it’s also I
always thought it was cool because on your gearbox in a car it’s always RND,
reverse, neutral and drive. So I always thought that was a cool little thing with
both the science and the way you see it every day in your car.

… We wanted to make it a little bit more ambiguous versus just research and
development where you would use an ampersand typically. People might be able
to come up with their own names for it: Rebels Never Die, or Restores Natural
Desires. There are so many things that people have come up with, we have a
bunch of them on our Facebook site. (

LD: When you came here for college from Rochester, New York, did you think
you were going to stay?

MW: No. When I first got here for college I was like, “Oh my God where am I?” I
had no idea. It was a different universe. It took me a year to used to it. But then
you adapt. It is really different, I mean it’s almost like a different country, … but
once you figure it out it’s a great place-I love it.

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

MW: I love mountain biking; I surf if there’s surf. … I love the ocean and the
mountains so I take advantage of both of those.

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

MW: Oh no. Three adjectives. Oh God. Busy, really busy. I also think I’m creative
and hopeful.

Vital Stats: Michael Wyrsta

Born: In Rochester, New York, July 6, 1974

Family: Wife Inez

Civic Involvement: Donates to a number of organizations including UCSB Alumni
Association, CALPIRG, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Acts of Love-Autism
Speaks and the Trustee Association of Santa Barbara.

Professional Accomplishments: Graduated from UCSB in 1996 with a BS in
Microbiology and received a PhD in Materials from UCSB in 2002. Chemist for
start-up ventures, including GRT, Inc, SBA Materials, and BioSolar, Inc;
President and Founder, RND Spirits, Inc.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas

Little-Known Fact: “I’ll give you two. I went to a Jesuit High School and I had
long, blond dreadlocks right before I got my PhD.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on December 13, 2009. To read the article on that site click here.

The Next Generation of Dolls

The Gwen Thompson American Girl Doll

The Gwen Thompson American Girl Doll

Shopping for little girls is one of my favorite things about the holidays. Not that balls, books and board games aren’t exciting to shop for, but for a boy-mom like myself, there’s something magical about wandering through the pink-drenched aisles of the girls’ section of a toy store. I’ve heard animated birds chirp and seen fluffy cotton candy clouds burst into a storm of glitter when I shop in the girls’ aisle.

The Barbies are familiar—especially the Barbie Twilight Edward doll, who was on every magazine cover in the universe last month—but the Bratz, Earth Friends, Global Green Pals and Sushiami dolls are glamorous, exotic, foreign creatures. I can’t wait to inspect each and every one.

The Poupettes are pretty cute, and Moxie Girlz Sophia’s tutu is darling, but there’s a different name on my nieces’ list this year—Gwen Thompson. She’s one of the newest characters in the American Girl Doll collection and when I asked to take a look at her, the saleswoman said she’s only available through the American Girl Company.

Uh oh. I was afraid of that. I’ve only ventured into American Girl Place once, but it still scares me.

Actually it’s not just the store that scares me-although one step into this alternate universe where girls and their dolls dress alike, have their “Do’s” done at the Doll Hair Salon and their “Don’ts” repaired at the Doll Hospital is enough to drive a sane adult insane, and make the “It’s A Small World” ride at Disneyland seem downright subtle-the doll scares me too.

Gwen-who costs $95 and that doesn’t include a winter coat-is a homeless American Girl Doll.

Not homeless as in “hasn’t been sold yet and is still living on the shelves of American Girl Place waiting to come home with an eager little girl,” but homeless as in “she doesn’t have a place to live.” I’m guessing she doesn’t see the irony of arriving in a cardboard box.

Conceived as a friend character to Chrissa, the “2009 Girl of the Year” who has her own movie coming out in January, Gwen’s story is told in her history book (which is included in the $95 price). There you learn that her father lost his job and walked out on the family, then her mother lost her job and Gwen and her mom spent several months sleeping in the family car before they got a new place to stay through Sunrise House, a homeless shelter for women and children.

Wow. Now I’m waiting for the doll inspired by Amy Winehouse.

That’s a lot of baggage to lay on a doll. It might even more stressful than Barbie’s WNBA Player, Astronaut, Veterinarian, and Supermodel career path. When Gwen first hit the shelves earlier this year it’s no surprise that she was controversial. women’s issues writer Linda Lowen wondered, “How does a toy manufacturer reconcile the excesses of privilege with the unmet basic needs caused by deprivation? By creating a character who faces these challenges and by manufacturing a doll in her likeness, is Mattel opening up an important dialogue or slapping a Barbie Band Aid on a social issue that’s been prettified and commodified?”

New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser went so far as to call out the doll as inappropriate “political indoctrination” intended to encourage children to sympathize with the homeless. “It seems obscene that a company that prides itself on teaching impressionable children about history and-you can have your doll’s hair done for $20! -should engage in political preaching,” she wrote, setting off a firestorm of criticism of the company, the most valid of which I thought was that the proceeds from sales should go toward helping actual homeless children. (By giving them food, clothing and shelter, in addition to cartloads of overpriced dolls.)

Said an American Girl Company spokesperson: “The doll is meant to teach tolerance and is part of an outreach program teaching young girls how to spot bullying and stand up and speak out against it.” They have also stated that the dolls “offer valuable lessons about life,” and are “disheartened that there has been any confusion over our fictional characters.”

The company also pointed out that it has given almost $500,000 to HomeAid, a national nonprofit group that helps the homeless find housing.

A $500,000 donation to help the homeless does make this a little more palatable, but I don’t think that the homeless doll will be finding its way into my nieces’ homes anytime soon. On my budget, I’d probably end up like Gwen.

When Leslie’s not playing in the toy aisles, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 11, 2009.

Boys Will be Boys

Ed Hardy Tee ShirtI learned a new word recently: “Dad-olescence,” described by Daily Beast writer Sean Macaulay as the modern, midlife crisis-aged male’s tendency to “act like a sullen teenager … a low-grade regressive style of acting-out that’s now so widespread among midlife males it deserves its own label.”

Unlike the stereotypical midlife crises our parents’ generation had-using the fruits of their success to buy boy toys such as sports cars and hot, young girlfriends-Macaulay says that the double-whammy of delayed parenting and the economic crisis have created an epidemic of Dad-olescents grappling with their own mortality at the same time the credit crunch “nixes any chance of the classic ego-boosting spending spree” and their post-feminist upbringings and subsequent “guilt airbags” keep them faithful to their wives.

No wonder some of these guys are feeling down in the dumps. Party games like “dueling ailments” and “pin the hair on the bald guy” don’t exactly help to lift their 40-something spirits, as evidenced by some of the soirees I’ve attended recently. And piercing your ears and wearing Ed Hardy tee shirts is a lot less fun than driving with the top down on your Porsche.

Yet my husband remains suspiciously chipper, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have a Porsche or a hottie. He might be able to keep a Porsche hidden from me, but who has the time or money for a girlfriend? No, I credit this to the fact that he’s so in touch with his inner child. While few women will admit their age, I have found that even fewer men act theirs. I often feel like I have two boys living with me: a ten-year-old and a 12-year-old-in-a-44-year-old-body-who-thinks-he-has-a-34-year-old-body.

For the most part, my two boys play really well together. They both love science fiction/fantasy stories, computer games, Doritos, pretending not to hear what I’m saying, jumping on the furniture and fart jokes. The younger one also likes Pokemon (again!) and watches a lot of sports on TV. But the older one can drive-and buy beer-which is very convenient for me.

The ten-year-old is in that preadolescent, unpredictable tween stage; still young enough to sit on my lap one moment and then greet me with a too cool for school head flip the next. His father’s behavior toward me is equally erratic; depending on what he wants, what he did wrong and who else is around to witness it.

But most of the time, thankfully, they’re both pretty happy guys. I guess I should consider myself lucky there’s not a lot of Dad-olescent behavior going on in our house. Of course there’s always that possibility that they’ll both evolve into moody, uncommunicative teens at some point, but for right now boys will be boys-and so will a lot of middle-aged men.

When Leslie’s not stocking up on Clearasil for her boys she can be reached at For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 4, 2009.

How much duck could a turkey chuck?

Turducken (via wikipedia)

Turducken (via wikipedia)

I giggle every time I hear the word “Turducken.” I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s the first four letters, or the “duck” (literally) in the middle, but Turducken references abound this time of year and I can’t help but chuckle every time I hear or read the word.

I’ve never even tasted Turducken, though I have tried Tofurky, and Turducken has got to be better than that. It’s certainly funnier, and not at all self-righteous. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder about the origins of this Thanksgiving delicacy, so I decided to do some research.

Turducken, for those of you that haven’t heard about this, is what you get when you take a chicken and stuff it inside of a duck, then you take that ducken and stuff it inside of a turkey.

In my head, I keep hearing Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof singing “Turducken, Turducken. Turducken!”

According to a 2002 New York Times story by Amanda Hesser, turkey found his inner duck (and chicken), “Once upon a time, possibly at a lodge in Wyoming, possibly at a butcher shop in Maurice, Louisiana, or maybe even at a plantation in South Carolina.” She wrote that “an enterprising cook decided to take a boned chicken, a boned duck and a boned turkey, stuff them one inside the other like Russian dolls, and roast them. He called his masterpiece Turducken.”

I guess chickdurkey and duchicky were already taken.

Of course these scenarios are certainly possible, as are the unsubstantiated claims that Cajun-Creole fusion chef Paul Prudhomme created the Turducken. But here’s the thing: all of these Turducken theories revolve around the idea that a man was the one who created the Turducken. I for one have never, in my 40-something year history of Thanksgiving celebrations, seen a man willingly move more than four feet away from any TV screening football games on Thanksgiving Day.

Therefore, it seems completely logical to me that a woman must have invented the Turducken.

Here’s my theory. You probably know the tune.

I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turducken (with apologies to anyone who can carry a tune or make a rhyme)

I know an old lady who swallowed a Turducken

I don’t know what kind of booze she was chuckin

She first bought a chicken

It seemed finger licken

But then in walked Chuck

He’d picked up a duck

The old lady sighed

With no room in the freezer

She’d have to cook both, to please the old geezer

She consulted Giada and Martha, her coven

They both told her simply to turn on the oven

She swallowed some wine, then swallowed some beer

What she did at this point isn’t perfectly clear

But then Rita showed up at the door with a turkey

The old lady took it; she didn’t want to be jerky

The oven then beeped it was ready to cook

How could the old lady get off the hook?

There was no way to fit three birds in her range

She had an idea, although it was strange

She’d seen a commercial a time long ago

Where peanut butter and chocolate did a Do-Se-Do

If Reese’s can do it then so can I

She gulped her martini and let out a sigh

Perhaps I’ll try.

And there you have the real explanation for how the Turducken came to be. Happy Thanksgiving!

If you’ve got a better explanation for this culinary oddity, email For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 20, 2009.

Recess Rage

Photo by by Naypong

Photo by by Naypong

When kids don’t get to run around and play, we all pay the price. This is why I’m absolutely dumbfounded that all educators don’t get this very simple and painfully obvious reality: when they don’t play, we all pay-dearly!

This is also why I get so worked up when I hear about teachers punishing a child for not doing their homework, or misbehaving in class, by keeping them inside during recess. All kids need to run around and let off steam on a regular basis, but kids who have a hard time in class need the break even more.

I’ve got plenty of anecdotal evidence from my own son and his friends, and there’s even scholarly research to back me up. I love when that happens.

* An analysis of nearly 200 studies on the effect of exercise on cognitive functioning suggests that physical activity supports learning (Etnier).

* As overall fitness scores improve, mean achievement scores also improve (Grissom).

* Fourth-graders were more on-task and less fidgety in the classroom on days when they had recess, with hyperactive children among those who benefited the most (Jarrett).

* Although not all children are active during recess, children’s tendency to choose physical activity on the playground when they need it the most is evidenced by their higher levels of activity on the playground after recess was delayed (Pellegrini and Davis; Pellegrini, Huberty, and Jones).

* In studying the link between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 children, researchers found that those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day showed better behavior in class than those who had little or none. (Barros, Silver and Stein).

The bottom line: one of the best ways to improve a kid’s performance in the classroom is to take them out of it for a while.

This is why it just kills me when teachers punish children by taking away recess privileges. That also struck Dr. Romina M. Barros (who researched the link between recess and classroom behavior) as illogical. She told the New York Times, “Recess should be part of the curriculum. You don’t punish a kid by having them miss math class, so kids shouldn’t be punished by not getting recess.”

Yet due to school budget cuts and an increased focus on academic standards, lots of American schoolchildren miss out on unstructured playtime with their peers, so much so that there is a “Right to Recess Movement” building around the country.

While recess doesn’t seem to be a danger here in fitness-conscious Santa Barbara-in fact the Orfalea Foundation is now funding an initiative to put “Recess First” before lunch with the idea that kids will be able to better concentrate on making healthy food choices after they’ve had time to run around-the practice of taking away recess as punishment is still alive and well.

An editorial in “Young Child” compares depriving children of recess to depriving them of a meal. “Just as hungry children cannot concentrate well, children deprived of breaks cannot concentrate well either. Sometimes the most disruptive children need recess the most.”

Most people wouldn’t dream of denying a child lunch to make more time for math, or withhold breakfast if a child misbehaved, but they seem perfectly satisfied to starve a kid out of recess.

With all the moaning about kids turning into couch potatoes, sedentary obese blobs, or video game-playing zombies, I say let’s make some healthy choices about school punishment strategies.

When Leslie’s not raging about recess, she can be reached at For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 13, 2009.

Is Shouting the New Spanking?

Photo by David Castillo Dominici,

Photo by David Castillo Dominici,

Spanking—like fountain pens, hardback Webster’s Dictionaries, and control top panty hose—is one of those things that is still around, but hardly ever used anymore. According to a recent story in the New York Times, shouting has taken its place as the discipline du jour.

“Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children,” writes Hilary Stout. “We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (‘Good job!’), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.”

Of course I yell from time to time-usually something like “hurry up,” or “I can’t believe you forgot again”-but it’s really not my go-to behavior, as evidenced by the fact that both my husband and I can bring our son to tears by simply changing the tones of our voices.

When I get frustrated I’m more of a “mean-sarcastic-if-you-could-hear-me-you’d-be-crying-hysterically-commenter-under-my-breather” than a yeller. Of course I feel incredibly guilty about this within minutes. Probably even worse than I would have felt if I’d just yelled.

Apparently, I’m in the minority.

A study published in “The Journal of Marriage and Family,” says 88 percent of the families interviewed admitted shouting, yelling or screaming at their children in the previous year and that percentage jumped to 98 percent in families with seven-year-old children.


I decided to do a completely unscientific survey of my own and ask my friends what they thought about this shouting as the new spanking theory.

Not surprisingly, the yellers were in the majority.

“At our house it gets really loud. I am talking really loud,” says V. “Three kids (15, 14 and 10), two dogs, two parents in a 1,600 square foot house then add in the TV and doing dishes etc. My kids often say ‘mom stop yelling’ and I don’t even think I am.”

“I yell, I scream, I swear, and mostly I seem to be talking to myself,” says T. “Sometimes I give myself a sore throat from yelling at my kids, but it seems to have no effect on them whatsoever.”

“Dude, I am a total yeller. AWFUL yeller,” admits S. “I yell myself hoarse sometimes and my entire family just ignores me. Which is as it should be.”

But does yelling really yield any results other than working out your lungs?

Some parents say it does if used strategically.

“Sometimes when my toddler is yelling in the car for no reason-and she knows when she’s doing it to push my buttons-I yell back,” says G. “Not at her, I just yell out one loud ‘Ahh!’ and it immediately stops her. She doesn’t cry, she doesn’t sulk, she’s not emotionally scarred, she just looks at me like I’m a little crazy for a second then behaves.”

“Whatever works,” agrees L. “Two of my kids don’t need yelling at. They listen and are sensitive and know the right thing to do. The third is not sensitive and is very, very stubborn with wanting to do want he wants. I’m a different parent with him. I use yelling as a last resort to snap him out of his relentless behavior.”

Never one to mince words, M, the mother of four exceptionally well-behaved children, says, “People who don’t yell or spank are usually the ones with the biggest brats!!!!” This comment touched a few nerves.

“Yelling, like anything, can be abused. I teach two and three year olds and NEVER have to yell at them to get them to listen. I am consistent and loving and firm in my day. Children do not need to be yelled at nor do adults. Yelling solves nothing,” says J.

“I have never yelled at my son and he is nowhere near a brat. I agree with J, being consistent, loving and firm has worked for me. I just think you need to act like you want your children to act,” says L. “If you’re a yeller, I guarantee your child will become a yeller. We have to be an example to our children.”

No kidding.

All of this research and I’m still not sure how to feel about yelling, other than guilty. My extremely scientific conclusion: depending on who you want to listen to, you’re either setting a terrible example for your children by yelling at them or dooming them to a lifetime of brattyness if you don’t yell at them.

I guess the best news is that however you feel about yelling at your kids, and whatever you actually do behind closed doors, you’re definitely not alone.

When Leslie’s not yelling under her breath at her son, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 6, 2009.

The Roar of the Cougar

Cougar TownWatching “Cougar Town” makes me feel dirty-and not in a good way. I really wanted to like this show. Despite the high concept potential for disaster, when I heard about it I had high hopes. The star, Courtney Cox, was my third favorite “Friends” actress and her last series, the short-lived “Dirt,” was delightfully trashy. I figured “Cougar Town” would be more of the same.

Besides, clearly this show and I were made for each other. I’m over 40 and I’m married to a hot younger man, so I should be able to relate, right?

Of course being a 40-something woman in real life means juggling work between laundry loads, driving car pool, supervising homework, and putting away groceries. I still go out to bars occasionally, but mainly with girlfriends, and I can’t remember the last time I wore three-inch heels, let alone recall how to walk in them. But on TV the 40-something women-whether judges, detectives, game show contestants or in the case of Cox’s “Cougar Town” character, real estate agents-all have one thing in common: they’re on the prowl for hot, lusty sex with ripped guys only a few years older than their children.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this.

When I see an obviously older woman with a younger guy-and can safely rule out the idea that he’s her son-I usually think “more power to her.” Or, if I’ve had enough cocktails and there’s 80s music playing, “you go girl.”

I also don’t automatically assume the guy’s a himbo, just because he’s young.

Six-pack abs are great, but intelligent conversation is a must, as is a sense of humor, and the second two don’t necessarily fall exclusively in the province of people born before the Reagan administration. Unlike a lot of men, who are happy to be in the company of women who simply look pretty and have absolutely nothing of interest to say, I don’t know a lot of women who aren’t interested in talking, both before and after sex.

According to author Valerie Gibson’s “Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men,” “a cougar is the new breed of single, older woman-confident, sophisticated, desirable, and sexy. She knows exactly what she wants. What she doesn’t want is children, cohabitation, or commitment.”

That I can understand.

I love being married, but if anything ever happened to my husband, getting another one wouldn’t be high on my list of priorities.

I was expecting “Cougar Town” to be a funny, fantasy show about the road not taken. What would it be like to be a woman my age dating a hot younger man? And what would it be like to be living in a “Cougar Town” where this was as commonplace as it is for men to be squiring around much younger women?

Boy was I disappointed.

Instead “Cougar Town” makes turning 40 look like a life sentence at a sadistic day spa where your life is all about nipping, tucking and sucking it in. Rather than simply enjoying being who she is, Cox’s character is constantly commenting on how old she is, how pretty she used to be and how uncomfortable she is in her own skin.

“If aliens learned about our culture by watching our newest television shows, they might assume that planet Earth was terrorized by predatory middle-aged women with hairless, bony bodies and the same blank expression on their overly Botoxed faces, a look of creepy awe at the joys of 20-something tenderloin,” wrote Heather Havrilesky in Salon.

Ick! She’s right.

This is just the opposite of the vast majority of 40-something women that I know.

Getting older is about knowing who you are, and finally, finally, FINALLY being comfortable in your own skin-no matter how wrinkled it may be. Unfortunately the writers of this show-who are mostly middle-aged men-just don’t get that.

When Leslie isn’t trying to find something worth watching on TV, she can be reached at For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 30, 2009.

Let Lying Liars Lie

The Invention of LyingI try to teach my son that honesty is the best policy, but truthfully, I don’t always tell the truth.

I’ve got lies on my mind this week because I saw The Invention of Lying, which, despite a great high concept – in a world where people can only tell the truth, one man discovers he can lie – is a wildly uneven mess of a movie. But it did make me think about how many white lies I routinely tell in the course of an average day.

I contemplated the idea of keeping a lying journal, then tracking when I was tempted to lie and whether I would be able to resist the temptation to fib if I was more aware of it. But why lie to myself? That’s way too ambitious and I wouldn’t last a day, let alone a week.

From the time-saving auto-response “I’m fine” after an innocent query of “How are you doing?” (Which I’m sure the grocery store checker and the people in line behind me would much prefer to “I just ate a donut from the display case and killed a man, and I’m not sure which is worse.”), to the “Of course I’m not too busy” response when a friend calls and they desperately need to talk, I’m a scarily skillful liar. Innocent little fibs like this are second nature for me.

Whether it’s the art of the artful dodge – when my son asks what happened to the M & M’s he had left over from the movies, and I remind him that he needs to unload the dishwasher – or the skillful sidestep – when my husband wonders what happened to the $100 cash he just got from the ATM and I tell him how handsome he is – I’ve come to realize that lying is one of the few things I do rather gracefully.

It’s just my luck that lying – the one useful skill that comes naturally for me -also comes saddled with an entire storage unit full of guilt and ambivalence.

At least I’m not alone.

Research by Dr. Robert S. Feldman of the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that in an average 10-minute discussion, 60 percent of people lie approximately three times. Of course, he may have just made that up.

Moms are the worst offenders of all. “We are surprised by how often parenting by lying takes place,” said researcher Kang Lee of the University of Toronto, Canada. “Our findings showed that even the parents who most strongly promoted the importance of honesty with their children engaged in parenting by lying,” said Lee, who reported her conclusions in a study published in last month’s “Journal of Moral Education.”

Yes, such a journal really exists. And now that I’ve confessed my lying proclivities you probably won’t ever find my name on their masthead, unless I lie about my lying, which I would never do unless I had a really, really, really good story idea that would be perfect for their publication.

I’m even more ambivalent about cultural lies, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I sort of want to be honest about them, but I don’t want my son to be the one to burst some other kid’s bubble, and he’s scrupulously honest enough to enjoy doing just that. Plus, I don’t want to get in trouble from the other parents.

This may be why I floundered a bit when Koss recently tested his suspicions about Tabitha. (Tabitha is his Tooth Fairy, who has been writing him notes and sprinkling pixie dust on his dollar coins for almost a decade. I say if you’re going to perpetuate a lie about a fictional character, you may as well go big.) He told us that he wasn’t going to put a particular tooth under his pillow. For four nights in a row there was no tooth. We checked. Then finally on the fifth night he decided to “test Tabitha” and put his tooth under the pillow. We failed to check. The next morning when Koss said he knew there was no tooth fairy, I mumbled and fumbled for a response, finally settling on: “Are you sure? Maybe she just got stuck in traffic.”

Smoooth. I guess I’m not as good of a liar before I’ve had my coffee. That’s also when I catch myself hastily hiding certain gruesome newspaper headlines underneath the sports page before Koss comes to breakfast, which of course makes him all the more curious about what I’m hiding.

While the socially expedient lies come easily, I get a bit rattled under pressure to prevaricate. A few weeks ago when Koss’s school was on lockdown, I told him everyone was safe before I knew it was true. I hoped it was true.

So maybe there’s a bit of wishful thinking in my lies.

I’m in good company here too. An online survey found that 91 percent of women said that as they get older and more comfortable with themselves they lie less often. If I wasn’t 29, this might apply to me too.

Share the biggest whopper of a lie you’ve ever told with For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 23, 2009.