Kindergarten Screening



Playing “tour guide” for the parents of incoming kindergarteners this morning, I couldn’t help feeling a little nostalgic. It wasn’t that long ago that I was holding a tiny, nervous hand in my bigger and more nervous one, as we made our way to the first in a long series of school tests. Sure, they call it a “kindergarten screening” but make no mistake-the kindergarten screening is your child’s first official test as he enters the world of elementary school.

What? He’s taking a test already? He hasn’t even started yet. Aren’t you supposed to teach him something first? Nope.

While dad is checking out the other incoming kindergarteners, trying to spot the redshirts who are already nine years old and have read the entire Harry Potter series-in Mandarin-and mom is looking around for other moms to be her new best friends, the teachers are evaluating your little angel’s motor ability, conceptual knowledge and language skills, not to mention his vision and hearing.

Talk about nerve wracking.

When Koss was pre-K they had the parents go into the evaluation with the children, but they’ve since wised up and now have the children go in on their own. Having a bunch of anxious parents hovering over them doesn’t exactly inspire natural behavior in most kids.

Hence the introduction of the PTA-provided tour of the school to help distract the nervous parents while their children are (hopefully, please, help me out here kid and I’ll give you a cookie) making wonderful first impressions on their new teachers.

Kindergarten does make a big impression, that’s for sure. It’s been 40 years and I can still remember my own first day of school like it was yesterday. It’s been almost seven years and I can still remember Koss’s first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday. I can’t remember yesterday, but that’s a whole different story.

The parents on my tour asked some great questions about parking and the playground, the cafeteria, cubbies and the computer lab. They asked about volunteering, donations, daycare and enrichment classes, but I neglected to share with them some of the things I remember about Koss’s kindergarten year.

He learned about the “bossy E,” who was simply silent when I went to school. He learned about raising his hand to get attention, and about taking turns and waiting patiently, although he still sometimes has issues with that one. He learned about spiders and wolves and coins and backpacks. He also learned about homework and projects and dioramas and which parent is better with counting and which parent is better with a glue gun. If you ask Koss, he’ll say the best thing that happened in kindergarten was he learned to love to read, surely a marvelous thing for any child, but especially for one without siblings.

If you ask me, the most important thing of all that Koss learned in kindergarten was to love going to school. He adored his teacher. I’ll never forget the dejected look on his face when I explained to him that he would have a different teacher for first grade. Thankfully he’s loved first grade, second grade on up through this year’s fifth grade with almost the same kind of relish. But kindergarten is special. Whether it was their first child to enter kindergarten or their last, I’m pretty sure that all of the parents were marveling that somehow their babies had reached that stage.

I know I’ll be feeling that way again before I know it. Junior High is right around the corner.

When Leslie’s not marveling at how quickly time flies, she’s usually at her keyboard wishing her fingers flew a little more quickly. Email her at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 20, 2010.

Forging Friendships



A certain amount of loose behavior is required to forge a close friendship. You’ve got to let go of your inhibitions and take a risk. Plus, the window of opportunity for personal revelation is small-if you do it too quickly you’re a promiscuous slut who has exposed too much too soon-but if you wait till the 12th date in the relationship, then your friends are likely to feel bamboozled, like they don’t really know you at all.

As easily as women bond on the surface-most of us have no problem chatting up ladies in Pilates class, the carpool lane or the supermarket line-our friendship dance is as complicated and tricky as any Paso Doble you’ll see on “Dancing with the Stars.” As a parent I’ve found that it’s not at all unusual to spend hours and hours with people who have kids that are the same age as yours, are in the same activities or at the same schools, and realize at some point that you have nothing else in common. Sometimes I wonder if this isn’t why I rarely forge deeper connections with people I know socially-because if I know for a fact where they stand on religion, politics, and country western music, then I know I won’t respect them in the morning.

Unfortunately, between this admittedly snobbish attitude I have toward people who disagree with me, and the sheer busyness of my life and the lives of my dearest and closest friends, this means that my truly substantive conversations are few and far between. As a journalist I find that I frequently have more in depth talks with the people I’m interviewing than I do with my own family members-a fact which I find both deeply disturbing and also somewhat titillating. There’s something almost magical about getting to know someone based on a shared confidence, even if the connection is short-lived.

But there’s nothing better than a long, close friendship forged over time and a shared history.

My best friend lives in Texas now, and when we do manage to get together (unfortunately rarely), the primary thing we do is talk. We don’t need to do anything else. Unlike our days as college roommates, where we spent hours and hours just hanging out and talking about anything and everything, now we both realize what a luxury it is to have deep discussions once you get to be an adult. It’s strange that as you get older you have so much more perspective and experience to offer in conversations, yet so much less time to actually have them.

I definitely treasure the opportunity to have substantive heart-to-hearts whenever I can, yet rarely do I make the first move. I’ve always believed that intimacy isn’t something you can force, but I had an interesting experience last week that made me think about it in a different way. Sitting at a luncheon with 12 other women, only three of whom I actually knew at all, instead of leaving the occasion to whither into typical chit-chat, our hostess asked us to pick conversational topics out of a bowl.

Some of the questions were silly (What’s the item in your house that you are most embarrassed to own?) and some of them were enormous (What is the most passionate, driving force in your life?), but all of them were most definitely excellent conversational fodder. At the end of the day I left feeling sated in a way I don’t think I’ve ever felt before at a party where I didn’t make out the guest list myself. I’m hoping that experience will inspire me to be a little more promiscuous with my chatter, and perhaps take a few more conversational risks.

The next time I see you let’s talk-for real.

Share your thoughts about friendship and conversation with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 23, 2010.

Laundry Lessons



My friend Erin turns 40 today. She doesn’t want any presents; she just wants me to tell her the meaning of life.

That’s all. The meaning of life. Just a simple, little gift. I don’t think she’ll accept “no,” “42,” or even “swordfish” as an answer.

Doesn’t she know that I don’t really know what the meaning of life is? I’m not THAT much older than she is. Though I do know from personal experience that you can’t find the meaning of life in any store. Not even the shoe department at Nordstrom.

It’s not in a glass of wine or a tree or a yoga pose. And contrary to what some people say, I never learned about the meaning of life in kindergarten.

But I do know one thing I can share with her: You can learn a lot about life by doing laundry.

On the surface it may seem like a never-ending, redundant chore-whites, brights, darks, lights, towels, sheets, rinse and repeat. Again, five, six, seven, eight, whites, brights, darks, lights, towels, sheets, rinse and repeat. You can never catch up with the laundry. The moment that you match that last clean pair of socks, another soiled and sweaty duo shows up in the basket to take their place.

You’re never done. There’s always another day and another pair of dirty socks.

Of course anyone who does a lot of laundry knows that there’s really no such thing as being able to make all the socks match up in perfect pairs. Sure they start out that way when they’re new and fresh from the factory. Those socks are unscarred and optimistic because they’re too young and naïve to know any better. They walk down the aisles of Target in perfect harmony, believing that plastic staples and a shared manufacturer will bind them blissfully together forever.

Little do they know that once they hit that laundry basket life is full of surprises. The lucky pairs will stay in the same cycles, dancing around separately by day—while one rendezvous with a favorite t-shirt, the other attaches itself to a sweet smelling sheet—only to reunite in a cozy drawer for the night.

It doesn’t matter how many clothes you have or how often you wash them, every load of laundry is familiar, but if you look carefully enough you’ll always find surprises. Some weeks are full of grays and some are full of color. Some clothes, like some people, thrive in hot water, while others prefer it to be chilly. And try though you may to keep your dainty delicates away from the dryer, sometimes they attach themselves to a muddy pair of khakis or a stinky sweatshirt with an old college logo and they’re never quite the same after that.

An errant burr might worm its way into your sole leaving a scar on your heel that only you can see but you feel it every time you take a step. Buttons fall off and disappear into the ether. An errant purple crayon makes its way out of a classroom to permanently mark its territory on your favorite pink tank top. Things don’t always come out the way you think they will in the wash. That’s why they invented tie-dye.

The rinse cycle is good for cleaning off the grime, but sometimes you have to repeat—rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. And there are some things that never come completely clean no matter how many soaks you give them and some that are always a little rumpled some matter how carefully you iron them.

Another thing you’ll come to realize after doing lots and lots of laundry is that not everything grooves to the same timetable. Those thick, thirsty Egyptian cotton towels turn out to be high maintenance, but worth the extra minutes in the dryer, while that Irish linen blouse demands more TLC than you have the patience for. So what if it was $59.99 (on sale!). Do enough laundry and you’ll learn that some things are just not worth the aggravation.

Sometimes the laundry can enrich you in more than just wisdom. I once made $2.87 in change and immediately went and bought myself a Slurpee. It was the coldest, sweetest, brain-freezing Slurpee in that summer full of Slurpees in a life full of Slurpees. I closed my eyes and wanted to savor every slurp of that special Slurpee. I opened my eyes and saw that I spilled some on my shirt.

And once again it’s back to the laundry. You toss and you tumble and try to sort through things and you clean them and they get messed up and you clean them again and again.

Whites, brights, darks, lights, towels, sheets, rinse and repeat. You’re never done. There’s always another day and another pair of dirty socks.

And another chance to clean them.

Share your laundry lessons with Leslie at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 16, 2010.


Ho Ho Holiday

‘Tis the Season in Santa Barbara

By Leslie Dinaberg

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 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. See the pdf version here.


Bag Lady



It’s taken me a while to get to this point. I’ve struggled and the results haven’t always been pretty, but I can now admit, loudly and proudly, that I’m a bag lady. The weight of my big fat carbon footprint has been keeping me up at night for years-not to mention all those agonizing times I’ve had to resolve the eternal debate between paper and plastic-but this year on Earth Day I’ll have a little more spring in my step because I’m finally, consistently doing one environmentally-friendly thing right.

I’m a bag lady.

I’ve got a lightweight, foldable, little chartreuse green number tucked away in my purse, ready to pull out at the pharmacy or the video store or library. And my car’s trunk is loaded with a vast assortment of canvas bags to be used for grocery shopping, picnics and all of the random sports equipment that seems to attach itself to my son.

Inside the house we’ve got tradeshow swag bags advertising products no one’s ever heard of, reusable bags with dividers to hold wine, insulated bags to keep beer and sodas cold, and a scary number of canvas bags with the names of my employers who have long since gone out of business.

Note to the Daily Sound: do not give me a bag with your name on it.

It took a while for me to make the bag lady transition. I started accumulating reusable grocery bags a few years ago, keeping them in my trunk so that they’d be ready whenever I went shopping. I can’t tell you how many times I left Ben and Jerry melting in the cart while I ran outside to get my canvas bags. Despite the fact that we should all be equally invested in preserving the environment, I’m sorry to say the people behind me in line didn’t really take a global view of that particular situation.

Rather than further alienating Mother Earth by risking an altercation, I decided to start purchasing a canvas bag every time I forgot to bring my own into the grocery store. Kind of like my own personal, environmental tax. This is what finally made me make the change for good-it had to hit me in the wallet before I got in the habit of actually taking the bags out of the car before I walked in the store-my own personal tax.

Now I understand that some people think “tax” is a dirty word, so if you’re one of those people you can substitute “benevolent donation to the environment” for “tax.” Our local city council recently bagged on an effort to put a bag tax on the ballot, after some members of the public were fit to be tied over the $23,000 they were planning to spend to survey the issue (though I hear they’re going to “study it” again this summer). Personally I think the council would have had more success with a “benevolent donation to the environment” campaign than a bag tax, but I’ve got an even simpler suggestion: stores should just stop stocking disposable bags. Use up what you’ve got and don’t order more.

This seems to work just fine in France, where they’ve got some of the chicest bag ladies around.

Don’t have a bag? Sorry, you’ll have to purchase one. That’ll cost you a dollar. Eventually your purse and your trunk and your garage will be so full of bags that you’ll have to start bringing them with you when you shop. Talk about an easy way to change people’s habits. San Francisco sacked plastic bags a few years ago after a study found that each bag represents a 17-cent local expense for cleanup, disposal, and lost recycling revenue. This January, Washington, D.C. (where “tax” apparently isn’t a dirty word) started charging a nickel for each disposable paper and plastic bag and their use went down 86 percent in a month. Imagine what a buck a bag would do?

We’d have some pretty chic bag ladies running around Santa Barbara in no time flat.

When Leslie’s not carting her canvas bags around town, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 9, 2010.

Note to my Younger Self



You know all that gibberish older people always spout about wishing they had smelled the roses, stayed out of the sun and flossed more when they were younger? Forget that. If my older self could fly back in time and give one worthwhile piece of advice to my younger self it would be this: Have your picture taken in a bikini every chance you get. In fact, take naked pictures if you can rustle up the nerve. Just don’t put them on the Internet or on a cell phone. Seriously, use some common sense.

I’ll say it again – take pictures in a bikini. Wear a bikini to work if you can. Spend as much time as possible in a bikini. You won’t regret it.

When I think of how many times I threw a towel over my perfectly tanned and toned tummy, or how many times I tried to cover up my non-veined and not-the-least-bit-thundering thighs, I want to slap that young girl upside her head and scream, “Flaunt it while you can, you look great.” All of that toxic self-consciousness was so stupid.

I’d tell her to enjoy those looks – in fact I’d tell her to revel in them – because they won’t last forever. You might not know it now but one day you’re pretty hot-whether you realize it or not-and the next day you wake up and you’re just plain pretty-as long as you’re wearing makeup-and before you know it you’re a mature woman and the only men who flirt with you are homeless and hoping you’ll spring for a meal.

The painful evolution from Miss to Ma’am will strike so quickly you might mistake it for a hot flash. You’ll be looking in the mirror looking for yourself instead of at yourself. That girl is gone, leaving a reflection you barely recognize. On a good day she’s a cross between some distant relative and Herman Munster. Hunt for that has-been-hottie all you like, she’s gone. You’ll find yourself hunting for your lost looks the same way you must constantly hunt for your lost keys or that lost Post-It note with the name of that great dermatologist that whatshername told you about. Sure you can find traces of that young girl at the gym or the salon, but they’re fleeting traces.

Enjoy your looks while you’ve got them. Someday you’ll look back on the reflection of your fading, younger self and wonder how you could possibly have ever had a moment of anxiety about your looks. Silly girl. What were you thinking? Someday you’ll squint in the mirror at your rapidly aging self and wonder why you never paid attention when all those old people told you what a cruel trickster time was.

The truth is that inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened. Remember that.

When a saleslady tells you how flattering your driver’s license picture is, you’ll want to slug her-until you look in the mirror and realize that while your eyes are closed and your hair is cattywampus, the photo was taken ten years ago and look how nice your skin looks. You had no age spots, no crow’s feet, and no gray hair. Talk about lowering the bar.

It’s humbling to know that-if I’m lucky to live long enough-one day I’ll look back on today’s picture and think how marvelous -looking I was, how little gray I had and how great my skin looked. I read a great quote from Suzanne Braun Levine the other day: “Imagine how many good laughs we would miss if our bodies weren’t giving us so much hilarious material.” She’s right of course, but I would still tell my younger self to laugh while she was wearing a bikini.

When Leslie’s not looking for her car keys or her old self in the mirror, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 2, 2010.