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.