When the pain of rain meets the joys of boys

Photo by Harrison Keely

Photo by Harrison Keely

Santa Barbara isn’t very well equipped for rainy days.

Neither is my son.

Eventually, when you coop up 59 pounds of eight-year-old boy energy inside a teeny tiny house for too long, something’s got to give.

Usually it’s my sanity.

While I would be perfectly happy — ecstatic, in fact — to spend a rainy day inside, curled up on the couch with a good book, my son looks at that same couch and sees a trampoline, a mountain to climb, or a boxing ring.

At first it’s kind of amusing. After all, we have old furniture for a reason.

But the last weekend it rained here was four days long, thanks to a teacher in-service day. They got trained and I got drilled. That’s 96 hours of rain, and what felt like 906 hours of being cooped up indoors.

When Koss started playing vaseball, with an aim at my roses, I lost my sense of humor, took a few deep breaths and tried to imagine how other moms of boys (MOBs) would handle it.

I remember Sally Cappon telling me about how when it rained on one of her three son’s birthday parties, she had the boys do indoor relay races up and down her hallway. They loved it.

Unfortunately, in my house, the “hallway” consists of the living room, which adjoins the bedrooms to the kitchen. So much for that plan.

Another MOB friend, Andrea Peterson, encourages her three sons to play outside in rain, sleet and snow. “So what if they get dirty, it comes off,” is her philosophy. Great logic, unless of course, like me, you only have one child, which means I’d be the one to brave the elements.

No thanks. I’m still sneezing and injured from the last three minutes I tried to play mudball.

Even if I were willing to break the rules about television and computer use for the weather, the poor kid can only sit still for so long.

No matter how much you try to civilize them, little boys are wired for action.

Before he was born I was sure I would raise him exactly the same way I would have raised a girl.

Then I woke up and discovered how little it mattered what I did.

It took Koss about 10 minutes to decide he liked his stuffed football toy better than his teddy bear and another 10 minutes to decide that peeing in my face was hysterically funny.

I’ll never forget pushing one-year-old Koss and his friend Sophia on the swings at La Mesa Park. A gardener drove by on a mini tractor.

You would have thought Barney had landed in a giant space ship and was handing out lollipops the way Koss jumped up and down on his swing.

Meanwhile, Sophia was happily gazing at the trees.

Big machines became one of the highlights of our lives. We would stake out construction sites — to the point where I’m sure the crew thought I was a stalker. For a really special outing, I’d take him to climb on the lawn mowers at Home Depot.

Rather than imagine the beautiful rows of peonies he might plant, when he climbed on the mower, he’d pretend to shoot aliens or be racing through the desert. Whatever the imaginary game, he always won.

Boys, apparently, can make a competition out of anything.

We recently went to the Long Beach Aquarium, where the highlights of Koss’s day were shooting the life-sized dolphin- and whale-shaped squirt guns at brave passers-by and watching the harbor seals compete for a raft. Koss and several other little boys actually got the crowd chanting, “Go Red, Go Red” (for the seal with the red identifying tag) in his battle to dominate “Yellow” for play pool superiority. The boys were so enthusiastic that I half-expected a flurry of Pokeman cards and marbles to change hands after each round.

Ah, the joys of MOB-dom.

Ah, the joys of rain.

Since we had already taken Koss to every movie that could conceivably be deemed appropriate, we took him to run some errands, just to get out of the house.

He dismantled the children’s section at Borders, and then created an obstacle course at Long’s.

If this weather doesn’t let up soon I’ll be destined to spend the rest of his childhood disguised in dark glasses and blonde wig, lest someone should associate me with this miniature wild man wrecking havoc on what used to be our sleepy little town.

On the way home I called the newslines, checking to see what other havoc the weather has created. Surprisingly, the only thing on there was a fire department report from Santa Maria about a bull with a plastic bucket stuck on his head. Apparently the bull was able to get the bucket off without firefighter intervention.

I laughed as I told Koss about the “big news story” of the weekend.

I could almost see the light bulb light in his boy-wired brain.

“Do you think the firefighters would come to our house if I could get a bucket to stick on my head?”

Maybe, just this once, I’ll let him have a little extra time on the computer. Eight hours of CartoonNetwork.com can’t be that bad, can it?

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on February 19, 2008.

The first steps are the hardest

Photo by Tolmacho, Pixabay.com.

Photo by Tolmacho, Pixabay.com.

Whether starting out or starting over, the joy is in the journey.

I just started kindergarten for the third time, and it doesn’t get any easier. I also started writing this column at least three times and I’m not sure it got any better.

Firsts are not my bests. I probably had more butterflies in my stomach the day Koss and his humongous Yu Gi Oh! backpack walked into Vieja Valley School than when I first set my own shiny black Mary Jane-clad feet into Washington School almost — oh, my gosh — 36 years ago.

The reason I’m writing this column is because my dear friend and colleague, Sally Cappon, abandoned me to write a book, sort of like Koss’ preschool friends abandoned him for different elementary schools. I don’t know what I’ll do without Sally to help me spell Devereux and Glen Annie or her encyclopedic knowledge of Fiesta.

Change is hard. I was just starting to get the hang of my first kindergarten classroom at Crown Pointe Elementary in San Diego. Then my dad selfishly took a job at Santa Barbara City College and moved us here midyear, without a second thought as to who I would sit with at snack time. Thankfully Mrs. Moropoulos (whose son, Craig, is now the football coach at Santa Barbara High) was looking out for me that first day. She let me have the special honor of assisting her by wiping off the blackboard and cleaning the erasers.

There are no more erasers to clean.

Koss has a whiteboard in his classroom, two computers and 19 kids he didn’t know until that first day. I was terrified, but he took it in stride, promptly befriending Ben and Bob and telling me he wished he only had three letters in his name.

One of the most wonderful and alien things about being a mom is re-experiencing some of the memories of my childhood through the eyes of a little boy. Even though the chairs have shrunk enormously, they’re still made of that artificially shiny wood. I can almost feel my bottom skating across the seat every time he sits down.

Koss is fitting easily into his new school and tells everyone who asks how much he loves it. As I agonize over the contents of his Pokemon lunchbox (do I give him the Goldfish crackers I know he’ll eat or the celery sticks I wish he would), he sings his new songs (“To stop the bus in cases of emergency, you pull the cord …”) and chatters about how much better Ms. Geritz sings than I do. In reality, everyone sings better than I do, but he never noticed this in preschool, when all the bus did was have its wheels go round and round.

Koss is becoming more and more independent every day, which simultaneously thrills and kills me. It seems like yesterday I brought him home from the hospital and he already wants to be dropped off in the school parking lot to walk to class alone (over my dead body!).

While Koss learns to pronounce L’s and R’s in a way that people other than his dad can understand, I’ll be working on a way to put my own observations into a forum that entertains more than just my husband. I’ve got high hopes for this column, but even higher hopes for Koss as he sets off on this lifelong learning adventure.

But until he learns to read, I’m counting on the rest of you.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on September 23, 2004.

Back To School

Photo by Wokandapix, pixabay.com.

(To the tune of “Can, can, can you do the cancan”)

Can, can, can you pay attention

Do I have to mention

Everything I said I’ll say again

Can you hear me?

Listening is good for you

Pay attention

Maybe you’ll learn something new

– Song played after recess in a third-grade classroom at Santa Barbara Community Academy

If learning, as some experts claim, is about attention and repetition, what happens during the longest recess of all – summer vacation?

While research measuring the effectiveness of year-round schools vs. traditional calendars is inconclusive, parents, students and educators at year-round schools all said they think children learn better when they have shorter breaks.

“I find that they come back refreshed. Having only a couple weeks (off) they pick things up pretty quickly. I really like that,” said Heather Nicolas, who teaches third grade at Santa Barbara Community Academy.

“… Not only just remembering the facts and the educational academic aspects, but remembering how to be in a classroom, how to behave … you have to do your homework and you have to sit and listen for different parts of the day,” said Erin Cavazos, whose son is a third-grader at the academy.

Children, too, think they learn better.

“It’s easier to remember stuff because it’s not such a long break,” said Leo Adame, a fourth-grader at the academy.

They also recognize the behavioral benefits.

“You have to remember how to behave even though it’s only a three-week break, you still have to remember,” said Nayelhi Romerez, an academy sixth-grader.

While most local children won’t be heading back to school until after Labor Day, the academy is well into its summer session. Along with Cleveland School, it’s one of two year-round elementary schools in our area.

“The advantages are mainly for the students,” said academy principal Joan Jamieson. “Especially students that are at risk. They don’t have a chance to forget things. … The very best thing also is for English learners, they get a chance to get continuing reinforcement of that second language without losing it over a long break.”

A school of choice, meaning that any student in the Santa Barbara Elementary District can attend, the academy has other things that distinguish it, along with the year-round curriculum.

“The founding principles were core knowledge, year-round, uniforms, parent participation; those are probably the four cornerstones of the program,” said Jamieson.

While it’s not surprising that parents like the uniforms, some of the kids do, too.

The uniforms are good, said Leo. “Less clothes to wash,” he explained.

But not all of the children were fans of the regular blue and white and plaid outfits.

“I don’t like it,” said fifth-grader Camisha West.

“You don’t get to wear your cool shirts like this shirt,” said third-grader Destin Cavazos, pointing to his after-school dinosaur duds.

Parents are required to work at the school for six hours per quarter, with a variety of activities available to accommodate different schedules.

“I love the parent involvement,” said Valerie Banks, who has twins in the fifth grade. “I think education has to be with parents and teachers and children all together.”

Banks, an Eastside resident, took her children out of Vieja Valley School two years ago to attend the academy.

“I was equally happy with Vieja Valley, but … it was kind of a trek. The academy was more convenient for me and I really like the year round thing,” Banks said. “We have some excellent teachers, they’re great. They’re really consistent with the kids and I really like that. Parents are much more hands-on.”

Even single parents, like Teresa Culhain, who has two children and works two jobs, like the emphasis on parent participation.” I think it’s good,” she said. “Parents should be involved. … It is first and foremost the parents’ responsibility to know what’s going on with the teachers and at school.”

Cavazos agreed. “The parents are part of the school community, which I think makes a parent feel … like your child is wanted and the people there want to teach your children and they want to be a community within the larger community.”

So You Think You Know Your ABC’s…


A — Adams School begins technology education in kindergarten. By the time students leave Adams they have a keyboarding fluency of around 35 words per minute.

B — Backpacks. Studies show the average student carries about 22 percent of his or her weight in a backpack. The recommended maximum: 15 percent.

C — Cell Phones are now a common sight on school campuses.

D — Ding Dongs. Want to be popular at lunchtime? Bring along extras of these chocolate-covered cream-filled treats.

E — E-mail is now the preferred communication method for many teachers.

F — Free Lunch. More than 4,000 low-income students in Santa Barbara County received free lunches last year.

G — Groundhog Job Shadow Day, in which students shadow local professionals in the field of their choice, will kick off Feb. 2.

H — Hollister School students enjoy a fabulous art program, which culminates in an art show and a spring chalk drawing festival.

I — Isla Vista School has 17 different languages spoken in its student body.

J — Junior Highs on the South Coast include Carpinteria Middle School, Goleta Valley Junior High, La Colina Junior High, La Cumbre Junior High, Santa Barbara Charter Middle School and Santa Barbara Junior High.

K — Kellogg School’s playground was resurfaced this summer.

L — Lunch Boxes. Spider-Man, Barbie, the Power Puff Girls and Yu-Gi-Oh are among this year’s most popular designs.

M — McKinley School’s close proximity to Santa Barbara City College helps provide lots of classroom volunteers.

N — No. 2 Pencils. Get them out; we’re going to have a pop quiz.

O — Open Alternative School has its own organic garden.

P — Partners in Education is a group of local businesspeople working together with educators to support our schools.

Q — Quarter. Milk used to be nickel at school, but now it’s a quarter most places.

R — Recess. The highlight of our day.

S — School Supplies. Pee Chee folders, Elmer’s Glue and lined paper are among the list of school supply essentials.

T — Teacher’s Fund, administered by Village Properties, provides grants to teachers for specific school projects.

U — UCSB’s Gervitz Graduate School of Education has credentialed many local teachers, counselors and administrators.

V — Vending Machines. Last year there was a move to put healthier food selections in school vending machines.

W — Westmont College is known, among other things, for having great babysitters.

X — X-ing Guards help students cross streets safely.

Y — Year-Round Schools. There are two on the South Coast, Cleveland School and the Santa Barbara Community Academy.

Z — ZZZZZ … No sleeping in class!

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on August 12, 2004.


The tourists are coming! The tourists are coming!

There’s no need to fear, though. Our Sally Cappon and Leslie Dinaberg have the insiders’ story on what to do, where to go and how to just get around town at the height of summer. Follow their leads


East Beach Grill (1118 E. Cabrillo Blvd.) comes with a couple of disclaimers. First, it’s perilously close to tourist hotels, but you should be OK if you come early; tourists are not known as early risers. Another reason to get up and go: Parking is free up to 10 a.m. weekdays at adjacent city lots. You’ll probably see someone you know, especially if they’re part of the beachy athletic community. Tip: Try wheat germ pancakes. — S.C.

The Come Back Cafe (324 State St.) has toys and a play area for the kids, as well as Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes in blueberry (my favorite), chocolate chip or any other flavor your heart desires. — L.D.

Judge for Yourself Cafe (1218 Santa Barbara St.) is another great local place for breakfast or lunch. It’s near the Courthouse but enough off the beaten track that you have to know where you’re going to find it. — L.D.


Leslie’s Top 10 Places to Do Lunch Sans Tourists

1. Mexican on Milpas: La Super-Rica (622 N. Milpas St.) is always super-crowded with L.A. types, but Taqueria El Bajio (129 N. Milpas), Julian’s (421 N. Milpas) and Mexican Grill (730 N. Milpas, formerly Mr. Pancho’s) are equally good without the wait.

2. Padaro Beach Grill (3765 Santa Claus Lane). If you have kids, this is the place for you. A huge, outdoor picnic-type space, sand, toys and plenty of grass for cartwheel practice, plus the occasional train for entertainment. And the food’s not bad either.

3. Cucas (626 W. Micheltorena St. or 2030 Cliff Drive). Best shrimp enchiladas in town. In fact, it’s all pretty bueno.

4. Pierre La Fond (516 San Ysidro Road). The two downtown locales are great, in the winter. But go to the Montecito location year-round to avoid tourists. The salad bar is great, especially with the air fries.

5. Red’s (211 Helena Ave.). The Funk Zone’s favorite coffee house is also a great place for lunch.

Derf's Cafe

Derf’s Cafe

6. Derf’s (2000 De la Vina St.). Good food at good prices, a great patio and great service, and lots of great memories.

7. Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch (2618 De la Vina St.). Owner Matt Benko says his busiest time of year is Fiesta, when the place is filled with locals trying to avoid the crowds. But the chicken, tri-tip and burritos are great year round.

8. Freebird’s (879 Embarcadero Del Norte, Isla Vista). The burritos are great — and big enough to split — and you can get exactly what you want in them.

9. Lazy Acres (302 Meigs Road). A wonderful salad bar and the soup are always terrific. Also worth trying is the turkey sandwich with sun-dried tomatoes.

10. El Sitio (7398 Calle Real, 2830 De la Vina St., 102 S. Fairview Ave., 138 S. Salinas St.). Try No. 14; it’s totally greasy; it’s totally unhealthy and one of the best things you’ll ever taste that’s not chocolate. I promise.

Dinner and Drinks

For atmosphere, you can’t beat Cold Spring Tavern (5995 Stagecoach Road). The historic stagecoach stop is tucked in the Santa Ynez Mountains just over San Marcos Pass. Great food in cozy rooms in a rustic, creekside setting. Menu features game and chili. Warning: It can look like a Harley convention on the weekends. — S.C.

The best oceanside dining is the Beachside Bar-Cafe (Goleta Beach County Park). Seafood is king at this restaurant where you can dine inside or out, overlooking the ocean. Best-seller night after night: Halibut stuffed with goat cheese and crab. Other favorites: Clam chowder and Caesar salad. Tip: Don’t even think about going here around UCSB graduation. — S.C.

Chuck’s (3888 State St.) is the ultimate locals place. Not the easiest place to find, but pop in almost any evening and you’ll run into an old friend. Famous for decades for steaks and service — and don’t miss the salad bar. — S.C. (Plus, you won’t find a better Mai Tai anywhere, even in Hawaii. — L.D.)

Pepe's Goleta (courtesy photo)

Pepe’s Goleta (courtesy photo)

Another great, nontouristy place is Pepe’s (254 Orange Ave.) in Old Town Goleta. It’s very kid-friendly, the margaritas are excellent, and you’ll never hear a patron talking about Michael Torena Street. There’s also a great patio for private parties or loud friends. — L.D.

Best Reflection

Mount Calvary Retreat House (Mount Calvary Road). For serenity, scenery and sublime R&R, nothing tops this monastery operated by the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross. Perched off Gibraltar Road above Santa Barbara, it offers a spectacular panorama of the South Coast. Quiet rules, with silent times, and services that guests may attend if desired. A small bookstore sells arts and crafts made by brothers of this friendly community. — S.C.

Casa de Maria (800 El Bosque Road, 969.5031). It’s worth attending a program just to have access to the grounds of this Montecito treasure. — L.D.

Don’t Forget Dessert

McConnell's (courtesy photo)

McConnell’s (courtesy photo)

Want that creamy, cold, rich ice cream taste without the calories? In addition to its award-winning ice creams, McConnell’s (201 W. Mission St. or 7034 Marketplace Drive) also has a wonderful invention called Wow Cow, delicious frozen yogurt at only 9 calories an ounce. — L.D.

Next Week …

Recreation’s the game, with beaches, parks and shopping on our map.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on June 3, 2004.