Peace Love Dirt

Courtesy Live Oak Music Festival (Instagram)

Courtesy Live Oak Music Festival (Instagram)

Welcoming summer at Live Oak Music Festival

The salty smell of Coppertone. A colorful explosion of tie-dyed t-shirts and low-backed beach chairs. A cacophony of live music out in the sun and under the stars. That first sip of an ice cold Cadillac Margarita where the sweet kiss of Grand Marnier meets the sour tang of lime-laced tequila. Summer has finally arrived and I couldn’t have conjured up a better place to greet it than the Live Oak Music Festival.

Believe it or not, this was my first journey to this timeless spot, nestled in the peaceful Santa Ynez Valley, just minutes away from my Santa Barbara home, but worlds away from my fall-winter-springtime life in the carpool lane.

I know it seems like an oxymoron to say that a live music festival featuring a kaleidoscope of sounds ranging from traditional folk, bluegrass, gospel, to blues, jazz, classical, pop, world music and pirate aurghs could actually be peaceful, but somehow this one was.

Unlike some of the musical festivals I’ve been to in recent years, at Live Oak there was no mosh pit to fear, no skunkweed stink and no stale beer spills to accidentally step into. It was just an eclectic mix of great opportunities to hear, make and learn about music in a pleasant atmosphere alongside a community of several thousand genuinely friendly people relaxing and enjoying themselves. What a great way to welcome the summer.

No wonder people have been coming back here for 22 years.

It was Rickie Lee Jones who finally lured us to Live Oak. I was first introduced to her spacey, jazzy, sad chick sounds when I was in college, and thought “We Belong Together” was the most romantic song on earth. I still can’t resist Johnny the King walking in the streets without her in the rain looking for a leather jacket and a girl who wrote her name forever.

Her “Flying Cowboys” CD tunefully distracted me while her album of standards (“Pop Pop”) amused me through my commute during my driving years of living in Los Angeles. Zak was a fan too. We’d seen Rickie Lee Jones perform half a dozen or so times over the years, mostly in dark, smoky clubs, so we jumped at the chance to see her outside under the giant oak trees. The fact that it was Father’s Day was a bonus, as the rest of my family (and a few friends) jumped at this unique way to celebrate the holiday.

As usual, she didn’t disappoint. The sound was great, the setting unparalleled and I still love her music just as much as I did the first time I heard it.

I didn’t have any idea what to expect from the rest of the artists and was happily surprised. Starting with the high energy antics of Baka Beyond, who fuse African music from the Cameroon rainforest with Celtic fiddling, and sing about things like peace and porridge. Then there was the amazing jazz organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, who you really have to see-and hear-to believe; followed by the folksy rock tunes of Josh Ritter, an indie artist who is making a dent in the mainstream big-time, having recently been discovered and marketed by Starbucks.

They were all enjoyable but I have to say I took as much pleasure in people watching as I did the music.

Where else can you see (and Solstice doesn’t count) an absurdly fun parade led by an octogenarian Grandma in a purple tutu; a tribe of Zinka-nosed surf rats; a blissed-out hippie swaying to a tune that only he can hear; a weathered cowboy hosing down the dusty path as a bevy of tiny fairies hand out wishing dust; joined by a 50-ish brunette with a stylish haircut, Prada shoes, and a pair of ladybug wings and a yupped-out backpacker couple loaded down with the entire REI catalog worth of coolers and chairs?

My son liked playing soccer the best and I think my dad enjoyed his nap, so three generations of our family and friends all found something to like under the giant oaks this Father’s Day.

“This is a really cool thing. We should do it again next year,” said my mom, smiling and passing some more food. I couldn’t agree more.

What signals summer to you? Email For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 25, 2010.

Suck it Up Buttercup

© Pkruger | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Pkruger | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I had one of those yowza, take-a-deep-breath-and-try-not-to-cry parental moments the other day with my son.

We were talking about the school talent show, of all things. He had originally planned to form a band with a group of his buddies but all of their “rehearsals” had deteriorated into impromptu soccer games and water fights, so the budding Beatles never blossomed. They never even came up with a name for the band, which, as we all know, is the best part of being in a band.

Instead, a group of the boys decided to form a mime troupe and neglected to invite Koss. There’s a sentence I never imagined I’d write. Not that he had the slightest desire to climb his way out of an imaginary box-after years of seeing his father mock mimes, the mere idea of giving it a try was a genetic impossibility-but Koss was still sad that he hadn’t been asked.

I felt sure his friends hadn’t meant to hurt his feelings, and Koss agreed. But when I helpfully suggested that he let them know how he felt, he rolled his eyes at me and said the words I’ll never forget: “Mom, guys don’t do that. We act like nothing happened and move on.”

Why don’t you just mime an imaginary dagger stabbing through my broken heart?

When in the world had my tender, sweet, communicative little boy become, well, a guy?

Sure there had been symptoms over the years: plenty of fart jokes, burps, air guitars, sweaty socks and ESPN. But a certain tenderness had remained in my boy, despite all of the testosterone-fortified mayhem. I even worried that he was too tender sometimes. He cried more readily than most of his buddies and would obsess in great detail and for long periods of time when his razor-sharp radar detected a minute slight from a teacher or a friend. Truthfully, his hypersensitivity reminded me of my own thin skin and I worried about the future of his tender heart in the big, bad world.

My husband, who has never been accused of sensitivity, would often address Koss’s tender moments with a joking cackle of, “suck it up, buttercup.” My father, who never had any sons of his own, taught his grandson that, “pain is your friend,” a catch-all phrase meant to address any pain, physical or emotional, that might possibly prevent you from scoring the next goal, kicking the next ball or simply getting up and getting on with it.

Not that there was any overt sexism involved in these terse responses to life’s ups and downs. I had heard the “pain is your friend” adage from dad plenty of times over the years, and I think the stink of the stinkeye I gave my husband the one and only time he dared to tell me to “suck it up, buttercup” was more than sufficient to shut down that mode of communication-permanently. I’m just saying that my husband and father aren’t insensitive solely to Koss, they’re insensitive to everyone. Very egalitarian.

Resilience is a good thing to develop, right? But I still can’t help feeling sad that my little boy is becoming a big guy, which unfortunately seems to include the requisite rite of passage of sucking his emotions right back into his pointy little Adam’s apple.

No wonder there’s a lump stuck in my throat.

Sound off about sucking it up to For more columns visit Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 18, 2010.

Gored by the Truth

Al and Tipper Gore's wedding day, May 19, 1970, at the Washington National Cathedral, courtesy

Al and Tipper Gore’s wedding day, May 19, 1970, at the Washington National Cathedral, courtesy Wikipedia.

“Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with a car battery.”

— Erma Bombeck

I was shocked and sad when I heard about the toppling of Tipper and Al Gore‘s marriage. Talk about an inconvenient truth.

With all of the fawning and fanning and cyber-ink devoted to Barack and Michelle Obama’s wedded bliss, I thought crowning them the king and queen of Washington couples so early in their residency was a bit premature. Al and Tipper, on the other hand, seemed to have gone the distance and come out smiling and holding hands. They had even bought a sunny, retirement estate in Montecito, for gosh sakes.

What could possibly have gone wrong?

After so many years in the political hot seat of D.C., I thought they’d be sailing into the Santa Barbara sunset for their golden years. Getting over the painful loss to George Bush, the Gores seemed to be on a roll. Al won a Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar in 2007, and seemed to be well on his way toward distancing himself from his formerly wooden political punch line persona. And Tipper always seemed to be smiling by his side, happy with the role of helpmate.

Of course the news of the Gore’s separation brought back memories of their famous kiss at the 2000 Democratic Convention. Sure, some found it a bit painful to watch, but don’t forget, back in those days it seemed like the sight of a happy political couple was an oxymoron.

Even now, despite the Obamas’ seemingly solid partnership, there aren’t many examples of long-married-happily-married couples in what one astute Washington Post reader called our “national neighborhood,” so any tension in the ranks can make other married couples feel a little nervous. Instead of that momentary feeling of, “Wow, if they’re still happily married, there must be some hope for the rest of us,” like we did after the convention, Al and Tipper’s breakup feels like, “Huh, if these two people can’t make a go of it, what hope do the rest of us have?”

Not that my faith in marriage or your faith in marriage or anyone else’s faith in marriage-except possibly the Gores’ daughter Karenna who announced she was splitting from her husband of 13 years just a week after her parents announced their separation after 40 years of marriage-should have anything to do with anyone else’s wedded bliss. But still, “it’s more threatening to us if we see a couple we thought were happy just drift apart,” as sociologist Andrew Cherlin told the Post. “If even well-behaved people get divorced after 40 years, then some of us will worry about what our own marriages will be like later in life.”

Thankfully, I have yet to experience one of those, “If those two can split up then is the earth still round and will the sun still rise?” uncouplings among my close circle of friends. Still, I’ve experienced enough vicarious break-ups to know one inconvenient truth-you can never really know or understand what’s really going on in another person’s relationship.

Email with your vote on which Gore should get the Santa Barbara mansion if they divorce. For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 11, 2010.

Taking the voluntary out of volunteering

Photo by Stuart Miles,

Photo by Stuart Miles,

My son’s going into sixth grade and I’ve only missed a handful of class parties, PTA meetings, and field trips, all for very good reasons, documented in my guilt archives for posterity. I definitely don’t need to be forced to volunteer for anything; in fact, my husband tries to force my raised-hand down on a regular basis. I’m not looking for brownie points by volunteering at school, as far as I’m concerned it’s just what you do.

Well, it’s just what I-and the vast majority of parents that I know-do.

But not everybody volunteers and I’m mostly okay with that. Of course, my son attends a school that is stacked with parents who raise their hands to help out. Sure, it’s a lot of the same people helping out over and over, but does that really matter as long as the work gets done?

Probably not.

But not every school is as fortunate as mine and recently I’ve been reading about some that want to require parents to donate their time to the school.

Require. Not suggest, or encourage, but require.

This is common practice at private schools, and is starting to be more common at charter schools, which have more flexibility to govern themselves, but these are public schools I’m talking about here. Can they really take the “voluntary” out of parental volunteering?

Apparently they can.

At Pennington School, a public elementary/middle school in Prince William County, VA, parents are required to volunteer at least ten hours per year, reported the Washington Post. The parental contracts and other requirements are “an essential part of Pennington,” said Principal Joyce Boyd about the procedures, which have been in place since 2004. The PTO president told the same newspaper, “The school prefers to have the obligations performed at school during the day, but working parents can perform data entry at home, volunteer on weekends or help with spring beautification …”

In 2008 the Ohio legislature even went so far as to propose a bill that would force parents with kids in underperforming schools to volunteer for 13 hours each school year-or face a $100 fine. That bill didn’t pass, but now there is another bill under consideration requiring parents to attend at least one conference with a teacher each school year, or face a $50 fine

Last month the New York Times reported that San Jose’s Alum Rock Union Elementary School District was working on a proposal to require the families of all its 13,000 students to do 30 hours of volunteering per academic year. Many of the schools in the district, where 88 percent of the students are poor, do not even have parent-teacher organizations. It seems to me that starting a PTA is probably a better place to begin organizing parents than requiring volunteer hours.

Apparently this district was inspired by the success of another area school that actually graded parents on whether they contributed to the classroom.

I’d love to know what kind of grade other people would give to the idea of mandatory parent volunteerism.

When Leslie’s not at her son’s school, she can be reached at For more columns visit
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 4, 2010.