The wheaty taste of niche gone nuts

Wheat ThinsWe have so many choices, yet so few of them are really important.

But that doesn’t stop the marketers from giving us more to choose from. We live in an age of niche marketing gone nuts. There’s actually a $47 marketing book that people presumably pay for, called “Niche Marketing on Crack!” I’m not kidding. Look it up. That’s how insane it’s gotten.

There’s a desperate battle going on for shelf space and brain space, space on your bookshelf and space on your DVR. Just the other day I went shopping and looked for Wheat Thins. Remember Wheat Thins? Square, thin, made out of wheat. They used to be pretty simple. Not any more.

They still have the original Wheat Thins, but there’s also a reduced fat kind; there’s one with a “hint of salt,” then you have the fiber selects type in garden vegetable or 5-grain; the big size, which are the same as the original only bigger; the multi-grain kind, not to be confused with the 100 whole grain type; the sundried tomato and basil flavor, not to be confused with the parmesan basil flavor; not to mention the cream cheese and chives, the ranch flavor, the reduced fat roasted garlic and herb flavor, the reduced fat country French onion, and the new artisan cheese Wheat Thins, in white cheddar or colby flavors.

I’m not kidding. There are also the toasted Wheat Thins chips, which come in a few more flavors, but in bags, rather than boxes. Plus they have all these flavors of Wheat Thins in at least three different sized boxes, plus the 100-calorie packs and the slightly larger lunch packs, and that’s not even counting the ginormous boxes of Wheat Thins you can buy at Costco.

You can see how this all gets to be exhausting.

I took my son to Barnes and Noble and Chaucer’s yesterday because he had gift certificates for both. The Maximum Ride book he wanted was available in hardcover or paperback, which we expected, but also a larger trade paperback which had a nicer cover and cost a dollar more, so he had to decide about that. But even though the book said it was number one in the series, we later found out from his friend that it was number one in A SERIES but not number one in THE SERIES that he wanted because there were two other series he was supposed to read first. So, of course, he wanted to go back and get those.

And because it was reading, and I like to encourage that, I took him back to the store. By this time I was ready for some escapist reading of my own, but trying to browse a bookstore for plain old fiction is just about impossible these days. Did I want literature, romance, mystery, best sellers or book club favorites? What about women’s fiction or an Oprah’s selection? By the time we got out of there my brain was too fried to curl up with anything other than a nice stiff gin and tonic, because there was no way I could possibly decide which bottle of wine I was going to open at that point.

Then I flipped through the cable music channels trying to find some music to listen to. Can someone please explain the difference between adult alternative rock and adult album alternative?

When I was a kid, everyone watched The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family because there was nothing else even remotely appropriate for us to watch on TV at night. Now we have so many cable stations I can’t keep them straight. Forget channel surfing, I need GPS on my TV.

I couldn’t figure out which music I wanted, but then I stumbled on the Food Network’s Home Shopping Channel.

Guess what they were featuring? Wheat Thins.

When Leslie’s not being bewildered by “Marketing on Crack!” she’s usually on her computer, at Originally published on April 24, 2009 in the the Santa Barbara Daily Sound. For more columns visit

The Blessings of Boredom



“I’m bored.”

Ask any parent and they’re sure to tell you that these are the two most irritating words you can hear come out of a child’s mouth. More annoying than “Are we there yet?” and more ubiquitous than “five more minutes,” when a child says he’s bored it’s enough to drive any over-scheduled, multi-tasking adult crazy-especially since most of us would sell our souls for a day of guilt-free, free time.

Even though he’s rolling his eyes like he’s bored, I try to explain to my son that the concept of labeling a huge part of human experience as “boring” is a relatively new phenomenon. “Think about how hard people used to have to work simply to survive. Taking care of the cows and the pigs and fields required rising at the crack of dawn, while preparing meals without microwaves and running water and mending clothes so they would survive another winter kept people busy well into the night,” I tell him. He fake snores in response to my diatribe.

Hmmm, that went well. What’s even more surprising to me is that it’s my kid who has a problem with this, as my husband is a master of playing with himself.

“Why can’t we play on the computer or watch TV?” he asks for what feels like the 900th time.

“You’ve got friends over. You’re supposed to entertain each other. Go outside and climb a tree, run around, make up a game.”

Finally, blessedly, they do.

And they’re happy and they’re stimulating their minds and tiring out their bodies just like kids were meant to do.

But we have this “I’m bored” conversation more often than we should, primarily when other kids come over to play and I refuse to let them plug in to the television or the computer. So far we’ve resisted the Nintendo marketing cry in our house, but if we ever do give in (who am I kidding – when we do), I can guarantee I’ll be that mean old mom who won’t allow plugged in play dates.

There’s a huge upside to downtime and I worry that today’s kids are so overscheduled and over stimulated that they have no idea how to entertain themselves.

A survey by the University of Michigan found that in 1997 children between the ages of 3 and 12 had nearly eight hours less free time each week than they did in 1981. And I’m sure it’s only gotten worse. It’s no surprise that in a recent study approximately half of adolescents surveyed said they feel stressed out at least once a week. They’ve got too much on their plates. They need a little time to be bored.

But they also need some guidance from their parents so they can carve out the free time to explore, create, connect, contemplate or just be. Even a bit of intentional boredom stimulates creativity and can help children become more relaxed more self-sufficient and, ultimately, happier.

Instead of letting the phrase “I’m bored” send us scrambling for ways to stimulate, entertain or occupy our kids, I think we should try to embrace it. Children are like nature, they abhor a vacuum. Give them some do-nothing time and the odds are pretty good they’ll find an interesting way to fill it. Hopefully they’ll learn something, and even more hopefully very little property will be damaged.

The next time my son says, “I’m bored,” I’m going to try my best not to be annoyed. “That’s great,” I’ll say instead. “Have fun.”

When Leslie’s not fantasizing about having some guilt-free, free time of her own, she can be reached at email . Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 17, 2009. For more columns visit

Legacies: Community Counseling & Education Center

Celebrating 25 Years of Service

By Leslie Dinaberg


What began in 1984 as the dream of two women—to provide very low cost counseling and education to needy individuals, couples, and families, and to create a state-of-the-art training environment for graduate students—now, 25 years later, a vibrant nonprofit, the Community Counseling & Education Center (CCEC).


When Patricia Cooper and Jaclyn Henretig first envisioned CCEC, there were only a handful of places where people with limited incomes could go for counseling. The Human Relations Institute (which later became Pacifica) had a counseling center in Isla Vista where Cooper was a graduate student training to be a counselor and Henretig was her supervisor. That center was slated to close and the women felt passionately that the community still needed its services.


“Our immediate response was ‘let’s do something to keep it going,’” says Henretig, who now serves as Clinical Director.


“We were seeing a lot more people coming into therapy and talking about things like divorce and separation. People were starting to talk about the impact of alcohol on the family. Many people were growing up in homes where there was sexual abuse. We saw an opportunity to not only provide those kinds of services, but also support a student body with trouble adjusting to being away from home and struggling with depression and anxiety,” explains Cooper, now the Executive Director.


Despite the fact that they had no funding and limited resources at their disposal, they set up shop in a small office in the Isla Vista Medical Center. They got to work quickly, painting the walls and sewing cushions for the floor so they could seat their first clients.


“We did not know anything about running an agency, obviously,” laughs Cooper, from the downtown Santa Barbara offices they now occupy. CCEC may have graduated from pillows on the floor to second-hand couches and chairs, but the spirit of rolling up your sleeves and doing what needs to be done remains strong.


“We stayed with our original desire, which was to provide psychological and educational programs that were pertinent to the Santa Barbara community at an affordable price, and at the same time to have a great training program to meet the needs of the interns going through,” says Henretig.


“If I were to encapsulate the journey of the center, I would say that in many ways we were learning as we went about how to run an agency. But we also were very proud of the clinical training and supervision that we were offering and the direct services that we were providing to low income families. … We always felt like we were excelling in those areas,” says Cooper.


Today CCEC provides about 7,500 hours a year of bilingual counseling services for individuals, couples, families, and children, as well as a variety of support groups for children (in conjunction with Boys and Girls Club), single parents, and Spanish speaking families. It also offers continuing education classes to the general public. All services are either free or on a sliding fee scale, which Cooper says is becoming more critical in these stressful economic times.


While not a crisis center, CCEC does have ability to react quickly to support the community’s needs. For example, it worked closely with the Red Cross and offered free counseling services to people affected by the Jesusita Fire and prior to that, the Tea Fire.


“To have somebody to listen to you is oftentimes such a gift, and to have somebody’s undivided attention, it’s a gift and it’s something that we all crave,” says Cooper. “None of us ever feel like we get enough of that.”


“It’s truly been a pleasure for us to do the center. When I think of the things that I’m proud of in my life, certainly having the center develop as it has brings me a lot of sense of peace,” says Henretig. “Private practice is wonderful, but there’s only a few people that can afford private practice fees. This makes me feel like it goes out into the community regardless of how much money people have, and that’s a good feeling.”


For more information about the Community Counseling & Education Center, call 805/962-3363.

 Originally published in the Fall 2009 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine. To read the story as it appeared, click here for the first page, and here for the second page.






My Santa Barbara | Fred Benko

By Leslie Dinaberg

Fred Benko has been making his home away from home in the “fishy little sleeping village” of the Santa Barbara Harbor, for 36 years, first as the founder of Sea Landing and as the owner of the Condor and now the Condor Express boat charters.

“Winter in the channel is a busy place, says Benko. One of his favorite things to do is take professional big wave surfers, along with their jet skis and camera crews, out to Cortez Bank (120 miles south of Santa Barbara) and Shark Park at San Miguel Island. “That’s always exciting stuff. … It’s awesome the talent these guys have,” says Benko, noting that their pictures will frequently end up in surfing magazines. The Channel Islands also sees another kind of exciting action: both San Miguel Island and San Nicholas Island are large elephant seal rookeries. Benko laughs, “I can’t stop taking pictures of elephant seals because they have such unique faces. Each one is unique.”

In addition there are, of course, lots of whales. “There are 25,000 whales in that herd this year and they’ll all come through here. … It’s just a freeway out there. …

Benko grins when asked if he still gets excited to see the first whales of the day. “Oh yeah, the whole crew. We’re always enthusiastic and it’s not a made up enthusiasm—it’s just really neat to see them. … The neat thing is we’re out there every day so the whales become used to us. The Humpbacks will seek us out—we call it getting mugged. … Frequently a blue whale will come up and surface right next to the boat, just within 50 feet or so right next to the boat. Scares the hell out of everybody. It’s a huge blow, but it’s always exciting.”

Originally published in the Winter 2009/10 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine. Link to PDF here.


Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Steven Lovelace

Steven Lovelace (Michelle J. Wong / Noozhawk photo)

Steven Lovelace (Michelle J. Wong / Noozhawk photo)

As the owner/director of Santa Barbara Dance Arts (with partner Alana
Tillim), Steven Lovelace has his dance card full guiding the jazz hands and pirouettes of more than 400 young students. Here, he takes a brief intermission to talk to Noozhawk.

Leslie Dinaberg: So Arts Alive! which shared your space, is now gone, sadly. But I hear Santa
Barbara Dance Arts is expanding.

Steven Lovelace: Yes. Now my rent just doubled which is pretty scary. But Alana and I … we’re
a very good mix, she’s definitely a great artist and does wonderful choreography
and really good with the kids. She’s a great teacher … I know that it will be good
for us in the long run …

LD: I know a lot of kids that take classes from you and just love it.

SL: They do. We have 400 kids here. Are they going to do it as a profession? I’ve
got a few kids that could be able to do it. Are they talented enough, absolutely,
but you know it also takes intelligence and hard work. …

Some of it here at my studio is social. I know the girls enjoy dancing, I know they
enjoy what I do in the class, but they also enjoy coming in and being a part of this
group … they interface and they interact and it feels good.

LD: I also think you can’t discount just the physical part of dancing. I think as a
parent you realize that your kids need to run around and burn off energy and they
can’t learn if they don’t do that.

SL: And they don’t learn this in school. This doesn’t happen in school. The level
of dancing or the level of vocal coaching that goes on here of the acting classes,
that is not the same, … Before I started this I have worked in practically every
darn school in the city doing independent things.

LD: Will there be changes at your studio now that you have the entire

SL: Now we’re going to really transform this into a performing arts center. …
We’ve got Kindermusik here that’s very successful. … We’ve still got a gallery
space down there. The performing arts need the visual arts anyway because
somebody’s got to build the set to put on the show. I’m about to do two musicals
in the summertime, so this is all individual artists, costumers are individual artists,
they’re not performing artists, so I work with set designers, costumers.

LD: With this transition, is the name of the whole place going to be Santa
Barbara Dance Arts?

SL: Yes. Arts Alive! doesn’t belong to me. … The Arts Mentorship Program is the
nonprofit part of it. That is our scholarship program and our dance companies,
our performing groups, and a lot of internship stuff. We do everything from teach
them to teach classes, we mentor them to choreograph. They are producing their
own things. … The kids right now they are producing their own student
choreography showcase that will be April 26th at 3 p.m. The senior dance
company produces it under our direction, they put the program together, and they
do auditions and do the ticket sales. They do everything.

LD: That’s great. That’s really good experience.

SL: Yes, it’s great. It’s for 14-18 year old kids. They put their own recordings
together, they edit the music for the kids, they do all that. They outreach to the
kids at the dance school. … They can’t walk out of here just being dancers. It
takes more than that to make it in the dance world and we know that, so I’m
teaching kids to teach. You know one girl, she went out of here, she didn’t want
to be a dance major but she taught dance on the side because she could make
20 bucks an hour teaching dance instead of slinging hash and trying to scrape
tips together so that she could help support herself in school. So that’s a really
nice little skill to walk out of here with.

I’ve got one girl in her senior year in high school she choreographed two
musicals in the school. It pays a couple of grand for her to go in and choreograph
eight dances for a musical. She’s so good at it. So she’s working on
choreography and making some money. I’m hiring her this summer to help me
choreograph my musicals because I can’t do everything. She works here in the
summertime; she’s great with teaching. She’s 19.

LD: How long have you been dancing?

SL: I started when I was 21. I actually was doing aerobics up at Nautilus, and the
gal that was running it there who is now one of my moms.

LD: Cindy Elster?

SL: Yes … she pegged me right away in class. I was very coordinated. … I would
be right up in there in the front just going for it, and I moved really well and she
said, “you know, I think you should become a teacher. You should teach. Half the
class is following you anyway.”

So she started having me come up with her on the thing and do the routines with
her and she was really basically training me to teach. (Then she said) “Why
don’t you go up to City College and take a couple of jazz classes? You’ll get all

So I went to City College and took Kay Fulton’s jazz class. It was actually an
intermediate class and … at the end of the class she lined up half a dozen of us
and she said, “You need to take ballet, you need to take ballet or modern,” she
got up to me and she says, “you can stay.” So I got to stay in the class. And that
was the beginning of dance for me.

LD: That’s kind of wild, it’s late in life, most people start dancing so

SL: It is late, but it’s more common for men. Men can start late. … They get an
accelerated training. I was up in a community college. I wasn’t in a dance studio
hidden away, I was up in a community college where everybody could see me so
within six months somebody from UCSB saw me and called Alice Contadina who
was the department head at the time and she sent one of the teachers out to a
class to observe me and she said “why don’t you come out here and take some
lessons free of charge?” So I went out to UCSB and I danced out there for a year
and then they offered me a spot in their company. By that time I had quit my day
job and had gotten a job at Julie McLeod’s Dance Warehouse. So that’s my
whole history around here. Julie taught me how to teach.

LD: What’s it like to work with all those little girls?

SL: Well, there’s a lot of different ways I could answer that. … I think it’s really
important to be a place where girls can be empowered, which is one of the big
reasons we want to mentor girls and give them social skills because every time
they don’t make that audition it’s a skill to know how to take that rejection of not
getting what they want. The first time you don’t get into the college that you want,
if you don’t get that job that you think you’re perfect for that they give to someone

… We really, really feel strongly that we’re providing a service, not just in giving
excellence in dance training or contemporary dances but we’re giving your kids a
community that they can feel good about. And the kids love being here.

… And I know that some of that is because it’s a great experience for them to be
here, but I have to say we provide this forum where they can be seen at
whatever talent level they are at or whatever their interest in dance is. Whether
they are just here for an after school class or they have an aspiration to go on
and go to Broadway and be in music videos or be a director or whatever. It’s here
for them and we want to be there. We take them all seriously. We don’t talk down
to the kids here. We really believe in that.

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

SL: Holistic, resourceful, appreciative

Vital Stats: Steven Lovelace

Born: Santa Barbara, on June 6, 1957

Family: Partner Gary Clark

Civic Involvement: Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice, Lit Moon Theatre
Company; Santa Barbara Dance Alliance: Arts Mentorship Program; Fund for
Santa Barbara

Professional Accomplishments: Co-owner/director Santa Barbara Dance Arts;
Co-owner/director Stage Left Productions; Teacher at Arts at Laguna; Former
Artistic Director and Artist in Residence with Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice;
Dancer with Repertory-West Dance Company, Santa Barbara Dance Theatre,
Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, Bill Evans Dance Company, and Nora
Reynolds Dance.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: (laughs) “Twilight. It’s not like they are the
best-written books in the world but there’s something very engaging about those

Little-Known Fact: “I like to be alone.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on April 12, 2009. Click here to read the story on that site.

Brag Hags

There’s a bit of a Brag Hag in every mom.

Can’t you just picture Ghandi’s mother on the playground? “It’s the strangest thing, every time I give little Mahatma a snack, he starts passing it out to all the other kids.” Or Bill Gates’ mom: “Last night little Billy figured out a way to wire our freezer, microwave, and stereo together so we ate Lean Cuisines and listened to Raffi tunes with the push of a single button.”

Of course you can’t blame them. If my kids were that impressive I’d be taking out billboards to advertise their accomplishments. As it is, I have a hard time restraining myself in the “my kids are smarter, sweeter and better behaved than your kids” competition. Thankfully Grandma and Grandpa are around to enthrall with tales of Koss’s mastery of important life skills such as double digit scores in Boggle, eating three whole scrambled eggs and unloading the dishwasher without being asked 25 times.

I know my friends don’t want to hear it.

I still have nightmares about becoming like X, this woman from my preschool, who would greet me everyday with polite questions about how Koss was doing until finally, try though I would to resist, I would have to break down and ask about her kid.

The opportunity to crow about her son would magically transform this otherwise mild-mannered mom into the Brag Hag. Turning her eyes red with glee, she would snort and grimace and smack her lips together in delight and howl things like, “Can you believe little Wolverine has started reading and he’s only three? He insists on reading the newspaper headlines to us every morning. Isn’t that cute?”

“Adorable,” I would mutter, thinking her kid must be a total nerd.

Then she would start in about his tee-ball prowess and how many goals he scored in soccer, and how the other day he figured out that she was using too much flour in her chocolate chip cookies and thanks to little Wolverine’s recipe tweaks she’s sure she’ll win the Pillsbury Bake-Off this year. At that point I would tune out-or wake up in a cold sweat-depending on whether this was happening again in real life or just in a very, very, very bad dream.

I know I don’t want to be that mom.

While X was the extreme, it’s easy for moms to fall into competitive conversations, our claims getting more and more outrageous as the dialogue progresses (“Little Johnny sat up and sang ‘Take me out to the Ballgame’ the moment he was born.” “Oh yeah, well my little Abbie learned to speak 13 different Chinese dialects before she was two.”) The problem with these Brag Hag competitions is that no matter who “wins” we all go home secretly convinced that our little darlings are doomed to live lives of mediocrity since they lack the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound or poop solid gold nuggets after eating a banana.

According to one expert, “judging other people’s parenting has become a full time sport with too many people keeping score of every nuance.”

That’s all too true. The fact is that when you walk into just about any situation with your child, on some level you are prepared to judge and be judged. Moms realize this. We all want to believe that our choices are the best ones and we’re looking for confirmation that our way of parenting is the right way (and therefore our child is the best child). And sometimes we brag, just to avoid criticism. Because no matter how secretly critical we are of other moms, and their children, we’re always our own most unforgiving critics.

Isn’t it better to brag than to beat yourself up? I think so. Koss just pooped a diamond. I’m so proud.

Share your bragging rampages with Leslie at email. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 10, 2009.

Reality Bites

Photo Ambro,

Photo Ambro,

Am I the last person in America who hates reality TV?

My head starts to throb every time I flip through the channels and I feel my brain’s gray matter transform into a gelatinous oozy substance, perfect for the aliens to come take it over. I’ve got 900 channels and most of them are filled with so-called “reality” shows.

Why are these shows called “reality television” when they are so far detached from reality anyway? Reality is not competing for a prize on an island and it is not trying to become the biggest pop sensation in the country. Just writing these words makes my head spin. I’m literally dizzy with annoyance, that’s how much I hate those shows.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those alternative school parents who drives around with a “Kill Your TV” bumper sticker on my minivan, like ahem, one of my dearest friends.

I’m not against TV. I watch plenty of television, and most of it’s not on PBS. And it’s not that I have a problem with lowbrow entertainment-anyone who has met my husband can testify to that. But there’s something about the cheesy search for stardom on American Idol,  and the ridiculous search for romance on The Bachelor that I truly loathe. These show are more than just “not my cup of tea,” I despise them with all of my heart. They make my skin crawl.

Partly it’s the desperation to be in the spotlight that unifies the “stars” of all of these shows that makes my stomach churn. When I was six I wanted to be a ballerina, when I was eight I wanted to play on center court at Wimbledon, and when I was nine I wanted to sing on Broadway. But when I was 12 I accepted the reality that I didn’t have the talent to do those things, so I went on with my life.

These reality TV people need to realize it’s time for them to go on with their lives too.

But no, instead we now have this new group of overnight celebrities who are famous because they slapped someone, stole their boyfriend or spit in their face. That used to be how you became famous in junior high, not the pathway to fame in America. Now all of those overgrown teenagers are chatting up Leno, Ellen, and Regis and Kelly. Not to mention all the airwaves that are filled by wannabe/has-been actors trying to stretch their 15 minutes of fame to the breaking point by humiliating themselves on reality TV.

Here’s the thing: real stars have real talent. I don’t know what reality “stars” have. Chutzpah? Balls? A deluded sense of their own importance? Sure, some reality “stars”-albeit very few-may actually have some talent, but the only thing I’m sure they all have is the ability to really, really annoy me.

It’s not just that these shows are so popular and I can’t understand why; it’s also that as a writer I know that the cheap production values and nonexistent writing staffs of these shows are forcing the professionals out. It’s always been an uphill battle to get a well-written comedy or drama onto network television, but the success of these reality shows has made it almost impossible to get good shows on TV.

I can’t wait for the day when America’s fascination with reality TV finally runs its course. While I too enjoy watching my favorite characters claw their way to success through conniving, backstabbing, lying, cheating and stealing-I prefer to watch them do it gracefully via the piquant prose of  Mad Men, the dexterous dialogue of Damages or even the morose monotones of CNN.

When Leslie’s not ripping into reality TV, she can be reached at email . Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 3, 2009.