Lousy with Lice

Photo by Marin, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo by Marin, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Eww! That’s all I’ve been saying all month. Eww! Until a month ago I had no idea that a tiny little bug could cause so much pain and suffering. Then I got that horrible phone call from school. My head starts to itch just thinking about this.

My son—he has less than three inches of hair; hadn’t had a sleepover in ages; barely brushes his own hair, let alone shares a hairbrush; does swim team three times a week; and takes such long showers that he may single-handedly be responsible for the drought in California-had somehow contracted lice.

I got the message while I was sitting in a drive-through car wash, picking up the voicemail that his school health clerk had left almost five hours earlier. I knew my husband hadn’t picked up Koss from school because he was on his way out of town for his infamous annual “caveman weekend.”

My mother-in-law was scheduled to pick up Koss from school about two hours earlier, but I hadn’t heard anything from her. I frantically dialed her number as-I kid you not-I watched two gigantic circular brushes come to a screeching halt on my windshield. I rolled down my window and a foamy pink ashy substance started coming inside my car. It smelled like a sweaty blend of smoke, strawberries and stress. Eww!

“It’s a power outage,” yelled a guy from one of the 13 cars in line behind me. Who knew that I’d be in the middle of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode when I got the lice call? The realization that I was stuck in the car wash hit me just as I got my mother-in-law on the phone.

“We’re fine. Koss had been waiting in the office for a few hours when I got to school. They said that he has lice,” she said in her always-cheery voice. This nice reassurance from a woman who didn’t tell any of her adult children she was even in the hospital until a few days after she had hip replacement surgery was, frankly, not all that reassuring.

Neither was waiting for all of the cars behind me to back up before I could do a less-than-graceful 67-point turn to get my now golden-pinkish boat of a Mercury Marquis out of the car wash.

A quick stop at the drug store to pick up lice shampoo made my head hurt even more. Product names like Pronto, RID, LiceMD and Nix shouted at me from the shelves. They all looked like they should have a skull and crossbones warning label on them. I grabbed a few bottles and headed for home.

Grandma seemed calm enough when I get there, but she bolted as quickly as possible. Koss also seemed un-phased as he told me he read a whole book while waiting for someone to pick him up in the office.

I barely let him finish dinner before I doused his head with the inaugural lice treatment and then began what would be the first of 351 loads of laundry. After the 200th load I began to think that top sheets are overrated, as are hand towels, and really, wouldn’t it be easier to pull up the carpet than to vacuum it for the 32nd time? I was exhausted and I’d only been home for an hour.

I sprayed all of the surfaces that couldn’t be vacuumed or laundered with a toxic spray that smelled so bad it must have been killing something besides the nerve endings in my nose. Then I carefully examined every single strand of hair on my son’s head. I didn’t see a single louse, but there were lots of nits, which I painstakingly picked out with my fingers. Eww! I’m a monkey! This took an entire season of Eureka on the DVR.

I was certain his head was pristine when we checked in at the office the next day. Unfortunately the florescent lighting revealed a few more nits and the school secretary explained that they have a no nits policy. Oh joy! Off we went for a delightful day of nitpicking. Armed with wooden barbecue skewers, a fine-toothed metal comb, magnifying glass and disinfectant wipes, I examined every strand of my son’s head again and again until I started to name the individual hairs. “Hey, Curly. What’s up?” I wonder what they put in those shampoos?

Finally, someone turned me on to the “magic lice shampoo” from Caldwell’s Pharmacy that is nontoxic, can be used every day, and smells like peppermint, rather than motor oil. It costs a small fortune and we went through three bottles, but it was worth every penny.

We watched an entire season of Chuck and several Food Network Challenges as I picked through Koss’s freshly shorn head for what remained of these stubborn creatures. Finally, we were done!-until I checked my own hair. Eww! A welcome home present for my husband, who finally returned from his “stunted boy weekend.” Surprise. Lice to see you, honey. I’ll be the one with her head in the vat of lye.

Good times. My head itches just thinking about them.

Four weeks later, and I finally stopped checking for nits every time I looked in the mirror. Then we got a call from a friend who we were supposed to have dinner with, and he said his kid had lice. Did we still want to go out with them? I laughed until I cried, and then I sobbed a little more. Eww!

Share your lousy adventures with Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 26, 2009.

My Two Dads

Image by nongpimmy

Image by nongpimmy

On the surface I married a man who is nothing like my father.

Dad is a sports guy, through and through. One of his most defining-and endearing-characteristics is his love of the games. Any games, really, other than baseball, which he barely tolerated when my son played Little League.

Though it’s hard to imagine looking at him today-in fact, it makes for great slapstick in my head-my dad was once a gymnast. He even wrote his masters thesis on the Loop Dismount off the Side Horse, though by then he had bulked up considerably and was doing more tackling than tumbling. He played football at UCLA and it was a football coaching job at Santa Barbara City College that brought us to town. He was also Athletic Director there for what felt like decades. It seemed like he never missed a game. He still helps out with the women’s golf team, although I think it’s more for the free time on the links than anything else. Dad is definitely a sports guy. Even in retirement, he spends much of his time obsessively studying whatever’s on ESPN, checking his Fantasy Football league updates, and rooting for the Lakers.

It’s not that Zak is not athletic. He’s actually very graceful. He played water polo for a while, but couldn’t understand why the other guys took it so seriously. And now he swims masters to keep in shape. But the athletic fields were never his true calling. The only blocking he did in high school was on stage, and even then he was more motivated by access to cute senior girls than he was by curtain calls. In college he joined the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, where his fishnet clad high kicks took him to off-off-Broadway and Bermuda.

If I ever want to make my dad squirm, all I have to do is pull out the Newsweek photo of my husband in drag. Come to think of it, Zak’s own father wasn’t particularly comfortable with that picture either.

Zak is long and lean, while my dad is round and cuddly. My husband will nurse a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Heath Bar Coffee Crunch for at least a week, if we let him. He likes nothing better than to morsel a bite or two out at a time as a late night treat, smoothing out the ice cream’s edges so it looks like it’s fresh from the factory.

As a kid I remember my dad also liked to smooth out his ice cream, but his style was different than Zak’s. He bought gallons rather than pints, and instead of a bite or two each night; dad would eat all except a bite or two in one sitting. Then, he’d smooth the miniscule remnants up into the plastic window of the lid, so that it looked like an entire gallon of ice cream remained untouched-until you picked it up and it was light as air. Truth be told, I’ve never been sure if he did this to hide the evidence that he ate all the ice cream, or because he was too lazy to throw the container away.

Dad’s a plugger and a plodder who plows his way through just about everything he does. If slow and steady wins the race then my dad would win every time. When he jogs it looks like walking to the rest of us, and when he hurries, it looks like a relaxed pace, but he gets the job done eventually, and he’s nothing if not consistent.

Zak, on the other hand, spends ridiculous amounts of time trying to think of the most efficient ways to do just about everything. Consequently, even if it appears to only take him five minutes to complete a task, it may have taken ridiculous amounts of time to do just about anything.

They both drive me up the wall with irritation, and make me laugh so hard I cry.

On the surface they couldn’t be more different, but inside they’ve both got hearts as big as oceans. They both love to play, have fun and be with their families. And my son and I both know that deep inside where it counts we’ve got the best two dads in the world.

Leslie wishes her dad, her son’s dad and all the dads Happy Father’s Day. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 19, 2009.

Citizen Scientists: Santa Barbara Channelkeeper

Left–right: A diver maps eelgrass habitat as part of Channelkeeper’s Marine Monitoring and Restoration Program. Watershed program director Ben Pitterle collects data on water pollution levels. Photos courtesy Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons, Summer 2009.

Left–right: A diver maps eelgrass habitat as part of Channelkeeper’s Marine Monitoring and Restoration Program. Watershed program director Ben Pitterle collects data on water pollution levels. Photos courtesy Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons, Summer 2009.

PEOPLE SAY WE’RE ONE OF THE best-kept secrets in town,” says Kira Redmond, executive director of Santa Barbara Channelkeeper. She may be right—but not for long.

Started as an Environmental Defense Center program in 1999, Channelkeeper is now an independent nonprofit, as well as part of one of the fastest growing grassroots environmental movements in the world: International Waterkeeper Alliance.

With just six and a half staff members, buttressed by an army of citizen scientist
volunteers, Channelkeeper works to protect and restore the Santa Barbara Channel and watersheds in a variety of ways, including water quality monitoring, education and community outreach, political advocacy and marine habitat restoration. Perhaps what is most unique about Channelkeeper is that its volunteers work out in the field.

“The field work is kind of what sets us apart,” says Redmond. “We work closely with groups like Environmental Defense Center, Surfrider and Heal the Ocean, but they are advocacy and public education focused. We work with them on a lot of issues, but as far as being out in the field and identifying pollution problems in the creeks or doing habitat monitoring in the channel, there really aren’t other environmental nonprofits that do that.”

Grassroots programs such as “Grunion Greeters” (where volunteers monitor grunion behavior on local beaches during spawning season) and “Stream Teams” (a volunteer-based water quality-monitoring program at the Goleta Slough watershed and the Ventura River) fall under the leadership of Ben Pitterle, watershed programs director.

The grunion program, which is part of a larger study being conducted at Pepperdine University, “is one of the best family-oriented volunteer opportunities I think we have,” says Pitterle. “I did Carpinteria State Beach last summer, and it’s really cool because of the campers. There are just all kinds of kids out playing. It’s fun, a family fun event. I think this is going to be our fifth or sixth year coordinating for this region . . .We get a lot of people who don’t otherwise participate in some of our water quality volunteer opportunities, so
it’s a good way to reach out to a broader group of people—especially kids.”

The “Stream Team,” operating since 2001, has a core group of volunteers. “We go out once a month to collect water samples,” Pitterle explains. “We do that with a few different purposes. One is to collect a baseline of water data to monitor over time to see if things are getting better or worse. Another reason is it’s a great way to reach out to the public, educate and to reach out to the public, educate and train them about watersheds, and help them to become environmental stewards themselves. The third is that looking at
the data helps us identify actual problems, and then we can relay that information to
different public agencies who are responsible for regulating water problems to try to get them fixed.”

Working with public agencies is a big part of what Channelkeeper does. When
budget cuts forced the county to stop its marine monitoring program this past fall,
Channelkeeper rallied its supporters and pitched in thousands of dollars to continue
this important warning service system for surfers, swimmers and beachgoers at 12 county beaches. Santa Barbara city officials also helped pick up the slack by testing at four additional locations.

In addition to partnering with county and city officials, Channelkeeper works closely with researchers at UCSB and Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary, and is collaborating with the state to implement a Marine Life Protection Act that will create a network of marine protected areas or underwater parks along the entire California coast.

“In the work that we do in the field, we work with agencies that don’t have the resources to be everywhere themselves,” says Redmond. “For instance, the city of Santa Barbara has two code enforcement staff. So they’re out there like we are, looking at businesses that might have a high potential to pollute and checking up on them. But they can’t
be everywhere at once, so with budget cuts our role is becoming increasingly important. We have really good relationships with people at these agencies, Basically, they’re grateful to us for helping them do their jobs.”

For more information about Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, call 805/563-3377 or visit www.sbck.org.
n Santa Barbara Seasons Summer 2009.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Summer 2009. Click below to read the story as it appeared in print.

SB Seasons Summer 2009

Romance heats up

Photo by Dan, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo by Dan, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s not just the approach of summer playing tricks on your mind-bulging biceps and busting bodices are gracing the covers of paperbacks everywhere you look, from aisles at drug stores to the book store shelves.

Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

But the venerable publisher has lots of company. According to Romance Writers of America, romance fiction was responsible for $1.375 billion in book sales last year. That’s more than a quarter of all books sold and 51 million readers.

That’s a lot of crumpled sheets and hearts skipping beats.

While sales of books in other categories are declining in this down economy, romance novels are thriving. It’s no surprise that people want to escape when business is bleak and reality is even bleaker.

Love may not conquer all, but it sure conquers at the cash register. Business is booming.

According to the Associated Press, Kensington has seen a five percent increase in sales of mass market paperback romances for its current fiscal year, while Harlequin reported forth quarter earnings up 32 percent over the same period a year earlier. Nielsen BookScan data for May had romance book sales up nearly 2.4 percent compared with the same time last year, while sales of self-help, travel, and mystery books all showed declines for the same period.

An Associated Press Ipsos Poll found that of those who read books in 2007, one in five read romance novels. Not only that, new technology is bringing new steam to the genre. While the vast majority of readers may still prefer to curl up with an actual book (I prefer mine in a warm tub with lots of bubbles and candlelight), romance publishers are also reaching readers with electronic book formats that can be read on a variety of devices from cell phones to computers to Kindles, and services such as Daily Lit, which allows readers to read their romances through e-mail and RSS feeds.

For about a $45 investment you can even give your loved one the gift of a personalized romance novel. For example, at www.booksbyyou.com you can customize your 160 to 200-page novel with more than 26 personalized names, features and places. You can even get your pets into the story, with book titles such as “Vampire Kisses,” “Western Rendezvous,” and “Medieval Passion” to choose from. The website www.torridromance.com lets you put yourself into titles like “Allure of the Cowboy,” Beauty and the Bodyguard,” “Knights of Passion,” “Strangers in Paris” and “Taming the Tycoon.” They even have a special “buy three, get one free deal” for these books, in case you want to share your romantic adventures with your friends.

Sounds like a pretty good business-and a happy ending for somebody in today’s economy.

My husband suggested that rather than reading romance novels or writing about romance novels, I write a romance novel myself. Hmmm … perhaps a fantasy about a woman who spends 20 years with a poor but loving man and then discovers he’s really a prince, which makes her a princess, and they go off to live in a castle in the style to which she would like to become accustomed to.

My heart’s beating faster just thinking about it.

Or better yet, a woman who spends decades toiling in the newspaper business before she heaves her bosom into fiction and finds fame and fortune as a romance novelist. Stay tuned.

Share your romantic favorites with Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 12, 2009.