Dr. Gregg DiNicola of Caduceus takes great care of patients, including many gallery owners and artists


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Dr. Gregg DiNicola looks at his overall medical career like a basketball game. For the first half of his career he practiced in Yorba Linda. After 19 years there, he says he wanted to change things up for his second half. As a kid growing up in Covina, for Gregg, Laguna was a regular destination. 

“The first year we came down was 1969; it was the first year we had cars. We stumbled onto the Sawdust Festival, it was much more hippie-ish back then, more our age people. We loved it,” remembers DiNicola. So when it came time to decide where to begin his second half, he found an office near Three Arch Bay and rented it month to month, until 2007 when he found the place where he practices now: Caduceus on Thalia. 

Finding Caduceus on Thalia

Caduceus is a family practice. Originally, Dr. DiNicola says he thought he was going to be a pediatrician, but when it came time to put that choice on paper during the “match” process (where med students select their field and top choices for residency) he balked, feeling it was too limiting. He was an obstetrician for his first 19 years in practice. Now, as a family practitioner, he gets to see the whole family.

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Dr. Gregg DiNicola at his medical practice, Caduceus on Thalia

“Why would you want to retire?”

“Back when we were in our mid-40’s my friends were always saying, ‘We’re going to retire by the time we’re 55.’ I never really got that. Why would you want to retire?” he asks. Even now he says people ask him almost daily when he’s going to leave the hustle and bustle of his medical practice behind. “I say, ‘Why? That’s silly! I’m a block from the beach. I have the best patients. Why would I want to retire?”

Fundamental changes in health care that are not for the better

That’s not to say that there aren’t some things about practicing medicine that he wouldn’t like to alter. In a change he calls “disturbing,” DiNicola laments the turn away from the idea that the patient comes first to that of the payer coming first. 

“Whether it’s a PPO, an HMO, or a concierge service, with every patient the first question is ‘How are you paying for this?’ When I started out, five, ten, even 20 years ago we didn’t worry so much about getting paid. Now, if you have a 15-minute office visit, half of that time is committed to satisfying the paperwork. It used to be all the time went into the patient.”

Another example DiNicola gives regarding these changes is that his office now has three full time certified “coders” who assist in ensuring the charting the insurance companies demand is done correctly. “This is just one example of how money that used to be spent on patient care is now going towards the business end of things.”

Finding Laguna to be a special place to practice medicine

And that’s just one more reason, perhaps the biggest reason, DiNicola loves to practice medicine in Laguna Beach. “My practice works out really well in Laguna Beach,” explains DiNicola. “We take (all forms of insurance and payment), even Medicaid. We see gallery owners and artists gratis and are grateful to be able to do that.” Yes, you read that correctly. Dr. DiNicola sees artists and gallery owners for free.

Part of the reason is because DiNicola is a huge art fan. “I love art. I can’t draw at all, but I love art. I always have,” he says enthusiastically. He got into the local art scene by going downtown and walking through the galleries, the fairs and festivals.

“Then it evolved into artists bringing their work in. All of it is for my patients. I love having them come in here so we can talk about art,” he says. Which is how he came up with the idea to treat artists and gallery owners for free.

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Paintings by local artists are prominently displayed at Caduceus

Giving back to artists and gallery owners with free medical care

“I realized by talking to the artists that if they had a cold they couldn’t afford to see a doctor. I thought it would be an easy thing to do to help them out. I have never bartered for art,” he adds definitively. “But, I am a business man as well as a doctor.

“And by doing right it has also paid off in other ways when the artists’ families and friends come in. We only ask that they be a local artist or gallery owner. I couldn’t afford to help every artist in Orange County,” he says. 

As for why gallery owners, he says they struggle, too. “They can go weeks and weeks without a sale. I’ve lost a lot of gallery owners who have had to move out of town. Of course, they’re in it to make money but they all love art. That’s a tough field,” he says appreciatively.

A resident of Orange, but a life made in Laguna

Appreciation is something DiNicola has a lot of for Laguna Beach. Although he lives in Orange, he says he spends more time here than many people who live here. “My life is here”, he says. He’s so entrenched, he is the president of the Laguna Beach Historical Society. He came to become involved in the organization when he stopped in to see the Murphy Bungalow, which serves as the Historical Society’s headquarters.  “They had a form and it asked ‘Are you willing to help us out?’” DiNicola remembers. He marked “yes” and they promptly called him and asked him to sit on the Board. That was 12 years ago. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same

DiNicola says that the thing that surprises him most about how Laguna has changed over the years is how much things have stayed the same. “I’m shocked by how much it hasn’t changed. Laguna is so united. It’s a very traditional community,” except, he adds with a laugh, “Not its politics.” 

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Dr. DiNicola’s examination room is quintessentially “Laguna”

A true appreciation of Laguna Beach and its history

By learning the town’s history, DiNicola says he has a deeper appreciation of what makes Laguna special. “It’s really a unique place. I don’t know another community like it…maybe back east?” 

That’s the reason why, if you come to see Dr. DiNicola, you will find his waiting room chairs set in a circle. “I did it that way so people could talk to each other. You can hear people strike up a conversation, ‘Are you going to the Patriots Day Parade this year?’ Things like that. It just doesn’t happen in most other cities.”

Of course, DiNicola acknowledges that even in this special place, things aren’t perfect. “Even though we have our trials, I know as a community people are trying to get things fixed,” he says. 

DiNicola says it bothers him to see the empty theater and Hotel Laguna, among others. “It’s very disconcerting,” he says. But not enough to diminish his appreciation for his (almost) hometown. 

“We have a gem here,” he says. “It’s such a special place, and has such a special feeling. It’s a wonderful place to work, live, shop.” Dr. DiNicola’s enthusiasm for Laguna is only matched by his enthusiasm for practicing medicine…in Laguna.

Lenny Vincent: Laguna’s Spiderman and much more


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Entomologist, tango enthusiast, professor, photographer, archivist; which word doesn’t fit? Sounds like a question on a test. But for Lenny Vincent, they all fit. These are just a few fascinating facets of his life, and to those who read Creature Features, he’s Spiderman, the expert source of endless information on insects. 

“Perhaps you may be interested in writing a story on the, unfortunately, maligned yet beneficial spiders of either Orange County or Laguna Beach,” Lenny wrote in an email last summer. And I was. Now, because of him, residents know about several local species of spiders, where to find them (if one so desires), their various webs, and their titillating and complicated courtships. 

A debunker of insect myths

Graciously, upon request, he continues to debunk the myths and mysteries of the insect world.

A resident of Laguna Beach for over 30 years, he knows his spiders and he knows Laguna, especially the wilderness areas. Lenny has been teaching entomology and biology for 36 years; at University of California, Berkeley from 1974-81 (part time), Georgia Southern University from 1981-86, and at Fullerton College from 1986-2015. He is now a Professor Emeritus at Fullerton College, and teaches part time, although not this term.

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Lenny with Silas and Charlie

With a stunning view of Catalina and San Clemente Islands, Lenny has lived in his South Laguna home for 21 years. Curiously, it’s absent of the expected framed insect collections. Instead, it houses two other species; two dogs, a Beagle named Charlie and a Shar-pei mix (Lenny thinks), the handsome Silas, and two desert tortoises currently in hibernation under the house, Ompahpah and Bristowe, gifts from a student in 1993. 

“Tortoises live to be 100 to 150 years old,” Lenny says, “so I’ve had to find someone to take them over.”

No gallery of insects to be seen

Out of sight, but not out of mind (mine anyway), his spiders are confined to another room that serves as the lab. And in place of those anticipated assemblages on his walls, is a display of his beautiful photographs of insects and plant life. 

Surprisingly, one area is filled with black and white pictures (not taken by him) of tango dancers from a tango tour he went on. But that will come later in the story.

Lenny’s stepson, Matthew Haim, a student at San Diego State, walks through the living room on his way to school for exams. No, he’s not studying entomology, but something of the spider world must have rubbed off on him, because he did write an article on the brown widow spider that was published. Matt’s a business major (and writer) and has a local connection. He works at the Front Desk at Hotel La Casa de Camino.

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Collection of spiders in Lenny’s lab

As we wait for the dogs to howl at a passing fire engine, which Lenny says is quite a spectacular show, but sadly doesn’t materialize, the question of how and when Lenny decided to devote his life to insects and make it a career, comes up. “While I was in high school in Cleveland, Ohio, I would collect and curate insects and sell them to other students for biology. I did that for a couple of years.

Interest in spiders peaks at graduate school

“Then I majored in biology at California State University at Northridge and took courses in entomology and liked it. When I went to grad school at University of California, Davis, I was interested in Medical Entomology, but when people would ask about spiders, I was drawn to that, so I switched to arachnology,” he says.

He then went on to get his Ph.D. in Entomology at UC Berkeley.

And his enchantment with insects never waned. Just last summer, he and a former student made quite a find. He frequently hikes in Laguna Wilderness Park to search out and photograph spiders, and during one of these treks, they found an undescribed species of jumping spider. 

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In-house lab

“It will take a specialist in jumping spiders to describe a new species, and that could be a long process,” says Lenny.

A longtime wilderness supporter, he’s been on the Board of Directors of Laguna Greenbelt since 1995. He is also the President of the Board of Directors of the Schlinger Foundation, and has been on the board since 1998. A non-profit founded by a former Entomology Professor at UC Berkeley, the Schlinger Foundation just recently provided a grant to aid construction of the new Laguna Canyon Foundation headquarters. 

Hopes children will reconnect with nature

Lenny says, “By bringing children into the wilderness, I hope they’ll gain a connection with nature that’s been lost.”

If all that isn’t enough to keep him busy, for the last 10 years, he’s served as archivist for the American Arachnology Society, which entails, as he explains, “Archiving letters from retiring arachnologists for the Smithsonian Institute.”

During Lenny’s unrelenting study of spiders, he has compiled a remarkable and extensive OC Spider website, and it’s in the process of becoming a pictorial guide through a grant (for printing costs) from the Schlinger Foundation. Although it won’t be finished for a year, the guides could be a resource in places like Nix Center.

One imagines an entomologist to be sequestered in his lab all hours of the day and night cataloging insects and who knows what else (and I don’t mean the activities of the scientist in The Fly). Yet seldom does one picture “a man of the insects” out tangoing. But Lenny’s not your average entomologist (if there is such a thing). 

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Does that smile mean Lenny is dreaming of the next night out tangoing?

When he turned 50, he started taking West Coast Swing lessons, which led to ballroom, and then the tango. Every few days, he goes to Avant Garde Ball Room or Atomic Ballroom to dance. About 10 years ago, he went to Buenos Aires on a tour of tango clubs, which he says, “Aren’t too flamboyant.” Although in the pictures on his wall, the women do have roses in their mouths.

As if all this weren’t enough, Lenny finds the time to lecture a few times a year at The Audubon Society, the Environmental and Nature Center, and other organizations on subjects such as the biology of spiders or insects.

It’s endlessly intriguing why someone devotes an entire life to the study of one thing. When asked what other profession he might have wanted to take up, without hesitation, Lenny says, “If I had the skill, a cellist, but I have zero musical talent. I know, I took voice lessons for two years.”

Well, it might have been impressive to add that to his list of accomplishments, but right now, the “unfortunately maligned” spiders of Laguna, and the supporters of the Laguna Wilderness are glad he didn’t become a cellist.

For all you ever wanted to know about spiders, go to Lenny’s spider guide website, ocspiderguide.com.

Captain Jeff Calvert: Happy to serve Laguna Beach


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Many young boys say they want to become police officers when they grow up. Laguna Beach Police Captain Jeff Calvert is one of the few who actually followed through with his boyhood dream. “I still have a report from when I was in fourth or fifth grade when I interviewed a police officer,” explains Captain Calvert. That first interview may have planted the seed, but a career day encounter with a law enforcement officer during his senior year at Laguna Hills High School, grew the seed into an emphatic career decision. “After that I knew what I wanted to do,” he says.

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Captain Jeff Calvert, a 22-year veteran on the Laguna Beach Police Department

When an enthusiastic Calvert went home that day to share his career of choice with his father, his father wasn’t nearly as excited. “He said, ‘You’re not doing that,’ remembers Calvert. His father was a businessman and he assumed his son would follow suit. But fate intervened.

A well-timed ride along

“When I was 20 my friend got a job with the Sheriff. He asked me if I wanted to go on a ride-along. Well, he got called on a Code Three and we got to drive with the sirens on, on the opposite side of the road…when it was all over I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do,” remembers Calvert. He broke the news to his dad and enrolled in the Police Academy. His dad eventually came around. “When I graduated, I had never seen my dad so proud,” he says.

An “eye-opener” for a first job

Calvert’s first job was with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He worked in Norwalk. “That was an eye opener for a kid from south Orange County,” he says. Eventually, he came to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and worked at the Intake Release Center (IRC) for three years. The IRC is a maximum-security custody facility. “I learned all there is to learn about running a custody facility,” he says. And then fate intervened again.

Making his way to Laguna

“My heart was always in Laguna,” he explains. He even applied for a job with the LBPD right out of the Academy, even though there weren’t any openings. Finally, in 1996 he had his chance – a position became available at the LBPD. Taking that job has led to a 22-year career in a myriad of positions from patrol officer to undercover narcotics to sergeant to lieutenant and now captain. And Captain Calvert couldn’t be more pleased. 

An unusual partnership with the community

“I’ve always had a strong desire to help people,” he says. Helping them in Laguna is particularly rewarding. “Generally, the relationship between the police and the community ebbs and flows,” he explains. “I haven’t seen that here. The community here has always supported the police department.” And that support isn’t something Calvert, or the department, takes for granted, as witnessed by the department’s commitment to community outreach, in addition to trying to provide the best service possible.

Innovation is encouraged

Calvert leads the Investigations and Support Services Divisions. Field Services, led by Captain Jason Kravetz, and Civilian Services, led by Jim Beres, are the other divisions within the department. Under Captain Calvert’s leadership a Homeland Security Maritime Team, an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) program, K-9 program, a Know-Your-Limits program and many other innovative programs have been implemented. Listening to Captain Calvert explain each of these programs, it is clear how much he relishes his job. “Everyday I’m energized to come to work,” he says earnestly.

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Captain Calvert in the Dispatch Room at the Laguna Beach Police Department

An appreciation for learning – and Trojan football

Captain Calvert is also motivated to expanding his skill set. He received his Masters in Executive Leadership from USC Price School of Public Policy. “I drank the Kool-Aid,” he says with a laugh about his passion for USC – and its football team. Calvert is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy. “That was an unbelievable experience,” he says enthusiastically. “I was never one to really love school, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to really love learning and being part of something that is bigger than myself.”

A small town with a relatively sizable police force

Now, I, probably like many Laguna Beach residents, wrongly assumed the LBPD was a small organization (small town = small police department). Captain Calvert helped disabuse me of that idea. Despite a residential population of 24,000 people, Laguna’s police force of 52 sworn officers is considered relatively robust. The average force nationwide is made up of 10 sworn officers or less. 

A “well-rounded” crew

The reason for Laguna’s sizable force is the six million annual visitors we host. However, despite its size, Captain Calvert insists that the force is “well-rounded.” He uses the dispatch center as an example, “They do police, fire and marine safety,” he says. “They are a very talented crew down there…their skills are unique.”

New ways to keep unsafe drivers off the road

Additionally, the 133 drinking establishments within the city’s nine-mile limits can keep the officers busy on any given night. “Laguna Beach has more DUI arrests per capita than any other agency in the state of California,” explains Calvert. So programs like Know-Your-Limits, where officers enter bars and gently and unobtrusively ask people if they want to test their blood alcohol level, are a proactive way to help prevent a tragedy (or at least a DUI). “Thirty three percent of people who think they’re not at a DUI (level) are,” says Calvert. The participants in the “test” are given a $20 Uber credit to help make sure they get home safely.

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Captain Calvert in the driver’s seat with Chief Farinella in the Patriot’s Day Parade

Facebook as a crime fighter

Another thing Captain Calvert oversees is the department’s social media team. Its purpose is two-fold. Most obviously, it serves to humanize the department. “We use humor and the community has really responded,” says Calvert. “The Instagram account is more ‘life behind the badge,’” he explains. Their Facebook page communicates about crimes and things going on in the community. “We have solved three to four crimes with our Facebook page,” says Calvert with a chuckle. “It’s a terrific investigative tool for us.”

A deep appreciation for the community he serves

He again credits the community for stepping in and making a difference, as well as the people he works with. “It’s a team effort. It’s the amazing people I work with who care about their profession and the community. As for the community he serves? “I’ve had an amazing career here,” he says. “I have friends all over the country who just don’t have the community support that we do (in Laguna).”

Glori Fickling: The woman behind (and inside) the 

1950s private detective series Honey West 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

This year, Gloria (Glori) Fickling again turns the age she’s always turned…29. Now, she says, you only have to hold that number up to the mirror. 

If ever a woman could convince you age is only a number, it’s Glori. She still exudes the same sense of fun adventure and daring flair for fashion she had 70 years ago when she met her late husband, Skip, while crawling backwards out of a hotel window wearing nothing more than a bikini. (Stay tuned for more on that story later.)

Best known for their collaboration on the first female private detective series, Honey West, that debuted in the 1950s, Glori and Skip celebrated a storied career.

We sit for a few hours – outside the home she and Skip built together in 1953, overlooking Laguna’s village with the church bells ringing below and the sun setting across the Pacific – and hold up that magical mirror on all the “29” glorious years of Glori’s life. 

Fashion first, fashion always

Fashion and a sense of style may be woven into Glori’s DNA. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, fashion had been on her brain since she could remember. “Ever since I was a little kid, in my head I would be designing clothes,” Glori says. Before meeting Skip, Glori’s early career revolved around apparel. She worked for Women’s Wear Daily, the bible of the industry at that time. 

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The always-glamorous Glori in her library

Glori also became a fashion consultant for May Company, choosing all the clothing for their photo shoots. “In fact, I designed the first line of maternity clothes,” she says. Glori’s boss at the time grew jealous of her early and swift success, giving her only a small line in the magazine for her progressive designs.

Fashion became a theme of Glori’s life, influencing not only the concept and character of Honey West, but defining Glori’s sense of presence in everyday life. She’s known for her big-brimmed hats and trendy outfits, vogue jewelry and enviable shoes. Glori will never be caught looking anything less than the best dressed.

Except that one time…

Seventy years ago, still single and on a Catalina Island adventure with friends, Glori got locked inside her hotel room. With no other means of escape, and wearing only a rainbow-striped bikini, she took matters into her own hands. The window was low to the ground, but navigating it in a bathing suit made an entertaining scene. 

Skip Fickling sat on a railing outside her room, watching her progress. “Well, aren’t you cute,” Glori said once she made it to the ground. Skip asked her out on the spot, but Glori already had a date. 

Fortunately for Skip, Glori’s date turned into a disaster. Like a scene straight out of their later Honey West novels, Glori had to physically fight the man off. “The guy tried to nail me on the table,” Glori recalls. “I took my two feet, threw him across the room, and ran like hell back to the inn.” 

Skip was there waiting.

They spent a sweet weekend together. And, on Sunday, Skip accompanied Glori to church. He held her hand throughout the service. In a later 1959 appearance on the show “You Bet Your Life,” calling up this story, Groucho Marx asked Glori, “Why was that? Didn’t he trust you when the collection plate came around?”

The two eventually eloped to Las Vegas, getting married at one of those little chapels on the Strip. “The lady who stood up for us…she was only wearing a bathrobe, for crying out loud,” says Glori. “I asked her name. Skip thought that was so funny I wanted to know her name. But it was very sentimental to me. For god’s sake, I was getting married.”

A peach of a pair

Glori and Skip may have modeled their marriage after Glori’s parents. Glori talks about her father, Frank Gautraud, with some of the same reverence she has for Skip. “He was God’s gift to mankind,” Glori says about her father. “He had such a sense of humor. Mom and Dad were always laughing.” 

Her own marriage felt full of that same fun love. Skip and Glori loved travel, they loved Las Vegas, they loved working together. “A peach of a pair.” That’s what she called them.

“When you have parents who love each other all the time, you know you’ve got a chosen life,” says Glori. And Glori’s life has felt chosen.

How Honey was born

Twenty-first century women know the strength of being both smart and sensual. But in the 1950s, women who survived on bravery and wits, with more than a little sex appeal on the side, were a new breed. Skip and Glori were the perfect couple to usher that woman into the mainstream.

Honey West was based on Glori’s vivacious personality, Marilyn Monroe’s classic looks, and a Mike Hammer style hardboiled detective. A blue-eyed blonde bombshell with curves that wouldn’t quit, not to mention wit and wiles, Honey West was the first female private eye in American crime fiction. Named after the common and relatable pet name “Honey,” and “West” because, well, she lived in southern California. Out to avenge her father’s death, Honey was known to be “the sexiest private eye ever to pull a trigger.”

Writing under the gender-ambiguous penname G.G. Fickling (a nod to Glori’s maiden name Gloria Gautraud), the couple wrote 11 novels. Titles like “A Kiss for a Killer,” “Girl on the Prowl” and “Honey in the Flesh” all were born before the feminist movement took off across the country. 

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Honey West: “the sexiest private eye ever to pull the trigger”

This led to the eventual launch of a 1960s television show directed by Aaron Spelling and starring Anne Francis, who sported a tight black jumpsuit and sleek sunglasses, and kept company with a pet ocelot named Bruce. While the program only lasted one season, it became the precursor to later shows like Charlie’s Angels, Cagney & Lacey and Police Woman. 

Glori’s office is a shrine to Honey. Bookcases are crammed with copies in several foreign languages. Posters, dolls, memorabilia, and a long line of hotel room keys collected from their book tours line the shelves and walls.

“Her bravado, her great spirit, that’s what Skip saw in making me the role model,” Glori said in an interview last year with the Orange County Register

Glori’s great spirit

I ask Glori about her great spirit, and what she believes sets her apart. “I’ve always been so outgoing,” she says. “If I ever see anyone sitting alone, I always ask them to join me.” 

But, she tells me, there was one time she did not, and this led to one of her greatest life regrets. Once, Glori and Skip were having lunch and happened to see Marilyn Monroe sitting alone. “Almost any other time, I would have invited her to join us, but I was so humbled. She was gorgeous, like a glass doll.” Monroe felt untouchable and intimidating. It seemed too much of a stretch to ask.

Glori feels if she would have reached out to Monroe, told her that Honey West was based on her image, it might have made her day. As she recounts the story, it’s as though Glori feels the weight of responsibility in not alleviating some of Marilyn Monroe’s pain. “If I’d done that,” she says. “It would have been so cheering. What a foolish thing. Every other time, I would always ask.”

Not everything is easy

Glori forever looks on the bright side. But life doesn’t always offer its brightest sides, no matter how lucky you are. And in the mirror of her 29 years, there were some rough times.

At 14, Glori contracted a virulent case of rheumatic fever, forcing her to leave her home in New York, move away from her parents, and live with family in California. “The doctor said I had to get to some warm climate. I had relatives who lived here, and my mother sent me out.” 

It was a childhood illness that took her away from friends and family, but it led her west, to the great state where she’d meet her husband and make Laguna Beach her final happy home.

The hardships didn’t end there. Glori and Skip lost their first child shortly after his birth. The hospital made a mistake, sending Glori home when they shouldn’t have, resulting in complications they couldn’t control. This sunk her into a deep depression, one she wasn’t certain she’d crawl out from. But, she says, this heartbreak prevented Skip from having to fight in the Korean War. He knew Glori might not make it without him home. The couple went on to have three sons, three grandsons, and now a great-granddaughter. 

Years later, they would have lost their home in the 1993 Laguna fire, but for Skip’s training in World War II. He knew the roads, how to drive at night with the lights off, how to crawl through the brush and sneak back to the house when it was surrounded by police presence. That decision saved their home. Skip saw a hot-spot building next door and was able to contact the fire department in time to squelch it. Another lucky break, Glori tells me.

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Glori displays some foreign editions of the Honey West series

But Glori’s greatest loss was Skip, who passed in 1998. Skip had prostate cancer that he opted not to treat and, ultimately, it spread to his brain. “Meeting Skip was the great blessing,” she says. 

This is Glori’s way – turning every misfortune on its head to see the happy sides. Even as she tells me she doesn’t know why she’s lived this long, feeling like she should “give others their turn,” she recognizes she still has more life to live, and more to give the world.

Laguna’s latest grand marshal

At five o’clock, when the bells ring again and I think I should go home, Glori goes in the house to fetch us white wine, and we talk some more. Because with a life lived like Glori’s, there’s a lot to say. 

Glori is Laguna’s latest grand marshal. She’ll march at the head of the annual Patriot’s Day parade. This seems like an ideal choice. Forever the fashionista, the eternal life of the party, still dressed to kill, it’s little wonder Glori is Laguna’s darling. “This is my biggest honor,” she tells me. 

The road ahead

Always ahead of her time, Glori keeps facing forward, looking toward the future – to the possibility of bringing Honey West to the big screen and excited about her role as grand marshal. She’s still writing, anxious to contribute her talents wherever she can, still attending Thursday art walks and local events.

Like Honey, Glori is unstoppable. She’s a force of beauty and brains, style and ability. Her nails are perfectly painted, her makeup impeccably applied, her words carefully chosen. Nothing about Glori is left to chance. 

But what strikes me most is Glori’s warm acceptance, her willingness to say “yes” to life, to take in the stranger at the next table, and to turn every tragedy into an optimistic opportunity. Maybe that’s the secret to eternally turning “29.”

Patrick Fetzer: A childhood paper route takes an unexpected turn and lands him at Laguna Cyclery


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Patrick Fetzer, owner of Laguna Cyclery, speaks eloquently about the feelings he had as a kid in Texas when he got his first bike, and the freedom it granted. But it was a love of music or, more specifically, a desire to become a member of the Columbia Records Club that really first launched his passion for riding. 

“The only way I could get the money to join (the Records Club) was to earn it so I got a paper route. I threw papers seven days a week using my mom’s ten speed bike,” he recalls.

Necessity breeds a lifelong love

Because the papers were heavy and balancing was tricky, Fetzer says he “crashed a lot.” So he found himself at the local bike shop – a lot. Hanging around there waiting for his bike to be fixed he says he became fascinated by the posters of the Tour de France riders on the shop’s walls. “I was a BMX kid. I thought people who rode ten speeds were dorky. But I was struck by the intensity of the Tour riders (in the posters).”

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Patrick Fetzer, owner of Laguna Cyclery, and his trademark dreadlocks

A paper route leads to a love of racing

Eventually, Fetzer says, he’d deliver his papers and then continue on with his trusty ten-speed going on longer and longer rides. “I was 12-13 years old. My friends are sitting around doing nothing. I’m out riding 30 miles and I’m really feeling my independence,” remembers Fetzer. His dad took notice, bringing home a flyer for a bike race. Fetzer says he entered it and finished fourth. 

“All these guys had these really fancy bikes. I was so intimidated, there with my cheap bike. But I was bitten by the bug.” And the bug has yet to release its jaws.

A trip to California leads to a surprising conclusion

Fetzer came out to California in 1996 to attend a bike convention. “I had just graduated from college, the University of Texas. I was working in a bike shop, but I had a college degree and didn’t want to keep turning wrenches,” he says. His boss encouraged Fetzer to go with him to Anaheim to attend the convention. With resume in hand, Fetzer made the trip west. 

A romance leads to Laguna

While the convention was the reason Fetzer came to California, it was a romance that got him to stay. During his stay, Fetzer met a woman who would eventually become his wife. She settled in Laguna, which is how he came to settle in Laguna, on Agate. “We left Texas in a record-breaking snow storm,” he recalls. “I thought that was a good sign.”

Still hanging out at the bike shop

Fetzer did a lot of odd jobs in the beginning of his life in California, but he was still involved in riding. This involvement introduced him to the bike shop on Thalia, housed in a big red barn, next to The Stand. The owners of the shop were a husband and wife team who had previously owned and successfully sold two other bike shops. “It surprised me there was no bike scene in Laguna,” says Fetzer. “The owners, they struggled with it. Laguna is a peculiar community.” The owners mentioned their intention to sell the business. Fetzer didn’t have the money to buy it and things went along as before.

Some prodding, a loan and no more cubicles

Then, a year later, his wife was inspired. She wanted him to own that bike shop. “She calls me and says, ‘You can do it!’ At the time, I was working for a civil engineer, in a cubicle, hating it…so I set out to get an SBA loan which wasn’t very easy.” One of the requirements was that Fetzer had to take an eight-week business course. “I learned more in those eight weeks than I did in four years of college,” he says with a laugh. May 1, 1999 the business was his. 

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Patrick Fetzer with his kids, Luke and Lauren; Luke rides and both are fixtures in the shop

This bike shop has some serious history behind it

With almost 20 years in business under his belt in the big red barn, it would be understandable if Patrick just concerned himself with his own tenure there. However, he is quite a historian of the space his shop inhabits. 

Laguna Cyclery has operated as a bike shop since 1971. Originally built as a meat and produce market in the 40’s, it then operated as the place where Have’ A Corn Chips were made, then a restaurant, finally a bike shop by way of a Peugeot bike distributorship. 

Fetzer says he’s the fifth owner of a bike shop in the space. “I’ve lasted the longest, obviously.” He remarks with a smile: “Although after two years I wasn’t sure I was going to survive.” Clearly, his fears were unfounded.

Replacing one team with another

As the shop became more established, Fetzer did his best to create the bike scene he thought the town deserved. In 2004 Fetzer sponsored a road racing team. “It was at the highest level of USA-based racing,” he says proudly. “That was a great period in my life. It was so much fun.” That lasted three years and then the team was sold off. He has since followed that with his involvement in the Thurston and Laguna Beach High School mountain bike riding teams, officially called Laguna Beach Interscholastic Team.

Working to keep high school kids on the team

The team is overwhelmingly made up of middle schoolers, his seventh grade son being one of them, although it’s a sixth to twelfth grade squad. “There are thousands of kids at these races,” says Fetzer. “It can be a bit intimidating at first, but once everyone gets sorted out it’s good.” 

The team competes in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. “It’s great. There’s a place for everyone,” he says enthusiastically. “It’s for the kid who isn’t a baseball kid or a surfer kid, but we also have kids who do it all.” Fetzer says they’d like to recruit (or keep) more high school kids on the team. “There are more and more scholarships for riding. Schools like UC Davis, UCI, Berkeley, Boulder all offer riding scholarships,” according to Fetzer.

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Fetzer behind the counter at Laguna Cyclery still “turning wrenches”

A shift to the mountains

The enthusiasm that the team was met with speaks to the devoted mountain biking fan base in Laguna. With the abundance of trails surrounding us it’s certainly not a surprise. As a result, Fetzer says he has geared (no pun intended) his shop towards mountain bikes. “We are focused on mountain biking,” he says. “We’re all scared of cars and traffic. I’ve seen a huge shift to the mountains for riding.”

And while Fetzer certainly rides in the hills, he hasn’t abandoned the road. He is riding in a 100-mile road race that starts at the George Washington Bridge in New York. “I’ve never been to New York. For 100 miles there will be no cars, no traffic.  I’m really looking forward to it.” And after almost 20 years it’s likely the shop will survive without him for a few days, although when I met him there it was pretty much non-stop customers from the time he opened his doors to when I left.

Learning to adapt to whatever comes next

“It has never been easy,” says Fetzer of his business. “First it was catalogs, now it’s the internet. But I think it’s a love affair with this corner that keeps this shop open,” he says. “The town continues to support this business which is a testament to its love of biking and an active lifestyle.” 

A younger Fetzer, the one just out of college who didn’t want to “turn wrenches” anymore, might be surprised to find his older self still doing just that. However, it undoubtedly makes all the difference when the wrenches are your own.

Al Treviño: The visionary landscape architect attributes much of his success to “lucky breaks, and the people you meet”


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Sitting in the Bluebird Canyon home he designed and built almost 60 years ago –the home he nearly lost in the 2005 landslide – Alberto (Al) Treviño, 86, is eager to tell me about the new nonprofit website, www.seniors2seniors.com, that he is hoping to launch. 

The website will connect high school seniors with the elderly. “The goal is to help senior citizens while fulfilling community service hours for high schools,” he explains. The young are tasked with teaching technology to the old, giving them lessons on their smart phones, tablets and other devices. “I want to reach the administrators from each California school district, and get them familiar with the website,” says Al. 

A big project for a man who claims he’s retired. 

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Al has a great smile

No question in my mind that this new project will succeed. Al’s vision and accomplishments are legendary in Orange County. As a landscape architect, Al pushed the boundaries of conventional design. As a Hispanic, he pushed Orange County’s boundaries of discrimination. His professional legacy can be seen throughout Orange County and his influence extends well beyond. His personal legacy will last for generations. From 60 years of marriage to his beloved wife, Dolores, came 11 children, 22 grandchildren, and a collection of memories that seemingly have no end.

Out of Al’s imagination sprung the designs for Fashion Island and Linda Isle in Newport, and University Park and Turtle Rock in Irvine. His hand guided the path of the 405 freeway. His vision inspired Epcot Center in Florida. He served under three U.S. presidents as Assistant Secretary of HUD.

Humble, Al claims things were different with his generation. He felt less spoiled, more serious, and in tune with the generations before. He says luck played a role, and the people he met along the way made all the difference.

People like Frank Gehry, George Argyros, Howard Bolzt and even Joseph Kleitsch, though the latter’s influence occurred via a painting rather than a serendipitous meeting.

More about those serendipitous meetings later. But first, I ask Al to fill me in on the 

winding road of his life. 

Born into both distinction and the Great Depression

Al was born in Inglewood in 1931, at the height of the Great Depression. When business dried up in California, his father (who owned a chain of shoe stores) moved their family to El Paso, Texas. 

Al’s mother, Adelina, was from the Escajeda family. The Escajedas had a long history of power and influence in El Paso, and were the earliest pioneers of the town. King Ferdinand VII of Spain gave the Escajedas a land grant in 1818 and they settled San Elizario and Ysleta. Adelina’s name is still encrusted in the stained glass of the Ysleta mission.

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Al in front of a favorite painting

In contrast, his father’s family settled in Mexico in 1480. “The Treviños were known as Jews in Spain,” Al tells me. “The king, during the Spanish Inquisition, made a decision to throw out the Jews. They gave my family a choice: stay and be killed, or set sail for the New World.” Today, the Treviños still have a stronghold in Monterrey, Mexico, remaining a rich and powerful family.

Although the family returned to southern California during Al’s high school years, these earliest influences were, perhaps, instrumental to Al’s own destiny. Al was one of Orange County’s initial and significant settlers. He came to Laguna Beach in the 1960s, before any of the modern-day industries or businesses were built. His was the first house built in his Bluebird Canyon neighborhood. But Al arrived with vision – and degrees from both UC Berkeley and Harvard in landscape architecture. The Depression gave Al drive, and his history gave him confidence. 

The circuitous path to success

When Al began his academic career, he’d never heard of ‘landscape architecture.’ But he did like plants and trees. So, after graduating from Saint Francis in La Cañada Flintridge, Al set off to Cal Poly Pomona to study horticulture. During a design class, a professor saw his drawings and the head of the department pulled him aside. “You should become a landscape architect,” Howard Boltz told him. “You could get into Berkeley.” This single comment changed the course of Al’s life.

But Berkley nearly rejected his already approved application because of one stark ‘C’ on his transcript – in Spanish. “There was discrimination against Hispanics then, and I didn’t give a damn about the class. My mother spoke perfect Spanish. My sisters, to this day, speak Spanish. But I didn’t care about it.” Leland Vaughan, the head of the department and a prominent California architect, looked at Al. “Aren’t you Spanish?” he said, while signing Al’s admissions slip.

The interruption of war

Being a student wasn’t enough to spare Al from war. In the middle of his academic career at Berkeley, he was drafted into the Korean War. But because he tested well, he was sent to medical school in Fort Benning, Georgia. “I was attached to a tank battalion,” says Al. “We’d go out on maneuvers and people were always getting hurt. It was something I never expected to do.”

One night, while on maneuvers near the Alabama border, the lead tank ran over a civilian’s vehicle. “The fellow was pinned in the car. He was moaning, but there was no blood,” says Al. The man’s injuries were entirely internal. His stomach and chest had been crushed. “There was nothing we could do ourselves, so we called an ambulance.” When the ambulance arrived and took out their stretcher, they saw the man. “’You’ll have to call a black ambulance,’” they told Al. “’We only treat white patients.’” It took over an hour for the black ambulance to arrive. Too long, as it turned out. “That kind of thing was prevalent,” says Al. “And it really hit me.”

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Al contemplates his past

But the war brought Al nice surprises, too. One day, a starred general showed up asking about Al. He’d heard about Al’s talents in landscape architecture and decided it was time to improve the base. Al was transferred to special services. He was given a staff, a Jeep, and – eventually – a mission to improve all the officers’ facilities across several states throughout the southeast. 

“I walked into the Corps of Engineers looking for help. I yelled out, ‘Are there any architects here?’” Al recalls. “This little guy in the back raised his hand. He said his name was Frank.” Frank’s last name turned out to be Gehry. 

Al helped Frank Gehry get a transfer to Special Services, before leaving the army himself and attending Harvard. 

The house where dreams were made

Al returned to California after Harvard. But Pasadena, where his parents resettled, held no pull for him. Dolores suffered asthma, and the ocean proved better for her health. When Al discovered Laguna Beach – the tiny town that, at the time, held few professional opportunities – his father nearly lost his mind. He’d offered to help Al and Dolores buy their first home, but insisted that home had to be in Pasadena or San Marino. 

The owner knew Al’s reputation and talent. He agreed to give the property to Al for whatever he could afford. “I was only making $6.50 an hour.” Frank, his new friend and fellow architect, was jealous. He was only making $4.50.

Al remains in that same house today. In many ways, the house itself is a metaphor for Al’s life. Beautiful but impossible, perched precariously on the side of the hill. Its 1960s style is quirky, but enduring. The design is bold and ambitious, and the views are beautiful. 

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A wonderful view from Al’s house

When he brought his bride to the property nearly 60 years ago, he said, “Pretty nice view isn’t it, Dolores.” Al gets choked up recalling it. Dolores has been gone for over two years, but her absence still feels palpable to Al. “I haven’t really been happy since,” he says.

How Joseph Kleitsch rescued Al Treviño

The 2005 Bluebird Canyon landslide hit the Treviños hard. Their house was red/black-tagged. They had 30 minutes to remove a few personal items. Al’s son grabbed his mother’s favorite painting. To Dolores, it had only sentimental value, depicting the San Juan mission she loved. Al picked it up at a garage sale for twenty bucks some years before.

When the Treviños discovered insurance didn’t cover landslides, they feared they would lose the home. That’s when their neighbor discovered that the salvaged garage sale painting was, instead, “Evening Shadow,” an original oil from famed plein air painter Joseph Kleitsch (1885-1931). When the painting sold for $500,000 in a private auction, the Treviños were able to rebuild their home.

A dining table, cardboard and Polaroids –

The birth of Fashion Island

Around Orange County circles, Al is famous for his progressive vision that shaped Fashion Island. The original concept was a conventionally designed indoor mall. But Al didn’t like it. “There’s no need to have an enclosed mall by the ocean,” he told the developers. 

Basing his design on the Old Orchard mall in Skokie, Illinois, Al spread some cardboard cutouts across a dining room table to show investors his vision. The mall would be open-air, incorporating European-style piazzas and lush landscaping. The design would take advantage of the nearby Pacific and the Mediterranean climate. There would be sky bridges across to the surrounding office buildings with outdoor coffee shops and flower stands. 

When Al proposed high-rise office buildings in a county that had little more than dirt roads and orange groves, he said, “People thought I was smoking something.” But it all came to pass, just as Al envisioned it – minus the sky bridges, which Donald Bren decided would block visual access to storefront signage.

A county still mired in discrimination

This was the 1960s. Talent, intelligence and experience still weren’t enough to spare a man from the sting of discrimination. When Fashion Island was close to completion, the Irvine Company decided it didn’t want a Hispanic face on the front of its project. A white planner would be hired over Al to give all the presentations pertaining to the project. 

Al was well aware of the prejudice that existed against Jews and Hispanics in Orange County. The California Club, a country club in Los Angeles infamous for its discriminatory practices, had several prominent Orange County members. He knew it was time to take his leave. 

Life beyond the Orange County curtain

Although Al never left Laguna Beach, he took a lucrative offer from General Electric (GE) and continued his storied career, taking on large projects mostly on the east coast. Over the coming decades, he would work for GE and Walt Disney, then as Assistant Secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George W. Bush and, later, as Assistant Secretary of Policy Development and Research.

Shortly after September 11, the White House flew Al to Madrid in an effort to build good relations with Spain. As Al prepared to deliver a speech on urban planning, he discovered George Argyros, famed Orange County real estate investor and U.S. Ambassador to Spain, was in town. The two spent their time together, traveling to Toledo Spain and to Eli Broad’s opening at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

“My life has just been events like that,” says Al. 

Still conquering new horizons

I ask the question: Are men like this born or made? 

Al would say it’s all about lucky breaks. He credits meeting a long series of smart, engaged and talented people for many of the good fortunes he’s experienced. “Argyros, many of these people, we were all very poor young men. We’ve just been very nice to each other.”

As I pull away from Al’s home, watching him take his two caged birds inside for the night and turn off the living room lights, I can relate. I, too, feel lucky. These people we meet along the way – they make all the difference.

Lexi McKeown: the scholar/athlete with deserved honors and a bright and sunny future


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach High School senior, Lexi McKeown may only be a teenager, but her accomplishments are a lifetime’s worth. She’s a kind-hearted superstar volleyball player as well as a stellar student – and she’s just getting started.

Lexi McKeown

Lexi is a fourth generation Lagunan. Her grandpa is widely remembered in this town as McKeown Plumbing. Her mom, Kathy, laughs as she tells me that when people hear the name, they invariably ask oh, that McKeown? “I say, ‘It depends on whether you had a good plumbing experience.’” Lexi’s grandpa is known as Poppy, and she adores his sense of humor. “He was born on April Fool’s Day,” she says with a smile.

Lexi and her mom are very close, particularly as it was just the two of them – Lexi has not seen her father since she was three years old. Kathy and Lexi share the genetics of good humor, dedication to education (mom is a school principal in Irvine), and a passion for volleyball. Kathy played back when she was at LBHS, and went on to play at University of Notre Dame. Lexi’s volleyball future is looking very bright as she heads off to Florida State in the fall.

How do you pick a college?

She might have had her pick of colleges, with an academic record including Advance Placement (AP) awards and a 4.5 GPA. And then there’s her volleyball achievements, including being a four-year varsity starter, earning league MVP twice, and All CIF First Team awards. But Lexi’s choice of Florida State was a multi-faceted decision.

“I talked to six schools. I thought of UCLA, Cal, Stanford, but my coach suggested visiting Florida State,” she said. “I wanted something different from Laguna. I loved Florida as a state. I had this ‘aha moment’ walking on the campus. I love trees and brick buildings – that old-timey feeling.” 

She visited three more times and got to really appreciate the volleyball team and the coach. Florida’s Division One team is ranked number four in the nation. It all added up to the perfect fit for Lexi.

Dedication and commitment

The busy life as scholar/athlete started somewhere around age 11. Lexi was playing club soccer, but relented to mom’s suggestion that she try volleyball. “I originally rebelled against doing the same thing as my mom. I tried it more to appease her,” she said. “Then I found out I’m actually kind of good at it.” 

She was hooked.

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The journey commenced with age-group club play after school and on weekends. “You have to love it,” she says. “It’s a huge commitment. You give up a lot.” 

Kathy agrees, “That’s why she never skied till last week!” Her “Ski Weeks” were tournament times. Alas, Lexi found out last week that skiing is “not my thing!”

The athlete

These days the busy life includes strength training at the Rock in Newport Beach, beach volleyball at Main Beach or Doheny, with weekends and all summers dedicated to tournaments up and down the coast. Beach volleyball (vs indoor) is Lexi’s favorite, and she’s achieved a triple-A women’s ranking.

“I’ve always been kind of tall, so [with indoor] you don’t get to serve, just hit,” she says. “Whereas, in beach volleyball you get to do it all.” 

She pairs up with several different partners. “It’s fun because you get to learn everyone’s different aspects. 

“People come for summer tournaments from all over,” she continued. “Florida, Texas, California… The sport is really growing across the nation.”

Her favorite tournament is at Hermosa Beach. “There’s a lot of space and I really like it. It’s where the Junior Olympics and the Nationals are held.” 

Among her tournament awards are two first-place winnings in College Showcase Tournaments, and a third place medal in the National Volleyball League Women’s Pro Open Tournament.

The scholar 

A big part of what makes Lexi such a success is her level of commitment. She demonstrates that in volleyball and in the classroom. Her favorite subjects in school are also the ones that give most folks anxiety attacks – science and math.

“My favorite is AP Calculus with Miss Quigley,” she says with a smile. 

She was named AP Chemistry Scientist of the Month in Mr. Sogo’s class, and has also won awards in US History, World History, and the Orange Coast League’s Academic Achievement Award for three years. An impressive resume, to be sure, but Lexi handles it all with calm sensibility and humility. And she gives back of her time and talents, with the LBHS Athletic Leadership Team.

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Selected as a founding member of the Athletic Leadership Team in 2016, Lexi has helped younger kids as a positive role model. The program is designed to promote good sportsmanship, school spirit, respectful behavior, and personal accountability. 

“I mentor and help,” she says, simply.

Her warmth and kindness make her a perfect role model, and will no doubt serve her well in the future as she is planning to go into emergency medicine. She’d like to learn more by working with an ER doctor.

“I really like helping people,” she says. “You see a little bit of everything. I like the excitement!”

And when she has spare time, she enjoys the ER action on TV. “I love Grey’s Anatomy!” she beams.

With a bright future ahead of her, Lexi McKeown is ready for that leap from one coast to the next. We look forward to hearing about that journey as she trades the LBHS maroon for the garnet and gold as a Florida State Seminole.

Paula Arnold: Fiercely committed to the B&GC


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

As with so many parents who are faced with the proverbial “empty nest,” Paula Arnold found herself, in her words, “looking for a purpose” when her youngest daughter went away to college 11 years ago. She considered volunteering for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), an organization that promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children. However, after thinking long and hard, Arnold decided against it. She was still a little raw from her daughter leaving and felt “it was too soon” to take on such an emotionally demanding role.

It all started with a friend

Fortunately for all concerned, a friend, Milt Naylor, suggested Arnold look into the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach (the Club). “Milt took me to meet (longtime Club supporter) Donnie Crevier and I signed on,” she recalls. Naylor knew what he was doing when he recruited Arnold. Since then she has repeatedly chaired the Club’s Gala and the Girls Night Out events, in addition to serving as the Club’s first female president. 

Making an impact from the start

Arnold made her presence in the organization known right away. “Within in six months of joining the Board I was chairing committees,” she says. It’s not hard to imagine. Arnold exudes energy and charisma. “It was fun. I was single then, and I would come in with dating stories. I’d have a committee of 12 women, and we always had something going on.” 

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Paula Arnold, the first female president of The Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, among many other roles at the Club.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, after some time chairing committees, Arnold says knew what she wanted to do next. “I said, ‘I’m the next president’. I’m very alpha,” she adds with a laugh.

Spending money to make money

By then she had definitely earned the respect of her fellow Board members. “I took the Gala, which had previously raised $200,000-300,000 and at least doubled that. I told them we had to spend money to make money. It was scary for them,” says Arnold. 

If the Board was nervous, Arnold was not. Relying on her former skills as a Director of Marketing for a hotel/casino in Las Vegas, Arnold was not unfamiliar with how to put on a gala. “I wasn’t an event planner in Vegas, but I certainly did a lot of event planning,” she explains.

Everyone is a fundraiser, whether they like it or not

Besides elevating the Club’s gala, Arnold says another change she fostered as president was the idea that the Board’s members needed to raise money. “I told everybody, whether you like it or not, you’re a fundraiser. I was one of them. When I first joined I said I didn’t want to ask people for money. But once they realized they were already doing it, by talking to people they knew, about what they and the Club were doing, they realized it was pretty easy.”

70 cents of every dollar comes from the community

And fundraising is a critical part of the Boys and Girls Club. “We fundraise for 70 cents of every dollar. People find that shocking. We get very little in grants, although we do get some from the school district and some from arts programs. But the rest comes from the community,” she explains.

Embracing county-wide responsibilities, as well

More recently, Arnold has taken on a role with the Orange County Area Council for the Boys and Girls Club. Not surprisingly, she is president of that group. “I have 15 clubs,” she says. “It’s all volunteer. It’s more of a bylaws type of position, but it has evolved into an idea exchange meeting. We want idea sharing (among the Clubs). Take the Tustin Club, they just had their first Girls Night Out event after seeing ours.” 

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Paula Arnold with Michelle Ray-Fortezzo, Development Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, talk Art of Giving Gala

Spreading the success of Laguna’s Girls Night Out

There have been nine Girls Night Out events in Laguna, all at the fabulous home of Laguna Beach residents Holly and David Wilson. At the event, women get together, eat, drink and socialize while shopping at booths set up throughout the property. All proceeds benefit the Club. It’s an event that could (and should) definitely be replicated by other Clubs. Arnold’s enthusiasm and encouragement undoubtedly motivated the Tustin Club’s Board to give it a try.

Still committed chairing the Club’s events

 With her new county-wide responsibilities it would be reasonable to assume Arnold has backed off her commitments to the Laguna Club – reasonable, but not accurate. Arnold is still chairing the Gala (May 12 at Montage, Laguna Beach) and Girls Night Out. “I like standing up there and saying, ‘How about…?’ I’m clearly passionate about it. I see the lives we enhance, even change. We have so many kids at who are at risk.”

Working for a teen center

With so much accomplished, Arnold is still committed to doing more. “I would love to see our endowment get to $5 million. We need a fully functioning teen center. It has to be open and free,” she says. The challenges of creating a teen center that teens will want to hang out in is not lost on her, but neither is the reality that providing teens with safe, supervised a place they can go can greatly reduce reckless behavior. 

Celebrating a first grandchild on the way

The only thing that might hamper her mission is the upcoming arrival of her first grandchild. Arnold is taking a month to be in Hong Kong with her daughter as they await the big day. Beyond that, there is always the Boys and Girls Club of America, the national umbrella organization for the Boys and Girls Clubs. Arnold, while not actively seeking out a position with the group, says she is also not opposed to accepting such a position. Time will tell.

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Paula Arnold and Michelle Ray-Fortezzo outside the Club where they spend so much time working to advance the organization’s mission

Giving and getting back

In the meantime, she has more than enough going on with her current Club responsibilities. And while she has given so much, as with all giving, she has received much in return. Coming to Laguna from Las Vegas in 2003 as a divorced mother of two, it took awhile for Laguna to feel like home.  Getting involved with the Club helped that. Arnold says it provided her with her first “heart friend” way back when. The friend, Karen Jaffe, remains a dear friend to this day. “Now I go to the grocery store and I know half the people there. Las Vegas will always have my heart, but Laguna is home now,” she says.

The Club is always open to new volunteers

And if anyone out there is looking for a “purpose” or just wants to get involved with a really wonderful organization, Arnold says there is room at the Boys and Girls Club. “If anyone is interested in understanding what being a Board member is about we are always looking for our replacements. Until you get into one of these meetings and see these really smart, dynamic people, you can’t understand how inspiring it is.” After meeting Paula Arnold, I have a pretty good idea.

Mark Chamberlain: Photographer, gallery owner,

artivist, arteologist - one of Laguna’s great treasures


In 1969, after his discharge from the war, Mark Chamberlain drove west. He packed his 1963 MG Midget with cameras and optimism. Dubuque, Iowa faded in the rearview mirror. Mark drove away from a childhood battle with polio and a year spent in Korea during the Vietnam War that had profoundly changed the trajectory of his life. Ahead was Laguna Beach, the town that would become not only his lifelong home, but the inspiration for a career in environmental activism and a literal canvas for his photography.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Mark Chamberlain, 2018

 “Meaningful art,” Mark says, “always has an autobiographical connection.” I spend the next hours with Mark, along with his partner and art journalist Liz Goldner, unspooling those long threads of connections. We travel through his childhood and the war, from his 1970s retrospective on his hometown, Dubuque Passages, to his current book, The Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism, due out this year.

Mark calls himself an “arteologist” and an “artivist.” He uses his camera to excavate truth and to document humanity’s devastating impact on the environment. In one notable project, he photographed “Future Fossils” – those modern-day objects in our contemporary culture he imagines will soon be extinct: gas stations, automobiles, glitzy steel buildings and billboards, the gaudy super-color sprawl of urban landscapes. 

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Photo by Mark Chamberlain

Photographer: Last Boxcar to Dubuque, from Mark’s Passages series

But I’m interested in a different kind of study with Mark. And so, together, we embark on a conversational dig of our own, excavating the roots of Mark’s past and chronicling all the artistic fruits that emerged. 

How a childhood disease led to an enduring desire

Mark contracted polio when he was in the fifth grade. His mother, not one to accept common fate, employed unconventional (and controversial) methods to help her son. The therapy was arduous and painful, but it worked. Mark credits his mother’s strength and dedication for his full recovery, and for his feminist attitudes today. 

Still, Mark was bedridden for a year. During that time he read... and read... and read. He discovered Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn and, specifically, riverboats. From this came a lifelong passion to own a riverboat and traverse the Mississippi River.

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Photo courtesy BC Space

Adventurer: Mississippi River Queen, 1959

Mark emerged from his recovery stronger than his peers. He learned to swim in the mighty Mississippi that, of course, flowed right through Dubuque. His father had little choice but to buy Mark what he calls his first “magic carpet,” a 15 1/2-foot flatboat.  

To date, Mark has made his way down one-third of the Mississippi. He owns a 1959 shallow draft steel-hulled 25-foot houseboat with an outboard motor that can carry him through 12 inches of silted water. “Most people can’t even find the places I go,” Mark says. “It takes knowledge, which I have. And maps, which I also have.” Many hidden areas have been sealed off because railroads destroyed river traffic, Mark tells me. The currents silted them in, making the river impossible to navigate. But Mark has winches and tools – and determination.

Mark uses his boat as a shooting platform, giving him access to very tight and isolated river communities. “People tell me their stories. I have videos and photographs.” He anticipates this will make an incredible project. 

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Photo by Mark Chamberlain

Photographer: Mrs. Pillard, 1973, from Dubuque Passages

His desire to finish the final two-thirds is palpable. “Would you say you have any regrets in life?” his partner, Liz, asks. “Not finishing the Mississippi,” he says. “That would be my one.”

The unexpected blessings of Vietnam

Two days after Mark received his master’s degree in Operations Research from the University of Iowa, he was drafted. Though, through a series of lucky breaks, he was deployed to Korea instead of Vietnam. There he taught himself the language, as well as Korean culture and history, which ingratiated him to the locals. 

“I watched these 17 and 18-year old kids come in. They drank, gambled and whored.” Because the United States used Korea as a way station back to civilian life, many men were broken from time spent in Vietnam. “You could watch their lives change dramatically.” Mark was 24, on the older side of the draft, and a little wiser about life. He used that year as an opportunity, discovering photography and finding a Korean mentor to hone his craft. He had access to a Jeep and little need for sleep. In his free time, Mark documented his experiences, touring the country, talking to locals, and giving himself an education far more valuable than the one he received at home.

By the time he returned to Dubuque, Mark found himself deeply changed. His father had passed while he was away. “I didn’t have a home there anymore,” Mark says. “I didn’t agree with anything I was seeing.” Mark’s degree felt like a vestigial remnant of a life he no longer recognized. And so, camera in hand, Mark set out west to reinvent himself.

A partnership becomes a brotherhood

A few years after Mark arrived in Laguna, he met Jerry Burchfield. The two became instant friends. “Encountering Jerry under the circumstances I did was a meaningful passage,” Mark says. Jerry was an only child, Mark an only son. The two forged a kind of brotherhood they each were missing. Mark says Jerry is one of the only friends to whom he gave his early photographs from Korea. Although they were quite different, they shared a passion for photography, an interest in activism, and both felt changed by the war.

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Photo by Damon Nicholson

Jerry & Mark at the Nix Interpretive Center. On the left, an image from The Tell mural, leading into the trail. As part of their 25th anniversary celebration, the Nix Center will host a book signing of Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism.

Together they co-founded The Laguna Canyon Project, The Legacy Project and BC Space Gallery, perhaps one of the longest continually running fine art photography galleries in the United States.

Although Jerry passed in 2009, there almost seems a soulful residue imprinted on Mark. He sometimes speaks of Jerry as if he’s still alive, at one point saying, “Jerry has a photograph from those days.” It makes me think, as I listen to Mark talk about Jerry, that’s how brotherhood should be – each absorbing the best of the other, and allowing them to live on.

Saving Laguna Canyon, one photo at a time

Longtime Laguna locals know Mark’s work well, even if they don’t realize it. Mark and Jerry were instrumental in saving Laguna Canyon from development by the Irvine Company. The Laguna Canyon Project spanned 30 years, and included one of Mark’s most ambitious projects to date: The Tell. 

Stretching 636 feet and rising 34 feet into the canyon sky, The Tell was a massive installation of photographs gathered from hundreds of community members in 1989. “No photograph was censored,” Mark smiles. “Though some had to be placed up high.” 

Its shape was meant to mirror the surrounding landscape, although it had a definitive head (representing Easter Island, and the inhabitants destruction of their own civilization) and a tail that trailed to the ground. The mural in many ways represented both the land and the creatures that roamed it. More important, it called people into the canyon. First, to search for their own photos. Then to commune with nature. And, finally, to take an active role in saving it.

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Photo courtesy BC Space

Artivist: The Tell overview, 1989

As the sun scorched the project and the hostile environment invaded, something new appeared. Where once the focus was on individual pictures and people, Mark and Jerry designed the mural so images of animals would emerge when the photographs faded – a dinosaur, a giant deer, people feuding inside the belly of a beast. 

“That’s part of the deceit of the piece,” says Mark. “If art isn’t entertaining to the artist, why do it?” They drew on the power of myths, archeological principles, and the history of Easter Island to play with the art and make a broader statement about the environment. “At the dedication ceremony, we had horsemen from Leisure World walk out from the throat. Men delivered speeches on scrolls of parchment. We tapped into every myth we could.” 

Mark calls his work a tricky seduction, his art operating on every part of the viewer’s conscious and unconscious mind. That’s the power of both myth and scale.

The Tell was dismantled in 1990. The skin came off first, Mark tells me. Then the skeleton came down. “Then the cross members were removed, so it became like Tellhenge for another two weeks.” Much of its remains were destroyed in the 1993 fire. Mark confesses it felt like a relief, the project almost a burden to keep alive. It died in much the way it was born – mythologically.

When asked if he would do it again, Mark says he’s guided by the principle that a project done once is art, and a project repeated is product.

The Great Picture – living life on a large canvas

Inspired by the success of the Laguna Canyon Project, Mark and Jerry turned their attention to the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, and to documenting the 4,700 acres of contiguous space in Irvine that would become Orange County’s Great Park. From that, The Great Picture arose. 

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Photo courtesy BC Space

Historian: The Great Picture

Three stories tall and 11 stories wide, the Great Picture is the world’s largest photograph made as a single seam image. By converting a jet maintenance hanger into a camera obscura, they achieved the exposure by creating a 6-millimeter pinhole lens projected onto a muslin canvas. Following a 35-minute exposure, the crew captured a black-and-white image that they processed in a pool-sized developing tray. The gelatin silver print portrays the control tower structures, tarmac and the distant San Joaquin Hills.

Breaking the Guinness World Record, and shown around the world, the image remains both a wonder and a masterpiece.

BC Space – the mouse that roared

As our time wraps up, we discover we haven’t discussed the gallery. BC Space, nestled beside the Candy Baron and above Violet’s Boutique on Forest Avenue, is hard to spot even if you know it’s there. There’s no advertising, barely a sign of any kind. 

Sometime after buying the gallery, Mark discovered the space used to be owned by the Masons. “The interesting thing about the Masons,” says Mark, “you had to ask to join. They didn’t invite you. You had to want to know more.” That’s the guiding philosophy behind BC Space. “I prefer to talk to people who know where they’re going,” he says. “You don’t walk in here by accident. If you make it up the stairs, you want to be here.”

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

BC Space: “If you make it up the stairs, you want to be here”

Like everything in Mark’s life, he continues to have big ambitions for the space. “There are so many things I want to do here,” he says. “Every show has been curated from here, generated from here. Usually in response to some current event, or long-term recurring situation.” 

Self-invention or self-discovery?

“I don’t think we invent anything,” Mark says as we conclude our time. “Instead I think we discover things.” 

I consider this long after I leave. 

Then there are the words of his partner, Liz, who seems so moved by Mark that it’s her reaction to him, as much as the man himself, that leaves a lasting impression. 

“Over our years together, I keep asking him, ‘What makes you, you?’ ‘How did you get to be this person?’” 

Mark smiles and shrugs as Liz asks again. 

“With all these insights, and passions, and emotional and intellectual understandings. How did that happen?” Liz keeps looking at him, as though waiting for an answer. “To have the confidence to do the crazy things you did. To have the confidence to save the canyon.” 

Mark sits silent. 

“I guess it’s just his DNA”

“I guess it’s just his DNA,” she finally concludes. 

So maybe it’s true of people too: we don’t invent ourselves, but rather discover ourselves. We’re there all along, living fossils waiting to be excavated. 

Perhaps that’s why art feels so gratifying and so personal. By creating something, we’re really discovering something about ourselves. We’re shining a light on those profound parts of our soul, digging them up and bringing ourselves to the surface, letting others see inside. 

Looking at the long arc of Mark’s work – across distance and time, and almost always larger than life – that’s just how it feels. Profound.

John and Tyler Stanaland: A father and son flying high in the real estate industry 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

John Stanaland knows Laguna Beach. Not only is he one of Laguna Beach’s top residential real estate agents, he was born and raised here. His family’s tenure stretches back to his grandparents who arrived in Laguna from Long Beach back when land was plentiful. 

“They were developers who moved into the trailer park that is now Montage [Resort],” explains Stanaland. “They developed Portafina, subdivided it and sold those for an oceanfront house in Victoria.” 

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John and Tyler Stanaland

Stanaland’s son, Tyler, is now working with his father fulltime, takes in the family history. “They lived at the trailer park?” he asks with surprise as Stanaland nods. From the grandparents on down, four generations of Stanalands have been involved in real estate. 

Leaving sports behind for a “real job”

Stanaland says that “After dabbling in a sports background I went into real estate at 27. I decided to give it a shot and see if I liked it.” Selling his first home almost immediately for $500,000 undoubtedly helped him decide it was a career he wanted to pursue. The “sports background” Stanaland decided to leave behind was as a professional beach volleyball player (and a third degree black belt). “I wanted to be a sports star until I realized I needed to get a real job,” he says smiling.

Like father, like son

Tyler is following in his father’s footsteps. A former professional surfer, Tyler says, “Real estate was always going to happen after surfing. I was always around the office when I was younger, doing stuff like bringing him cups of water,” he remembers with a laugh. “I got my license at 19.” 

Now at 28, Tyler says he’s ready to give real estate his full attention. “I had a lot of fun surfing, but this is not a bad work place,” he says as we look out the window of the spectacular oceanfront home he and his dad are charged with selling. “I have some big shoes to fill, but he’s a good teacher.”

A “go for it” attitude

Stanaland has been selling homes for 22 years. During that time he says he has been ranked first or second every year for the last 17 years. “I am very disciplined,” he says. I think it’s from my sports background. Like Tyler, anything we approach we’re going to go for it.”

Breaking records in Newport Beach

This “go for it” attitude runs deep. There is a thirst for adrenaline that seems to be hereditary. Selling the most expensive home ever in Newport Beach, 1 Pelican Hill Road North, as Stanaland did for nearly $40 million in November, would certainly get the heart racing, especially when it took only four days. However, the Stanalands seem to require even more stimulation. 

Skydiving and big wave surfing take care of the adrenaline fix

“I’ve jumped out of a few hundred planes,” admits Stanaland. He says he’s “just shy” of 300 jumps. “I got into it with my younger son (who is a Santa Ana police officer). He talked me into it and now I’m a class C jumper.” There is only one class higher. 

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John Stanaland

Even Tyler, who admits he prefers getting his adrenaline rush in the ocean riding big waves, has jumped out of four planes. It’s clear, however, that Tyler is not as sold on the activity as his father and younger brother, likening the experience to “falling.”

Stanaland takes issue with that description, insisting it’s more like “flying.” Father and son then launch into a good-natured debate on the matter. Whatever it’s like, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Success born from hard work

How much this love of adrenaline-inducing activities contributes to Stanaland’s success is debatable. What is not is his work ethic and commitment to his clients. According to Stanaland, “Residential real estate is emotional, it’s not just a business transaction. I try to figure out what my clients’ needs are. You can’t do it every time, but I have a pretty good success rate.”

Learning from the master of hard work

“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen,” adds Tyler. “If you text him at midnight he responds in the same time frame if you text him at one in the afternoon. This is something I want to emulate.” When I raise the question as to whether or not he discourages midnight texts from clients, he dismisses the idea. “I always have a sense of urgency. My clients know if they reach out to me and don’t hear back from me I’ve been kidnapped,” he says with a laugh. 

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Tyler Stanaland

On those rare occasions when he can’t take the call, like maybe he’s jumping out of a plane (or fishing or surfing, two other activities he will make time for) Stanaland says there is always someone who will. “And as soon as I touch ground I will respond,” he says assuredly.

Loving Laguna Beach makes it easy to sell

Work ethic aside, it always helps if you like what you do, and both Stanalands genuinely seem to love their work. “I love the business,” he explains. “I like people. I like the houses I get to sell. I sell everywhere, but I love where we live.” Tyler echoes the sentiment. “I’ve been fortunate enough to travel everywhere a surfer would want to go, beautiful places. But Laguna is always home. This stretch of coast is something I’ve always wanted to come home to.” 

As we look out at the majestic stretch of Victoria Beach with unimpeded views both north and south from this stunning home, it is very easy to understand why.

Roxanna Ward: A life of music and song. And laughter.


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Roxanna Ward is the consummate performer. She manages to do it all – sing, tell jokes, teach, compose, arrange and conduct – and she even takes it on the road.

This past summer, she brought her own brand of irreverent, hilarious, often raunchy, self-parody-set-to-music to the cabaret stage in such far away places as Provincetown, Boston, and Rhode Island. We are lucky enough here in Laguna to catch her live act this month, at the No Square Theatre, from Jan 26 – 28.

Actually, Roxanna’s shows are coveted as private and corporate gigs all over the world.

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Roxanna Ward

She started out from her hometown in California, “I wanted to get to the east coast. I didn’t appreciate the Central Valley at the time,” she says.

Roxanna landed in Chicago, working for Williams/Gerard, a business and event production company. They sent her out to venues, writing music and conducting shows. 

“That was the first 15 years of my career.”

She worked with Tennessee Ernie Ford, and the group Brothers & Sisters. She did event shows for Shaklee Corporation. Then, a women specialty travel company was started, and for one of their cruises, Roxanna was asked to perform aboard on the trip tailored for 1,200 women. It was life changing, as Roxanna made close friends with the other performers from all over the world. 

“Musicians, performers, artists I didn’t know were working there too,” she remembers. “Now, 26 years later, I’m doing gigs all around the world, two to three times a year.”

Two of the friends she made on that ship, Lisa Koch and Vickie Shaw, will be performing with her at the No Square Theatre gig, a continuance of her “tour de force” show. 

During the summer and on holidays, her traveling show is featured on riverboat cruises all over Europe, on safaris in Africa, even in Antarctica, “Everything I could imagine!” she says with a smile.

A place to call home

Roxanna had been the full-time traveling entertainer for long enough, when a producer friend introduced her to Laguna Beach. She was residing in Manhattan Beach at the time, and she thought, what am I doing up there?

“I was doing studio work in LA, but this felt like the small town I love. One thing led to another.”

She made Laguna her home, and The Little Shrimp her home away from home.

A friend asked her to brunch at The Little Shrimp, and then said, “Get up on the piano and play something.” The owners followed up with a phone call asking her to start working there. 

“I didn’t have enough material, so I could stall with jokes, making parodies,” she says. “Three weeks turned into 13 years.” 

So, every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the comedy came out to stretch the musical material, like self-preservation. “So much comedy comes out of fear!” Roxanna explains. 

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Roxanna says her students know her by her car

Roxanna and Bree Burgess Rosen, another Laguna musical icon, became friends at The Little Shrimp. It was a mutual admiration society. “I died when I saw her show,” Roxanna says of Bree’s Lagunatics. “I’m just amazed at what she’s done.”

The two continue to come up with ideas for shows together. Planning some No Square events, the two were talking. “She was picking my brain,” says Roxanna, “and she said, ‘Why don’t you do a show?’

“I made her promise – as it got closer, I’m going to try to pull out (there’s too much going on) – don’t let me!”

The show centers around the interesting and crazy life and times of Roxanna Ward. “It’s stream of consciousness. I just tell a story of how I got here, as a kid, what led me to this, what led to that… I have funny bits, and fly by the seat of the pants. I read the audience.” 

So, get in the audience and give her your feedback – but it’s not a show for the kiddos. Roxanna calls it R-rated.

Sharing her gifts with the next generation

As delightful as her shows are, this Laguna Beach tour de force is a dedicated teacher as well. She is the much-loved choral director and vocal coach at Thurston Middle and Laguna Beach High School. “Teaching is like doing five comedy shows,” she laughs.

The aspect of music plus teaching comes from a family legacy. Roxanna’s mom worked for the local school district in Modesto, and her dad was a professional musician, playing country music every night. 

“At age four, I begged for lessons. At age five, my mom said okay,” she says.

 As her music prowess progressed, the performer in her awakened. When neighbors started saying hi to Roxanna by name, her mother wondered how she knew so many people. Little did mom know, her daughter was doing private concerts. “I’d go around the neighborhood and ask people if they had a piano – and I’d play!”

In college at University of the Pacific, vocal coach William Dehning turned her on to vocals. Now, she’s put it all together. 

“I love musical theater,” she says. “It kind of combines it all.”

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Bree Burgess Rosen was the one who contacted Roxanna back 16 years ago, when there was an opening at the high school for a choral director. At the time, Roxanna’s son, Jake, was four years old and it was a good time to settle in and stay put for a bit. Since then, Roxanna’s made her mark on countless exceptional school plays, including “Nunsense” (in which she also performed as Mother Superior), “Gypsy”, and “Annie”. Her busy schedule includes rehearsals just started for “All Shook Up” coming up next.

When there’s free time

Roxanna likes the idea of driving around the country, sometime in the future, with her dog – that is, if she ever has free time. “I could probably ask people if they have a piano, and get a meal out of it. And something for the dog!”

Music has a deep-rooted significance in the life of Roxanna Ward, and she truly believes it brings out the best in the world. It can be a great unifier. “What would happen if everyone came out, at the same time, and sang the same note – like the common A?” 

She is thinking about the way a common point can bring humanity together, an especially important thing in these discordant times. Music and the arts have healing and teaching potential. 

“The arts bring people together,” she says. “We come together collectively and we can all have different feelings about it. It helps us access emotions. It transforms us.

“And, God, we need comedy! We need to laugh, especially now.”

We do. Laughter is the best medicine, and can be found right here at home thanks to Roxanna Ward sharing her gifts.

Jason Watson: Now part-owner, he sees Laguna Surf and Sport as a “second home” for local surfers


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Certain businesses become part of the fabric of the community they service. It helps if they’ve been around for a while, but it takes more than longevity to achieve this kind of status. These businesses are somehow able to reflect at least some portion of their community’s culture. 

One local business that has achieved such status is Laguna Surf and Sport (LS&S). Since 1982 it has operated as the quintessential local surf shop.  The store, like all businesses, has gone through some different iterations through the years. One person who has seen – and contributed to -- a lot of these changes in a very intimate way is Jason Watson. 

A true Laguna local

A Lagunan since the age of two, Watson is a true local. He went through Laguna schools, surfed Laguna waves and, since the age of 17, has worked at LS&S, first as a clerk and then as manager.  “I stayed in Laguna the whole way through,” he says.

However, while Laguna is definitely home, Watson has definitely seen much of the world. “I had a small time, casual career as a professional surfer,” he says. This allowed him to travel, but when he came home, he would pick up where he left off at Laguna Surf and Sport. And he stayed, no matter how many times it changed hands. 

2016 was the last time LS&S changed hands. And, as usual, Watson stayed on.  This time, however, his title changed from manager to owner. 

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Jason Watson, longtime manager, now part-owner of Laguna Surf and Sport

A former boss becomes a partner

His commitment to the store and his longevity were not part of some grand master plan. “When you’re 19-20 it’s a pretty confusing time,” admits Watson. But what helped clarify things was his former boss, now partner, Eric John, the founder of Laguna Surf and Sport. “I met him when I was 17,” explains Watson. “I showed him I was a good worker. I was able to manage surfing and the job…When I think about all that he has done for me I can only hope to do that for someone else.” 

As for what John “did” for Watson, he acted as a mentor. “He gave me a platform. He brought me to meetings that I probably shouldn’t have been brought to. And he helped me figure it out from the ground up,” says Watson. This allowed Watson to become an invaluable part of the business – no matter who owned it. 

It’s hard to let LS&S go 

John has sold and bought back LS&S several times. He first sold it to Swell, only to buy it back. Then in 2008 he sold it again, this time to Volcom, only to again buy it back in 2016 with partners Jason Steris, former CEO of Volcom and Watson. For Watson, the leap from manager to owner was more dramatic than he imagined it would be.

Going from manager to owner is a surprisingly big change

 “It took me a solid year to wrap my head around that change,” says Watson. “The way you run things as an owner is different (than as an employee). Even though I was as committed as a manager as I thought it possible to be…this place is a home to me. It’s so much a second family. But no matter what, when you’re an owner that feeling of having the power to make changes is something I’ve been really feeling these last four to six months. I’m really excited about it.”

The Shop is the first for the family

Laguna Surf and Sport is not the only retail establishment Watson has a stake in. The other one is just a few doors down. Watson’s wife, Jessica, opened The Shop in 2013. She, too, worked under the tutelage of Eric John and, although the stores are different (The Shop is a woman’s boutique), there are, not surprisingly, similarities in business philosophy. The most evident is each store’s knack for capturing a local vibe.

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Inside The Shop, the first store owned by Watson and his wife, Jessica, who opened the store in 2013

 “I leveraged who I was and so did she and so did Eric,” Watson says about getting The Shop off to a good start. Location was also critical. “I thought I have to be able to see it,’” remembers Watson. “These are some of the best blocks in Laguna. To be able to walk a customer out of LS&S and say ‘There (The Shop) is.’ That is definitely one of the biggest things (aiding the The Shop’s growth).”

Making LS&S part of the community beyond the store’s walls

Both retail establishments are bona fide successes. But Watson isn’t sitting back with his feet up on his desk. For him it is critical that LS&S offers more than just “stuff.”

So they are out in the community putting on surf contests, offering surf lessons, sponsoring both the Thurston and Laguna Beach High School surf teams, as well as their own LS&S surf team. Watson feels just as strongly about these things as he does about what is offered inside the store. “I want the guys and girls who are passionate about surfing to feel like this is a second home, like I did,” says Watson.

A real pride in the staff at LS&S

Another way LS&S does this is by hiring really good people, something Watson admits that has not always been the case. Now, however, he gushes like a proud parent about his employees. “I get compliments on my staff all the time. They’re all talented surfers or skaters who leave whatever ego they have at the door when they come to work. They’re just kids learning the ropes, learning customer service. But they learn. They learn how to talk and sell and that’s a big deal to a lot of the companies we work with. They love surf shop employees. They take notes,” says Watson.

 These notes can lead to future employment beyond LS&S, something that clearly pleases Watson and his quest to pay it forward.

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Jason Watson, his wife Jessica and their two children, ages three and one

Hard work, more hard work and dad mode

It also mirrors his own path. “I just hoped through hard work it would work out,” he says when he thinks back to his younger days. “There are a lot of distractions.”  Now, with things pretty well settled, there are still things that shift his focus. These things are a force more powerful than anything: his children, ages one and three. The no sleep, all hands on deck phase of very young children is a life changing event.  With two bustling businesses, in addition to young children to take care of, things like surfing have definitely taken a back seat. “I’m in full dad mode. It’s pretty painful right now,” he says grinning. “I’m enjoying the kids.” 

Surfing hasn’t been entirely abandoned, however.  Offering profuse praise for his wife, Watson says he still gets in a few surf trips a year, although he has become much more discerning about those trips. “I don’t go anywhere when it’s flat,” he says with a laugh. 

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Watson in a place he knows intimately, behind the counter at Laguna Surf and Sport

Bringing LS&S “back on”

“Flat” is a dirty word in surfing and in retail. For the former, only Mother Nature can rectify a no waves day. In retail, however, there is a bit more control. Still, it’s not an easy business. But Watson is philosophical about his chosen field. “Everything is hard,” he says. “I talk to my friends. Everyone is doing different things and we all complain,” he says with a laugh. But whatever complaints Watson may have, he is now in a position to deal with them head on, at least as they relate to Laguna Surf and Sport. 

“It’s good. We have this great surf community. The kids are feeling it. LS&S is back on. It feels a lot better and a lot different that it’s ours again.”

Diana Neff: She loves to live, work, and play to the fullest at her Glennwood House home


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“I wanted to be independent like my sister,” says Diana Neff, as we talk on the patio of Glennwood House, a 42 room independent living facility in Laguna serving special needs adults 18 through 59 years of age.

Behind Diana, the wind ruffles the ocean into peaks in the distance. Almost four years ago, when Diana was barely into her thirties, that wish to be independent was the catalyst that sent her parents in search of a place to satisfy her desire for autonomy. She says, “We looked at other places, but I liked this place.” 

And, not surprisingly, it appears to be a perfect fit. Glennwood’s vision for its residents is an atmosphere in which they can “live, work, play,” and Diana is certainly the embodiment of that vision. Evidently, it’s the right soil in which the seeds of independence bud and flourish. Her days are filled to the brim with friends, work, volunteering, sports, art, exercising, walking, and yoga. With an emphasis on friends.

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Diana enjoys the sun on the Glennwood patio 

As for the “living” part of Glennwood’s mission, the facility provides beautiful and peaceful surroundings, yet it has a community feeling, welcoming and friendly. Diana’s self-reliance also extends to her living conditions, as she has her own room (and an ocean view), and she keeps her own hours. And the location is ideal for walking to the beach or the coffee shop down the street. 

But her schedule doesn’t leave much time for strolling. Not only does she work at Ralph’s Grocery four days a week, she volunteers at the Woman’s Club, for which she received an award for Volunteer of the Year. 

A packed schedule of work, volunteering, and fun

Sherry Neff, her mother, says, “She attended an eight-week serving course at Glennwood put on by the Woman’s Club, and was then invited to serve at events. She’s been doing that on and off for three years.” 

Sometimes these two worlds collide, but in a good way.

Members of the Woman’s Club come to visit Diana at work, and her mother says that when the two of them go walking together, people on the street frequently greet them. One of the reasons Diana loves working at Ralphs is the interaction with customers, where she says, “Almost everyone knows me.”

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Guest Services…Diana happily bagging and talking with local Cindy Fletcher

Aside from being autonomous, having friends appears to be of utmost importance to Diana. “I didn’t have very many friends before, but since living here, I have a lot of friends.”

Her best friend, Tina Cassani, passes us briefly in the hallway.

Sherry explains further, “When Diana was young, it was hard on children with disabilities. They were sent to a school that had a class appropriate for the children, and it was never her home school. She didn’t have friends. The children in her class didn’t live in the neighborhood.”

Diana gains a large network of friends

But now, Sherry says, “She has a few close friends, and the other residents are like an extended family. They all watch out for each other.”

Glennwood also has a bevy of people who assist residents in various endeavors. Since working is encouraged, they facilitate the process by providing a job coach. Diana’s job coach takes her to work, picks her up, and oversees any new assignments or necessary paperwork.

Although Diana is transported to work and back, she does have the opportunity to use the ACCESS bus available through OC Transit Authority. This comes in handy when she goes to Aliso Viejo to do one of her favorite things; help her sister with her nephews (six-month old twins and a two-year old). And three boys under two years of age seems like a situation in which a helping hand is needed. She’s very much looking forward to spending the holidays with them. 

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Dave and Sherry Neff with Diana’s nephews, Thomas, Bryan and Scott

Her mother says that Diana always loved exercise, but aside from skiing with her parents in Mammoth and (encouraged by her sister) running 5ks, she didn’t participate in team sports until she arrived at Glennwood.  And here’s where more friends come in. She’s now a member of the baseball team and plays every Saturday. And she does yoga once a week and spends a half-hour a day on the treadmill in the gym. 

However, there is an artistic side to her as well. Every two weeks, artists from LOCA visit the facility, and now Diana’s parents are the proud recipients of many of her drawings and paintings. And she uses this talent to make cards for her friends and family. Assistant Director Rachel Landers, who has been at Glennwood since its opening, says, “I have three of them on my desk right now.”

Sherry attests to the changes in Diana since she arrived at Glennwood. “She’s grown as an individual. When she was living at home, she didn’t think for herself. She’d ask, ‘Mom, should I do this?’ Now when she’s faced with a decision, she says, ‘Let me think about it.’”

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Gorgeous blossom in the patio garden

Even the neighbors on her parents’ street have noticed a change. “We’ve lived in the same house for 32 years, and the neighbors see how she’s matured,” Sherry says. “And when we’re together or out to dinner, she has so much to talk about now.”

Although it seems as if there is much to like of her new life here, Diana answers the next question without a moment’s hesitation. When asked about what she likes best at Glennwood, she says, “Being independent and having friends. Glennwood has been a good place for me to live. I’ve grown so much. And my parents know I’m safe.” 

Sherry claims that Diana’s time at Glennwood has been a life changer, and allowed Diana to live to the fullest. “I really appreciate the support Laguna Beach has for Glennwood, and how they address those with special needs.”

Living a full life has been hard-won for Diana. But she’s packing about as much as anyone could fit into a day, and it obviously agrees with her. Glennwood has provided an atmosphere in which she canthrive and blossom, and now she’s not wasting any time in that “live, work, play” scenario. Our lovely conversation must wind to an end, as Diana has places to go and people to see.

Meldie Moore: Making a difference for families


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Meldie Moore always wanted to work with children. When she was in college she thought her future would be in child psychology or in teaching. However, her parents had other ideas. “My mom and dad pushed me to thinking about becoming a lawyer,” she says. Not opposed to the idea, but not completely convinced either, Moore says she decided to take both the LSAT and the GRE. As luck would have it, the LSAT test date was first. Moore says she scored very well on the test, “So, I just applied to law school, even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a lawyer.”

County Counsel provides a great start to Moore’s career

Moore chose Pepperdine for law school. This meant leaving her east coast roots (she grew up in Ireland and New York) for the unfamiliar land of California. Eventually, Moore merged her interest in helping children and the law when she interned with the County Counsel in Los Angeles. “It was a big test. I wondered if it would be too hard emotionally,” she says. That’s because attorneys in that division work on child abuse, domestic violence and other traumatic incidents. It was a great training ground. Moore was in court every day and this gave her a first hand look at what that kind of advocacy for children looked like.  

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Meldie Moore of Moore Law for Children at her office in Laguna Beach

A “dream job” with the OC District Attorney

Once she graduated law school and it came time to get a “real job,” Moore decided she didn’t want to make a career at County Counsel. “There was this one family who was on their 12th drug baby, or something like that. I was so…I just wanted to put the parents in jail,” she says. So when she got an offer to work for the Orange County District Attorney’s office she jumped at the chance. “It was hard to get a job with the DA’s office,” she says. “And people said Orange County was nice so I snapped it up. It was my dream job.” 

A feeling of fellowship over a 16-year career

For 16 years Moore worked as an Orange County District Attorney. “I felt like I was making a difference. I’m very much about justice and doing what’s right,” she says. “I was only working on cases I believed in.” Not to mention, Moore says she finds being in a trial “very exciting.” There was a bond among all involved in the trial process: the police department, the public defenders and the district attorneys. “There is a feeling of fellowship. You really get to know people, and they were all a really great group of legal professionals.”

Having children changes puts a new perspective on things

About eight years into her career with the DA, Moore says she started trying to have a child. Eventually, Moore and her husband adopted a child and, later, had another child with the help of infertility treatments. With two children at home, Moore decided to take a year off work. When her year hiatus was up, she returned to the job she loved only to find that either it had changed, or she had. “I saw it through different eyes,” she explains. “I now found it a little depressing.” Additionally, working such a rigid job with children at home was proving to be highly stressful. “I wanted more time,” she says.

Making a change that felt right for her family

So when a friend proposed the two team up and start their own firm, Moore says it gave her a lot to consider. “It took me about three months of hard soul searching,” she remembers. “I really loved being a DA, but I had waited so long to have children that I thought this was the best thing for my family.” 

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Moore lives and works in Laguna which makes her life a lot easier

Focusing on children

When she made her decision to leave the DA’s office and go out on her own, Moore says it was tough going at first. She and her partner decided to focus on working with families with special needs children. “I asked if we could do adoptions. She (Moore’s partner) didn’t want to, but said it was OK if I did it.” So Moore did pro bono adoption cases, as well. “I had to learn (a new area of) law and I didn’t really know anyone. It was a very difficult first couple of years.” 

Helping families of special needs children

A cornerstone of their new practice was students with a 504 plan. A 504 plan is part of the civil rights law that serves to prohibit discrimination based on a disability. According to Moore, some of these kids have behavioral problems. This can lead to them eventually getting expelled from school.  Helping the families navigate this is “a good 25 percent of my practice,” says Moore. 

Going solo presents an opportunity to focus on “happy law”

About five and a half years ago Moore’s partner decided to retire. Moore promptly moved her office from Irvine to Laguna where she currently hangs her shingle. 

Location was not the only change that took place.

 “I really started focusing on building up the fertility and adoption side of my practice.” Additionally, the education side of her practice has continued to grow as well, prompting her to hire two more lawyers. She calls this side of her practice “happy law.” “We are helping make people’s dreams come true, expanding their families.” The “schools” side of her practice is not quite as happy, although she finds it equally meaningful. “People only hire attorneys in these situations when things have gotten bad. But it’s still very rewarding. I help families with the most important issue in their lives: their child.”

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Meldie Moore with two associates. She hopes to hire one more in the near future

The ever-elusive work-life balance

Another important issue Moore says she finds personally very challenging is attaining balance. Like most working parents, Moore has a lot on her plate. “I’m trying to be a lawyer, market my business, run my business and be there for my family. I’m certainly not balanced, but I know it’s important, and I try!” 

Living and working in Laguna helps – a lot

Having other attorneys has helped. “They give me more flexibility,” she says. However, her days have her running from one thing to another. The day we met she was heading off to her son’s performance and then running into a meeting immediately after. “Living and working in Laguna allows me to do that,” she says.

And why Laguna? “When I first came to Orange County people said Newport Beach is nice. I lived there, and I liked it. Then I moved to CdM (Corona del Mar) and I liked it. But then my friend and I came to Laguna and we said, ‘We’re going to live here one day.’ I just fell in love with it.” She says her friend never made it, but clearly Meldie Moore has.

Jessica Byrne: From Paintbox to pastries to PedalBox, a new high-concept gym, it’s all about hospitality – which is in her DNA


Photos by Mary Hurlbut and Drew Fuerstman

Welcome to the season of calories, cocktails and holiday stress. It’s the month when even the strongest among us can lose her resolve. Fortunately, there’s an amazing new way to pay for December’s indulgences. And it’s delivered by a woman who has hospitality—and all the hallmarks of exceptional service—written into her DNA. 

PedalBox Gym, now open in Dana Point, is owned and operated by Jessica Fuerstman Byrne and her husband, Duncan Byrne. It’s the first gym in Orange County to combine the Schwinn Airdyne bike with boxing and other HIIT exercises to create a high intensity, low impact workout that will blast both stress and calories without taking a toll on the joints. It’s tailored to accommodate every age and workout level, and it will kick your bootie while leaving you begging for more (I say this from personal experience).

A history of hospitality

Hospitality has been handed down through the generations in the Fuerstman family. Jessica is the daughter of Alan Fuerstman, founder and CEO of Montage Hotel group. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Hospitality is in their DNA, whether at a hotel or boxing gym

Alan began in the hospitality business when he was in high school. His father was a dentist, a profession that requires the utmost care and client support. “My parents were strong role models,” says Alan. “I grew up watching how they dealt with people. They were very nurturing and gracious, and provided a great example of how to treat those who worked for them.” 

Alan has spent his life in the luxury hotel industry, starting as a doorman in the Marriott when he was a senior in high school. Through the years, he worked as the president and managing director of The Phoenician resort in Arizona, and was recruited by Steve Wynn to open the Bellagio. 

Montage Resort first opened in Laguna in 2002. The concept was to create a gracious and humble approach to luxury. “Many of these hotels are too pretentious and stuffy,” says Alan. “I wanted our clients to feel as comfortable wearing jeans as wearing suits.”

Alan passed along that humble mentality to his own children, instilling a sense of casual elegance and grace, coupled with the ability to be highly attuned to people’s needs. The result is a daughter who’s driven to succeed, and completely comfortable in her own skin. 

Jessica works hard. She isn’t afraid to take risks. And she’s well-positioned to bring her father’s style and level of service into her gym. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Jessica works hard and isn’t afraid to take risks

“No one wants to feel out of place or look stupid,” says Jessica. “If you can get someone to shrug that off, it’s amazing.”

“That’s similar to fine dining,” adds Alan. “Everyone wants to feel like they belong.” Worrying about which fork to use isn’t conducive to a good experience. Removing that intimidation factor is something father and daughter do best.

From Paintbox to Pedalbox—growing up Montage

Jessica started working at Montage Resort when she was only 17. She began as a counselor at Paintbox, the children’s program offered by the resort. She also worked at the pool as a hostess before heading to college at the University of Arizona. 

Ultimately, Jessica found her passion in pastries. She studied at both the Loft and the Studio restaurants at the Montage before getting her culinary degree at Le Cordon Bleu in London. “I wanted to learn the science behind the pastries,” she says. That desire to achieve mastery over every detail and chemical combination in cooking carries through to her approach at the gym. She’s a perfectionist about form and technique.

A match made in . . . the gym

Jessica met Duncan in London. In a gym, of course. “I’d always been active,” she says. “Fitness had been an important part of my life.” So, during the course of her culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu, Jessica joined a gym.

Husband Duncan has worked as a strength and conditioning coach for over a decade. He has extensive experience in boxing, CrossFit, weightlifting, personal training, and strength and conditioning training. 

Once they decided to get married, Jessica turned her full attention toward getting in shape for the wedding. Duncan wooed her away from desserts and now she dedicates her days to PedalBox.

The PedalBox difference

It’s difficult for gyms to distinguish themselves. Especially in southern Orange County, where it seems there are as many trainers as there are clients. So when I first heard the concept, I was skeptical. What could be so different?

The unique (and grueling) combination of the bike and boxing is the first thing to note. The Schwinn Airdyne bike, different from spin bikes and other cycling training, is designed to increase its resistance in direct proportion to how hard you’re working. The harder you work, the harder it gets. It also incorporates your arms, giving you a fuller body workout. The best part? The bike generates a powerful fan that cools you off as you go. After 40 seconds going all out, you’ll appreciate the breeze. And you’ll get an intense cardio workout in record-fast time. 

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Photo by Drew Fuerstman

The combination of bikes and boxing sets PedalBox apart

From the bike, you’ll begin to box. Boxing had me worried. I’d never boxed, and coordination isn’t my strong suit. This is where Jessica and Duncan bring their unique skillset to the PedalBox experience with flawless technique, endless patience, and serious motivation. Even after a few minutes spent with them, I began picking up the basic techniques. (At least they said I did, so let’s go with that.)

Coming off the CrossFit craze, Jessica and Duncan found they loved the high intensity workouts, but didn’t love how hard it was on the body. It’s easy to get hurt. CrossFit workouts are hard on the joints, and the risk of injury from combining strength with speed is high. So Jessica and Duncan found a new way to maintain that intensity while removing the risks.

The proof is in the pedaling … and boxing

Even for the most seasoned gym rat, a new workout is intimidating. Boxing, to me, sounded synonymous with feeling foolish. “Think of it like dancing,” Duncan told me. That definitely didn’t help this uncoordinated client. But one thing Duncan and Jessica have down is quality instruction, service and training. They’re motivating. They’re encouraging. And at no point did I feel self-conscious. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Father and daughter hold impromptu business meeting following the photoshoot

Jessica and Duncan meet you where you are. Every workout is scaled for every skill-level and ability. Class sizes are small to maximize personal attention and ensure proper form.

More important, the workout is intense. And fun! The mental energy required in boxing takes your mind off how hard you’re working. Time passes exponentially faster when all your concentration is on a series of steps, instead of the clock. The music is motivating—always something with a strong beat because boxing is a rhythmic sport.

“Boxing is empowering,” says Jessica. “It’s something I don’t get from weightlifting or cardio. It makes me feel like a badass.”

Indeed, it does.

A gift to yourself this season

We’re entering into the season of resolutions. After all the indulgences, it’s time to do something good for yourself. Jessica and Duncan make that as easy in the gym as Alan makes it in his resorts. The key is creating an experience that makes clients want to come back by being attuned to every customer’s needs. Jessica has been cultivating that skill for a lifetime. It makes PedalBox an inspiring place to discover how much you have in you. You’ll be surprised . . . it’s more than you think.

PedalBox is located at 24470 Del Prado Ave, Dana Point, CA 92629, inside Rado’s Fitness. In addition to 60-minute circuit training classes, they offer personal training sessions and a lunchtime bootcamp. Visit their website, www.pedalboxgym.com, for more information.

Laura Linsenmayer: Back to her ROOTS, and driven by the moon to find her “magical vortex”


Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Laura Linsenmayer, owner of ROOTS the Beauty Underground, says she finds it “hilarious” that Laguna is where she ended up. After moving here in sixth grade she says when she graduated from Laguna Beach High School, “I was the classic case of ‘I’m leaving my hometown and I’m never coming back!’” So she set out to “find herself” by living in Florida, Park City, Los Angeles and Connecticut. The plan was to move every two years because, as she explains it, “that gave me ample time to build roots there. I just kept doing that.”

A surprise homecoming

“That” stopped when she decided she had learned enough from running other people’s businesses and was ready to open her own. “I never even considered coming back home,” she says. Rather, it was her family’s suggestion. They must have been persuasive because Linsenmayer opened her shop in the Lumberyard Plaza on August 1, 2012. 

A good omen helps launch ROOTS the Beauty Underground

“From the date of conception until I opened my doors it was nine months,” she says, completely grasping the symbolism. “When I fully committed in my soul it was a divine lead. Everything presented itself really smoothly; everything unfolded so flawlessly I knew it was the right thing to do.” The fact that August 1 happened to be a full moon was one more good omen. “I’m driven by the moon,” she says.

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Laura Linsenmayer, owner of ROOTS the Beauty Underground in Laguna Beach

13 binders full of research provide the blueprint

Linsenmayer is also driven by a desire to help people. Her enthusiasm for her business is sincere and infectious. However, it was not necessarily part of a grand master plan. “I always knew I’d be in the beauty industry,” she says. She went to beauty school at 18 and has worked in some facet of the industry ever since. Every job she took she considered “research” for her future business, whatever that might be. She was so committed she wrote down things she thought worked and, more importantly, things she didn’t, eventually filling 13 binders. These binders became the blueprint for ROOTS the Beauty Underground.

Enlightenment leads to a business idea

While she was methodical with her experiences, the actual idea for her business was more happenstance. She had moved to LA and was walking her neighborhood looking for work. She walked into an organic hair salon. “I was just drawn to these girls,” she says. She listened and learned. “Once you’ve been enlightened you can never go back. I just got deeper into it.” The idea of natural, non-toxic beauty products took hold. “It was important for me to find a niche that required depth. This was it,” she explains. So she dove in, learned all she could and launched ROOTS the Beauty Underground.

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The “magical vortex” where ROOTS has been for six years

SIx years ago the idea of all natural beauty products, while not new, was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is now. There was enough of a market, however, that customers sought her out in her tucked away location, a “magical vortex,” she calls it. She made sure the products she carried had a store locator list on their website. “That was the root of how people started to find me,” she says. (Sidenote, Linsenmayer uses the word “root” a lot in her conversation. Just one more example of how connected she is to her business.)

Providing customer service that is unparalleled

Now, with her customers being split an even 50/50 locals and out of towners, Linsenmayer says her concern isn’t so much raising awareness about the store, it’s battling the Amazon effect. “We need to provide an experience they can’t,” she says. “The depth we go to is unparalleled. We won’t stop until we get you your perfect program.”

It’s all about the education

Linsenmayer and her team do that with education. “We’re educators first and foremost,” she says emphatically. “I want people to know they can come in here and just learn. There’s no pressure to buy anything. Come in for the education and leave feeling better about yourself.”

An area where education is making huge inroads is with her hair salon. People used to think organic hair color didn’t work effectively. “Now,” she says, “the word is out that it does work and it’s fabulous. It’s so fun to watch the graph go up in that area of the business.” 

The importance of what we wear is comparable to what we eat

Like all businesses, Linsenmayer has had to make adjustments to her inventory. One that has been a surprise is her now minimal kids section. “When I opened I had a really extensive kids section,” she says. “I have been surprised over the years that parents weren’t more enthusiastic about buying these (non-toxic) products for their kids,” she says. As more information comes out about what is in much of that we put on our body, this may change. “These products,” explains Linsenmayer, “hold just as much power (over our health) as food does.”

Non-toxic beauty products will eventually become “the norm”

That’s why she believes the idea of natural, non-toxic beauty products is going to become the norm in the future. “The toxic products industry won’t last much longer,” she says confidently. Her goal is to spread the word about non-toxic products across the country. And she’d love to help others do the same.

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Laura Linsenmayer works her magic with her non-toxic products on a client

Hoping to help others by providing them with her plan

It took Linsenmayer 20 years of research to learn what she needed to learn to open her business and keep it thriving. “I couldn’t have done it if I had a kid or a husband,” she says. A future goal is to put everything she has learned, from products to procedures, into a business plan so that others can do what she has done, albeit under their own name. “I would love for people from all over to say ‘I want to open a store like yours’ and I could provide the business plans and systems operations and they can put their name on it.” That speaks to her passion for what has clearly become a mission.

Striving to help Mom feel good

And passion is something Linsenmayer has a lot of. Not just for her business, but for the natural products industry as a whole. She also really, really, really wants to help people look and feel their best. “My favorite thing is making people feel good about themselves. That’s where it’s at. When Mom feels good everybody wins. That is so cool!” she says excitedly.

Six years in and feeling like she’s just getting started

So if you’re in the market for a cleanser or a lip gloss or need a new hair stylist, Linsenmayer and her staff are here to help. For someone who never intended to return home, Linsenmayer chuckles at the fact that she now attends city council meetings. She has also now has a new appreciation for her hometown. “I didn’t understand how special it was being from a small town.” And even though she is back in that small town for awhile now, there are still people who haven’t found her shop yet. “People come in and say, ‘How did I not know you were here?’ I love that! I feel like I’m just getting started.”

Jim Beres: Dedicated to staying connected to community concerns


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

What do Laguna Beach residents and visitors complain most about? Not a tough question. Parking. And Jim Beres, Civilian Services Administrator for the Laguna Beach Police Department, and one of three Division Commanders, is the man who fields all the complaints, questions, and concerns regarding this touchy and sometimes volatile topic. 

But that’s only one of the many hats he wears. In addition to managing Parking Services, he is also in charge of the Chaplain Program, Beach Patrol, Police Aides, Citizens on Patrol, and Animal Services. 

That’s a lot of hats.

And he’s been wearing them for quite a while. Jim has been with the LBPD for eight years this January, after positions in civilian law enforcement beginning in Orange (where he started as a police cadet), Stanton, Costa Mesa, and most recently before joining LBPD, El Monte, where he worked for sixteen years.

“On my days off in El Monte, for two and a half years, I worked part time in Costa Mesa. El Monte was very different from Laguna,” Jim says. “It’s a much larger city with 121,000 residents.”

It may have been larger, but few cities have the influx of people each year that Laguna does, a number that he says averages 6.3 million a year. With the overwhelming goal of accommodating both residents and visitors, the services that he manages ensure the city runs efficiently. That’s a gargantuan job, not one that many would want to tackle.

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Jim manages six different divisions

However, Jim appears to approach it with firm resolve (and a jar of pistachios on his desk though I would think it might be aspirin instead). It’s just business as usual.

A major factor in this “business as usual,” is outreach, based on the community policing efforts Chief Laura Farinella instituted in 2015.

Jim explains, “We go out to talk to our customers – our residents, visitors and employees of the city – to find out if we’re meeting their needs. You need to go out periodically into the community and ask, rather than waiting for them to come to you. Otherwise, sometimes the problem metastasizes. Part of contemporary community policing is going proactively out into the field.” 

They accomplish this in a variety of ways. Some of the meetings address specific issues with residents (such as coyotes), others are free form in which the audience brings up concerns, and then there are the traditional meet and greets. Several Coffee with Cops have taken place, the most recent at Moulin Bistro, a few at private homes. As with other members of the LBPD, Jim has a high visibility factor in town.

New member of Parking Services

On this beautiful day before Thanksgiving, we start on a light note and another highly visible representative of the LBPD. Jim is particularly proud and happy to show us (our photographer Mary and me) the new Hyundai Ioniq car, the first to replace one of the parking services older Prius models. He did quite a bit of research before settling on this make and model as the best replacement option. 

 “It has better performance,” Jim says. “And the amenities were all included.”

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Jim during a brief respite  

Parking Services employs four full-time parking officers and one full-time senior parking service officer, who provide service seven days a week. Next Jim will go to the City Council to get the second car approved, and eventually hopes to replace all the older vehicles.

Discussing parking vehicles migrates into the issue of parking. Because he’s the man in charge, he receives 30-40 emails a day, a high number of them addressing parking; from complaints about parking citations (which he must investigate), to a neighborhood dispute about someone bringing home a work truck or multiple cars parking on the street, or the receipt of a ticket in a parking structure because the permit was not in view. One can imagine the emails are mostly negative, but Jim says there are the benign inquiries from summer visitors regarding parking regulations and questions such as, “Do the meters take credit cards?”

Three common misconceptions

And this brings up a misconception that Jim quickly debunks.

“There is no quota on parking tickets,” Jim says. “It’s illegal per state law, a misdemeanor, for the city to establish a quota.”

First myth exposed. But there are more. Do residents know where the parking fine monies go? 

 “We work differently than other cities. All parking fine revenue goes into a capital improvement fund,” Jim says, “for public work projects, such as street improvements and tennis court reconstruction. No one likes to get a parking ticket, but maybe there’s a pothole out there with your name on it.” 

Jim emphasizes the benefits of residents using parking permits (particularly the shopper permit, which is a bargain at $40 a year, bought every two years for $80), but cautions that even though there are five different kinds, the posted time limits still apply.

“This doesn’t have to do with Civilian Services, but we frequently ask participants at meetings if they know how many officers are on patrol at one time,” Jim continues. “Usually the answer is much higher, but on a typical day there are four to five sworn officers on duty.” Which he further explains makes it necessary to prioritize and make realistic choices regarding calls.

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New Hyundai Ioniq replacement vehicle for Parking Services

However, one of the biggest misconceptions that he demystified pertains to neighborhood street parking permits, which is a major topic of discussion among North Laguna residents living close to restaurants. Jim sets me straight on the subject. 

There is one residential parking permit district, the quiet zone, in place near Mozambique, but the City’s hands are tied granting additional ones. “The California Coastal Commission states that Laguna Beach is not allowed to establish any new permit zones,” he says. “Their mission is to maintain access to the coast for all, residents and non-residents alike. Anything that impacts non-residents’ ability to access the coast in an equal manner is problematic for them.” And this is the case with all coastal cities in CA.

Unfortunate news for residents in North Laguna, Alta Laguna, South Laguna (around 8th and 9th streets), and those who live near the high school, who have rallied for parking permit districts. 

Value of Police Aides and Citizens Patrol

However, there are issues, such as traffic, that have been addressed in ways that should please residents and visitors alike.

If you’ve ever tried to navigate the downtown area on a summer weekend, you must give kudos to the Police Aides in the bright yellow vests who direct traffic and keep the traffic flowing. These young men and women, some in the process of getting their degrees, are looking to get into law enforcement. This is a grueling job. Not only do they stand on their feet for six to seven hours a day, they must maintain complete focus, and constantly communicate with the other aides in the area to safely keep cars moving.

“It’s a really valuable program,” Jim says. “It helps the traffic flow smoother than it otherwise would. It’s tough because Laguna Beach isn’t designed for the volume of traffic that goes through. There’s not much we can do. Given the nature of the city, it’s not as if we can widen the streets or put in more turn lanes. It is what it is, and we just have to make it work the best we can.”

 Another area Jim oversees, is Citizens on Patrol, or sometimes known as Seniors on Patrol, though he emphasizes that recruits need not be seniors, but must be over 18 years of age. Volunteers complete an eight-week training program and are then qualified to apply to be a COP and participate in various support tasks (vacation home checks, meet the public, assist with traffic and parking enforcement, and fire/flood watch). COPs wear uniforms and drive city cars. They also transport various items (DNA samples, for example) to the crime lab. Currently, the COP has 12-14 volunteers.

They are indispensable to the force, but Jim says, ‘They are never in harm’s way.”

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An antidote for stress

Another of the services, Beach Patrol, that Jim oversees, was established after meetings with South Laguna residents, who were concerned about the nuisance activity caused by increased visitors to beaches (West St, Thousand Steps) whose popularity has spread via social media. 

As an outcome of these community meetings, two Beach patrol officers were hired, and, after the voters approved Measure LL, two more were added. There are also several part-time Beach Patrol Officers during the summer season. The feedback from the residents in that area is that the problems were reduced.

Most of citations they issue are for alcohol, (active consumption, open containers, minors in possession, or glass containers on the beach). In addition to beaches, they also patrol parks and the wilderness.

Counseling and emotional support

In addition, Jim manages the Chaplain Program, which currently has two volunteers. The LBPD relies on the faith based community to provide support and assist the Police Department on a volunteer basis, providing emotional support and counseling to victims of crimes and their families, as well as Department personnel and their families.

Pastor George Sabolick has been a volunteer with LBPD for over 15 years and provides counseling to officers on call.

The senior pastor for Calvary Chapel Seaside, Kurt Shonheinz, has been with the Department for 10 years. He can be seen in the police department almost weekly.

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The emails never ends

And certainly, the last two of Jim’s responsibilities are dear to my heart – the Animal Shelter and the Dog Park. Serving Laguna Beach and Laguna Woods, the shelter offers temporary care of sick, injured, and stray or abandoned animals rescued by the animal service officers.

The City employs three full-time animal service officers, who provide animal control services seven days a week. Their job is to enforce animal related laws, rules, and regulations in Laguna Beach and Laguna Woods. However, they also assist in incidents involving coyotes, marine mammals, rattlesnakes, and other animal related matters.

Partnership with the community

As stated on the LBPD website, “The mission of the Laguna Beach Police Department is to preserve human rights and enhance the quality of life through equitable law enforcement and responsive public service, in partnership with the community.”

It’s difficult to believe that all the departments mentioned above are maintained by one person, Jim Beres. He oversees a wide spectrum of services, seemingly switching hats as required. After spending only an hour with him, I realize just how big a role “partnership with the community” truly plays in his management acumen, and just how much the residents of Laguna Beach have benefited from that vision.

For further information on the LBPD, go to www.lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/police.

Retain Laguna’s tradition with chic new twists: That’s the goal of sisters Hasty Honarkar and Nikki Bostwick


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

There are some longtime residents who lament the loss of old Laguna. The town isn’t the same, they say, since the 1960s and 70s. Gone are the hippies and bohemians. Gone are some iconic spots—the Boom Boom Room, the Cottage, the movie theater. The battle is on between commercialism and charm, between locals and tourists, between the old and new. The nostalgists will tell you the greatest generation is fading away, and the younger population can’t afford to live here. They will tell you fewer and fewer people get the town. They long for the good ol’ days, while trying to remain optimistic about the future.

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Sisters Nikki Bostwick and Hasty Honarkar

Nikki Bostwick (27) and Hasty Honarkar (29) may represent Laguna’s strongest bridge between the generations. They’re passionate about preserving the charm of the town while injecting a chic and vibrant twist. These two sisters—with their sense of millennial style and creative design—are reimagining Laguna’s traditional roots one space at a time. 

A culture of caring, a head for hard work

Hasty and Nikki were brought up on hard work, imagination and gratitude. Their father, Mo Honarkar, moved to the United States from Iran when he was 20. He’d come to California before the Iranian revolution and then realized there was no reasonable path back. “He worked three jobs and went to UCI,” says Nikki. “A bus driver, an ice cream vendor, there’s nothing he wouldn’t do.” Their father made it possible for his whole family to immigrate—his wife, four of his five siblings, his parents, cousins, nieces and nephews all came to Orange County because of Mo. “He built everything all on his own,” says Nikki. 

The extended family stays tight. They see each other every week. Holidays are spent at the Royal Hawaiian (which Mo owns), or picnics at Heisler Park. “It always looks like a scene out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” laughs Hasty. The Honarkars have an open-door policy when it comes to celebrations. “If someone doesn’t have somewhere to go,” says Hasty, “they’re with us.” 

The strength of sisterhood

The sisters say they’re opposites, yet similar, at the same time. “We’re better sisters when we don’t work together,” they both say. But that doesn’t mean they don’t bounce ideas off each other, and come to each other for support.

Their affection for each other is clear. Hasty and Nikki sit close on the couch. One will finish a sentence the other started. They seem in sync, one often seeming to know the other better than she knows herself. 

When Nikki talks about marrying Eric, her high school sweetheart, Hasty’s face lights up. Her sister’s joy is also her own. 

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The sisters in Nikki’s store, The Fullest

They talk about raising their dogs like raising their future children. Hasty has two—a French bulldog and a puggle—who she describes as “plump and old.” Nikki has a Siberian husky named Cessna, who has all the envied energy of youth. “I keep looking for a pet psychic or therapist for Nikki’s dog,” says Hasty. She’s that invested in the canine cousins getting along.

Hasty’s head for business and passion for urban planning 

Hasty has worked with her father since she was a teen. She has a head for business and a heart that’s always belonged in Laguna. She tested out of high school when she was 15, moving briefly to Arizona to start her college career. “I cried every time I drove away. I came back after a year,” says Hasty. “Laguna is so cool. It’s fun and quirky and hippy, and yet so beautiful. It’s no wonder no one wants to leave.”

“Though you appreciate it more when you go and come back,” says Nikki, who spent some time in Oregon for college.

Hasty is fascinated by culture, geography and business. She changed her majors several times, studying environmental studies, product development, urban planning and more at UCLA. All these fields have helped in her current role as Vice President of 4G Ventures, a real estate development and hospitality business she runs with her father. Together they manage a portfolio of businesses—restaurants, hotels, residential properties, office spaces and venues that include Seven Degrees, the Royal Hawaiian, 14 West Boutique Hotel and many more. The company began after the Honarkars sold 4G Wireless, Verizon’s largest retailer on the west coast.

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Hasty Honarkar knows quality and creativity, in clothes and at work

“Laguna has a long history of being an incubator for creative minds,” says Hasty. “I want to build roots here for my family and my business. I want to raise children here, and watch my dad do what he loves in the community he loves. There’s nowhere else we want to go.”

Hasty says the danger for many local Laguna Beach businesses is their focus on revenue and making the steep rent. “It’s easy to forget the soul of the town when you’re caught up in revenue.” Her goal is to bring back these old projects that represent the heart and history of Laguna.

The Royal Hawaiian’s past, present and future

The Royal Hawaiian might be the best embodiment of the Honarkars’ vision to retain Laguna’s traditions while offering chic new twists. The island-inspired restaurant and bar has been an iconic Laguna staple since 1947, offering their famous (and dangerous) Lapu Lapus and transporting Orange County guests on a quick Hawaiian getaway. Over time, though, the place began to look tired. High rents, music restrictions, and a downturn in the economy forced the restaurant to close its doors in 2012. 

Three years later, Mo and Hasty arrived to save the day. They’ve revitalized the space, retaining all the traditions—banana leaves, pineapples, tiki torches and, of course, the beloved Lapu Lapu—while offering updated elements that allow the space to feel contemporary and relevant to new generations. The result, they say, is “tiki chic.”

For example, the old Lapu Lapu recipe called for canned juices from concentrate (which translated to a heck of a hangover). Now the local favorite is made from all freshly squeezed juices. Voila! The same . . . but better. They also showcase local artists who both represent the upcoming talent of the town while keeping with the artistic traditions of the past.

The goal is to give Laguna locals a place to feel nostalgic while also giving the next generation a chance to make new memories.

How Nikki’s obsession with wellness led to the Fullest

Nikki’s endeavors tend more toward lifestyle and wellness than business. Nikki is the founder of the Fullest, an online and bi-annual print magazine, and now a pop-up boutique shop in North Laguna. 

Nikki confesses she was a bit of a wild child at Laguna Beach High. But then she found yoga, specifically Bikram, and it helped her through a hard time. “I did a 180 degree turn in life,” she says. “Yoga changed everything for me.” It led her to culinary school to study raw food, vegan cooking, and wellness principles. Now she wants to bring that knowledge to her clients. 

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Nikki’s The Fullest magazine

Nikki’s recently launched pop-up boutique reflects the ideas of the Fullest. The space mirrors the website and the magazine—clean, light and airy—a place where clients can come to clear their minds and rejuvenate. She offers a sparse inventory of clothing, accessories, skincare, and home décor that follows this theme. Linens, teas, serums—items intended to promote a clean lifestyle.

The shop has a big comfy couch and chairs you can sink into all afternoon (I know this from personal experience). “I want a space where people feel comfortable just sitting, reading, or talking,” Nikki says. “I want this to be a place where we can build community, not just buy things.”

The Fullest offers yoga classes several times a week. Kundalini yoga focuses primarily on the breath. “It’s more spiritual,” says Nikki. “Good for the nervous system, circulation, and blood flow. I wanted to offer something that can’t otherwise be found in Orange County.”

Nikki also opens the space for a variety of other lifestyle and wellness workshops—a wreath making class, an organic bakery featuring a local artisan whom mills her own flour. She’s even starting a jogger’s club. On Saturday mornings at 9 a.m., the shop is the starting point where runners can meet up and return for a weekend inspired run.

Wellness, for Nikki, doesn’t mean deprivation or stressing over exercise. At one point in her life, she was militant about her diet and found it didn’t serve her. “Wellness isn’t just the food you eat and the way you move. It’s intention behind everything you do. Whatever makes you happy—that’s wellness. Stressing out about eating healthy is worse for you.” When Nikki discovered she could no longer eat at her grandmother’s house, enjoy her favorite meals, or share food with friends, she realized it was time for a new approach. 

“Fashion, art, music, self-expression—both the people making the art and the consumers enjoying it—that’s all part of a happy lifestyle. I’m hoping to bring that back to Laguna, because that’s what Laguna was based on. No restrictions. Just free-thinking and free expression.”

An Ohana state of mind

Ohana, in Hawaiian, means family (in an extended sense of the term, including blood-related, adoptive and intentional members). The concept emphasizes that families are bound together and members must cooperate and remember one another. Ohana is a concept this family embodies. It stretches back to their roots in Iran. It includes their extended family, all those who have immigrated to Orange County. And now it’s embracing the rich traditions of Laguna Beach and the upcoming generations who want to call Laguna home. The Honarkars are laying down a foundation for Laguna’s future. All of our town’s rich, artistic traditions…with a twist.

Lisi Harrison: A best-selling author gets “Dirty”


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Lisi Harrison came to Laguna 10 years ago she was looking for a change. After leaving her prior life in New York City, Laguna definitely gave her that. However, making big changes was not something she was unfamiliar with. A Canadian by birth, Harrison had also lived in Boston and Philadelphia. Driven by the need to explore, Harrison says she left Canada for Boston during her college years because, “It just got me away from everything I knew. It allowed me to figure out who I was.”

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Lisi Harrison with her beloved writing companion

“The Dirty Book Club” is for adults

This decision to leave everything she knew behind her proved to be prudent, as who Lisi Harrison became while on this journey to self-discovery turned out to be a best-selling author. Her credits include the young adult series “The Clique,” “The Pretenders,” “The Alphas,” and “Monster High.” As of October 10 she had a new credit to add to her list: “The Dirty Book Club” hit bookstores on that date. This time, however, her audience is adults. 

How the real Dirty Book Club was formed

As with most creative endeavors, one never knows when inspiration will strike. Harrison says it struck her while she was talking to some women – total strangers – at the Coyote Grill. “We started talking about Judy Blume’s (novel) ‘Forever’ and how it was the first dirty book any of us had read. We started bonding over this very quickly,” remembers Harrison. 

Those women, now friends as a result of their discussion about the book, agreed to read it again and meet up later to discuss. That’s how Harrison’s real-life Dirty Book Club was formed. 

A challenge to try something new

Since art frequently imitates life, she decided that this premise of a dirty book club would make a really good novel. “I’ll do it for young adults because that’s what I do,” she remembers thinking. That is, until one of the women from her book club suggested she write it for adults. “This became very challenging for me,” says Harrison. “I had this great title but then I had to live up to it.” 

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Lisi Harrison’s books

From erotica to the power of friendship

She says when she first started writing, the novel “50 Shades of Grey” had just come out. Its popularity (combined with the title of her book) compelled to try her hand writing erotica. “I failed miserably,” she says with a laugh. “I had to figure out why I was writing this book. Finally, I realized it was about the power of female friendship.” Again, art imitating life.

A much-needed break turns into burnout

The novel took more time than she’d planned, but once finished Harrison says she planned on taking a much-deserved break. Unfortunately, life, as they say, had other plans. “It’s much different promoting a book in 2017 than it was in 2007,” she says wearily. “So you take a person, who’s not an extrovert, going out there and saying “Hey, let me sell you something!’” Additionally, during this “break” she felt compelled to “reclaim” her social media presence, also not an easy task. The result? Complete burnout. “I had not written a word since January,” she says with mild incredulity.

However, there are signs of resurgence. As of this past Monday, Harrison says she finally sat down and started writing a chapter. “It felt like I was home again. I’m done with all of this ancillary chaos. I want to get back to doing what I love doing.” 

Harrison says it’s too soon to tell if the chapter she started on Monday will become a book, but at least there’s no doubt that another book will be coming – eventually. While the next one percolates, Harrison says she’s recharged enough to come to your book club, dirty or otherwise, if you happen to be discussing her “Dirty Book Club” (her novel, not her group). “I will Skype into anybody’s book club. I would love to do that,” she says enthusiastically. 

Jumping at opportunities post-college

If you do invite her, perhaps you can ask her, as a side note, about her journey from college grad to best-selling author to Laguna Beach resident. It is a great lesson in making the most of one’s opportunities, as well as just plain old perseverance. While attending McGill University in Montreal (“The Harvard of Canada,” she explains, adding somewhat archly, “Harvard people hate it when you say that.”), she realized she wanted a more robust arts program. She found one at Emerson College in Boston. 

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She completed her studies earning a BFA in Creative Writing. She says she followed a boyfriend to Philadelphia and then, somewhat impetuously, took a job in New York. “A friend said he could get me a job at MTV so I basically just jumped on the train and went.” 

A job at MTV turns into a career

Even the job at MTV was somewhat of a lark since Harrison says she didn’t really know what it was. “They don’t have MTV in Canada, and when I was a student I could never afford cable so it was completely foreign to me,” she says. Nevertheless, she got a job in casting (and then ended up being given the job of the friend who hired her in the first place, something Harrison describes as “very awkward”). Twelve years later, she had worked her way up to Senior Director of Development. “MTV was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” she says. “We were all young, in our early 20’s, with tremendous responsibility and no guidance, being fully exploited and harassed. It was great,” she says laughing.

Still, the desire to write was there

But while she was enjoying her career at MTV there was still this thing she couldn’t give up on: the desire to write. So she would work her “day job” at MTV from 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. and then come home and start writing. She says she’d wake up some mornings in tears she was so tired, but she was determined. “This is what I wanted to do. I just felt like an ass if I didn’t go for it,” she says. And her persistence paid off. She wrote her first two novels while still at MTV, “The Clique” and “Best Friends For Never.” When the latter debuted at #7 on the New York Times best-seller list she left MTV and pursued writing full time.

Leaving New York for Laguna

So how did this self-described city girl who was having the time of her life in New York finally end up in Laguna? It mostly had to do with kids. Married and with a new addition to the family, a son, and another baby on the way, Harrison says New York lost some of its luster. “When it stops being about you, when it starts being about the kids, New York is just not conducive to that. We just wanted an easier lifestyle.” Laguna was designated as that “easier lifestyle” because her now ex-husband, who is a surfer from Virginia, had visited Laguna and decided it was a pretty special place. Plus it checked one of Harrison’s boxes: a warm climate.

Becoming a true “Californian”

Being from Canada, Harrison was on a mission to live somewhere warm. With ten years under her belt, it looks as though she has acclimated to California-living quite well. So well, in fact, that when we met it was a pleasant 70 degrees (at the very least) yet Harrison decided she was chilly enough that she needed to put on her sweater. Nothing screams “Californian” more than being cold in temperatures the rest of the country finds positively balmy.

Learning to “restock the pond” at the beach

As with any change, there are trade-offs. Likening one’s imagination to a pond that needs replenishing after each artistic endeavor, Harrison says just walking out the door in New York helped “restock the pond.” In Laguna, where, she says, “It’s the same weather, same people…it’s like being in the Apple store all the time…” refilling the pond is a bit trickier. But what she lost in terms of stimulation, she gained in feeling the embrace of her new community. 

Community and the art of the potluck

“The community here blew me away. I kept thinking, ‘Why are these people so nice? Why do they keep inviting us to all of these potlucks?!’” It certainly wasn’t for her culinary skills. Not versed in the manner of potlucks or small town living, Harrison says she decided she’d pick up some garlic bread from “this little Italian place” she discovered to bring as her contribution to her first Laguna Beach potluck. She transferred the bread to one of her trays to look like she made it and voila! Instant potluck offering.

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Lisi is back at work

Unfortunately, since there are only a handful of Italian places in Laguna (quite different from New York) one of the guests took a bite of “her” garlic bread and asked, “Is this from Gina’s?” Whoops.

Now Harrison can undoubtedly potluck with the best of them. And there is no doubt as to where she belongs. Laguna is where her kids are growing up and there is probably no stronger definition of home than that. However, we can all agree that Laguna is not New York City. So to keep that part of her alive, Harrison satisfies herself with taking her kids to visit often so everyone can get a taste of what she (and they) left behind. 

There is no doubt she has embraced left coast living. However, she can’t quite shake the allure of one of the most bustling of all bustling metropolises. “Laguna is home. But my soul in in New York,” she says.

Buy Hand: Retail curated with a conscience – and Reddy charm


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Opening a retail business is always a risky venture. Opening a retail business during a lingering recession, the Great Recession, no less, could be considered complete folly. Despite the obvious timing issues, Kavita Reddy opened her shop, Buy Hand, in 2012. “My background is in tech and communications,” she explains. Her complete lack of retail experience, she believes, may have been helpful. “It’s almost better not to know things,” she says with a laugh. If she had known better perhaps she would have decided not to take the leap. “We haven’t regretted it. It has been great,” she says.

Buy Hand becomes a sister act

The “we” Kavita refers to is she and her sister, Vidya Reddy. Vidya joined Kavita as a partner in Buy Hand after moving to Laguna three and a half years ago. The sisters, originally from Canada, bring very different backgrounds (Vidya’s is in healthcare) and perspectives to their shop. These differences seem to be working out remarkably well for them. The store was voted Retail Store of the Year in 2014 by the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce and is rated the number one shopping destination in Laguna by Trip Advisor.

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Sisters Kavita and Vidya Reddy, owners of Buy Hand in Laguna Beach

“Businesses can do good”

 “I always wanted to do something in retail with a social component,” explains Kavita. The store originally featured only American handmade products. Now, the store’s offerings include globally sourced handmade products, in addition to the USA made items. “We believe businesses can do good in the world,” says Vidya. “We were worried about the impact of technology on work so we focused on selling handmade things. Our goal was for our customers to get a cheery, unique gift, but also to know that they are impacting the lives of real people.” 

A new location brings new energy

The sisters moved from their original location to the one they’re currently occupying in February, and they couldn’t be happier. “We are much more part of the community,” says Kavita. “The space has a great energy; it’s very synergistic. It highlights and showcases the things so well and that makes me happy. The pieces have soul. You can feel that here.”

The sisters share a synergistic partnership

The synergy extends to the sisters’ partnership as well. “We’re best friends,” says Vidya of her relationship with Kavita. “We bring two different skill sets to the table. If she digs in her heels I defer and she does the same for me. We respect each other’s talents.” “I don’t think I’d be doing this with anybody else but my sister,” adds Vidya.

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Kavita and Vidya Reddy show off some of their handmade items

They also respect each other’s taste. Kavita says some of her favorite things are the handmade knit kids’ items prominently displayed in the front of the store. “It brings a cheeriness to the store,” says Kavita. Vidya, on the other hand, is passionate about jewelry and gemstones. Coming from an Indian background, Vidya says, “Jewelry is in my blood!” She is particularly passionate about the healing powers of gemstones. “I really want to emphasize that,” she says emphatically. Both sisters make jewelry for the store. “We make a lot of jewelry!” exclaims Vidya. 

Embracing – and being embraced by – the community

Since moving to their new space, the sisters have been wholeheartedly embraced by the community. Neighbors pop in while walking their dogs to say hello. “That’s my favorite thing,” says Vidya enthusiastically. “I love it when your neighbor drops in and says, ‘I heard you had a headache yesterday. How are you doing?’ That’s the community I was looking for.”

A global holiday party with The Peace Exchange

In support of that community, Vidya and Kavita are partnering with Katie Bond, founder of The Peace Exchange, during Art Walk on December 7 for a global holiday party. “Katie walked into the store and we knew we were kindred spirits,” says Kavita.

The party will be at Buy Hand and all proceeds from fair trade sales on the night of the event will go towards the Peace Exchange’s launching of new endeavors in Bolivia. “The party will be about shopping with good food, music, and a…” Vidya pauses as she searches for the word. “A henna artist!” adds Kavita. The sisters both laugh, “We really do finish each other’s sentences,” says Vidya. 

Meditation? Cooking? Look for it in 2018

One of the things the sisters love most about their new space is the charming back patio. Vidya, who studied Ayurveda in India, says she hopes to use it for things like meditation workshops and cooking classes in the coming year. According to Kavita, Vidya is an excellent cook, specializing in southern Indian fare (most Indian restaurants feature northern Indian food). “I like to feed people,” says Vidya. Stop by the global holiday party and who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky and be able to sample some of Vidya’s cooking.

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Looking for items that tell stories

While the Reddy sisters will be delighted to see you (whatever your motivation to visit the store) their hope is that once there, you find something you like. “People who come into Buy Hand are buying stories. They get to know the process and the inspiration behind every piece,” explains Kavita. Vidaya adds, “We are drawn to things that evoke a feeling.”

Seeing Laguna for all its charms

A resident with her husband since 2010 when they moved from Irvine, Kavita says she was thrilled by the views and the physical beauty of her new hometown, but it took opening her shop for her to fully appreciate Laguna’s subtler charms. 

“When I moved here I didn’t realize how special Laguna was…After being in business for these past years, I can say that it’s a joy to have a shop in this town even if it took me a while to appreciate it.”  

Vidya’s response to Laguna was more immediate. “I fell in love with it the moment I got here,” she says emphatically. Buy Hand reflects the sisters’ commitment to each other, to Laguna and to the artists they represent. “Ours is a purposeful shop,” says Vidya. “A big thank you to Laguna for giving us such a great place to work and live.”

Steve Bramucci, author/traveler/teacher: His favorite adventures are misadventures


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Steve Bramucci clowns around in front of a combined class of 64 third and fourth graders at Anneliese School, discussing his new children’s book The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo, which was released on August 1 and published by Bloomsbury. 

During a slide show, a picture flashes onto the screen of a five or six-year-old kid wearing a phantom mask and a red cowboy hat. He has the look of a little boy who always has stories on his mind, tales of adventures and pirates and swashbuckling. 

Steve says to the attentive children, “This wasn’t unusual, this is how I dressed for school. I’m wearing a mask, it’s Monday.”

One man in his time plays many parts

Not surprisingly, this boy grew up to be a man who claims, “My favorite adventures are misadventures.” And as a testament to this, his resume has grown considerably since his mask wearing days. A born storyteller, he’s added author, travel and food writer, adventurer, teacher, surfer, husband and soon to be dad to the list. 

Truth be told, he could also add standup comedian and master of accents (British for Jeeves the butler in the book, and pirate-speak) to his qualifications. He’s an expert at both.

Steve keeps the diminutive crowd vacillating between laughter and awe as he tells stories of a confrontation with a flesh-eating Komodo Dragon (“It’s a bad idea to fall asleep on an island of dragons,” he warns), blood-seeking bats (looking for a mosquito meal) that flew into each other over his head as he slept, and how he spent a day with a lioness. He loves exotic animals and endangered species, especially orangutans (a portion of his book sales is donated to saving them). The students hang on his every word. 

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Steve mesmerizes class of third and fourth graders at Anneliese

Standing in front of a class of children isn’t new to Steve. His self-proclaimed, “Favorite school on the planet,” he taught at Anneliese School off and on for 15 years and even lived with Anneliese for six of those, leaving for periods of time to travel and then returning to teach. One of those trips lasted 13 months.

But how he ended up at Anneliese is an experience on its own. 

Steve graduated from UCSD and spent a year teaching in New York, arriving there only three days before Sept 11, 2001. 

On the cross-country-trek back to the West Coast, he bought a VW station wagon and was sleeping in it. He’d always wanted to go to the Sundance Film Festival, so he stopped in Utah. In freezing weather, at 5 a.m. in the morning, he spotted a woman waiting alone in front of a theater. Turns out she was a scout for the NB Film Festival and also the director of the older grades at Anneliese. With no real plan of coming here, he got a job at Anneliese. 

“No matter where you are, life can be an adventure,” Steve says. And he’s living proof of that. “There are always little seeds being planted in your head, and these seeds can be part of the story you tell. The greatest gift a teacher can ever give you is a blank piece of paper.”

And evidently these seeds have been accumulating for some time in Steve’s head, since many have blossomed into elements of his book.

The main character Ronald Zupan is a daring swashbuckler, though he hasn’t really had any faraway expeditions until he sets out for Borneo to rescue his parents. And there are pirates, and orangutans, and mosquitoes. Sound familiar?

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Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo

Steve’s parents were both adventurous, but in dissimilar ways. Steve’s life started out in Portland, OR, with a mother (also a teacher) who sometimes wound up getting lost on hikes as she led groups of his nephews and nieces. Perhaps that’s why Steve’s drawn to misadventure. 

While on fishing trips, Steve’s dad would tell him, “Go find whatever you can, and it’ll be your pet.” (Steve’s allergic to cats and dogs). On one search, he wrangled a rough-skinned newt. Unfortunately, its skin gives off toxins. On another occasion, he brought home a pregnant snake whose babies ended up slithering down the stairs, so his mother put the kibosh on his pet adoption phase.

Surfing, jumping off cliffs, and rowing down the Mekong River

Beyond bringing home the random off-beat pet, what Steve loved most while growing up, were comics with pirates who swung on ropes, hopping from crocodile to crocodile, so he translated that into traveling around the world, surfing (his favorite adventure), jumping off cliffs and swinging on ropes (though not from croc to croc). He has rowed down the Mekong River (twice) in a traditional Vietnamese x’ampan, gone into the outback with Aboriginal elders, and spent four months driving a Nissan Patrol in East Africa. 

He says of his excursions, “You never return home the same as you left.”

Then in 2010, Steve won a travel-writing contest at Trazzler with an article about (what else), a pirates’ graveyard in Madagascar. The monetary prize allowed him to concentrate more time on travel and writing. He has written for National Geographic (books), Afar, Outside, OC Register Magazine, and is the founder of the Life section at Uproxx, an online publication with 20 million unique visitors each month. Currently, as his fulltime job, Steve works as the food and travel editor for Uproxx.

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Steve imitates swashbuckler swinging on a rope 

Adventure is stock in trade for his two sisters as well. His older sister is a protection officer for women endangered in war zone areas and lives in Central Africa, and his younger sister is a Glaciologist. 

Now to Steve’s biggest adventure of all, he married Nitka, a fifth-grade teacher he met at Anneliese (the ceremony took place at the school), and their first child is due on Oct 24, a boy. Having globe-trotted extensively, Nitka identifies as a traveler as much as he does. Last year they rowed the backwater of the Mekong Delta, and they’ve been on a road trip, and fished in Alaska.

And on this Wednesday afternoon, it’s Nitka’s class that Steve next visits to discuss his book Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo. This audience, besides being a bit older, has just read the book, and the students are ready and willing to ask questions.

An inquisitive audience

One student says, “Why Borneo?” 

Steve responds, “I wanted to have orangutans, and I spend a lot of time in jungles, and I’m proud of how I describe them.”

“Are you happy with how the book turned out in general?” another asks.

“So far, I like it,” Steve says. “I wrote it to please myself.”

And when questioned as to why he wrote it, he explains that he wanted to write books specifically for kids, and one he would have liked to read at eight years old.

In answer to how long it took him to write it, Steve says, “The first 20 pages I wrote in one night and they didn’t change. The rest went through three years of editing and then it took one year for the illustrations and little details. Four years altogether.” He admits that editing is his favorite part of writing. 

Great questions from fifth grade readers.

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Steve Bramucci at home

Steve just returned home from a book launch tour that included Chicago, Wichita, Denver, Portland, Oakland, and San Francisco, sometimes speaking to auditoriums filled with as many 500 children. The appearance at Anneliese is his first in OC. 

He relates one of the most interesting questions while on tour: “Was writing the book hard?”

To which he answered, “It was the most fun difficult thing, and the most difficult fun thing I’ve ever done.”

And Steve likes to amuse himself in the process by adding humorous parts (possibly not evident to everyone). For example, Ronald Zupan says, “At the tender age of five, I crept inside the Zupan Library and devoured my first book, The Collected Plays of William Shakespeare. As my mother, Helen Zupan, once said, ‘The most adventurous people are carnivorous readers.’ She was right, it was a feast of language.”

Later Ronald repeats words from Shakespeare’s plays, as if regurgitating them. 

Shakespeare untamed and a tale of grand adventure

Ronald ends Chapter One with, “The past is prologue. Now, friends, we venture into the vast unknown!” The “what is past is prologue” comes from The Tempest. Later, Ronald worries that his, “Courage isn’t quite screwed to the sticking place.” “Screw your courage to the sticking place,” is a famous line by Lady Macbeth. Steve says there are at least a hundred of these sprinkled throughout the book.

Thankfully, this is not the last readers will see of Ronald Zupan. On October 1 of 2018, the second in a series of four Danger Gang books will be released, Danger Gang and the Island of Feral Beasts, about Fennec foxes. At Christmas, his new book for National Geographic will be released, National Geographic Chapters: Rock Stars, the true stories of extreme climbing adventures. Steve is currently working on The Fixers, the story of a boy and girl who get into terrible situations and try to fix them. 

Danger Gang starts out, “Hello friend, Are you ready for a dazzling tale of grand adventure?” And that it is! But so is the story of its author quite a dazzling tale of grand adventure - and misadventures. And this one is true.

To that five-year-old little boy in the picture whose head was already full of stories, I’d say, “Don’t ever take off that mask, it’s served you well.”

John Gardiner: The poet, performer and perfectionist at the heart of Laguna’s literary life


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

What happens when two language geeks get together at Zinc Cafe on a Thursday afternoon to talk poetry and prose, Shakespeare, the psychedelic sixties, Wallace Stegner’s plagiarism, and more? They swoon over sonnets, argue about punctuation, and get giddy when inventing phrases like “leering moon,” each of them deciding it’s about time the moon be taken to task.

Time spent with John Gardiner – dramatist, teacher, activist, and author of twelve collections of poetry – is like riding a literary tidal wave. At his core, John is a performer, and a perfectionist who has such a love of the written word that it’s hard not to hang on his every one. When John reads his poems aloud, which he loves to do, his voice is a melodic baritone, his language measured and precise, and his enthusiasm infectious. He can’t help himself from stopping every so often to say, “Let me read you another.”

And when he does you can only sit in awed silence, knowing something magical is happening, then and there.

Poetry in motion

“Poetry in an oral art form,” says John. “There’s the page poem and the stage poem. They both have to work.”

John has a voice made for radio and lyrics made for stage. He was trained in opera in an amphitheater in Maine, his tenor rich and deep.

“When you’re on stage you can dance, gyrate, and draw attention to yourself,” he says. “But then it has to work quietly on the page. It can’t be full of sound and fury.”

Making a show of Shakespeare

In addition to performing at local poetry readings, slams and workshops in Laguna Beach for the past two decades, John regularly tours in a music-infused Shakespearian show called “Shakespeare’s Fool.” He teamed up with Jason Feddy. Together they mix rock ’n roll music along with reggae and acoustic based tunes, performing ten songs and ten speeches from the Shakespeare canon.

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John Gardiner reads one of his poems

Shakespeare speaks to John. He has a deep appreciation for not only the language, but the sounds. “Shakespeare invented more than 1,800 words,” John tells me. “Maybe 2,500 words because he invented so many compound nouns.” This was a result of Shakespeare’s desire to avoid obvious rhymes, preferring pleasurable sounds to be subliminal. 

“He put syllable rhymes in the middle of the words, which resulted in a beautiful fluidity,” says John. “Much prettier than consonants and so subtle you’re not aware of it.”

Another technique Shakespeare favored was to use rhythm and meter to drop the endings of words, giving another meaning to the phrase. For example, “To be or not to be. That is the QUEST-ion.” The reader is hardly aware of it but, when read aloud, the emphasis is on the “quest.”

John’s lessons in Shakespeare are so spirited and enthusiastic, I couldn’t help becoming a renewed fan, going home to crack open a volume and re-read a few passages for myself.

From Bard to beards and back again

John took the drug culture of the 1960s seriously. Far more seriously than most Orange County conservatives were willing to give him credit for at the time, finding himself frequently harassed by the police. He was no stranger to hallucinogens. As he writes in his prose poem, “Just Another Strange Night in the 60s” (in which he describes a party in Floriston, Nevada): “Lots of trucks and VW vans out front, mud and ice on the front porch, rock climbing boots, beards, pony tails, granny dresses, patchouli, weed . . . and a bunch of people on varying elevated levels of externally stimulated and chemically altering psychic-cosmic buzzing caps of mind juice.”

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John’s books are available at Laguna Beach Books: He’s working on a third

But, like everything John does, he operated with intention. The drugs were used for a purpose, as opposed to recreation. “Sure, I took large amounts of acid, mescaline, peyote, etc.,” he said in a 2014 interview with the Los Angeles Times, “but I also had one foot firmly planted in the anti-war movement …The last thing in the world I wanted to do was go to the Sunset Strip and jump around elbow to elbow in what can be called a ‘60s acid-head monster mosh pit. That was too much confusion, and I had no interest in it.”

Everything about John is disciplined. He’s neat and particular. His coins are stacked on his desk, his poetry filed in three-ring binders, rewrites of each verse replacing old work, each binder placed chronologically on his shelves. “Writing is discipline,” he tells me. “Never write while you’re stoned.”

The many creative leaves on John’s family tree

John was born in Manhattan Beach in the 1940s. His father had been a fighter pilot in WWII, their relationship not always easy. As he wrote in a poem entitled “Fathers and Sons,” capturing a fictional dream about his father hunting him with a gun, “You missed me daddy-o, so I guess the fight’s still on.”

His parents had six children in less than eight years. John describes them as a “psychedelic Brady Bunch.” The creativity gene has deep roots in John’s family tree. His late brother, Bob Gardiner, was a multi-talented artist, animator, painter and more who won the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 1975 for the Claymation film “Closed Mondays.” Everyone in his family, John says, writes and reads.

He also says it was a matriarchal family, crediting the strength of the women for allowing him to become the male mascot for Laguna Beach’s own Women on Words. “I not only love women,” says John. “I like them.”

Angle of Repose revisited

John’s great-grandmother was Mary Hallock Foote, a renowned 19th and 20th century writer of the American old west. She was a prolific storyteller, writing novels, nonfiction, stories and correspondence. Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, for which he won the 1971 Pulitzer Prize, is based directly upon her personal correspondence. While Stegner gained her family’s permission to use an outline of her life on the promise he would disguise her, he used direct passages of her work without giving credit, an act that has tarnished his reputation in the literary community until today.

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John Gardiner’s constant companion, Maddy

Coyote spirit

John tells me his spirit animal is the coyote, reflected in his 2014 collection “Coyote Blues” and numerous references throughout his work. After spending some time with John, this makes sense. The coyote totem, I learn, is “strikingly paradoxical and hard to categorize.” The coyote’s symbolism is associated with a deep magic of life and creation. He’s a teacher of hidden wisdom with a sense of humor. Perfect for John.

From his poem “Coyote Talk #4”: 

“Two coyotes were greeted the same way we seem to greet

Everything natural, mystical, magical—

Kill it or pave it.


With billions of humans, who stands a chance?

Better to rise from this plane and let your wildness roam free.”

There’s long lament in John’s work, a wistfulness for times past and a certain disgust for where things have ended up. His passages echo the sadness of a fading history, the trampling of nature, the risk that technology will subsume creativity, that social media’s ceaseless noise will drown out the quiet beauty of the written word. John is the coyote. The seasoned man of infinite experience and quiet wisdom, standing at the door of a new generation and perhaps wanting to close it. He seems to see ahead to what’s coming for us, and still finds power in the written word, strength in Shakespeare, and beauty in the natural world.

The legacy of language

In looking across the long arc of John’s life, from the generations that came before him, to the brother he lost and the children he never had, there’s a legacy of language, the specific beauty of the creative mind. 

John tells me he regrets never becoming a father. But it strikes me, in poetry, the white space holds just as much meaning as the written word. There’s great power in what’s left unsaid, and beauty in the silence. 

It also seems, in a world weighed down by the burdens of overpopulation, maybe John leaves an even more important legacy behind.

I ask John what his greatest accomplishment has been, his proudest moment. He considers this for a while before saying, “I hope it hasn’t happened yet.” Another nod to the mystical magic of the great unknown.

Lisa Farber: Capturing Laguna’s “Vibe”


Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Lisa Farber, the woman behind “Laguna Beach Vibe,” admits her  “plate is pretty full.” And that is just how she likes it. With her publication being entertainment and events driven, there’s always something for her to see and somewhere for her to go in Laguna which means she is out – a lot. As someone of seemingly boundless energy, this seems to suit her just fine.

A Canadian by birth, Farber has embraced her adopted hometown with gusto. “I was traveling throughout the States,” she remembers. A companion needed some company from Colorado to San Clemente. “I wanted to live somewhere where it was warm,” says Farber. Finding San Clemente “too slow” Farber looked at Laguna. “It was much more vibrant,” she says. 

Taking a risk pays off

Farber got her start in publishing at another local publication. She worked there as the editor-in-chief for five years, learning by experience. Then, she says, “I wanted to control my own destiny.” So in 2014 she took a leap of faith and started “Laguna Beach Vibe.” “It was a risk. I went out on my own and I’m glad I did. It feels good to be a woman-owned publication. And competition is good.”

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Lisa Farber, owner of “Laguna Beach Vibe Magazine”

A one-woman show with some great help

Admitting she had a lot to learn, Farber now feels she’s at a place where she can focus on growth – but only up to a point. She is, after all, a self-described “one woman show.” Farber is responsible for the editorial content, the publication’s Instagram account and all of the ad sales. However, she does enlist help in other areas, crediting Jules Johnson with graphic design and Mikal Belicove with her online engagement. “He wrote the book ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook’ so he knows what he’s doing,” she says with a laugh.

Creating an online presence to complement her mission

While “Laguna Beach Vibe” is a printed take-away publication, Farber has also embraced the digital age. “People who didn’t live in town wanted to get the information so now I have this great online calendar. It always gets updated,” she says enthusiastically. (www.lagunabeachvibe.com) While she tries to make sure she covers it all, it’s understandable that every now and then something gets overlooked. When we met she was still smarting over the fact she missed a local skim board contest that was the same weekend as the Brooks Street Classic. “That won’t happen next year,” she says with conviction.

A list of personal favorites

Covering all of the events in Laguna is not easy. For such a small town, there’s a lot going on. Since she rarely misses anything, when asked to list some of her favorites, her answers are definitely worth noting. Grapes for Grads, the Sip and Shuck, Sunset Serenades and Music in the Park, she says, are all favorites. She’s also hoping the Blue Water Music Festival makes a comeback. And KX93.5’s concerts, she says enthusiastically, “You can’t miss them.” All of these things – and more – get covered in “Laguna Beach Vibe.”

The addition of a local legend

Because she is always thinking about how to improve things, Farber added a restaurant review section. Her reviewer is none other than Glori Fickling, a 91-year old critic and a Lagunan since the 50’s who has been a food critic for over 30 years. “She approached me. She has a flair. It’s very Glori,” says Farber of the column, as if she still can’t believe her luck at having such a fabulous contributor.

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Lisa Farber on her favorite mode of travel: a bicycle

Her travel of choice: her Schwinn Panther

Of course, luck has very little to do with any of it. It really comes down to the details, both big and small. One of Farber’s trademarks, besides her trove of colorful visors she frequently wears, is her devotion to old-fashioned customer service. She hand delivers her publication every month. 

“That’s how I make my ‘calls,’” she explains. “If I nurture my customers the deliveries take about a day and a half. Plus I can see what businesses have opened and what has closed. When I get an ad from someone I don’t know…I love that.” An avid cyclist, Faber relishes the days when she can use her Schwinn Panther to make deliveries. “It’s my travel of choice. It’s so easy. I just pull up to the Festival, lock my bike and I don’t have to worry about parking.”

She even does bicycle tours around town

Her dedication to biking extends beyond delivering her magazine. With such limited free time, she nevertheless can be seen leading her own charm house bike tour around Laguna. “It’s only an hour, but we cover lots of points of interest. It was just kind of organic,” she says of how the tour was created. You can find more information about her tour at Laguna Beach Cyclery’s website (www.lagunabeachcyclery.com

Working wherever she is

Farber says she definitely sees herself biking through Europe when she retires. However, at the moment just taking a vacation is tricky. “Vacations are hard,” she admits. “I have to plan, but I work hard so I don’t feel guilty.” This summer she went back to Canada to visit family. It was a vacation, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t working. “That’s a great thing about this job,” she says noting her ability to do a lot of it from anywhere. On a day-to-day basis, she tries to carve out a little non-work time either ocean swimming or doing yoga in the park. But then it’s back to work.

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Laguna Beach Vibe is a free publication highlighting the happenings in town

Committed to supporting Laguna’s sense of community

Luckily, work is where she loves to spend her time. “What I enjoy doing the most is running my business,” says Farber. “’Vibe’ supports the sense of community that exists in town. A lot of cities don’t have that. That’s why Laguna works so well for what I do,” she says. This feeling of good fortune extends to her hometown, as well. “I don’t take Laguna for granted…yet,” she says with a laugh.

Cory Sparkuhl and friends: visionary filmmakers 

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Did you ever wake up in the middle of the night with an idea that you’re sure could become a movie? …Then with the light of day comes the reality that it’s just not going to happen. 

Cory Sparkuhl is the kind of guy who has had those storied visions – in the middle of the night, in the middle of school, while skateboarding, while looking toward Main Beach from his Laguna office. But he’s one of the rare people who actually make those dreams become reality. When you can share that vision and show it to the world, that’s where the rubber meets the road.

These days Cory is one busy guy, working with his film team at Sparkle Films, sorting out crews and locations. He smiles, “I’ve found my right niche.”

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Cory Sparkuhl (right) with Cyrus Polk (left) and Shannon Belknapp, 

of Sparkle Films

A spark is lit

Laguna is the hometown where Cory grew up with not exactly a plan, but rather a passion for the pursuit of his dreams. His pursuit began from the age of eleven. 

“Riddle Field was my stomping ground with Little League, big cassette tapes, and cameras,” he recalls fondly. 

He started filming in earnest by doing skateboarding videos. That makes a young Laguna lad happy, but the ultimate goal would be to make a little money too. “I thought, if only I could make a living at that, I’d be happy.”

He’s happy now – but it didn’t come easy.

“I used to want to be an actor,” said Cory. “Stage plays, and stuff… But I was better at telling people what to do rather than being told what to do.” He adds, “I love it, directing people and telling them what to do!”

After graduating from LBHS in the not-too-distant year of 2002, Cory went on to pursue his passion at Orange Coast, then to post production school, studying in Burbank the latest in film editing software programs. 

“I learned a lot when I was young, like [editing program] Final Cut Pro, but the industry is about learning something new every day.”

He did some of the inevitable “grunt work” in LA, and then found his way back to Laguna and a position with local renowned filmmakers, McGillivray Freeman Films. “It was exciting,” Cory remembers. But he still needed to augment his income by delivering pizza for Gina’s. Ultimately this go-getter did find his niche.

“Finally I got so busy with production, I started Sparkle.”

A collaborative effort

Sparkle Films is the culmination of passion for the project, knowhow, and joining together with likeminded, hardworking visionaries – who just happen to be good friends.

Cory tells us that the team at Sparkle Films is made up of a group of great minds. There’s Trev Howard, “He’s been my coach, and given me good pointers on business tips.” Trev is the man for storyboarding and script. Then there’s Cory’s longtime friend, Cyrus Polk, who is Sparkle Film’s cinematographer, editor and additional drone operator. Growing up, Cyrus was a skateboarding friend who also had a passion for photography and film. “He’s my right hand man,” says Cory.

 “We’ve been friends for more than a decade,” Cyrus chimes in. “Cory started this when I was in school in Utah. We joined forces, and we love what we’re doing.” In the future, Cyrus plans that they’ll just keep on growing. “We want to keep on entertaining everyone. And take it to the next step!”

“He’s a great asset,” says Cory. “I’ve got a great team. Collaborating goes a long way.”

And then there’s another hometown connection: Shannon Belnapp. Shannon helps Sparkle Films with marketing, social media and accounting. She was also one of Cory’s best buddies in high school. 

“One of my best friends!” he laughs now. “Then randomly we got together later – my whole life has changed!” 

Of course it has – they are now engaged to be married.

Cory smiles, “When you get together with your best friend, it’s the best thing in the world.” 

Truer words were never spoken.

A body of work

A big part of real estate promotions, and a big part of Sparkle Film’s work includes filming with drones, a thorny subject in Laguna Beach. Of course Cory has approached it in a legit way, having received a special certification, which incorporates training, guidance, rules and guidelines. His fiancée got her pilot’s license for remote pilot command, “So she could be my spotter,” he explains. “We need two sets of eyes.” Cyrus also serves as a drone operator.

The offices of Sparkle Films are right in downtown Laguna – jammed with equipment and desks overflowing with projects and production notes. There’s a bed on the floor for their other good buddy, Sheba. “She’s our little mascot,” Cory says with a scratch on the doggie’s ears.

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The crew busy at work at Sparkle Films, while Sheba takes it easy

Sparkle Films has been in business now for seven years. Their projects vary – from several films for the Festival of Arts and Sawdust Festival promotions, to commercials, to real estate corporate videos, and everything in between – from Laguna to LA. They’ve got multiple projects going on at once – generally five to six projects simultaneously.

“Every time we think it’s slowing down, it starts up again,” says Cory, grateful for his growing business. 

Cory’s dad, a long time Festival of Arts artist, originally advised his son to spread his wings into regions more friendly to a burgeoning film career. He said, don’t do it in Laguna, go to LA – but Cory followed his heart. He laughs because now his dad says, “You’re pretty much working in spite of me!”

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Cory filming and Cyrus operating a drone for aerial footage

At the ripe old age of thirty-something, Cory has gained film production wisdom gleaned from many years of experience. “After 3-400 videos your eyes open to a way to produce: a formula for each.” 

It’s a kind of alchemy.

A Festival film release

The latest Sparkle Films project is a follow up to one near and dear to the art heart of Laguna – the Festival of Arts. At first they did a film for the creation of the façade two years ago. The follow-up, just released, is a time lapsed video that covers the Festival ground’s yearlong transformation.

Since Cory’s dad has been a sculpture and painting artist at the FOA for more than 25 years, Cory felt the intimate connection to FOA as part of his roots. “It’s so interesting being a part of the progress and evolution – it is evolving.” 

Sparkle Films used aerial imagery, time lapsed footage, and even cameras mounted on the worker’s bodies, giving an in depth perspective of the whole process. The film encapsulates the immense effort and time required to complete the new and improved Festival grounds.

“It’s history unfolding before your eyes,” as Cory puts it. 

The film is the culmination of many perspectives. “It’s one of the best projects we’ve produced,” said Cory. “I’m so proud of it. It was a year long in the making.”

Without further ado, click here to view the FOA film:




The latest Sparkle Films project, one year in the making.

A future in features

Cory likes the storytelling part of filmmaking, and ideally he and the team would like to start making feature movies. 

“I have ideas for scripts for full-length movies we have in mind,” he says. “We hope to produce movie trailers and ways we can pitch to big distributors.”

Filmmaking techniques change rapidly in these times, and Sparkle Films is up for it. Digital is what’s taken it to the next level.

Cory says. “Everything is quicker – but it’s all about the story. Indy films, those are the things I’d like to do.

“Indy films are the best – ones that don’t always get seen. Everything is too fancy now. I like that old school feeling.”

A place that’s home

There’s no place like Laguna for Cory and Sparkle Films. 

“I went to Santa Barbara, to LA, but this is just a magical place,” he says.

He enjoys being in the town he grew up in – running into people he knows. On a bad day he likes to go jump in the ocean. 

“Being by the beach is just good for your soul. It’s home sweet home. Always will be.”

In his free time, and even in not-free time, Cory enjoys the company of his fiancée, Shannon. They are what he calls simple people, “We like movies, we like to go to the beach, go hiking, …go the farmer’s market, do juice.”

Meanwhile, look for him with the crew, often at work around Laguna. They’re busy bringing to the screen those visions the rest of us can only dream about.

For more information about Sparkle Films, with some great footage of Laguna Beach, see their website: https://www.sparklefilms.net/

Gail Duncan: She took a long and winding road to get to The Art Hotel


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Although it was a long journey in both time and distance, the road Gail Duncan took eventually brought her to Laguna Beach. It’s not a path she would have chosen to take, but she is happy because it led her to The Art Hotel. 

Apparently, it wasn’t the trajectory Gail envisioned for herself as a young woman. She was born and raised in Detroit, MI, and once she graduated from college, imagined her career would be in the field of counseling. She’s passionate about bringing out the best in people and helping them identify what their gifts are (and aren’t). 

But her father, owner of one of the 104 largest Ford dealerships in the country, had different ideas. He wanted her to head the company. And she did, for over 30 years, starting in 1974. Back then, it was a male dominated culture, a difficult one to navigate, says Gail, “Women couldn’t even be members of the Lions Club or Rotary Club.” 

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Gail Duncan, from president of a car dealership to hotel proprietor

As president of the car dealership, she traveled extensively. “My favorite places are Sydney, the South of France, and Laguna,” she says. While staying at the Ritz Carlton during a Ford junket 17 years ago, she discovered Laguna. On a subsequent trip, and with no hotel experience (and having no idea that she would ever be in the business), she acquired the hotel, which at the time was called America’s Best Inn.

For the next eight years, Gail traveled back and forth from Detroit to Laguna. Then in January of 2009, she dropped the hotel franchise and renamed it, “The Art Hotel.”  Gail says, “Being in Laguna, I was surprised no one had chosen that name. The name draws a lot of artists.” And it attracts more than just artists. During the last Playhouse season when King of the Road was playing, the widow and children of Roger Miller stayed at the property. And she has artists from all over the world check in.

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Murals adorn exterior of The Art Hotel

Once on site (Gail lives on the property), she threw herself into redoing the hotel and being of service to the artist community and the city. From her travels, she knew what she wanted in a hotel experience, and she translated that into The Art Hotel. There are no extra fees, guests pay when they check-in and then turn in the keys when they leave. The prices are affordable and there is no charge for pets.  She reserves rooms 101-107 (out of the 28) for furry creatures. Gail says, “I don’t charge for children or pets.” 

Art exhibited in rooms

To assist in the exposure of artists, Gail transformed the sleeping rooms into what could only be described as private galleries, each featuring six pieces of work from an artist, and the artist’s information. “The artists receive 100 percent of the revenue from their work,” she says.

Both inside and out, the atmosphere of the hotel morphed into what it is today. On the hotel’s exterior, individual murals decorate the upstairs balconies (the first one is of Marilyn Monroe), and a long mural is painted on the left and above when entering the parking lot.

However, the most spectacular murals surround the pool. In September of 2014, award winning local artist Randy Morgan (it’s his mural on the Waterman’s Wall on the side of Hobie’s Surf Shop) came to repair one of the existing murals and suggested that was the pool area was the perfect place for another mural, one honoring Laguna’s history. 

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Main Beach Panorama mural by Randy Morgan (Seal Rock on right)

The bronzed stucco mural took more than a year to complete. Main Beach Panorama, which was dedicated in May 2016, depicts the Hotel Laguna, Main Beach lifeguard stand, Greeter Eiler Larsen, and as an homage to Gail’s father, replicas of cars from his collection (one being an Edsel). On the adjoining wall, Morgan later created Seal Rock, which honors the founders of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. These two murals combine to make Laguna Panorama.

Gail gives back to the community

In her service to others, Gail has devoted no less time and effort to the City of Laguna Beach than to the artistic community. Giving back isn’t new to Gail. She was active in the United Way and the Chamber of Commerce while living in Detroit. 

Shortly after arriving in Laguna, Gail started going to City Council meetings, and eventually became a member of the Housing and Human Services Committee and is now in her third term. She is also on the Development Committee for the Laguna Playhouse. Gail says, “We need people and a village to make us more powerful. You can’t do anything by yourself. Get your mind off yourself and be a blessing to others.”

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The Art Hotel, established in January 2009

In this vein, she’d like to mentor the next generation. “It’s all about legacy. I’d like to teach what I’ve learned at my age to 20-year-olds.”

Currently Gail’s passion is 211 OC, a one-call referral source for free and low cost services county-wide. As a proponent of this resource, she has succeeded in having it added to the Laguna Beach City website under Housing and Human Services.

Evolving atmosphere of The Art Hotel

It’s clear that Gail has changed the atmosphere of The Art Hotel, but in her service to the City of Laguna Beach, she has contributed to its quality as well. And she has more plans for the hotel next year. She’ll be hosting Art Walks and bringing in guest artists.  

When asked if she still travels, Gail says, “I love it here.” But during lulls in business, she travels to visit her two daughters and two grandchildren. 

Gail claims that her passion is finding and encouraging other people’s gifts, but in making the journey from president of a Ford dealership to self-taught proprietor of The Art Hotel, and dedicated servant to the community, it’s evident she has discovered her own gift. 

Gail says, “If you’re going to be here, be of use.” And she is living evidence of her mantra.

Keanu & Zen Mir-Scaer: Writing about riding waves


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If you want to find Keanu and Zen Mir-Scaer, a good place to look is at the beach. These 10 year-old twins are all about the water: skimboarding, surfing, stand up paddling -- you name it. If it’s in the water, they like doing it. In this way, they’re pretty typical Laguna kids.

A picture book about boarding

What sets them apart from their peers, at least at the ripe old age of ten, is their ambitious undertaking to write and self-publish a book about the sport they love the most: skimboarding.  Titled “Skim Stories: Riding Waves,” this children’s picture book details just what skimboarding is – in rhyme, no less. 

Zen explains that he and his brother were motivated by the questions they got repeatedly from bystanders while skimboarding. “People would always say, ‘Wow! That looks like so much fun. What is it? Surfing…?’ We’d tell them it was skimboarding. This happened so much we decided to write a book about it.” That was two years ago.

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Keanu and Zen Mir-Scaer, ten-year old competitive skimboarders and authors

Tenacity leads to a communal effort

Two years is practically an eternity for kids this age and yet they stuck with it. Their mom, Naz, is clearly a very important factor in this. A guiding force both in and out of the water, she seems to have struck a nice balance between prodding the boys forward and letting them step away from it when they needed a break. The project has grown beyond just the boys and their work, evolving into a truly communal project.

They have a graphic designer (Gabriella Kohr), a videographer (Skyler Wilson), and a photographer (Tyler Brooks) all committed to the project. Laguna residents Blair Conklin, world number one ranked skimboarder, and Paulo Prietto, former world champion skimboarder, have also gotten involved, offering their support and encouragement. Naz says, “To have the number one people in your sport take an interest truly drives a person to do their best.” 

Additionally, Rip Curl in Laguna will be hosting an Art Walk event for the project and the boys’ skimboard sponsor, Exile, has also been supportive of the boys’ efforts. “It became real,” explains Naz. “We didn’t want to let other people down.” 

A successful Kickstarter campaign

As the project became more “real”, Naz and the boys found they needed some extra resources so they started a Kickstarter campaign. Coincidentally, during our interview, they discovered they’d reached their fundraising goal of $2,000. The smiles on Naz and her sons’ faces spoke volumes about how much has gone into this project. 

The money means a lot, says Naz, because even though everyone involved agreed to give their time for free, now they can be paid. She says she and the boys feel really good about being able to compensate them. “It’s just right,” she says. 

Two years of writing and sketching, over and over

No one could have guessed the scope of the project when Zen and Keanu first sat down with this labor of love. It clearly helped that the project became a school project (both boys are home schooled). Nevertheless, it would have been so easy and, frankly, quite understandable if the book ended up being nothing more than a few pages sitting unfinished in a drawer. 

“Our first version was really, really different,” explains Keanu. They would work on it and put it away and then pick it up again when the mood struck. “As they became stronger writers, they’d look at what they did before and go, ‘What?! I wrote this!’” says Naz, while the boys nod in agreement. When asked what was the hardest part of the project both boys unanimously agree that it was both writing and now illustrating the same thing “over and over” until they were satisfied.

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Keanu catches a wave down at Oak St. on the first day of fall

The launch date looms

In the spring of this year, Naz says the writing portion was finally completed.

“Enough is enough. They’re only ten!” she says with a laugh. “We felt we could do the illustrations, but the form was the hardest part. Again, they’re ten so getting things like the shoulder blades and the dimensions right was really a challenge. But the feedback we got was that people liked the way they did it.” 

They’re under the gun to get it all finished so the book can launch before Thanksgiving. Then they can say it’s finally done.

With such looming deadlines, it’s important to note that neither Zen nor Keanu is tied to their chairs furiously fine-tuning their illustrations. The boys are still getting plenty of beach time. They have two skimboard competitions coming up so skim time is essential. 

Skimboarding is not only fun, it’s a good metaphor for life

The boys have been skimboarding for five years. They both remember their first competition well. “I got last in my first heat,” remembers Keanu with a laugh. Naz says she has preached the philosophy of tennis player Rafael Nadal. “He says he doesn’t worry so much about beating the other person, but just trying to be better than himself.” These kinds of lessons are good for all competitors, but especially twins who compete against one another. “I just want them to understand their unique style and focus on being their best as opposed to beating (their) brother.”

“One last good ride” is the family motto

These lessons are paying off. Keanu says after their first competition, “I just wanted to make it to the (medal) stand once.” Both boys have more than succeeded in that goal. More importantly, skimboarding, according to Naz, has taught the boys a very valuable lesson. “It’s not about how many times you fall, because you always fall when you skim. It’s about getting back up and continuing to try. When it’s time to go (home from the beach) we always say ‘One last good ride.’”

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Zen shows his stuff on his first ride of the day

Circumventing “no” is just another lesson learned

The same philosophy of keeping at it not only extends to the creating of the book, but to the publishing of it as well. Publishers and agents, while receptive, were not convinced of the book’s marketability. The boys remained undeterred and self-publishing became the way to get it done. The boys started an Instagram account titled “Skim Stories” to help market their efforts and then, later, their Kickstarter campaign. “Now they’re learning about the whole process,” says Naz enthusiastically.

Shining a light on an “underappreciated sport”

And readers of the book will get a full understanding of what skimboarding really is. “We wanted people to see it’s really people riding waves. It’s an underappreciated sport,” says Naz. The hope is that Keanu and Zen’s book will help change that. If nothing else, Keanu and Zen will have created and shared a lasting work of art they can be proud of. 

“I liked writing the book,” says Zen. “And doing the art was fun.” Keanu adds, summing up the creative process quite succinctly, “I think how easy it is and then also how hard it is to get it right.” The boys are already talking about their next project. “It’s a controversial subject right now,” laughs Naz. 

Whatever the boys decide to do next, one thing is certain: “Skim Stories: Riding Waves” is already a huge success, regardless of how many copies are sold. “This project is such a cool symbol of Laguna Beach. It brings together art and skimming, two things Laguna is really known for. It has all played out so beautifully,” says Naz.

Anneliese Schimmelpfennig, founder of Anneliese Schools: A belief, hard-earned, in things that endure


Photographs by Mary Hurlbut

There are few long-time Laguna residents who haven’t heard of Anneliese Schimmelpfennig. Or, at the very least, heard of her magical Anneliese Schools, which will celebrate their 50th anniversary next year. But her backstory is something most people may not know. She grew up in Germany, under the fog of war, enduring hardships even the strongest adults would find difficult to bear. Her childhood – both heartbreaking and heartwarming – motivates every aspect of her teaching and the philosophy behind her schools.

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Anneliese Schimmelpfennig, a woman with a kind heart after a difficult childhood

Born into a world at war

Anneliese knows what it means to suffer. Two weeks after her birth in 1939, the world went to war. Her father, a German officer in the military, was sent to a Russian gulag in Siberia. He would be gone for twelve years. Some of those years, no one knew if he was dead or alive. 

Her mother in Tussling (Tüßling), a small village in Bavaria near the Austrian border, began taking in refugees. Eleven people moved into their modest home, sharing what little food and space they could find. 

Then, in 1943, Anneliese’s mother made the brave and dangerous decision to harbor three Jewish people (and a cat) in their attic. They stayed for 18 months. “The cat couldn’t even say ‘meow,’” Anneliese says. 

Anneliese brought them whatever food she could – blueberries, oak nuts, apples, potatoes – still not old enough to fully appreciate the risk. When the Americans arrived in 1945, their guests began screaming. “Just screaming,” Anneliese says. “I didn’t understand. But now I know they thought they were caught.”

Growing up in the shadow of the camps

A concentration camp stood nearby in Mühldorf, less than five miles from Anneliese’s small village of Tussling. Mühldorf was a satellite camp of Dachau. As a young girl, Anneliese would steal apples and sneak them under the fence for the prisoners. When caught by the guards, she would act deaf or disoriented. “You had to be very smart,” she says. “It doesn’t help to be an intellectual if you don’t know life.”

 Reading people, and situations, is something she came to rely on very early.

“I saw the people going into the camp. I still remember the sound of the trains that brought them in, all those people looking out at me.” 

Liberated at last

In 1945, the war ended. Anneliese recalls Americans arriving in helicopters, bringing her bubblegum and white bread, delicacies she’d never known. “The Americans were really nice to children,” she says. “Some were only 19 years old, children themselves, and cried when they saw us.” They brought milk powder, and opened the restaurants to give out things to eat. 

“I thought then,” Anneliese says, “I will go to America and teach children to be peaceful. Always talk things out. I’ll teach them not to be nasty and crying and wimpy.”

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Anneliese creates magical and inspiring spaces, a contrast to her own upbringing

Her father’s own fight

At some point, Anneliese’s father escaped and walked his way to the Volga River. He made it, inexplicably, from Siberia to the Black Sea before he was caught, returned to the gulag, and given an additional five-year sentence for his crime. 

Anneliese speculates that the reason he wasn’t shot on the spot was because he had taught himself Russian, and the Russians took note. He would sing and dance for the officers, keeping them entertained. And so, against all odds, they let him live.

“This is why I teach the children so many languages,” Anneliese says. “Even if you only know the basics, and how to say a few things without an accent, it can save your life.” 

Her father’s happiest nights in captivity, he said, were spent in the pigpens. The guards would sometimes throw him in, forcing him to eat with the pigs. Little did they realize he considered this a treat. Pigs were fed potatoes and bits of meat, far better fare than his usual diet of stale bread. 

At night, the Russians drank vodka, ate bread spread with pig fat, got drunk and decided which German they would shoot that night. But he confused them by speaking Russian, and they liked him enough to keep him alive.

Anneliese was twelve the first time she met her father. By the time he came home, he was emotionally and physically spent. He didn’t speak for three days. His feet wrapped only in newspaper, his body starving and skinny. “He taught me to always have hope,” she says. “Even if he had such a sad life, he was never grouchy.”

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Anneliese’s father taught her optimism in the face of adversity

Battle of the books

As a child, Anneliese wasn’t allowed to read. Her mother burned books. She also didn’t allow Anneliese to attend high school, reasoning that school brought no money to the family. Worse yet, imagination and mental escape were dangerous. “Books opened a different world to you, and she didn’t want that,” Anneliese says. The same was true for toys, which also evoked ideas. Practical skills, like mathematics, were the only things of value in a country that had to build itself anew. “I made math problems in the dirt with a stick.”

This austere upbringing shaped the way Anneliese approached teaching, in both the elements she chose to retain and in those she adamantly rejected. “I don’t baby them,” she says. “It’s not good for them.”

 Anneliese considers herself strict with the children. Love, combined with self-discipline, is her governing philosophy. “It’s very hard on me to see children so spoiled here, and not appreciating what they have. They should be happy for every single thing.”

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Anneliese creates the childhood she never had for the children.

An enchanting education

The atmosphere of the Anneliese Schools is magical. And that magic is intentional. Antique furniture and Persian rugs, plenty of plants, art objects and paintings – the spaces look more museum than school. It’s a place out of time, more European than American, free from technology and full of natural beauty. Each campus is nestled in a magical environ around Laguna – the beauty of the beach, the serenity of the canyon, the history of Manzanita Drive.

Anneliese insists on a certain rigor and, within that rigor, she gives the children a lot of room for self-expression. Wooden toys, organic foods, eco-gardening, mud play, an emphasis on multilingualism are all non-negotiable elements of her philosophy. Children are given a wide range of responsibilities, and a deep sense of trust and love.

She also emphasizes etiquette, stressing respect for elders, animals, and each other. And she tries to protect the children from a culture of consumption. “It’s difficult for me here because things get wasted. At restaurants, things get wasted. It’s very hard to see.” This is the reason for the wooden toys. Anneliese believes in things that endure, and rejects buying the latest, greatest gadgets. Simple, basic wooden toys that stimulate a child’s imagination, this is something she believes in.

Around all her properties, you’ll encounter a lot of animals: goats, llamas, pigs, swans, chickens, rabbits, peacocks and a dog named Odie. The animals are both therapeutic and stimulating, and they provide children with another way to communicate with the natural world.

“People always ask when they come from a different school, ‘Is this a hippy school?’” Anneliese laughs. “It’s not. It’s a little freer. Children can make some decisions.” But as you can see, she tells me, she’s not a hippy.

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Anneliese in her Manzanita property with her dog, Odie.

A love (and need) for language

Language is, indeed, an integral part of the Anneliese School’s curriculum. Five native speakers teach Spanish, French, German, Italian and Japanese one day a week. Mathematics is taught primarily in German, as it makes more sense to the students. 

Anneliese speaks three or four languages herself. “English is my worst language,” she says. “It was forbidden in school, the language of the enemy.” It was a language she wouldn’t acquire until she came to the United States at 27 years old.

An optimistic outlook

Anneliese wants to leave her students with a sense of optimism and endurance. Her advice: be independent and take a little risk. “Always be kind and optimistic,” she says. “Negativity destroys you. Don’t ever give up.”

Never has a woman had to practice so much of what she preaches. Anneliese embodies that spirit of optimism and determination. And she will leave that legacy to generations of lucky children.

Leif Hanson and Steve Blue: Friends with a shared cause create the annual Night at The Ranch


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

It was volleyball that brought friends Leif Hanson and Steve Blue together, way back when they were kids at Thurston Middle School. Hanson arrived from El Morro Elementary, Blue from the since-closed Aliso Elementary. When their paths converged at Thurston, a friendship formed. “When we got to Thurston…well, we’ve just been friends ever since,” says Hanson.

Volleyball sparks a lifelong friendship

The two were teammates at Laguna Beach Volleyball Club and Laguna Beach High School, but as with most high school friendships, upon graduation the time came for them to part ways. Hanson headed off to the University of Hawaii and Blue to Stanford where their volleyball careers continued. 


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Leif Hanson, circa 1977 Laguna Beach (submitted photo) and Leif now (this photo by Mary Hurlbut)

Hanson’s volleyball career continued post-college as he played on the pro beach volleyball tour. Blue went a different direction, earning a Master’s degree from Northwestern that had him in Chicago for five years, then the Bay area, before eventually returning to Laguna 12 years ago, where they renewed their friendship. 

Looking for a cause

Surprisingly, that renewal turned out to be a boon for a local non-profit.  Around the time of Blue’s return to Laguna, Hanson says he was feeling compelled to get more connected with his hometown. “I had been looking around to do something. I wanted to get involved and give back,” explains Hanson. With so many great causes, Hanson nevertheless says it wasn’t hard for him to decide where to put his efforts.

Lengthy ties to Laguna and The Boys and Girls Club

“The Boys and Girls Club seemed a natural place. I went there a lot as a kid. It helped keep me off the streets, “ he adds with a laugh. The youngest of five to a single working mother, Hanson says when he was younger the Boys and Girls Club (The Club) provided supervision for him while his mom worked. When he got older, the Club became the place to hone his basketball skills. 

Blue also played basketball at the Club as a kid. Fortuitously, he was also interested in “doing something.” Having put on a large charity event for his company, Blue says he was looking for something more personal.  So when Hanson approached him, it was an easy sell. “I thought it was a great place to give back,” says Blue. “Until I went back and visited I didn’t realize how much the Club does for the kids it serves. It’s amazing,” he says.

Finding inspiration for a very “Laguna” event in Malibu

But what to do? Hanson says the idea for the event came to him when he saw a poster for a Boys and Girls Club event in Malibu. Ziggy Marley was playing at a fundraiser and Hanson thought the casual yet fun vibe would translate well to his hometown. “There they have a lot of celebrities. But in Laguna we know a lot of athletes and people just from growing up here,” he says. Blue jumped on board.

Dinner, music and a totally different vibe from other events

The Boys and Girls Club was enthusiastic about his idea, says Hanson. By the time he approached them it was pretty fleshed out: there would be dinner, “Something a lot more casual than (the Club’s biggest fundraiser held at) the Montage. I’d already discussed doing it with Mark Christy (of The Ranch). I thought we could do something – make it fun, have it be casual and at that beautiful location…all with the live music.”

Thus, Night at the Ranch benefitting the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach was born.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Leif Hanson and Steve Blue prep for their Night at The Ranch event

While totally on board, The Club cautioned they couldn’t really support Hanson and Blue’s event financially. “They told us ‘We will back you but we can’t give you any money.’” Undeterred, Blue says, “We just felt that a lot of locals would like it, the way we liked it.”

The first Night at the Ranch is deemed a success

Pulling from their volleyball roots, the first year of the event they chose to honor Rolf Engen, founder of the Laguna Beach Volleyball Club. “It was very athlete/volleyball centric,” says Hanson. Pato Banton provided the music. “It was a huge success,” says Hanson. The night brought in $70,000.

On year four, the commitment and enthusiasm is still strong

While undertaking such an event once is a big commitment, “once” was never an option for Hansen and Blue. “I did some research before I started this,” explains Hanson. “I talked to some friends who are really knowledgeable about this kind of thing. They counseled me that if I was going to get involved I needed to keep it going.” And he and Blue have. 

This is the event’s fourth year. Hanson says he figured he and Blue would run it for three to five years and then turn it over to someone else to chair. Surprisingly, “We haven’t thought about letting it go,” says Hanson. “It has been really enjoyable.” And beneficial for the Club. Blue says the event is now factored into the Boys and Girls Club annual budget. “We’re second in terms of their fundraising,” he adds proudly.

From $70,000 to $200,000: every year just more success

Through the years the two have incorporated what they’ve learned, streamlining the “business” of the event (it is, after all a fundraiser) to maximize the fun with the idea that people will want to come back. The strategy seems to be working. The event, deemed a huge success when it grossed $70,000, brought in $200,000 last year.  This year’s event, scheduled for Friday, September 22 at The Ranch, could sell out. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A group of kids enjoy the freedom at The Ranch at Laguna Beach

This year a potential milestone: a sell out

 “Our cap is 400 people,” explains Hanson. “We could be selling out which would be very exciting for us.” The English Beat is headlining. Beyond the dinner and the music, there is also a golf tournament (open to the first 36 players who sign up) for $75 and a post-party with local deejay Laura Buckle. The last day to buy tickets is Wednesday, September 20.

More meaningful than just writing a check, and a lot harder

Both men say they have relied on friends to help make this event the success it is. However, the bulk of the work still definitely falls on them. “The month before it gets difficult,” admits Hanson. “We’re both juggling a lot but we’ve gotten it figured out.” However, both men agree it’s much more rewarding than simply writing a check.

Inspired by gestures, large and small

“The best moment I have had doing this,” remembers Hanson, “is when (Laguna Beach resident) Peter Barker bid on (Laguna Beach local) Dain Blanton’s Olympic jersey. He bought it with the highest bid and then turned around and gave it to Dain’s mom who was in the audience.”

 “The idea is to have an unusual experience that you can’t find anywhere else,” explains Blue about the Night at the Ranch event. But as Hanson’s “best moment” shows, it’s really about people stepping up for other people – something Leif Hanson and Steve Blue have done in a very big way.

(For more information about the event and to purchase tickets, visit www.bgclagunabeach.org.)

Catherine Hall – Her model for retirement is service


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Just after sitting down with me, Catherine Hall, who is a past president of the Laguna Beach Garden Club, confesses she plants fake succulents to fill in the blank areas in her front yard planter box. A startling revelation from a prior recipient of The Club’s Gardener of the Year. I immediately like her. 

(She later admits, “I’m nothing if not pragmatic and it is the truth. They are mixed in with live plants where real ones simply would not thrive!”)

 “I am not sure what you are interested in, as my ‘life’ is not that interesting!” says Catherine. “I’m a serial volunteer and a ‘Nana.’” But after two and a half hours talking with her, I beg to differ. 

Catherine relocates to Laguna

No need to explain how she ended up in her role as “Nana” to two grandsons, her daughter took care of that. But how Catherine ended up in Laguna in 1996 to begin her life as a “serial volunteer,” was a result of her husband’s work. For two decades, they lived in Leucadia in North San Diego County in what she describes as her “dream house,” and she thought they’d never leave. She made the move on a five-year plan, determined they would go back to Leucadia.

But plans don’t always work out and here they are, twenty-one years later. And now her daughter and two grandsons live close, in Dana Point.

The relocation to Laguna presented an opportunity for a big change. Although at that point in her career, she wasn’t working full time, Catherine gave up consulting. She was in Engineering, and her last project was designing a three-dimensional graphic display system. 

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Catherine Hall, serial volunteer and Nana

So, Catherine and her husband came to Laguna and purchased a fixer-upper here in town. Yet after investing the time and energy into the remodel (which was her job for a while), she discovered, “Not having a work identity didn’t suit me.” 

She started joining things. “I just threw myself at it,” she says. One of her early dips into the volunteering pool was with the Garden Club. “It was the first organization I was committed to, and I decided that was it. I took a master gardening class and became a master gardener, but once I found the Assistance League, I was fully committed to them.” 

Catherine is still a member of the Garden Club. “I never miss the opportunity to volunteer as a docent at our spring garden tour. We meet monthly and our next garden tour is May 4, 2018. A very friendly group (gardeners are just the nicest people) that meets monthly and has lots of activities whether your thumb is green ornot.”

Finding her passion at The Assistance League 

In 1998,she joined the Assistance League, and that again evolved into more thanvolunteering. Although Catherine is no longer in a leadership position, until recently she served as vice-president of philanthropic programs and chair of their Early Intervention Program(EIP), and she is still a member. She was on the board until this past June.

The current president is Carrie Joyce and the current director of the Early Intervention Program is Marilyn Coll, both local ladies. Living in Laguna is not a membership requirement, however.

“I was fully committed to their service programs,” Catherine says. “I especially love the EIP.”

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Volunteer working with mom and twins at Early Intervention Program

In existence since 1976, the EIP of Laguna Beach is a collaborative program with Assistance League of Laguna Beach and the Intervention Center for Early Childhood. It is designed to provide group-based therapy for developmentally delayed infants from birth to one year. 

Catherine says, “We received the Community Partner Spotlight Award in 2017 from the Down Syndrome Association of Orange County. This was an acknowledgment of our long-term commitment to serving the Down Syndrome community through our Early Intervention Program.” 

EIP is just one of the AL’s many programs, as I find out. 

“If there is a need that someone is not addressing, they try to fill that need,” Catherine says. “They do a lot, but quietly.” 

A busy and rewarding time

Since 1975, the Assistance League has been donating funds for Laguna Beach High School scholarships.  Catherine says, “Last year we gave $35K to graduating seniors at LBHS. In 2016 we gave $25K and we gave an additional $10K in 2017.” 

At the LBHS Scholarship Foundation reception for donors in June, Assistance League received the Outstanding Service Award, which Catherine was on hand to help accept the award for.

“Last year was busy,” Catherine says, “and I’m embracing the breaks.” During August, the EIP closes, so it’s given her a breather.

During this lull, she and her husband went to Pebble Beach for the Concours d’Elegance (a gathering of prestigious cars). They go every couple of years. And apparently, you can take the woman away from the “service,” but you can’t take the “service” out of the woman. Catherine volunteered to work at the event to help a friend who is involved in a charity that benefits from the Concours. 

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Catherine designed her beautiful backyard

“The Carmel-By-The-Sea Youth Center provides volunteers for the Pro-Am Golf Tournament and for the Concours. In return, these events donate to the CYC,” Catherine says. “It is a wonderful way to donate some time and enjoy the events. Check out their website for more information. It is also a great model for hosting big events with volunteers. From shuttle drivers to concessions to planning support, many talents are needed.”

Even with so much of her time devoted to service, Catherine manages to have some fun and relax. She and her husband (who is not fully retired) enjoy going to their cabin in Lake Arrowhead, where she likes to kayak on the lake in the early morning hours. In June, they were there to celebrate the end of high school with two nieces and a nephew, who will soon be leaving for college.

Time for summer fun

She especially loves spending time with her daughter and two grandsons, who are four and eleven. The summer included a trip to Disneyland, Legoland, and a visit to Universal Studios (mostly for the Harry Potter attraction, her older grandson just read two of the books, and the trip was his reward), and then to City Walk, where she watched them skydive indoors at I FLY. 

Aside from all the fun she’s having with her grandsons, Catherine says, “My model for retirement is service. I want to make the world a little better in every way I can. We need a lot of that now.” 

Between the volunteering, which doesn’t at all appear to be “serial,” and her role as “Nana” (which requires a substantial amount of service), Catherine’s life doesn’t sound anything like retirement. And it is an impressive model, to say the least.

Kelly Boyd: Part of a remarkable Laguna legacy

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Boyd is a third generation Lagunan. Not many people can claim that. He has been here his whole life, minus a stint in Vietnam. “I was there in ’66 for a year and then came back.” Leaving Laguna was never something he contemplated. “Our family has been here since 1871,” he says simply. “It’s home.”

A commitment to “Laguna Beach of Early Days”

To honor his family’s history, Boyd recently re-published a book that his grandfather, J.S. Thurston, wrote back in 1947, “Laguna Beach of Early Days.” It took Boyd two and a half years to get this labor of love back out in circulation, but he did it. 

“He (J.S. Thurston) was a farmer in his 70’s when he wrote that. Ben Brown’s was his first settlement.” The book, according to a blurb from The History Press, tells of Thurston’s  “personal account of growing up in Laguna and presents an intimate look at the settler’s hardships, relationships and perseverance.” Boyd’s connection to this town is long, and it is also deep.

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City council member Kelly Boyd relaxes at his home in Laguna Beach

Making sure the Marine Room stayed in good hands

He is on the final year of his fourth term serving on the city council (the first term was back in 1978-82) the other three have been consecutive. During his third term in office Boyd was diagnosed with bone cancer. “My oncologist told me, ‘Right now, you don’t really need to worry about things.’” In other words, eliminate what stress you can.

So Boyd, who had owned the Marine Room in downtown Laguna since 1987, decided to sell it in 2012. “I decided it’s time; it’s time to sell. I approached Chris Keller because he’s a local guy. He has had it ever since, and he’s a great guy.” 

As for his city council duties, Boyd stayed on. “I’m sure there were some people who were hoping I’d resign,” he says with a laugh. But Boyd fought through his treatment and is now feeling strong (his cancer is in remission).  

All good things must come to an end, even public service

Nevertheless, when his term ends, he says he’s not running again. “I’ve enjoyed being on the council. Eleven years…it’s at the point of burnout.” He and his wife, Michelle, bought a second home in the desert. Boyd says he’s looking forward to spending more time there, without the need to rush back for a meeting or other city business. 

In 70 years, Laguna has changed…a lot

And while he may seek some well-deserved down time in the desert, rest assured he will come back, even if the Laguna he comes back to is vastly different from the one of his youth. With 70+ years under his belt living in the same place, one can forgive Boyd if he looks back fondly on the good old days and a bit skeptically at the present ones. “I think it (Laguna) has changed a lot and not necessarily in a good way, in my opinion,” he says. 

Changes outside the city greatly impact things inside the city 

The things that irk Boyd are pretty much the things that irk all of us: traffic, high housing prices, empty storefronts. It’s just that while some of us may remember when there was less traffic, Boyd can remember a time when there was no real traffic to speak of. 

Back in the day, Boyd says when he and his brothers needed school clothes, it meant driving all the way to Santa Ana. “There was nothing out there but orange groves.” Over time, the orange groves gave way to tract homes. “What’s really affected the city is everything that’s been built up behind us.” And there is just nothing anyone can do about that.

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Some Boyd/Thurston family history (Boyd as a child, lower, far right)

Longevity can provide a different perspective on the City Council

Sometimes his long history with Laguna puts him at odds with his fellow council members. Take the Marine Life Protection Act, for example. A lifelong waterman (Boyd was the Jr. Surfing Champion 1957), Boyd is not a fan of the city’s fishing ban. 

“My brothers and I were fishermen. They’re taking the little guys like us and hurting us,” he says. The problem, as Boyd sees it, is with the boats hauling the big nets. He was the lone dissenting vote in opposition to the ban. “I’m the only one (on the council) who grew up here and knows the ocean. My problem is once the government takes control of something they never let it go. They’re probably never going to reopen these areas and to me that’s wrong.”

Laguna’s one middle school honors Boyd’s family legacy

But one can forgive Boyd if he at times can sound a bit cranky about the state of things. In his lifetime Laguna has grown from a sleepy art and beach community into a global vacation destination. He remembers when the elementary, middle and high school were all on Park Ave. It’s also worth noting his grandfather donated the land for Thurston Middle School and it was named in honor of his grandmother.

Some of the best parts of Laguna never change

And yet some of his favorite things remain the same. “I love the community. I love what it has stood for: the arts community, the Pageant, the Festival. I was in the Pageant when I was a kid – we all were. That was fun! Everybody was into it.” 

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Boyd and his wife Michelle will celebrate 35 years of marriage this month

A big thumbs up for the city’s management

He is also enthusiastic about how the city is being run. “In my opinion, John (Pietig, City Manager) has put together a great management team; the best I’ve seen in 11 years.” He credits Laura Farinella, Laguna’s Police Chief, for her handling of the protest two weeks ago. Apparently, another one is in the works for September. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says about the animus between groups today. “To me, it’s really scary. I don’t think it’s healthy. To quote Rodney King, ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’” he says with a shrug.

Boyd pleased that he’ll be the Mayor when his final term in office ends. “That’s how I want to go out,” he says. “I just hope that in 2018, an election year, Laguna remains civil. The turmoil in Washington DC is drifting to a local level. It’s not good.”

A year to celebrate impressive milestones

Why can’t we all get along, indeed. This a question Boyd will leave for others to solve. “It’s time to let other people, younger people be heard,” he says, As for him,  “I think I’m going to be glad to get out of here,” he says with a smile. He is celebrating 35 years of marriage to his wife, Michelle, this month, yet another thing for which he is grateful.

And that’s not the only celebration he has planned. He’s hosting a 55th class reunion at his house, “For those who can come. There aren’t a lot of us left,” he says with a laugh. 

Boyd’s longevity as a public servant puts him in a very elite group. Laguna is the better for his loyalty and service.

Victoria McGinnis: Living a life of symmetry

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

There is a symmetry to Victoria McGinnis’ life. With two homes and two careers, she seems to like things in pairs. But it goes even further than that. Her two careers, though seemingly different, are actually quite similar, at least the way McGinnis approaches them. She has found her place both on center stage as a performer and behind the scenes as an editor/director/producer. The performing part seems to have been pre-ordained; the other speaks to her resourcefulness.

A performer from the start

As a native New Yorker, McGinnis began performing with her father, a big band drummer and orchestra leader, at the age of three. “It was at the Riverboat Room, a posh supper club in the Empire State Building. He had given me the direction, ‘After you finish singing the song, I will gently squeeze your hand and that is your cue to leave the stage.’  Well, I finished the song, he squeezed my hand, but I made like I didn’t notice. He kept squeezing my hand. I looked up at him and he saw in my eyes the way I felt, how much I loved being there. He then turned to the audience and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have a bit of a problem, my daughter doesn’t want to get off stage!’ The audience roared! I loved it!” she recalls. The two began regularly performing as a duo when she was 16. 

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Victoria McGinnis, singer, editor, producer, director and Laguna Beach resident

A graduate of Fordham University, McGinnis studied theater. “I was always in front,” she explains. Center stage is someplace she feels very comfortable. Her introduction to the behind-the-scenes world arrived after she graduated.

Being nice wins her a ticket to the mailroom

 McGinnis says she took a job at a production company doing voice-overs. One day she got a strange request. “They asked me, ‘Can you sit in our mailroom and handle the mail?’ The mailroom person had quit.” Not jumping at the chance to sit in the mailroom, McGinnis says she reminded them she was their voice-over person. “Why did you ask me?” she remembers questioning. “They said, ‘Because you’re nice,’” she recalls with a hint of exasperation.

A poor candy selection is a motivator

Once in the mailroom, McGinnis says, “I was bored. They had a bad vending machine, bad candy. So I started researching vending machines.” She says she found machines that were better and cheaper. The office manager was all for it. 

In her enthusiasm for securing better snack food for herself and co-workers, McGinnis says she decided to take charge. “I sent out a global voice mail asking what kind of candy and stuff people wanted in the vending machines. It went to everyone, the head of the company…everyone. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed do that,” she says ruefully. The office manager was stricken. “She was telling me, ‘You can’t do that! You might get fired.’ I was scared to death!” remembers McGinnis. 

Her quest for better candy pays off

 Later that day, just like in the movies, she saw the head of the company heading her way. This, she assumed, was not going to be good. He approached her, “Are you Victoria in the mailroom?” She says she remembers feeling pretty confident that she was going to be fired on the spot. Instead, she recalls, “He shakes my hand and passes me a slip of paper with a big smile on his face and says, ‘I’ll take M&M’s.’“ After that people started hiring me as a production coordinator,” she says with a laugh.

Editing is an “aha moment”

She didn’t stay a production coordinator for long. An editor at the production company she worked for invited her to watch him edit one of his projects. “It was an ‘aha’ moment. Editing images together is so much like putting two notes together. I couldn’t get enough of it,” she says. In six months after watching and learning, she was hired as an editor. “I was with that company for four years,” she says. She has since added producer and director to her resume, in addition to editor.

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Victoria McGinnis in her element at GG’s Bistro

Victoria’s bicoastal aspirations began in 1997 when McGinnis came to Laguna Beach for the first time after her father passed away. Not only had she lost her father, she had lost the other half of her act. Obviously, it was a very emotional time. A friend, sensing McGinnis’ need to get out of New York, invited her to Laguna Beach.  “New Yorkers think southern California is all just LA,” laughs McGinnis. Her friend convinced her, “’It’s better than LA!’” 

Finding Laguna at the right time

On the drive home from John Wayne Airport, McGinnis says it was nighttime. They drove through the canyon, down Broadway where, ahead of her in the distance, she saw nothing but blackness. Questioning her friend about this strange phenomenon, she was told it was the ocean. “What?!” McGinnis says, recounting her surprise. “I didn’t realize it was right next to the ocean!” If timing is everything, then the timing was right for McGinnis to find Laguna. “It was an amazing week for me to find this town – so lovely, liberal and open.” So she started to seriously consider living here, as well as NYC.

In 2003 she made that a reality and got an apartment in town. She maintained that same apartment until she bought a home here two and a half years ago. She explains she used to divide her time seven months in New York and five months in Laguna. Since the home purchase, however, that ratio has shifted to favor more time in Laguna.  Her partner, Tori Johnston, is a 20-year Laguna resident originally from Scotland. “She had four daughters when I met her so now together we have four daughters. All Laguna Beach girls,” says McGinnis proudly.  

Putting down roots in Laguna inspires a desire to get involved

Since becoming a homeowner, McGinnis says a newfound desire to get more involved in the community promoted her and Johnston to become Board members of Chhahari, a local non-profit that runs an orphanage in Nepal. To hear McGinnis talk about the kids who reside there, whom she hasn’t met personally and only knows through the videos she edits from other people’s footage, is to hear a woman passionate about this cause. “I feel like I need to meet them,” she says emphatically. She and Johnston are looking to do just that in 2019. McGinnis proudly tells me their eldest daughter has already been there.

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Victoria McGinnis is an exceptional multi-tasker, singing and playing percussion

Laguna is becoming her own personal musical

For now, McGinnis is more than content to perform her standing Wednesday night gig at GG’s Bistro in addition to performing regularly at the Sawdust Festival, and other gigs around the southland. “I’ve been at the Sawdust a lot and I love it! There is such anonymity in New York. It can be very lonely. Here, in Laguna, it’s amazing for me. So many people walk by and wave. And at GG’s, with the great locals…There are nights where everybody’s singing ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’…It’s how I’ve wanted to live my life. You walk down the street and everybody’s singing.”

A father’s words ring true

Apparently, her father, who never visited the west coast, was right when he told her, “Dolly, (he called her Dolly) you belong in southern California. You love the sunshine. That’s where you should be.” And while she is by no means relinquishing her New York ties, she says now home is where her house and family are. “I feel like I’m finally a local. I feel like I’m really settling, really enjoying things.”

CNN selected Ryan Hickman, featured in August 15 edition, as one of their five Young Wonders—“youth making a positive impact on their communities.” Congratulations from all of us at Stu News Laguna, Ryan!

Kid Crusader:

Eight-year-old Ryan Hickman’s Trash for Cash campaign benefits PMMC to the tune of thousands


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Eight-year old Ryan Hickman entered the world wanting to make it better. From the time he was tiny, he was obsessed with trash – collecting it, sorting it, recycling it, and using large portions of his proceeds to give back. His cause of choice is the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC). In just over a year, he’s donated nearly $5,000 for the care and treatment of the seals, sea lions and elephant seals rescued by the PMMC.

“Ryan’s enthusiasm and commitment to recycling is remarkable,” says Michele Hunter, the Director of Animal Care at PMMC. “He’s like a star. Every time he comes in, we all start shouting, ‘Ryan’s here! Ryan’s here!’”

At age three, Ryan accompanied his dad to the local recycling center to cash in some bottles and cans. That trip transformed his short life. The next day, he announced his plan to distribute bags to friends, family and neighbors, encouraging them to save their recyclables for him. Little did he know where it would lead.

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Ryan is passionate about recycling – and sea lions – luckily for PMMC

Ryan’s passion became infectious. He soon had everyone he knew – and many he didn’t yet know – contributing to his cause. Neighbors told their co-workers, teachers told their friends. Now Ryan has clients all over Orange County. He makes the rounds each week, collecting cans and bottles from businesses. He sorts, cleans, crushes, and packs them to make those regular trips to the recycling center. 

“There’s never a day when he doesn’t want to recycle,” says his mother, Andrea Hickman. “Even in the pouring rain.”

“Except holidays,” Ryan says. “I need to take holidays off.”

All that collecting has translated to more than 251,000 cans and bottles, or 56,000 pounds of recycling. Recently he broke his own record for a single trip to the center, earning a whopping $542. It pays to recycle.

Student as teacher

“Before I met Ryan,” says Andrea, “I didn’t know anything about recycling. Now we just installed solar panels in our home. That’s all because of what Ryan has taught me.” 

Ryan recognized all that trash was ending up in our ocean, threatening the environment and endangering the marine life. And if there’s one thing Ryan loves next to garbage trucks and recycling, it’s animals. So he’s taken his message across the globe, encouraging kids just like him to protect the planet, letting them know – no matter how young or how small – they can make a difference.

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“Whenever he comes in, we all start chanting “Ryan’s here! Ryan’s here!’”

Ryan receives letters, messages and phone calls from around the world. He recently Skyped with students in Bali. They asked him all kinds of questions about recycling—how and where and why—curious about his passion. 

When Ryan and his family visited Belize earlier this year, he was recognized by the locals. A celebrity was in their midst. He was struck by how far Belize has to go in their trash collecting efforts. “If we spent a month there, just cleaning their streets,” says Andrea, “We could have made a real difference.”

So in addition to the money he makes from recycling, he began offering “Ryan’s Recycling” t-shirts for $13. All profits go straight to the PMMC, which he visits every chance he gets (and takes care of his bins, collecting their recycling while he’s there).

“Ryan’s story shows that a little kindness goes a long way,” says Hunter. “You can make a real difference in the world at a very young age.”

We are the world

Above Ryan’s bed hangs a map of the world, filled with colorful pushpins. Every pin represents a place in the world that’s contacted Ryan for a t-shirt. There’s a special breakout map of the United States in the upper corner because there are too many pins for the size of the map. “We’re big in Asia,” says Andrea. “And Europe.” The map bears that out. Europe and Asia are indeed running out of room. 

Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Australia, Pakistan – they’ve all heard about Ryan and his recycling crusade. There’s even one pin stuck in the center of the Pacific Ocean. It’s from a ship stationed out there, whose crew found Ryan and ordered his t-shirts, so he packed them up and shipped them off to the middle of the ocean. 

The map is not only a great lesson in world geography, it’s also a wonderful way to connect Ryan to the planet he’s trying – bottle by bottle – to save. 

As we talk in the living room, Andrea tells me they just got a video from Dubai.

“Where’s Dubai?” asks Ryan.

“In the middle east,” she tells him. “Near Saudi Arabia.”

Not content with his mother’s lack of specificity, Ryan runs to his room to look at his map. “I gotta know,” he says. “How do you spell it?” He returns to announce that Dubai is in the United Arab Emirates, and confirms there’s a pushpin to mark the spot.

Every pin means more money for the marine mammals at the PMMC. Ryan’s t-shirts translate to food, electricity, medicine and water. “All the things it takes to run the center and care for the animals,” says Hunter. To put it in perspective, he’s donated more than 10,000 pounds of fish to feed the mammals.

Ryan’s recycling goes viral

Sometime in 2016, Ryan’s story went viral. Ellen DeGeneres heard about Ryan and invited him on her show, donating $10,000 to his cause, along with a Ryan-sized trash truck he drives around his cul-de-sac collecting cans. (He’s a remarkably adept driver, and can parallel park better than most adults I know.)

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No job is too big or too small for Ryan’s recycling

He also received a new Dell laptop from Adrian Grenier, which happened to coincide with his birthday in July. Now he can keep track of his business.

Ryan has been profiled by hundreds of web sites, newspapers, and television and radio shows around the world, including CNN, Ryan Seacrest, Bill Handel, PBS, Good Morning America, and ABC World News. He’s had shout outs from Chelsea Clinton, George Takei, and Fabien Cousteau. Congressman Darrell Issa recently visited Ryan in his home. And the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Mayor and City Council of San Juan Capistrano all presented him with awards. 

Next month, the PMMC is honoring Ryan at a gala event for his contributions. “I bought a special shirt with whales on it,” he tells me.

Saving for the future

“Ryan is a saver,” says Andrea. “He doesn’t want to spend a single penny when it can be saved.” Every aluminum can earns him a nickel. Bottles are more. But, he warns, be careful about wine bottles. The recycling centers have too many and they take up too much room, so you’re not going to get as much for them.

How much has he managed to save in his short life? More than $25,000. That’s quite a college fund. “No,” he tells me. “I’m saving to buy a trash truck.” The one he covets is $120,000. Save he must. But he’s well on his way. 

“We’ll talk about that,” says Andrea, winking over at me. “I don’t know what the HOA will say.” 

A head for trash

Even without the real thing, Ryan has a good start with an impressive collection of 18 toy trash trucks around the house. They’re stacked in his closet. He rolls them across the living room floor. “He was just born loving trash trucks,” Andrea says. “All the local drivers know Ryan. They’ll pretend to pick up the wrong can and Ryan goes wild, yelling at them to stop. It’s really cute.”

Ryan also supervises Mr. Jose, the custodian at his school. “He calls me his boss,” says Ryan. “I help him clean the campus, and I get to ride in his golf cart.”

His business has earned him entry into the CarbonLITE and RePlanet Processing facilities tours. There he’s learned how recycling really happens, from start to finish. The process is overwhelming and impressive. His website tells the tale through photos and videos.

What else does he love? SpongeBob, fidget spinners, math (“I like counting money!”), and frogs. Ryan’s room is filled with frogs. Stuffed, plastic, figurines, rugs, sheets, pictures and pajamas. None of them living pets, at least that I noticed. But they represent his favorite color—green.

Planning ahead

I ask Ryan what he wants to do when he’s older. 

“Run your own company?” offers his mom. 

“Drive a trash truck,” he tells her. 

“How about owning the trash company?” she says. 

He looks at her. Apparently there’s more to talk about. But they have time.

In the meantime, Ryan’s entrepreneurial spirit is saving the lives of countless marine mammals here in Laguna Beach. The little man has a plan, and it’s paying big dividends for both our town and our planet.

Kermit the Frog used to lament, “It’s not easy being green.” Not only is it easy it’s fun – and profitable.

To read more about Ryan’s story, purchase a t-shirt, or donate your recyclables to his cause, visit Ryan’s website at www.ryansrecycling.com.

Jason Allemann, new principal of LBHS, can’t wait for the 2017/18 school year to kick off 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

New principal of Laguna Beach High School Jason Allemann plans to participate in classroom and athletic activities, roam the campus at recess, and generally be a visible presence during as well as before and after the school day. 

Yes, he’s dedicated to developing long-term strategies to improve communications between and among school staff, teachers and parents and the Laguna Beach community. 

Yes, he wants to encourage a positive and non-discriminatory attitude on campus and to celebrate academic and athletic achievements. 

Yes, he knows that time spent on administrative tasks is vital in the smooth running of an educational institution. 

But Allemann is not going to be confined to his office while working on those aspects of his job.

“Does a football coach leave the field when the game begins?” he asked rhetorically as we sit in his office discussing the challenges inherent in heading up a high school in these turbulent, social-media-dominated and sometimes, sadly, drug-addled times. 

“No. He’s on the field, encouraging players, cheering them on, checking for problem areas, devising solutions, seeing what’s going on in real time,” he said. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

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Jason Allemann in his element on the LBHS school campus

Sports analogies come naturally to Allemann, who grew up in Dana Point and most recently was principal of Dana Hills High. He and his family have always been active in athletics, and he counts himself lucky that his three kids are each interested in different sports: daughter Avery, 15, loves volleyball; Caroline 12, enjoys tennis; and son James, also 12, is an avid footballer – Allemann coaches his team – and the entire family, including wife Kristin, a special-ed teacher, enjoy a range of ocean sports.

But it is education that is Allemann’s true passion, though he admits he didn’t spend his youth dreaming about becoming a high school principal.

“Kids don’t, do they?” he said. “It’s not exactly a glamorous job. They dream about becoming police officers or fire fighters or maybe rock stars. But no, it was a winding road that brought me to this place.”

Before I followed up on Allemann’s winding path, I asked him if, as a kid, he had indeed nurtured a passion for a particular career.

Allemann, who has a breezy charm, and whose optimism about the world – not to mention his new job – is quite contagious, turned serious.

“For a while as a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. But people said to me, why would you want to do that? That takes so much work. It takes forever to finish your education. And partly for those reasons I didn’t pursue that.” 

Allemann rolled his Fidget Cube – a gag gift meant to acknowledge his restless desire to be on top of every aspect of his job – between his finger and thumb. “It’s my hope that every student in this high school is encouraged to pursue whatever his or her dreams are, no matter how challenging.”

Yet, he assured me, his enthusiasm palpable, “Doesn’t mean that I wish I had become a doctor. I love what I’m doing now. I’m thrilled with this job and I’m especially excited to be in Laguna. I’m looking forward to understanding the culture here more deeply and becoming involved with the community on every level.”

Jason Allemann

Allemann graduated with a major in Psychology from San Diego State University. Later he would go on to earn his Masters in Social Work at Cal State Long Beach, then a PhD in Educational Leadership at USC.

So, the winding road: “My senior year project at San Diego State addressed issues related to after-school care in the Mira Mesa area. I saw how parents arrived to pick up their elementary school kids, worn out after an exhausting day at work. 

“I talked to a few dads and they told me how much they would love to be able to just spend time kicking a ball around with their kids once they got home, but instead they had to oversee homework,” he said. “They had to take on the role of taskmaster instead of being able to just have fun with their family.”

In response, Allemann devised an afterschool program that incorporated supervised homework and other seemingly minor but important changes that came about after discussing issues particular to working parents. He then approached other afterschool programs and helped them introduce similar programs.

“The parents were super happy,” he says. “That project, this job – it’s all about talking, and mostly listening, and being willing to try something new. Communicating with everyone involved.” 

Which is exactly the approach he plans to bring to his new role at LBHS. “I love the intimacy of this community,” he added. “I can’t wait to get to know more about Laguna and get involved.”

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Jason Allemann is Southern California born and bred

After graduating from SDSU, Allemann worked to help developmentally disabled adults with living skills. 

“We’d teach them how to handle basic but important tasks such as creating a grocery list, shopping at a store – what goes in the refrigerator and what doesn’t, for example, as simple as that,” he explained. “Our goal was to help them live independent lives. It was very rewarding to feel we were making a difference. It reinforced that small changes can have a huge impact.”

Later in his career, Allemann was employed as a school counselor helping kids with severe emotional diagnoses. Then counseling evolved into a job with administration and from there to becoming an assistant principal. 

Allemann served as principal at Katella High School in Anaheim for four years and most recently spent six years as the principal of Dana Hills High.

How transparent does he plan to be about the challenges that LBHS, like all high schools, face?

Allemann shrugged, clearly unfazed. “I see problems as learning opportunities,” he said. “I’m not going to be shy about addressing issues publicly and engaging the community in finding solutions, whether it’s racism or unintended discrimination or any other matter. There are problems in every industry. I’m lucky to have a range of resources at my fingertips.”

He paused a moment and then said, “You know, it’s a luxury to have this job, to work with kids. You never stop learning.”

At this point in the interview, the Fidget Cube was getting a workout. I could tell that Jason Allemann was ready to return to his computer to check his emails and get going on projects much more rewarding than talking about himself. 

Clearly, for him it was nearly game time and his inner coach was raring to get going.

I have a feeling that his energy, enthusiasm and insights are going to bring a whole new dimension to a high school that is already one of the finest in the country.

Tuesday September 5 the school year kicks off, and Jason Allemann is ready to roll.

Ron Pringle: Of service to the music and his community

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Ron Pringle says he was “never not making it happen,” at least in regards to his music. As the lead singer for reggae band World Anthem, Pringle, perhaps better known as Ron I, says he knew from an early age where his future lay. “I was always singing. At three years old I made the declaration that I would be a singer,” he says. 

While attending El Morro Elementary he met his best friend Nick Hernandez who, remarkably, is also a lead singer (for the band Common Sense). Both bands are Laguna Beach fixtures, but they have audiences well beyond Laguna Beach.

A progression from rock to reggae

Pringle started his first band Albatross in seventh grade. It was a rock band. As he got older, Pringle says his musical tastes widened. “I started getting into (bands like) Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse. It was a natural progression, coming from this area, living where I lived.” What he mentions, but does not detail, is a period of time where he exercised his wilder impulses. But those days are behind him.

A champion of sobriety

“I haven’t had a drink in 29 years,” he says matter-of-factly. As a devoted member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Pringle says, “My primary purpose is to stay sober.”  On the day he decided enough was enough, he remembers, “I had a moment of clarity. Nothing good happened until I gave up drinking.” 

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Ron Pringle, aka Ron I, singing with his band World Anthem

Now, he sees his life with a purpose beyond making music. “I work a lot in the community to help young men live the life they want to live without using drugs or alcohol.” He cherishes the “victories of people choosing life” and he truly mourns those who were unable to attain them.

Reggae is more than just music, it is a philosophy

It is clear Pringle is a man of deep thought and feelings. His immersion into reggae music is more than just an appreciation of its rhythms. He has whole-heartedly embraced its philosophies. “Reggae became one with my soul and spirit,” he explains passionately. “It became part of my DNA.” 

He credits the late Eric “Redz” Morton as having a big influence on him. Morton was one of the co-founders of the iconic Laguna band, the Rebel Rockers in the late 70’s. He died in 2013. “I honor him,” he says solemnly. For Pringle, reggae’s sense of community is particularly powerful. “The positive vibrations…there is no separation. That’s why it is ‘I’ and ‘I,’ not ‘me’ and ‘you’.”

Seeking information in a quest for freedom

When we met, Pringle joked that he was going to enjoy the interview process because it gave him a chance to talk about his favorite subject: himself.  However, that declaration could not have been further from the truth. 

Pringle, while not reluctant to talk about himself, was much more interested in discussing his thoughts on the Federal Reserve. It was not a direction I’d imagined our conversation going, but Pringle spoke eloquently about his distrust of that institution, its history and his version of its impact on the world.

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Ron Pringle and his cherry Skylark 

He is a student of a book titled “The Creature From Jekyll Island” by G. Edward Griffin. While some label this book a conspiracy theory others, like libertarian idealist Ron Paul, see it as “a superb analysis.” Pringle clearly agrees with the latter. “I encourage people to seek information. I want the truth and rights. It all comes down to freedom,” he says. 

Devoted to his message: love and unity

Despite his somewhat dark vision of geo-politics, Pringle says for him it’s all about love. “My message is one of love and unity. There is no problem in the world that more love on top of love and more love can’t overcome. It truly is the magic. And music is love. Togetherness and unity is love. Kindness is my religion.”

A passion for the waves and water

Pringle also holds a soulful connection with the ocean. “I will be in the water until my dying day, when I’m 140,” he says with a smile. “I spent my life skim boarding.” Listing off the giants of the sport who he would try and emulate when he was younger: Tex Haines, Chris Henderson, Kyle Treadway, Pringle says admiringly, “We learned from them.”  And getting older hasn’t dimmed his enthusiasm. “I’ve always been pushing the limits. The summer of my 50th birthday I tried to get the biggest waves I could,” he says proudly.

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Ron Pringle takes a moment at Blue Lagoon beach

Laguna is a good place to call home

With his love of music and the ocean Laguna is a pretty good place for Pringle to live with his family, something he is very much aware of.  “I love my life. I love Laguna. I love music. I’m so grateful. I’m grateful to be placed in this time and space in Laguna Beach. I’m just here to be of service. If anyone needs anything they can count on me to be of help.” 

And if anyone just wants to listen to some great music, World Anthem is here to service that need, as well. The Sandpiper, The Cliff, the Sawdust…on a given night you’re likely to find them someplace in our town, and Ron I will be there embracing the community that comes to hear the music.

Tristan Abel: a mixed media artist blurs the lines between art and life


Photographs by Mary Hurlbut

Tristan Abel’s art teems with passion and power, from his popular waves done on wood with colored pencils and ink, to the large guns, and ominous battleships. Yet he also paints giant roosters and diminutive watercolors, one of which combines bullets and flower blossoms. The pieces in his booth at The Sawdust Festival suggest a split personality. “I paint whatever comes into my head,” he says, smiling.

“Mixed media is a blending of fields,” he explains. “You see all the tools available, get an image or a feeling, and don’t be afraid to blur lines.” Tristan is also an illustrator, sculptor and woodcarver, and he combines all his talents in a stunning way, utilizing wood, colored pencils, oil, and more. One of his experimental pieces, an animal skull with horns painted on Masonite, then carved out in relief, results in a striking smooth versus painted texture. 

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Tristan working on underpainting of a battleship

And Tristan is certainly not afraid to blur the lines between art and life.

As a member of the well-known multigenerational Abel family in Laguna, Tristan comes from a long line of artists. He is the great-grandson of Carl Abel, a master woodcarver who came here in 1937 from Denmark, grandson of architect Chris, and son of Gregg, who owns an architectural design and construction firm, and is also a painter and woodcarver. His mother is an interior designer. 

“I always knew Laguna was a special place to live,” he says. “If you go anywhere away from Laguna on vacation, and come back, even though you were somewhere beautiful, you come home to something beautiful. It’s just a treasure to live here and to be surrounded by art all the time.” One of his fondest memories is going to Hapi Sushi for frequent lunches with his father and grandfather.

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Tristan Abel, painter, illustrator, sculptor, woodcarver

At fourteen, Tristan started working at his dad’s construction firm. “Working with my dad was time well spent,” he says.  “He always emphasized hard work.” And Tristan hasn’t stopped. He’s the embodiment of movement, he’s never still, it seems, and he puts quite a lot into the mix. Not only is this his third year at The Sawdust Festival, he is a senior at LCAD, works for his father’s construction company (he has three sites going on now), and is husband to his wife Sarah. 

He will complete his BFA the end of this year in Painting and Drawing with an emphasis on sculpture, and has endless compliments for LCAD. “I fought going to school for a while, but I love it. I learn something new each class. It’s all classical,” he says, “the way the old masters learned, figure and life drawing. The teachers are so good.” His sister Lea, also an artist, graduated from LCAD, and coincidentally, the building was designed by his grandfather Chris.

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Completed battleship

Not surprisingly, since art and creativity run in his family, Tristan has always been interested in art. “I remember sitting on the floor of my dad’s architectural office, and drawing on Xerox paper with ink pens for hours. My parents always encouraged me, and from grades one through four, I attended the Community Learning Center, an alternative school that focused on creativity.”

 Tristan is the fifth-generation woodcarver in his family, starting with his great-great-grandfather in Denmark who taught his great-grandfather, then it was passed down to his great-uncle, and his father. And to carry on the family legacy, at age eight, his dad taught him to carve on mahogany and oak, and Tristan still uses his great-grandfather and great-uncle’s tools in his work and to do traditional wood carvings for his dad’s Bungalow and Craftsman style projects. 

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Tristan and Sarah anticipating new journey, parenthood

And Tristan has a new project – one he is over the moon about. He and Sarah, who he describes as his best friend, are expecting a baby in December, conveniently two days after he graduates from LCAD, and he can’t wait to be a father. “I’m so happy to be starting a family with my wife Sarah.”  On Valentine’s Day, they were married under the Pepper Tree in front of City Hall. Sarah, who he met at a friend’s birthday here in town, is a pre-school teacher at Newport Coast Child Development Preschool.  

“Now that we’ve found out we’re going to have a baby, it seems like the most important thing in the world,” he says. “I want to give my kid everything, the safety and nurturing, that my parents gave me. Even with my art, I have a whole new drive, a new purpose.”

Tristan in rare moment of repose, contemplating art, life, and fatherhood

However, Laguna may lose Tristan and Sarah next year (for a while anyway).  They plan to go to Omaha, NE, where Sarah is from and where her family still lives. “Omaha has a good art scene and art museums,” he says. “And maybe we’ll go back and forth between there and Laguna.” 

Time for Tristan to get back to his construction project. I ask if he ever takes wood from the sites to recycle or carve and use in his art, and he points out an incredible bench and counter top in his booth, a redwood tree cut down from a construction site, a beautiful and perfect example of blurring life and art.

Scott Tenney and Mariella Simon: The “parents” of Bluebird Canyon Farms


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Remember when you could stroll down the road to the local farm on a warm summer evening and pick up some fresh, ripe tomatoes for dinner, and maybe some of their own batched honey? Me neither. 

Well, now you can. And a whole new generation will grow up in Laguna Beach with that kind of locally produced farm-fresh food available just a stone’s throw down the road. Welcome to Bluebird Canyon Farms, a place that requires the same loving care as a baby, and is the brainchild of Scott Tenney and Mariella Simon.

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Mariella Simon and Scott Tenney

It began in a garden

Scott and Mariella met, appropriately enough, while Scott was putting in a garden for Mariella’s neighbor. Twenty-five years and two children later, the pair have a made a home and farm in Laguna Beach. Their sons, Liam (a student at Chapman University) and Sam (in San Diego studying to be a paramedic) may be grown up, but the farm is the baby of the family, and requires constant tending. Often the whole family pitches in to lend a hand, along with full-time staff including Farmer Leo (aka Ryan Goldsmith) who farms the market garden which provisions the weekly downtown Farmer’s Market, Kathy Tanaka who handles education and artist programs, communication and product development, and a whole bevy of volunteers. 

It takes a village.

A garden, and beyond

“We love nature. We grew up in nature. We always had our hands in the soil,” says Scott, who grew up in a rural part of New Jersey. 

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Bluebird Canyon Farms’ fresh ripe tomatoes

Seven years ago, the couple drove by a plot of almost 15 acres that was for sale in Bluebird Canyon. “We drove by and saw the ad – it was not for the faint of heart,” Scott laughs. Mariella, who grew up near the Alps in Germany agrees, “Scott and I looked at it and thought it would be an amazing garden – we were very naïve!”

It was a rust bucket of hilly land; no roads, no connection to sewerage, no retaining walls. But it was affordable. Mariella, a laboratory scientist (she just received her PhD in mitochondrial research), said they walked the property on the weekends and found above ground water pipes broken and electric lines just strung about. “It was in horrible shape,” she said. Scott reflects, “We knew what we were in for!”

It took four years to wrestle the land into workable and sustainable shape. But it wasn’t just for the growing of organic fruits and vegetables, bees and honey production. They had Big Plans.

“We wanted to share that love of land, and local food,” says Scott. “I hoped we’d grow and share food – and share knowledge.”

As stated on their website (www.bluebirdcanyonfarms.com), “Bluebird Canyon Farms strives to be a community resource and to be recognized as a model of sustainable urban living.”

Growing fruits, veggies and skills

The farm vision includes not just the delicious and organic. The community resource part that Scott and Mariella are passionate about also includes education, science, and art. One aspect of that is their Growing Skills program – a program to educate and train the next generation in the multi-faceted world of farming. The Growing Skills concept is geared toward youth and individuals with developmental challenges so that they can learn about sustainable agriculture and about working together as a team. 

In his science-y way (he is an engineer, after all), Scott explains running a farm like this: “It’s a rich sync of technical and non-technical labor demand. It’s a perfect place to provide hands-on training. You solve electrical issues, plumbing, irrigation, soils technology…” 

Yes, farm work isn’t easy, or one-dimensional. 

Growing Skills is a program that Scott and Mariella would like to see including educators and perhaps non-profit grants in order to oversee and track each participant’s success. For these young people, it’s ultimately about learning technical skills, working as a team, and building a relationship with the land. 

“There’s a hunger, yet lack of training that kids have now,” said Scott. He’s envisions a bountiful future with the program.

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Some of the farm products including their own honey, and herbal salt scrubs 

Another important focus at Bluebird Canyon Farms’ is community outreach including their co-op market, an ongoing lecture series, cooking and gardening classes, and featured artists and art programs. In the next couple of weeks, for example, there’s the Gourmet Gardener Cooking Class, Brunch with Sue Bibee, a Robust August Farm Dinner, and Artist Paint Day. (More information, sign ups, and volunteer opportunities can be found on their website).

If you’ve wanted to get a glimpse inside the incredible goings on at the farm, stroll on down and check it out during their Farm Tours, usually offered on Thursday mornings.

Bluebird’s hippie past

Art is not only a present-day feature at Bluebird Canyon Farms, it’s in its DNA.  Before it fell into disrepair and was reincarnated by Scott and Mariella and their team, it was actually an artist’s colony like much of Laguna. This one was spearheaded by Roger Van De Vanter, a multi-media artist whose work is exhibited in collections worldwide, including the White House and the Guggenheim Museum. (He was also an original member of the Sawdust Festival, and created a style of multi-layered rubber sandals that was the inspiration behind the Rainbow Sandal Company).

Van De Vanter’s artist colony hosted merry gatherings including the likes of Ken Kesey, Jimi Hendrix, Sonny and Cher, and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.

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“Farmer Leo” getting produce ready for market

In those days, and certainly in the decades preceding them, there were ranches and farms scattered around Laguna. Today, Bluebird Canyon Farms stands alone as Laguna’s local operational farm. It represents a fresh, new link in the chain of Laguna’s rich history.

“We wanted to keep it in the Laguna spirit,” says Mariella. “Re-built in kind.”

A farm and a home by the sea

The connection to history, the connection to community, and the connection to native flora and fauna are paramount for Scott and Mariella as they progress at the farm. There’s a sense of respect for the past – to learn from it – so that it can be sustained into the future.

“You evolve; it’s the thread that runs through our lives,” says Scott. 

The farm nods to Laguna’s past with board and batten architectural elements, lending a cottage feel. But behind the scenes, the pair have scienced it up. 

“The site has a very sophisticated water system, cleans run-off before it is released, and there’s a solar electric system,” said Scott. “We minimize waste, compost everything that can be, use cistern conservation, and irrigation evaporative controls.”

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A view from the top at Bluebird Canyon Farms

Ultimately, the couple reflects on their farm’s soul: “We started slow and restored the site. We honored the buildings that were here. We honored the hippie past,” said Mariella. “It grew organically, with people and their talents. We just put it together.”

“We love nature, arts, science,” says Scott. Mariella, of course, concurs, “It’s sort of consistent!”

The farm, and Laguna, has become the home dreams are made of. “I wanted to be in a place that had a town, by the sea – neighbors with connection to each other,” Scott says. “It feels good.” 

It feels good to have you both here, too. Your baby, Bluebird Canyon Farms, is the local farm down the road we would all like to grow up with. May the baby grow up healthy and strong.


Adam Neeley: “Painting with gemstones”


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Adam Neeley and his dad set out on a road trip ten years ago. Their quest? To find the perfect spot for Neeley to open his jewelry design studio. He was 23 years old. The plan was for him and his dad to start in Carlsbad and drive all the way up the coast to San Francisco. They figured somewhere along the way they’d find the right place. The trip ended much sooner than planned. 

“When we got to Laguna I said, ‘I don’t need to go anywhere further,’” remembers Neeley. And he didn’t. He set up his eponymous gallery in north Laguna and, other than moving across the street, he has been there ever since. North Laguna is both his literal and figurative home.

His studio and the FOA offer two different clienteles

Arriving too late to enter the Festival of the Arts when he first arrived in Laguna, Neeley managed to do so the following year and has participated every year since, making this year his 10th. “The gallery is for more custom and couture pieces,” he says. “The Festival showcases pieces in my Design collection. It’s more for visitors and tourists.”  

The two sites provide crossover, despite their different focuses. “We get clients in the studio that we met at the Festival. They may start out with a $2,000 piece and then come to the studio for the next level.”

The “next-level” pieces are his couture pieces. They can be priced at more than $100,000 and are one of a kind, museum quality pieces. “They’re larger, on a grander scale, with rare stones. I push myself with the design. Sometimes I will have a stone in the safe for five to ten years before I come up with the right design.” It’s a long way from his silver and turquoise southwestern designs he hawked throughout the west during his middle and high school years.

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Adam Neeley, of Adam Neeley Fine Art Jewelry in Laguna Beach

A hobby becomes a profession early on

A Colorado native, Neeley says his father was a “rock-hound.” 

“We spent our weekends rock collecting. I’d find a crystal or a stone and I’d want to know what was inside. So I started hanging out at rock shops. I was doing this since I was ten years of age.” 

After a while, Neeley says he collected so many stones that his mother suggested he do something useful with them and make her some jewelry. “So I started silver-smithing at ten.” This is where the southwestern style evolved. “When I was 14 I entered my first art show in Telluride. I priced my pieces at $60 which seemed like a lot to a 14 year old kid. They were turquoise, smoky quartz…I sold out in two hours!” It was then that Neeley and his parents realized the hobby could actually become a profession.

“From then on, middle school through high school, I did art shows every weekend.” 

A focused and thorough education

Eventually, he moved away from his southwestern roots to develop his own unique style. Now, he says he prefers pieces that are “…clean, modern and asymmetrical,” but getting there was a process. First, he apprenticed in gold work in Colorado, then he moved to Carlsbad and attended the Gemological Institute of America, becoming a graduate gemologist. From there he attended Le Arti Orafe in Florence, Italy, one of Europe’s most prestigious gold-smithing institutions. 

After that he traveled to New York to refine his platinum-smithing skills and learn computer-aided design, then he returned to Carlsbad, ultimately landing in Laguna. They were busy and highly focused years. But there were difficult decisions along the way.

Finding the path that let him do it all

In the beginning of his career, Neeley says he wanted to be a designer for a big company, like Tiffany’s or Cartier. However, he also likes to craft individual pieces. Designers at these companies don’t get that opportunity very often. He also contemplated becoming a gemstone buyer. That job entails travel and spoke to his love of selecting the perfect gemstone.  

However, that career would not have fulfilled his love of design. So there was only one path that allowed him to do it all: his own studio. “Now what I do involves all the other aspects of these other careers: buying, cutting, designing.”

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Adam Neeley with one of his newest creations

His process is like “painting with gemstones”

As his design aesthetic developed, Neely found his signature style. “I draw a lot of inspiration from nature,” he explains. “The curves of a flower blossom or the colors of a sunset. I do a modern interpretation of those kinds of things. I like clean, fluid lines that showcase the gemstones.” One of his goals is that his pieces are recognizable as an “Adam Neeley piece.” 

“A lot of people get stuck in trends. I’m sensitive to trends, but want to keep my aesthetic.”  He sees his process as “painting with gemstones.” A particular favorite stone is tourmaline. It comes in so many colors,” he says enthusiastically. “I have these boxes filled with accent stones. I pour them out next to the main stone and see what harmonizes with it.”

A signature process: Spectra gold

Besides his “painting with gemstones” Neeley has also developed a gold that, according to his website is a “unique and time intensive alloy” called Spectra gold. It can never be poured into a mold and so must be crafted entirely by hand. When used, the Spectra gold piece starts out a vibrant gold color and gradually lightens to an almost white gold color.

“I love the effect of ombre,” says Neeley. “It creates movement.”

Awards for acclaim and motivation

This attention to detail and innovation has resulted in Neeley winning many awards for his jewelry pieces. When we spoke he was about to create a bracelet for a show he has already won twice. “It’s kind of like a Wonder Woman bracelet,” he says, describing the piece made up of yellow diamonds that fade to white diamonds, like the Spectra gold. “I’m excited to see what happens,” he says.  

The shows provide necessary publicity, especially when he wins. However, that’s not the only reason he enters them. “I like to personally push the envelope,” he says. 

A gallery in San Francisco is a work in progress

And that’s why he opened a gallery in San Francisco in 2012. Unfortunately, as is extremely common in San Francisco these days, his rent doubled. “We moved to a new location, but it wasn’t our cup of tea. We are in the process of looking for a new space,” he says. The San Francisco clientele offers exciting possibilities. 

“The city is so involved in dining and dressing up. People do dress for the red carpet. Sometimes, in Laguna we want it more casual. There (San Francisco) the more sparkle the better.” For a jeweler, it’s clear why the combination of the two locales is so appealing. 

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Adam Neeley at his studio at 352 N. Coast Highway

Aspiring to reach lofty heights in his field

Neeley’s ambitions don’t stop at the west coast. He’d like to expand to New York one day and grow his business, specifically his couture business. He mentions Wallace Chan and JAR (Joel Arthur Rosenthal) as designers whose careers he aspires to follow.

“I would hope to jump to their levels. Their pieces are incredibly dramatic and push the boundaries of what is technically possible. I would be very happy to be at that level.”  

As far as his couture collection goes, Neeley says he wondered, “If we build it will they come?” Apparently, the answer is “yes.”  Neeley says his couture pieces are selling “very well.” 

Jewelry as “wearable art”

Regardless of how far Neeley takes his creations, he will continue to push himself and his chosen medium of expression. “As far as design, I’m always looking to do something I’ve never done before. I encourage people to see jewelry as wearable art, like a sculpture.” 

To see Adam Neeley’s creations you can visit his studio at 352 N. Pacific Coast Highway or at the Festival of Arts through the summer.

Fate favors the fearless: Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laura Henkels


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Necessity isn’t just the mother of invention. It’s also the mother of reinvention. And Laura Henkels, Executive Director of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, has mastered the art of reinventing herself over and over again. Though some of her prior careers may not seem like natural stepping stones to her current role as director, every field she’s mastered has honed her skills, expanded her knowledge, perfected her approachable style, and made Laura the ideal fit for a very fun job.

Hair today, gone to work tomorrow

The year was 2011 and the country was still suffering under the effects of the recession. Laura, a single mother of two sons, had been laid off. Panic started to settle in.  A childhood friend worked as a hairdresser at Tiare Hair Design on Forest Avenue, and offered to do her hair. But fate had more than a great hairstyle in store for Laura that day. A woman sat next to her and overheard Laura’s story. “There’s a job opening at the Chamber of Commerce,” she said. “Come work with me.” 

Within days, Laura was the Marketing and Event Manager for the Chamber of Commerce. 

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Laura Henkels, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce

A year later, without even applying for the job, she was promoted to Executive Director. “I had no idea when they called me into the office that they were offering me the job,” she says. 

Laura had always worked in the private sector. “The traditional path would involve city or government background, experience with nonprofit organizations, or working with member-based groups,” says Laura. “But when I look back, everything I’d done had prepared me well for this job.”

Looking at Laura’s resume, filled with sales and marketing experience for newspapers, banks and businesses, it makes sense after all that she was prepared to be an effective Director for the Chamber of Commerce.  

Laura is a people person. Her ease with every kind of personality is remarkable. She’s a natural conversationalist, engaged and curious. She’ll chat with the homeless as easily as she’ll talk to the town’s mayor, business leaders, or the fire chief. Her skills cut across industries, subject matter, and time. 

“I started over at 50. Everything about this job is so different,” Laura says. “But I pick things up quickly. And I absolutely love what I do.”

She’s happy taking risks and trying new things. In a word, Laura is fearless. 

From philosophy to finance

The fearlessness started young. Laura put herself through college, working at Lake Tahoe as a blackjack dealer. Self-sufficiency is another theme that’s played throughout Laura’s life. “I’m really proud of that,” she says. She double majored in philosophy and political science, setting her sights on law school.  She credits those degrees with honing her critical thinking skills.

Shortly after college, while working in retail in the Bay area, she was recruited to Citibank, starting as a teller in a satellite branch out of a grocery store. “I was recruited right off of the retail sales floor at The Broadway…by a president of the bank,” says Laura. 

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Laura Henkels with Nia Evans, events & marketing manager – an awesome team

Within two years, she was one of the first females chosen by Citibank California to be licensed as a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) and, sponsored in earning both Series 7 and Series 63 licenses, qualified as a fully licensed Private Wealth Manager. 

From there, Laura was recruited by the Los Angeles Times to “work the wire-houses” in Manhattan and their agencies in order to make their business section profitable. Within a year, she was promoted to events manager for the Los Angeles Times and all of its national offices.

Laura never had to look for a job. She was sought after and recruited, again and again. Each time she took the challenge, leaving lucrative and stable careers in favor of trying something new.

History repeats itself

Laura’s love of local businesses, entrepreneurship, and adventure may have come naturally. Her grandfather was a partner in the oldest retail store in downtown Los Angeles, Dearden’s. 

In the 1940s, Laura’s grandfather, who spoke only Spanish, had a vision. He convinced his partner to cater their business to the Hispanic market. Seventy years ago, Latinos were not a target audience for retailers. But Dearden’s offered a sales staff that spoke Spanish, and an in-store credit program for their clients. They sold electronics, furniture and, more recently, cookware, watches, perfume and more. They weathered recessions, adapted to trends and market changes, and cultivated a culture of loyalty among their customers.

Dearden’s department store celebrated 108 years in business this year, making it one of the longest running institutions in L.A. Sadly, however, after suffering from the recent recession and crippled by competition in the online market, the store was forced to close its doors—and all eight branches—last week. 

Her grandfather’s legacy lives large in Laura’s mind. “Laguna Beach is unique,” she says. “There’s so much support from all the businesses and members. That support is critical because retail is tough.” Laura brings that respect for her grandfather’s model to her work. She laments how much business now goes either online or out of town, and sees the impact of those consumer decisions on our local shops.

Memory Lane intersects Laguna Canyon Road

Memories of her grandfather mingle with her earliest memories of Laguna Beach. Laura began coming to the town as a child in the 1960s. Her family had a house near Ben Brown’s. She has vivid memories of Laguna Canyon Road in the 1970s. “People sold stuff out of their vans—incense, rugs, macramé plant holders. It looked like the Sawdust Festival stretched down the street.” The town always drew artists, bohemians, hippies, and entrepreneurs. Some of those early years in Laguna still remain among her favorite memories. 

Santa’s chauffeur

Now Laura makes memories for her own children. One notable opportunity came a few years back, when Laura acted as driver for Santa Claus on Laguna’s annual Hospitality Night.  2013 was her first year as Events Manager at the Chamber, and she was tasked with transferring Santa to the firehouse. Her son, Dillon, was eight at the time and still a firm believer in all things Christmas. Clearly, his mom had the coolest gig in the world. She even let him bring his best friend along for the ride. 

“Santa pulled up in a Toyota Camry,” Laura recalls. “Dillon looked a little worried, wondering why Santa wasn’t in his sleigh. I told him Santa was trying to stay under the radar.” Dillon seemed to accept this, particularly because this man had to be the real deal. His beard was 100 percent authentic. 

“Dillon’s eyes were like saucers,” Laura says. “He couldn’t even speak. Then his friend asked, ‘What kind of job does your mom have?’ and Dillon told him, ‘She’s the lawyer in charge of Laguna.’”

Let’s face it. Laura’s cooler than any lawyer. Among other things, she’s Santa’s chauffeur.

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The Chamber works hard to inform residents and visitors about local businesses

The Chamber of Commerce is hard at work all year round. But there are a few notable events Laura encourages residents not to miss.

Small Business Saturday: Held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday encourages the community to “think local, be local, and buy local.” Businesses take to the sidewalks, offering special deals and promotions. Guests carry a passport, stamped by each business they visit. They can submit that passport into a raffle for prizes. Last year, that included a two-night stay at The Ranch.

State of the City: The annual State of the City luncheon takes place each spring at the Montage Resort. It gives attendees the opportunity to hear the city’s activities, including planning and infrastructure projects, customer service enhancements and the city’s financial condition.  It’s one of the most well attended events in town, bringing together citizens, non-profits, businesses, city council members and others.

Taste of Laguna: The event takes place in the fall on the Festival of Arts grounds. Thirty-five local restaurants participate, recreating their unique dining spaces in a beautiful environment, and allowing chefs to interact with the guests. “It feels like you’re a tourist in Italy, stumbling into this incredible night. It’s one of those experiences that stay in your mind the rest of your life,” says Laura. “It’s just that magical.”

A few of Laura’s favorite local businesses

Who better to ask about local shops and restaurants than the Director of the Chamber of Commerce? Laura agreed to share a few favorites:

With two teenage boys in her house, Laura can’t stay away from Hobie Surf Shop. “There’s always something in there for all three of us,” she says. 

Then there’s Buy Hand. Everything in Buy Hand is made—yes—by hand. From jewelry to home goods, pet bling to baby clothes, every piece is unique and one-of-a-kind. “A perfect shop for gifts,” says Laura. “I love that it’s owned by two sisters and features the work of local artists.” 

Laura is a self-proclaimed bibliophile. Her weekends are spent in libraries and bookstores. Laguna Beach Books, with its knowledgeable staff and on-point recommendations, topped her list of places she loves.

 Then there’s the farro salad dish at the Lumberyard. And the $10 lunches at Skyloft. The list goes on – far too long to print all her favorites here. 

Laguna is Laura’s kind of town

There’s something about Laguna. It’s energetic while it’s tranquil. It’s inspiring while it’s healing. It’s bold while it’s beautiful. It’s social and soulful, vibrant and peaceful, artistic and entrepreneurial. And it rewards the person who craves reinvention. Laura seems drawn to all those things. 

19th century poet James Russell Lowell once said, “Fate loves the fearless.” That rings true for Laura. It was fate, every time, that led her to something new. And fearlessness that allowed her to make the leap.

Joselyn and Todd Miller: Global Grins, and a gritty fight against a rare disease


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Todd and Joselyn Miller have deep roots in Laguna Beach. Joslyn’s great aunt built one of the first homes in Emerald Bay; her grandfather owned Village Liquor on Thirdand PCH; and her grandmother (on the other side) lived on 5tth Ave.  

Todd’s grandmother lived in Emerald Bay and his parents met on Emerald Bay beach in 1957. 

Now Joselyn and Todd are carrying on the family tradition of living in Laguna (Emerald Bay specifically), but it took a trip to distant lands for them to meet.

A Semester at Sea becomes a transformative event

“We were both at USC but didn’t know each other,” explains Joselyn. Both had signed up for the Semester at Sea program. “Sailing around the world will change your perspective,” says Todd. Now, many years out of college, he is still such an enthusiastic proponent of the program he serves on its Board of Directors. And the program continues to impact his outlook. 

Through his work with the Semester at Sea program Todd says, “I’ve met Desmond Tutu, Sandra Day O’Connor…” These introductions were the spark that ignited the couple’s desire to launch a non-profit.

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Todd and Joselyn Miller, Laguna Beach residents and founders of Global Grins

Simple and impactful translates into Global Grins

In 2010, with their two kids, both LBHS graduates, well on their way to adulthood, Joselyn says she and Todd had been really trying to come up with an idea for an impactful non-profit. “We knew we wanted to help people world-wide, but we didn’t know what we wanted to do,” she says.  Todd credits Joselyn with coming up with the idea that has since become their charity, Global Grins. 

Joselyn explains that they were inspired by the effectiveness of mosquito nets in the sense that providing mosquito nets is a simple, low-cost solution to the complex problem of preventing malaria. 

Thinking along these lines she came up with the idea to deliver toothbrushes to needy people. “We realized no one was doing this,“ Todd explains. “No one was just focusing on the toothbrush.”

More cellphones than toothbrushes

“There are more cell phones than toothbrushes in the world,” adds Joselyn, quoting a UN study. “Two billion people don’t have a toothbrush. There is a profound relationship between poor oral hygiene and all kinds of health problems: cancer, diabetes, stroke.” She brings out four carved sticks that resemble rustic unsharpened pencils and serve as toothbrushes in some parts of Africa. “These are what some people view as toothbrushes,” she says ruefully.

100 percetn of money raised goes to the mission

With their mission established, the Millers launched Global Grins with a kick-off fundraiser in Emerald Bay. The event raised approximately $35,000 that night. “The majority of people there that night were Laguna people and they have continued to support us,” says Todd. “It’s very rare, but with Global Grins 100 percent of the proceeds we raise goes to the cause. We are 100 percent volunteer-driven. 0 percent goes to salaries,” he says proudly.

A milestone is near: Almost one million toothbrushes delivered

The way it works is pretty simple. Volunteers make up their Delivery Squads. “Every day we get emails from people who want to take a free box on their travels,” explains Todd. “All we ask in return is a photo of the delivery.” 

The photos, explains Joselyn, are used in the group’s social media campaign. Because the toothbrushes are packed in a small, shoebox-sized box, they’re easy to travel with. Todd explains that often members of the Delivery Squad (and anyone can be part of the Delivery Squad) say that delivering the toothbrushes is often the most impactful and memorable part of their trip.

“For some, it’s a first time philanthropy for people. It provides them with a special emotional experience.”  

The formula is working. Seven years in and they are about to hit an impressive milestone: one million toothbrushes.

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The Millers with some happy toothbrush recipients in Los Angeles

At home and abroad, Global Grins has delivered toothbrushes

The Millers recently returned from New Zealand where Todd was playing a Masters event in volleyball. (His team won the National Adult Championships in 2015 and 2016 where he was voted All-American. He also played at USC.) They had planned on visiting a homeless shelter in Auckland to deliver some toothbrushes. Todd says he asked if any of his teammates were interested in going along. 

“Everyone said ‘yes’. Their wives came. It was so cool. Everyone helps everyone. Every city has a need.” Adds Joselyn, “From the Friendship Shelter and the youth shelter in our hometown to the most remote areas, we’ve delivered toothbrushes. A lot of times it’s the first time they’ve seen one. Every day I get photos (of the deliveries) and I say, ‘Wow, this is amazing. These people are beyond stoked to get a toothbrush!’”

From adventurer to adrenaline junkie

In addition to delivering toothbrushes and playing volleyball, New Zealand provided Joselyn with the opportunity to do some bungee jumping. While she says she has always been adventurous, she is now a full-fledged adrenaline junkie. The reason for her evolution? Coming out the other side of a two-year battle with two life-threatening illnesses undoubtedly has something to do with it.

Something was not right

In the spring of 2012, Joselyn says she knew something was not right. It took seeing 12 doctors before she was finally diagnosed with Shulman’s Syndrome. Never heard of it? That’s probably because there have only been 300 documented cases.  

While undergoing treatment for Shulman’s Syndrome, Joselyn developed aplastic anemia. Basically, her red blood cells failed. “I needed a blood transfusion every 48 hours,” she explains. After more than 100 transfusions, doctors’ decided they needed to do something else. A bone marrow transplant was ordered. Fortunately, Joselyn’s only brother was a match, something that happens only 25 percent of the time. 

A renewed commitment to her bucket list

Fortunately, Joselyn’s transfusion was a huge success, which isn’t always the case. “A lot of people die during the process or end up with a bad quality of life,” explains Todd. For Joselyn, she says she started feeling “normal” in 2014. “I just ran a couple of 5K’s and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do that,” she says. “My bucket list is a huge focus of my life.” 

And while Todd was with her every step of the way during her illness and recovery, he did not acquire her passion for things like bungee jumping and skydiving. “He had a very busy schedule when I went skydiving,” she says laughing.

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A Global Grins box, ready for distribution anywhere around the world

Advocating for “Be the Match” bone marrow registry

This life-altering saga presented the couple with another mission: Be the Match, a bone marrow registry. Because of Joselyn’s illness they have become huge advocates for bone marrow donations. In typical Miller-fashion, in 2014 the couple recruited more than 200 registrants during the Fourth of July festivities in Emerald Bay. 

“The City of Hope holds a big event and they don’t get 200 attendees,” say Todd proudly.  

From that registry they know first-hand of two people who have gone on to save lives with their bone marrow donation. Their son, Rex, was one. “He donated to save a man’s life in Italy,” says Todd beaming. 

Global Grins has impressive partners

Through it all, the couple has maintained their commitment to Global Grins. While Todd says he kept it “limping along” with Joselyn in the hospital for 100 days, once she returned home it started up again in full force. 

“I was quarantined. So I had nothing to do but get it going again,” she says with a laugh. And it is going. They have partnered with Semester at Sea (the students visit orphanages and deliver toothbrushes); the US military (on their humanitarian missions) the Peace Corps as well as local organizations. 

Recently, the group was awarded Organization of the Year by Operation School Bell, an LA-based philanthropy that provides at-risk and needy children new school clothes and supplies.

A blog, a book and the gift of a new attitude

Next up, Joselyn is turning her blog of her fight back to health into a book (joselynsbrawl.com). “It has gotten over 100,000 hits. If it helps people with health battles…” she says with a hopeful shrug. Todd adds, “It’s pretty powerful. I think it gives people who are battling some hope. They think ‘if she can do it, I can do it.’” And she certainly has done it. She beat the odds and has made a very conscious decision to make the most of it. “I’m glad it happened. So much good has come of it. This new attitude is a gift.”

For more information about Global Grins or to become part of the Delivery Squad go to globalgrins.com.

Toni Iseman: Five consecutive terms and still passionate about the City’s business


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach mayor Toni Iseman said she had “concerns” about the direction the city council was headed in 1998. So, when then mayor Bob Gentry called a meeting for some like-minded people to brainstorm for a candidate, Iseman was there and ready. “I didn’t want to run. I wanted someone else to run,” she says. 

The group came up with 25 names. “Everyone said “no,” including me – three times,” she recalls. “Then I was the last one standing. I was working at Orange Coast College at the time. Bob told me, ‘If you can handle college politics, you can handle anything.”

Iseman is on her fifth consecutive term as a city council member

He must have been right because Iseman has been a member of Laguna’s city council for the 19 years since. And while she says she’s looking to pass the baton to the next generation of city leaders, she’s not sitting idly by while they figure it out who wants it. She has plans. She has ideas. And she’s working hard for the residents of Laguna Beach because she loves her hometown.

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Toni Iseman, Laguna Beach mayor and five-term city council member

It was love at first sight

The first time Iseman saw Laguna Beach, she was visiting from Nebraska. A college friend lived in Corona del Mar. “She brought me to Laguna and I fell in love with it. I didn’t even see it by day, just the city lights at night. Because of the topography there’s an intimacy that’s created…”  

Iseman went back to Nebraska to teach school for two years and then headed west, six months in Huntington Beach and then, finally, to Laguna.  “Immediately, I never wanted to leave and I didn’t,” she says.  

She says that of course the natural beauty is part of what she fell in love with, but it’s more than that. “It’s the sense of community, the history, the values.”

“Now what are you going to do?”

In those early years, Iseman undoubtedly could not have imagined she would serve five consecutive terms on the city council.  But here she is. That first election did not go the way she’d thought. “I ran as a total dark horse. I was a sacrificial lamb,” she remembers ruefully. 

When her election party ended at midnight she assumed she had lost. “I got a call at 3:30 am,” she recalls. “They said, ‘Now what are you going to do?’ Somehow I’d won.”

And if you happen to be thinking of running for office, Iseman has something to say about it. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Asking people for money is very difficult. Some people can give easily. Some give $25 from their social security check – that’s who you think about,” she says, nodding her head.

Residents’ needs tops her list of priorities

Regardless of what kind of donor you are, or whether you even voted for her, Iseman says her first priority as a council member is to the residents; the second is to look out for the business community. “We need to have a ‘there’ there,” she says emphatically.  

Third on her list are visitors. With Laguna Beach now a worldwide destination, year round visitors bring positives and negatives. “We can’t let the visitors take away from the quality of life or businesses,” she says.

High praise for the Laguna Beach trolley

Expanding on this, Iseman says that after a particularly busy day recently she decided to check with some local merchants to see if the crowds helped or hurt sales. “They said their sales were down. It’s not benefitting the merchants,” she says.  But what to do about it? 

As Iseman sees it Laguna is the closest beach to thousands of surrounding homes, many of them new developments in cities like Irvine. “The city can’t fix this,” she laments. However, by adding services like the trolley, they are doing what they can. “I can’t envision what it would be like without the trolley,” she says.

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Toni Iseman conducting business during a city council meeting

Not afraid to be a broken record

While she wholeheartedly supports the trolley, Iseman has a tweak she’d like to see made to the system. It runs all the way to the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point. That location provides an easy turn around point. However, so many people hop on there to ride the trolley north into Laguna that it fills up. South Laguna residents who want to use it can’t get on because it’s full. 

If Iseman had her way, the trolley wouldn’t go all the way to Dana Point. Since that’s unlikely to change, she’d like to see a $1 charge for people getting on at the route’s southernmost stop since it’s outside the city limits. Iseman believes the fee would help mitigate the cost of running the trolley. “I’m like a broken record on this,” she says. “No one agrees with me,” she says sounding very unfazed nevertheless.

Yes, she has literally chained herself to a bulldozer

Iseman’s “broken-record-ness” speaks to her determination. If her fellow city council members don’t agree with her, she’ll keep working on them. She’s not one to give up easily, and she’s not one to walk away from something she believes in. Case in point? The time she literally chained herself to a bulldozer. “It took down a 100 year old sycamore. It sounded like bones. I thought, ‘Nope. This is it.’” 

So she took a Kryptonite bicycle lock and chained herself to the bulldozer. The driver, obviously trained for such acts of passion, turned off the machine and walked away.  Iseman, along with seven like-minded companions, wound up in Orange County Jail for their trouble. “I have to wonder: what if everybody had done that? What would have changed? I had to follow my conscience,” she says.

Getting started with helping save Laguna Canyon

This was when she was on the Board of the Laguna Greenbelt, before she was on the city council. She says the incident undoubtedly helped her with some voters and others probably thought she was “crazy.”  And while she was unable to save that sycamore, she and much of Laguna Beach helped save Laguna Canyon because of their dedication to preserving it as open space. 

“Can you imagine Laguna Canyon with an 18-hole golf course? A strip mall?” she asks incredulously.  Thanks to a passionate group of Laguna Beach residents, imagining it is as close as we have to get.

Now working with “the best”

“I’m tenacious,” she says simply. She also says she has an extremely strong commitment to fairness. “The majority of people are reasonable. But a handful of them are not. I think we need to be vigilant.” She’s talking specifically about neighborhoods becoming vulnerable because real estate prices are so high and some people see Laguna as a “profit center.” 

However, she could just as easily be talking about…almost anything. That’s most likely why Iseman is still on the city council: vigilance. Plus it helps that she feels the group of current council members work well together. 

“Now we have mutual respect. There have been times…it was called the ‘Tuesday Night Fight’. Those days are over. This is the best council l’ve worked with in all these years.”

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Toni Iseman and StuNewsLaguna's own Shaena Stabler at the Stu Saffer Celebration of Life

As far as her work on the council goes, Iseman would like to see commercial deliveries made before 10 a.m. to help ease congestion. She’d like to help Laguna beaches. “Measure LL passed and we promised the community we’d make the beaches better.” She wants parking meters on PCH in south Laguna. She wants construction sites to be more vigilantly managed so they don’t negatively impact the quality of life for the neighbors. 

And she will continue to lobby for changes to the trolley. These are things within a city council member’s power to address. However, there are other things she worries about that no city council member can fix, no matter how tenacious. 

Laguna’s biggest issues are not ones a city council can really fix

The biggest thing affecting Laguna is, of course, its evolution into an international destination and everything that comes with that. “I don’t know how we manage that,” she says thoughtfully. Unfortunately, the city, unlike hotel ballrooms or restaurants, has no posted maximum capacity. If it did, for the summer months in particular, it would feel like it’s being exceeded every single day.

Motivated to keep working by love of place

And you can’t blame people for wanting to come visit our lovely town. We have gorgeous scenery, a bustling downtown and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. For those of us who live here full-time Laguna offers even more than that. It is a community of eclectic and dynamic people. 

“It’s safe to say you can knock on almost any door in Laguna and find an interesting person,” says Iseman. She has lived behind the same door of her quintessential Laguna Beach home since 1973. “I’m so lucky to have found Laguna. People will thank me for my service when I’m at the grocery store. It’s really nice. But I want to say ‘thank you’ for letting me serve.” 

Iseman says her stacks of to-be-read books and magazine are piling up and she has a pretty extensive bucket list she intends to at least make a dent in. In the meantime, you can find her on Tuesday nights, where she has been for the last 19 years, doing the City’s business.

Craig Cooley, manager of Main Street Bar & Cabaret: A place where guys – and girls – just wanna have fun


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

At the age of 14, aware that he was attracted to boys, not girls, Craig Cooley – now the manager of Main Street Bar & Cabaret, often called the “last gay bar” in Laguna – watched from a distance as an associate of his father’s, a man who was married with kids, drove slowly along a country road in his Mustang and picked up a teenage boy.

Young Craig already understood what that meant. 

“That was the only ‘gay culture’ I knew,” says Craig now. “I thought I was doomed to be like that one day. I remember crying in my father’s pickup truck, feeling so alone. Because at that time, we were taught that being gay was wrong in at least three ways: it was against the law, it was against moral values, and it was an illness.”

That was fifty years ago; that was in a small town, Yreka, near California’s border with Oregon; that was then, and this is now – thank heavens. (Well, we all know of some unenlightened people.)

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Craig Cooley’s warm personality is evident in this great portrait by Mary

When Craig was in his early twenties, he taped himself speaking and singing about his emotions as a gay man, “a kind of self-therapy” he says. His mother found the tape and listened to all 90 minutes of it.

“I think she was traumatized at first but she understood the raw emotion in it, that it was honest, and she accepted that I was gay. We told my father years later and he was accepting also, more than I expected,” Craig recalls.

Later he found out that one of his two brothers was also gay. 

“I like to joke with my straight brother,” Craig says, “I tell him, ‘you know, if you really wanted to change, you could.’”

Craig’s sense of humor, his warmth and his candor are obvious throughout our conversation as we sit on bar stools at the fun, funky Main Street Bar & Cabaret. I want to say that his eyes twinkle, but that would be a cliché, and I try to avoid clichés, but the thing is, they do twinkle.  

Laguna Beach declares June LGBT Heritage & Culture Month

We chatted about his life and his excitement about Laguna Beach’s declaration of June as LGBT Heritage & Culture Month. Craig is especially enamored of Mayor Toni Iseman, who he says has been incredibly supportive.

“There’s no other beach city with this strong connection to the arts, and so much of its character is a result of contributions from gay people in the arts, theatre, restaurants, architecture, everything, over decades,” he says. 

“Before the eighties, Laguna ranked right along with San Francisco and Provincetown as a place for gays to live or visit, actually even better because it was somewhat isolated because of the canyon, and of course, there was West Beach, (still is West Beach). Everyone knew to come here. Then AIDS came and slapped us in the face.  Gay people were marginalized. Gay bars became places of refuge.

“Things were changing here in Laguna too, with that TV show, the sense that the place was becoming gentrified. Over time a lot of the gay population left. And now again, things are changing so profoundly, with gay people getting married, having kids. We’re all adapting.”

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Appropriately, rainbow lights play on Craig at the Main Street Bar & Cabaret

I’d heard that Main Street & Cabaret was regarded as the last “gay bar” in Laguna. How, then, did Craig feel about an influx of straight people coming for a drink in a place that might still be regarded as a refuge for some? Did he, or gay regulars, feel that they were being gawked at, or that their place was being taken over?

This question energized Craig. 

“That’s the thing,” he said. “I don’t want this place to be anything but inviting to everyone. I don’t care, straight, gay, I don’t care about religion, body size, accent, anything like that. For too long, some in our community have not wanted to be inclusive. That is understandable, of course I understand, but it’s time to reciprocate as we become more included in the mainstream,” he says. “That being said, we do feel a special pride in being part of the gay community that has contributed so much. This Proclamation means so much, we were all so emotional at City Hall.”

What Craig would like for the Main Street Bar & Cabaret is this, he tells me: to be a place where people can feel at ease with each other. 

Mostly, though, Craig just wants people to have a great time: that’s why the Bar hosts music, karaoke, bingo, drag shows and weekly talent shows. From all accounts (and I intend to give an eyewitness account soon), the place is a blast.

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Main Street Bar & Cabaret is easy to find, located at 1460 S. Coast Highway at the end of the rainbow flag

“A few guys, straight guys, from our liquor distributors, came in the other night and had the best time dancing,” Craig says. “We get lots of bachelorette parties and also groups from the resorts who don’t want to wrap up their night at 9:30 – we stay open until 2 in the morning. Oh, and the talent nights are really fun. We’ve had singers, saxophone players, tap dancers – we like to showcase any talent that has entertainment value.”

There is so much more that Craig shared with me during our far-ranging and most enjoyable conversation: did you know his father was a mortician? That Craig birthed a foal when he was sixteen? That he has an amazing radio voice? That he once sang Chantilly Lace with Letterman? That he’s passionate about the Human Rights Campaign? That he loves hot dogs and red wine? And so much more…

But let me end with this story, which came up when we were discussing how bars sometimes become a refuge for those who feel alone and scared.

“There’s a real community of regulars in this bar,” he told me. “We rally around to help people who need help. A few years ago, a young man came into the bar, he had run away from home, he had nowhere to go. I gave him a mattress to sleep on, we helped him out with food, and then I didn’t see him for a few years. The other day I see him driving an expensive car, well-dressed, on the phone, obviously successful. I say, ‘Mervyn?’ and he looks at me and sees it’s me, and he gives me a hug and starts crying. A straight guy.”

Craig shakes his head, marveling. “That made me feel good.”

That’s the kind of man he is, Craig Cooley, manager of the Main Street Bar & Cabaret – a man with a great heart, and himself an icon in Laguna’s gay community.

“Born This Way” and grateful for it


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Chris Keller and Amy Amaradio have made their mark in Laguna Beach. Between La Casa del Camino, K’ya, The Rooftop, The Marine Room and the former House of Big Fish, it’s hard to fathom anyone from Laguna not having visited one of these landmark businesses. With their thriving business portfolio, the couple also has a growing family with three kids: Alexis, 18, Rocco, 3 1/2, and Gemma, 11 weeks. Needless to say, they are busy, and for the immediate future, no doubt a little sleep-deprived.

“Born This Way” adds a new cast member

With all they have going on, they recently undertook another, very personal project. They became cast members of A&E’s Emmy Award winning reality series, “Born This Way.” The show follows seven young adults with Down Syndrome as they “pursue their passions and lifelong dreams.” Season three added a new dimension by introducing a family with a young son born with Down syndrome. That new family is, of course, the Amaradio-Kellers. And they couldn’t be more thrilled, both with the show and the opportunity it provides them to speak to the special joys of having a child with Down syndrome.  

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Rocco, son of Amy Amaradio and Chris Keller, stars on A&E’s “Born This Way”

An unexpected condition at birth

When Amaradio and Keller were expecting Rocco, Amaradio says she did the standard preliminary screenings, but didn’t do the more invasive amniocentesis. “We just never even thought about that. We have a typical 18 year-old daughter. We really never thought about it. Plus, we never would have considered terminating the pregnancy.” So, when Rocco was born and they discovered he had Down syndrome, the couple was at a loss. “We were distraught,” admits Keller. “We went through all of that. It was a process.” 

The blessings of Rocco

Keller and Amaradio credit other parents of children with Down syndrome for helping them come to terms with Rocco’s condition. “It took us about a year,” says Keller. They started Rocco in the Early Intervention Program at the Assistance League in Laguna Beach when has was six weeks old. “That helped us tremendously,” remembers Keller. “It was such a blessing. It took us through a mourning process. The parents we met told us, ‘Your life will be blessed. Angels will fall in your path.’” 

Big sister leads the way

If Mom and Dad had to work through some things to come to a place of acceptance (now joy) with Rocco’s Down syndrome, Alexis, their oldest daughter, was already there. When asked to recount how Alexis handled the news of Rocco’s condition, Amaradio says, “I’m going to get emotional…She told us, ‘Mom, Dad, it’s going to be OK. I’m going to be there to protect him.’ She got me out of my shock…she told me, ‘Rocco is perfect just the way he is.’” 

A singular experience for a high school senior

A new sibling can’t help but change a family’s dynamics; a child with special needs only more so. Amaradio says she and Keller were cognizant of that and made a commitment that Alexis, no matter how loving and committed she was to her baby brother, would not spend her high school years as a built-in baby sitter. “I wanted her to enjoy high school,” says Amaradio.  Now, with her high school career almost over, Alexis is interested in studying journalism. “There aren’t a lot of graduating seniors with three and a half year old brothers with Down syndrome,” says Keller. “She has handled it so well. She has impressed us,” he adds admiringly.

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The Amaradio-Keller clan: (from left) Amy, Gemma, Chris, Rocco and Alexis

The right place at the right time

With all of this going on and for people who describe themselves as “introverts,” how did the Amaradio-Kellers find themselves on a reality show, especially one that started out specifically about young adults? “We were in the right place at the right time,” explains Keller. “We were involved in the Down syndrome community. Laura (Korkorian), the producer, watched us for awhile and then asked us if we would be interested,” explains Amaradio. “She knew we were friends with some of the cast members and it made sense for the show.” Adds Keller, “She (Korkorian) has an amazing ability. She uses her heart with the show. We knew we could trust her. She is an amazing person.”

A stressful transition works out

While the show is one visible piece of their very full lives, there are other less glamorous, but even more important things they must manage. Finding the right school for Rocco and getting him the therapy and special services he needs, for example. Luckily, according to his parents, Laguna is a great place for that. Once Rocco turned three he transitioned from one set of services and providers to a whole new system. This new system is the Laguna Beach Unified School District. This transition is a big part of the show’s storyline. “It’s stressful and it’s difficult. They wanted to capture that,” says Keller.

A loving team at TOW

Despite the stress, both parents highlight again and again their gratitude for what LBUSD provides Rocco. “It’s a special ed preschool at Top of the World,” explains Keller. “We now have a team there with as much love as we had before.” 

In addition to attending school at TOW three hours a day, five days a week, Rocco attends a private preschool two afternoons a week, plus speech therapy twice a week, another kind of speech therapy and feeding therapy another two times a week. It’s a lot, but Amaradio says it has actually “died down a little.”  With 11 week-old Gemma a new addition to the family, that can only be seen as welcome news.  And what does Rocco think of his baby sister? “He loves her!” says Keller. “They’re going to be the best of friends,” adds Amaradio.

Role models for Rocco

The bond between Rocco and Gemma will undoubtedly continue to strengthen as Gemma gets older, but what does their future look like? Like any two youngsters with their entire lives ahead of them, the sky is the limit – for brother and sister alike. As the older cast mates on “Born This Way” continue to prove, people with Down syndrome can do whatever they set their minds to. “They’re all doing something they’re passionate about, just like us,” says Amaradio. “They’re an inspiration for us. They give us a glimpse of a future for our son.”

And if Amaradio and Keller want people to know one thing about people with Down syndrome it’s that their future can be a bright, beautiful and independent thing. “We want everyone to know that having a child with Down syndrome is such a blessing. It has been the best thing that’s happened to our lives,” says Keller. He remembers in the early days when other parents would tell him that. “I thought, ‘They’re so full of it.’ But it’s so true!” he exclaims. 

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Rocco and dad, Chris Keller, making their way down to the beach

A mission to share the joys of raising a child with Down syndrome

While making a point to say how much they respect every parent’s decision when faced with a diagnosis of Down syndrome, Keller says he and Amaradio feel like it’s their “mission” to share the joys of having a Down syndrome child. “We want to keep pressing for awareness,” says Amaradio. “They will accomplish things. You will be blessed.” While acknowledging that at first Rocco’s condition threw them for a loop, Keller says emphatically, “Little did we know those emotions that we felt turned out to be the best thing in our lives. We are both so thankful Rocco is in our lives. He has changed our lives and we are really thankful for that.”  

Grateful for many things in Laguna Beach

 Their gratitude extends to their hometown, as well. “We are so thankful we’re in Laguna Beach and have such great support,” says Keller sincerely. He gives the fire department, the police department and the schools a heartfelt shout out.  Keller also makes sure to sing the praises of the Assistance League of Laguna Beach. “We now donate all we can to the Assistance League. We encourage others to do the same.” So remember their thrift shop the next time you’re cleaning out your closet (or are looking for something to add to it) or you want to donate to a worthy cause. And don’t forget to check in with Rocco and family, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on A&E. Amaradio promises you’ll be glad you did. “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. It’s a great family show.” Great family, great show…makes sense.

Laguna Life & Pups: The world according to K-9 Ranger


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Since Dr. Doolittle, who hasn’t imagined what it would be like to communicate with animals? Or is it just me, and my animal assignments have gone too far? Ranger is my first dog interview.

“What’s a typical work night like for you?” I ask Ranger. He works from 4:40 p.m. until 2:40 a.m. from Thursday through Saturday, but is on call 24/7. 

I soon find out there are no typical work nights.

“I go on all alarm calls, crimes-in-progress, locate suspects and evidence.” He’s fidgety, this is his first interview too.

It’s a dog’s life. A bad connotation. Not true, according to Ranger, our Laguna Beach Police Department’s K-9. He loves his job, and he loves his life with Corporal Zachary Fillers (and his family), his handler for the past three years. Ranger, named after fallen officer Sergeant Jon Coutchie who was a US Army Ranger, was later nicknamed Ranger Danger by his fellow-officers, but he doesn’t seem dangerous when I meet him at the station. 

“What was your last big case?” I try to make eye-contact, but he’s focused on Corporal Fillers.

Ranger contemplates an answer to my question

Ranger is strictly business. “Sniffing out drugs. We assisted the Newport Beach Police Department in locating several ounces of meth in a compartment under the seat of a car.” 

Before I continue grilling Ranger, I get some background from Corporal Fillers on how they ended up together and what qualities are necessary for a K-9.  Ranger, a Belgian Malinois, was trained in Holland and purchased through Adlerhorst International in Jurupa Valley, a company that specializes in selecting the finest K-9s for police work. In business for over 45 years, they’ve evolved into the largest private police dog school in the world. The Laguna Beach Woman’s Club donated $10,000 and the LB Assistance League donated $12,000 toward his purchase.

“Is Corporal Fillers a good handler?” I’d like to take that inquiry back, since he’s been Ranger’s only handler.

Ranger looks appalled at my stupidity. “No complaints.”

Ranger and Corporal Fillers team up

Ever since he was young and a K-9 officer came to his school, Corporal Fillers has wanted to be a K-9 handler. His love of dogs, combined with his background, made him the perfect match for Ranger. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology, Law, and Society from the University of California at Irvine. He graduated from the Orange County Sheriff’s Academy in 2009 and has been a Police Officer with the Laguna Beach Police Department since 2011. 

Together, he and Ranger went through an initial eleven weeks of training, consisting of six weeks on patrol and five weeks of narcotics detection. On Wednesdays, they train with the Irvine and Newport Beach Police Departments. Once a month, he and Ranger are trained by their vendor Adlerhorst International (in both patrol and narcotics detection).

“Are there any other jobs you’d like to attempt other than being a K-9?” I ask.

This gets Ranger’s attention. “A dispatcher. I like wearing the headset.” 

I should have seen that answer coming. A photo of him in the dispatcher’s chair was posted on Instagram a few days ago.

The qualities necessary for a K-9 (which are present in Ranger’s breed) are prey drive (hunting, chasing), play drive (desire to interact with others), and defense drive (flight or fight mode). And Ranger has these in aces.

“You have a stressful job.” I say to Ranger. “How do you relax once you’re off-duty?” 

“I’m excited to come to work, and I’m excited to get home and just hang out. I play with Hailey and Zach’s children.”  

I find out that Hailey is an Australian Shepherd Cattle Dog mix that Corporal Fillers had before he got Ranger.

“What’s your favorite part of the job?”

“I love being in the car. At home, I like my kennel.” He seems bored, as if he’d rather be back in the car.

Corporal Fillers and Ranger (wanting to get back to his favorite place at work)

 “Are you ever afraid when you go out on a call?” 

 “Never to the point of being not willing to go out. I told you, I love my job.” He looks away. “But big waves scare me.”

I give Ranger a break for a moment and ask Corporal Fillers if Ranger wears a bullet proof vest. He soon will. They’ve acquired a state of the art vest thanks to the Vest-A-Dog Orange County. Jenny Conde from CDMHS started the group, and with the help of Officer Mike Fletcher from the Newport Beach Police Department, they secured the funds for Ranger’s vest, as well as several others for K-9s throughout Orange County.

Back to the interview. “What noise do you love?”

Do dogs eye-roll? If they do, I’m getting one. “The sound of my food going into the bowl.”

“What noise do you hate?” 

“The lawnmower.”

The only time Ranger barks at home, Corporal Fillers explains, is when the gardener comes.

I’m starting to feel a bit like James Lipton on Inside the Actors’ Studio asking questions originating from Bernard Pivot.

“What’s your favorite word?”

He’s smiling. “Find it.” And dogs do smile.

After locating evidence, Ranger is rewarded with his toy, a jute roll, to chew on and play with before continuing the sniffing.

A reward for “finding it”

“What’s your least favorite word?”


A universal answer, he’s not so different from humans. 

“Does Corporal Fillers use hand signals or verbal commands?” I say.

No response. He’s done.

Corporal Fillers answers for him. “Both.”

Before Ranger (who is the department’s third police dog), it had been 10 years since the department had a dog program. 

Corporal Fillers expands on the value of a K-9 to the department. “Ranger’s job is finding people and things. He has a superior sense of smell (30,000 better than ours) to find bad guys and drugs. He’s a big locating tool that allows us (the officers) to keep a safe distance away. He can also move faster, which saves man hours, and allows us to better serve the community.” 

Once a year, they are recertified in patrol (a three day class) and narcotics detection (a two day class).

K-9 experts say that the bond between a K-9 and handler is unbreakable. The inevitable thought of Ranger’s retirement comes to mind. “Retirement usually comes after 5-7 years of service, but it depends on the health of the dog. We want them to have a good retirement,” Corporal Fillers says. When that time comes, he’ll be able to purchase Ranger for a dollar to alleviate liability for the department.

Corporal Filler and Ranger are inseparable

To help with the vet bills for retired police dogs and for the purchase of police dogs for other departments, the Orange County Police K-9 Association puts on a spectacular themed event each year. The 29th Annual Police K-9 Demonstration will be held on Sat, Oct. 14, at Glover Stadium in Anaheim. It includes helicopters, dog competitions, fireworks, and a meet and greet with the K-9s. (For more information, go to www.ocpa.org.) 

I “paws” to reflect. There are a few questions that I didn’t get to ask Ranger, “Do you have a bucket list?” and “If dog heaven exists, what would you like God to say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?” But these questions must wait for another conversation. 

Thank you, Corporal Fillers and Ranger for your dedicated service and for a window into what life is like for a K-9 and his handler. The world “according to Ranger” is a good one.

Laguna Fitness’s Cora Kasperski believes that  tough love works


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Cora Kasperski is undoubtedly her business’s best advertisement. As owner of Laguna Fitness, Kasperski embodies everything she preaches to her clients – times ten. She started Laguna Fitness almost on a whim. Last week she celebrated her business’s new space at 1999 South Coast Highway (just down the street from the old space) and 15 years of helping people reach their fitness goals.

Working out for herself as well as helping others

Kasperski, a native of the Philippines, came to Laguna 15 years ago via San Diego when she and her first husband got engaged. Kasperski took over a personal training business that was closing and she has been up at the crack of dawn training clients ever since. Kasperski’s days have gotten even longer in the past year since she started competing in body building contests. This has her up at 4:15, three mornings a week so she can tend to her own fitness routine which is, needless to say, intense.

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Cora Kasperski, owner of Laguna Fitness, in her studio

Motivated to compete

While acknowledging she has always worked out, Kasperski credits her first husband who was a Marine and her best friend from the Philippines for prompting her to reach the next level of fitness. “My friend competed. She had muscles. It was attractive, being fit and healthy. I just like that look,” she says of her motivation. She competed in her first contest at age 28 and came away with the first of her three Best-in-Class Championships. The next two would arrive 22 years later when Kasperski decided to start competing again at 50.

Committed to winning

Such a decision is not taken on lightly. To look like Kasperski and, especially to win like Kasperski, is not a part-time thing. To prepare for a competition means Kasperski goes on a 90-day plan with her coach. “He helps a lot,” she says emphatically. It’s somewhat encouraging to know that even the most disciplined people can use a little extra help in attaining their goals. 

Organization and discipline in addition to the work outs

For these 90-day periods Kasperski wakes up in the dark for her cardio-walk and then spends five hours, three days a week working out in her gym. She works clients in around her workout. She eats six to seven times a day and spends Sunday cooking an entire week’s worth of food. As her husband Clay marvels, “The organization and discipline needed for this is even harder than the working out.” 

Closing in on a goal

Kasperski’s discipline is impressive. She competed three times last year and has a competition coming up in July. That’s 360 days dedicated to this very intensive regime. No sugar, no alcohol, every food measured; clearly, Kasperski is not just competing for the fun of it. She has lofty ambitions. “My goal is to win the overall competition,” she says. 

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Cora Kasperski at work with a private client

This means winning each of three divisions in her particular category, which is called “Figure.” There are four categories: Bikini, Figure, Physique and Body Builder, with each category getting a bit more muscular. The Body Builder category would be the most muscular. Each category has age divisions (i.e. 35+ years, 40+ years) so Kasperski has to compete against women who are considerably younger. At her last competition in December Kasperski achieved first place in two divisions and then a third place. She just missed out on winning the overall competition, but it’s very much in her sights. 

A loyal clientele sees results

Her commitment to her goals is obviously an inspiration to her clients. When we met at her studio one of her clients was there working out, and he couldn’t help but offer his unsolicited praise of Kasperski. He’d been working out with her for three months, had lost 20 lbs. and gained muscle. His enthusiasm was infectious. His devotion to Kasperski and her methods was very apparent.

Tough but not mean

Kasperski’s husband also sings her praises as a trainer. He would know. Before he married her he, too, was a client. Kasperski says she fired him as a client once they got serious. “I had to because it’s not good if I’m telling him what to do all the time,” she says laughing. 

And while Kasperski has a very bubbly personality, apparently she’s not all sweetness and light when she’s training someone. “Cora is very motivating,” explains Clay, her husband. “She doesn’t baby you; she challenges you.” He goes on to explain that both men and women, (her clients are about 50 percent male and 50 percent female) appreciate her toughness. “Some women have been treated delicately before they get here. They like it that she’s tough…but she’s not mean,” he adds emphatically.  Kasperski says she’s a believer in “tough love” for her clients. Is she complimentary? “If they deserve it,” she says smiling.

15 years in business is a result of being attentive

Her approach must be working. Laguna Beach has more than a few personal trainers and Kasperski has managed to stay in business – and even grow her business – over the past 15 years. Her secret is pretty simple: “When I train people I’m with them. I give them a little touch. It’s a small thing, but it lets you know somebody’s there for you. I’m very attentive.” 

She’s so attentive that she texts her clients what to eat daily and does a general check-in with them. If they’ve been over-indulging, she has no problem calling them out. She also has no problem calling them out if they’re not focused during training. One of her catchphrases around the studio is “Just listen!” She gets serious for a moment. “It’s so annoying when they don’t listen,” she says with exasperation, then smiles broadly. It’s very clear that if you’re in her gym, you’re not messing around.

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Cora Kasperski with husband Clay in Laguna Fitness’s new space

A former pro seeks out her help

With a very full calendar, Kasperski is pretty much maxed out right now. “I don’t know if I want to get any busier,” she says. “Maybe someday I’ll read a magazine,” she says doubtfully. One thing she would like to make time for is working with older people. “I love old people,” she says. She gives away a lot of her time for charity events and even offers a free Booty class on Sundays (call for availability). She did take on a new client recently and she couldn’t be more excited. “Sean Ray was a top body builder, top five in the world for ten years in a row. He came to my open house and said, ‘I think you can help me.’ He’s been on the couch for a while now,” she says laughing.

A trainer, a competitor and a matchmaker

While her goal is to help her clients reach their goals, be they former professional body builders or just people wanting to look and feel better, Kasperski offers another service that doesn’t come standard with most personal trainers. “I’m a matchmaker,” she says proudly. Apparently, she’s a successful one, at least according to her clients. The exact number of couples matched was up for debate, but like everything Kasperski does, the number was more than you’d expect.

The Blue Hour: Mitch Ridder’s Artistic Eye


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Mitch Ridder embraces the blue hour. Those rich moments of twilight, just after dusk, when the sun sits low below the horizon and the indirect light of the sky takes on a vivid blue hue. In those betwixt minutes, the world seems to hold its breath. For Mitch, an award-winning photographer and photojournalist, it’s not always as serene as you might imagine.

One Sunday evening, hovering precariously above the 110 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles, only a narrow one-foot strip of cement beneath him for false protection, Mitch stands ready. Cars navigate around the blind corner of the Third Street onramp at 30 mph in the near dark, inches away from Mitch and his camera. He positions his tripod on the curb, his foot in the street, and focuses both his mind and his lens. 

“It was very similar to many shots by other photographers,” Mitch says. “The challenge I set for myself was to find a new angle.” 

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The Blue Hour: in this photo, a time to feature Mitch Ridder himself

The image is stunning. A snake of red taillights beneath him, a streak of white headlights coming toward him, the majesty of the L.A. skyline at twilight framed by palm trees whose every frond is highlighted by the backdrop of that intense blue hue.

“There are always two people in every picture,” Ansel Adams once said. “The photographer and the viewer.” Mitch’s quiet stillness behind the camera is just as visible as the rush of the freeway below. The fluorescent-lit metropolis, random sequences of sporadic light, so dense it feels lonely; and a photographer, alone with his lens, as cars whiz within inches. At least that’s what this viewer sees, standing metaphorically beside Mitch, months after the fact.

The Road (& Track) to Art

Mitch developed his appreciation for art early. Throughout his childhood Mitch’s father, a local architect, subscribed to Road & Track Magazine, which contained a significant amount of art—illustrations, drawings, photographs. Mitch was hooked. As a senior at Laguna Beach High School, he took an art class from Hal Akins. 

“[Akins] had an amazing way of analyzing and comparing my pencil drawing to the source photo,” Mitch says. “My work went from some of my best efforts to I-can’t-believe-what-I’ve-done. That set the path for art and illustration.” Akins would send Mitch back to his desk—again and again—to review, refine, and revise. 

That patience and persistence paid off. His work eventually appeared in Road & Track and, in 1998, Mitch juried into the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts for his watercolors of IndyCars.

Mitch studied commercial art at Orange Coast College before transferring to Cal State Long Beach to study illustration. He received scholarships from both the Festival of Arts and Sawdust Festival to complete his education. He was able to apply those skills to t-shirt graphics and apparel design for ASICS athletic wear, a sponsor for the New York City Marathon. 

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Mitch Ridder is also an accomplished marathon runner

Did I mention Mitch is also a marathon runner? Fifty of them. Including both Boston and New York, a marathon he finished in 2:59:12. Mitch started running at the age of 27, following a serious injury he suffered to his ankle playing softball. After surgery, he wanted to test the new hardware in his foot and began running. And running. And running. Like everything Mitch tackles, he didn’t do it half way. 


Water, Water, Everywhere

Throughout it all, Mitch was also a competitive swimmer. Beginning at age nine and continuing into college, Mitch took easily to the water. And, at 17, he started serving as a lifeguard—not just in high school and college—but for 38 years. Only recently did Mitch hang up his whistle.

All that time in the water may have worked its way into his art. Before Mitch was a photographer, he was a watercolor artist. For 24 years, Mitch produced meticulous paintings that looked like photographs. The detail is just that vivid.

“I measured my work in weeks and months,” he says. “Never in hours or days.” Mitch worked like an airbrush artist, masking off sections of work to prevent bleeding, and applying multiple layers of paint to build opacity and contrast. He harnessed the focus, perseverance and patience that are prevalent in everything he does. His watercolor work showed at the Festival of Arts from 1999-2008. After 24 years, though, painting became more work than reward. That’s when he trained his eye on the camera.

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Those medals of Mitch’s deserve a close-up

While photography had always been part of Mitch’s life, he didn’t devote full attention to it until 2008. His grandmother passed, leaving Mitch some money. She’d always been a supporter of his art, and he reflected on how best he could honor her memory. He used his inheritance to buy his first professional camera.

A Man About Our Town . . . And Others

At some point in Mitch’s photography career, he realized he had taken more pictures of Los Angeles than Laguna Beach. As a lifelong resident, Mitch felt oversaturated by the iconic images of Laguna—in galleries, on postcards, and in tourist shops—the town felt overdone. He decided to use his knowledge of Laguna to his photographic advantage. “I could see familiar landmarks in a different way,” he said. “And depict the town from a different perspective.” 

Mitch shares that intimate familiarity in every image. The cottages on Park Avenue, photographed during the blue hour, with the Hotel Laguna rising behind. Getting inside the ocean with the lifeguards during training. Laguna’s every season, angle, and mood—from celebrations to crises—caught inside his camera. Mitch creates visual love letters to our town.

He’s taken that love to Italy and, most recently, to Cuba where he captured the vivid colors, the friendly people, the rich architecture, and the dilapidated cars of Havana and Trinidad. An island outside time and technology, seen through the unique lens of Mitch’s eye. His work will be on display this summer at the Festival of Arts.

Open Doors

Doors, and windows, are prominent in Mitch’s work. Maybe it’s the architectural influences of his father. Maybe it’s Mitch’s rich subconscious always at work. He often portrays people on the precipice of coming or going, or simply standing on the threshold of the open world, and what lies intimately within. That quiet blue hour that resides in us all. Or maybe, as Ansel Adams suggests, that’s just this viewer’s perspective, looking inside Mitch’s work.

But his life feels like a testament to the power of opening oneself to the world. To let life in—artistically, athletically—however it arrives. And to capture its beauty when it does.

To learn more about Mitch, visit his website at www.mitchridderphotography.com 

Ernest Hackmon and “The Importance of Being”

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Ernest Hackmon was looking for a change. “I was in telecom management. I got to a plateau in my career. I was driving to work and I realized where I’d be at that time for the rest of my life. It was unsettling,” he says with a laugh. “I reevaluated my life. I decided I should think bigger.” So in 1995, Hackmon opened his business, Web Wave Village, “an internet café without coffee,” on Forest Ave. 

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Ernest Hackmon, host of KX93.5’s ‘The Importance of Being”

Trying to strike it rich during the “gold rush”

Hackmon describes this time as the “gold rush” of the Internet. “Everybody thought they were going to get rich,” he muses. As for Hackmon, “My intention was to quickly become rich and embark on a life of frivolous spending like Justin Bieber. Instead, I ended up working almost 80 hours a week and becoming a pillar of the community,” he says with mock despair. “It was a work avoidance plan gone horribly wrong,” he laughs, something he does easily and often. This “plan” lasted ten years. 

Giving LBUSD a much-needed introduction to technology

In those years, Hackmon made a lot of contacts in the city. He credits those relationships for helping his business survive when “the bubble burst.” They also led him down his path to community pillar-dom. The first step was with the schools. “I did an eight year modernization project for the schools. I helped set the foundation for what they’re doing now. They viewed me as a godsend because they didn’t have any money,” he remembers. Technology in the classroom is so ubiquitous now, it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t that long ago when teachers didn’t use, or even have computers in their classrooms. Hackmon helped with that first step.

From the schools to SchoolPower

He also helped modernize the schools’ largest benefactor, SchoolPower. “Before they were using a ton of volunteers to manage their Dinner Dance auction. I agreed to help them so I designed an auction management system. They went from using spreadsheets to automated tools. It helped change their culture into a much more modern organization. It changed their focus from volunteer management to next level fundraising,” he says proudly.

Inspired by President Obama to get involved

Hackmon didn’t just stop with the schools. He began working with city issues, as well. It was right before President Obama was elected. Hackmon says he was inspired to get involved. In addition to contracting with the Laguna Beach Water District, a venture, he says he embarked on in order to have some much-needed free time, he also joined the Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee. We both chuckled at the name. Can it sound any less exciting? But there aren’t many things that concern Laguna Beach residents more on a daily basis than parking and traffic. 

The Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee makes headlines

“We’re most famous for the skateboarding issue,” he explains. The “skateboarding issue” Hackmon is referring to took place several years ago when downhill skateboarding was extremely popular in Laguna. It fell to his committee to figure out how the skateboarders, drivers, bikers and pedestrians could all coexist on Laguna’s narrow roads. What started out as a meeting with a handful of people soon grew into a 400 - 500 person event, according to Hackmon. “We did what any good committee does: we gave people a chance to speak.” 

 It had become such a big issue that reporters and TV crews were at the meeting. Hackmon says he remembers a reporter from Channel 5 news leaving in disgust.

“People discussing their views in an orderly and cordial manner isn’t newsworthy. The (city of) Bell hearings were going on at the same time. There were people throwing chairs and screaming. That’s better TV,” he says with a shrug. Hackmon sat on the committee for seven years.

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Ernest Hackmon in the studio with last week’s guest, Caroline Bruderer

Changing the culture on the Irvine Valley College Foundation

Continuing with his commitment to education, Hackmon joined the Irvine Valley College Foundation. “I help businesses modernize so it was a good fit for me. I became president and changed the culture. I brought in new people with new experiences which developed a culture of winning. They’re a very good school. They hadn’t had a lot of experience being successful fundraisers, but they had a great product to sell,” he explains.  

After three years on the Board, Hackmon says the Board went from 12 members to 25 when he stepped down. Now, there are 40 members with an endowment of over $1 million. “They’re well on their way,” Hackmon says with satisfaction.

Doing the people’s business because it needs to be done

And personal satisfaction is what it’s about for Hackmon since, as he acknowledges, he doesn’t really have a personal agenda regarding his causes. He simply does what is needed because it is needed. “Most of the stuff you’re going to do is not stuff you’re passionate about. It’s stuff that’s important to other people,” he admits.  However, this isn’t true for everything he does. 

“The Importance of Being” is born

For just over three years Hackmon has hosted a radio show on KX93.5 called “The Importance of Being.” Talk about a happy accident of events that helped bring this show to the air.  “When the radio station started I connected with the music,” he says. “I wanted to volunteer, but I could never catch up with Tyler (Russell, KX93.5 Program Director).” 

Then, one day out of the blue, Russell called Hackmon because, “He said I was on a list to do a show.” Hackmon says he had filled out an application to volunteer at the station, and he had mentioned – because it was part of the application – that if he were to do a show it would focus on people in the community.  

Hackmon says he definitely thought of himself as a behind-the-scenes guy. “I’d won a tape recorder back in elementary school. I heard the sound of my voice and never used it again,” he says shaking his head. “I had no desire or want to do that ever again,” he adds with a rueful laugh.

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Laguna’s KX93.5, where Ernest Hackmon connects listeners to their community

A behind-the-scenes guy gets a slot on prime time radio

Russell must have been very persuasive because he convinced Hackmon to give broadcasting a try with a primetime, two hour slot. “It was a pretty rough the first couple of weeks,” laughs Hackmon. Now, in his fourth season, he’s clearly smoothed out all the kinks.

Music and conversation mix to make compelling radio

Every Saturday from 8 -9 a.m. Hackmon interviews someone who is making a difference in their community. “I try to provide examples of how people are making the most of their time in in their life.” He likens the interview to a cocktail party version of their story. “I’m trying to explore the person and who they are.” He uses music to relax his guests. 

Originally, he admits, he used it as “water wings” in case he found himself stuck live on air. Now, he uses it to set the mood. “Plus it makes the show more listenable,” he says. He also says his friends don’t appreciate his taste in music. “I love alternative music. My friends won’t let me play it for them!” he says with mock indignation.

A gift he gives to himself and his listeners

While the musical part of Hackmon’s radio show could be viewed as a way to indulge his musical tastes, the interview part indulges something much deeper in him. He is certain that the people who are the happiest are the people who give the most.

“They have an enduring satisfaction that’s unrivaled,” he says with certainty. His interest in sharing these people’s stories is what drives his radio show. “I love it. It’s a gift I give myself. I get to spend an hour every week with someone amazing. That’s pretty special. I get to live in this world populated by people doing wonderful things, and that’s not too bad.” he says emphatically. After this interview, I know just how he feels.

As a kid, Jeff Rovner wanted to be Ricky Ricardo, but life had other plans for this multi-talented man


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

It takes more than sleight of hand to become an expert in multiple endeavors: lawyer, technologist, professor, magician, and photographer. However, Jeff Rovner, although he is an accomplished magician, doesn’t need the magical arts to attain success. Granted, there is a bit of performance in each of his diverse roles, but he claims there is another common thread; if he discovers a final effect worth achieving, he’ll put in the time and behind the scenes preparation to bring it about. 

Jeff is married to Marrie Stone, a writer and co-host of KUCI’s Writers on Writing radio show, and father to fifteen-year-old Haley, a sophomore at Sage, and a hula hoop performer with Le PeTiT CiRqUe, an all-kid humanitarian cirque company. 

He’s also master of the house to Theo, a beautiful Ragdoll cat.

How does someone who, as a child, wanted to be a band leader in the style of Ricky Ricardo and had the red sport coat with black lapels to prove it, become a multi-award winning technologist, a professor at George Washington University, a member of The Academy of Magical Arts, and an exhibitor of Fine Art Photography at the 2017 Festival of Arts? 

Jeff was born in 1957 in Washington D.C. and took up magic at the age of seven, when he found a magician’s number in the telephone book and called him. The magician turned out to be a professional who performed at the White House for the Kennedy children. He sold Jeff his first magic paraphernalia, and during Jeff’s childhood and early teen years, he performed at various events. 

In 1995, he was inducted into The Academy of Magical Arts (aka Magic Castle). On Halloween, he treats the neighborhood to performances at his door, and he still does magic for his students in the Master’s Program in Law Firm Management course.

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Jeff’s Collection of Magic Memorabilia

With the intention of becoming a doctor like his father and older brother, Jeff earned a BS in Zoology and worked briefly at NIH. But along the way, he switched career paths from medicine to law. In 1982, he graduated with a law degree from GW and practiced for 14 years. In 1996 he made another career change, this time to the field that came to be called knowledge management. He is currently the Managing Director for Information at the global law firm O’Melveny and Myers. 

In this role, Jeff organizes vast quantities of information to make it accessible and useful to the lawyers in his firm. Jeff says he enjoys the challenge of bringing order to chaos. “The more complex and messy a subject is, the greater the payoff when you finally organize and simplify it.” 

In 2007, Jeff was named one of the Top 100 Global Tech Leaders; in 2014, he was chosen Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management; and since 2015, Jeff’s litigation efficiency software, called OMMLit, has received four innovation awards, most recently from the Financial Times. 

This talent for innovation has translated into his photography. On his photography website, www.jeffrovner.com, he says, “The camera is my preferred tool to extract order, beauty and meaning from a chaotic world.”

Mesmerized by Haley and photography

His interest in photography began in earnest in 2011, when he was determined to take better pictures of daughter Haley and knew he was on borrowed time to document her childhood. “She just endlessly fascinated and delighted me,” he says. “I was determined to take better pictures of her. One of my photographer friends insisted I learn how to shoot without relying on my camera’s automatic settings. I bought a camera from Leica, a retro model that requires the photographer to choose focus and exposure manually. While that made shooting pictures more difficult at first, the results were so much better. It’s the only art form in which I’ve been able to produce results that satisfy me.”

Haley was also the inspiration for the fine art photographs Jeff will exhibit at this year’s Festival of Arts. When she joined Le PeTiT CiRqUe, Jeff frequently drove her to her practice sessions and performances. With the blessing of the troupe’s owner, Jeff conducted a formal portrait session with all the young performers, shooting them in the style of Irving Penn’s famous portraits. 

“Based on the success of those photographs, I was given more access to the troupe, and was able to document the kids at their rehearsals and shows,” he says.

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In the midst of magic, Le PeTiT CiRqUe and Haley (in a photo on the wall)

Once he had accumulated a large body of Cirque photos, he recalled the advice of his mentor Robert Hansen, another photographer at the Festival, who had suggested he choose a photography project and perhaps produce a book. So he planned the finishing touch for the project – a dramatic portrait of each artist performing his or her circus art, including trapezes, hoops, and stilts. 

Jeff will exhibit that portfolio of portraits at this summer’s Festival. The portraits are also included in Jeff’s book, The Values of Le PeTiT CiRqUe. All profits from the book are donated to the purchase of supplies and equipment for the troupe. “The book was a labor of love,” Jeff says, “my attempt to capture the beauty of the costumes, the nostalgia of the circus, the skill of the performers, and the growth of all the kids, including my own.” 

Three of these portraits are on exhibition at Wells Fargo Bank’s third floor gallery, as part of the Festival’s Fresh Faces exhibit (featuring artists recently juried into the Festival), which runs until June 14. A reception will be held at 11 a.m. on Sat, May 13.

Hometown performance

Adding to Jeff’s excitement at exhibiting during the Festival’s 85th year, the troupe from Le PeTiT CiRqUe will perform twice on Family Day on July 16 at the Festival. Between shows, they will mingle and interact with the crowd. “It will be wonderful to watch Haley perform with her troupe in her home town,” he says.

Laguna Beach became Jeff’s town in 1994. What drew him to Laguna? “It just feels good here. It’s kind of a healing place, there’s something very special about it. For people who need some repair, it offers that, and the small scale of the architecture compared to the mega mansions in other communities reminds people of their humanity,” he says. “The small beach cottages also encourage people to get out of their homes and into the town. It’s a real place, a community, more like what I was accustomed to back east.” 

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In all endeavors, Theo serves as Muse

Fortunately for us, he made Laguna his home, but he does love to visit other places. Jeff, Marrie, and Haley have traveled extensively via house swapping, which they started doing in 2005, the first time in Paris. They’ve been back there several times, and it turns out that is Jeff’s favorite city. They also liked Leiden in the Netherlands and Forte dei Marmi in Italy. He dreams someday of orchestrating an arrangement with two other families, one in Paris and the other in some other wonderful city, and have each family rotate through the three homes during the year.

Looking to the future

That conversation takes us into the future -- what projects, what chaos is out there for him to simplify. “New ideas excite me,” Jeff says. “I’m lucky to work in a job that gives me the time to read and look for new ideas, including ideas from other disciplines that can be adapted for use in my law firm.” 

Jeff’s interest in ideas led him to a new project he calls “Concept Cards.” He plans to produce a deck of cards, each explaining an important concept and showing how it can be useful. “People need concepts to attach their experiences to, to give meaning to those experiences. So I’m assembling the concepts that have been most useful to me, and soliciting others from my friends. With a deck of Concept Cards, one can learn valuable ideas that would otherwise require a lifetime to gather.” He has already crowd-sourced 200 concepts.

So, we found out how the boy who wanted to be a band leader ended up in Laguna Beach as the master of many roles. Although the one thing he hasn’t mastered that he would like to, he says, “…is playing the piano.” Of course, I immediately pictured him someday in Paris, playing the piano in a lounge, and wearing a red sport coat with black lapels. 

“When you were young, did you expect you would have a good life?” I ask, and he responds, “As a child I always expected I would have a good life. I still do. (And by God, I have!)”

Jill Gwaltney, Rauxa’s founder. on working harder, being nicer, and the challenges of businesswomen

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

When Jill Gwaltney, founder of Rauxa, graduated from Stanford, she interviewed with companies like Merrill Lynch and Xerox for a sales position. Her father, who owned a printing company, suggested that if a career in sales was what she wanted, then she should come sell for him.  

Gwaltney accepted, but was mindful of her position. “When you’re the boss’s daughter you have to work harder and be nicer,” she says. That mindset, working harder and being nicer, is one she has carried with her throughout her career, long after leaving her father’s employ. And this attitude has paid off. Rauxa, the full service marketing agency founded by Gwaltney, was just ranked as the third largest agency in Orange County by the Orange County Business Journal.

A life built in Laguna, but with offices all over the country

Jill and her husband, the well-known artist Chris Gwaltney, moved to Laguna in 1979. Her parents had recently moved to Laguna Niguel and Gwaltney says she and Chris just “liked the area.” They’ve been here ever since. Now, however, less of their time is spent here than in years past. Rauxa has offices all over the country which means Gwaltney is frequently on a plane somewhere. However, since turning the day-to-day reins of Rauxa over to president and CEO Gina Alshuler, Gwaltney says she is spending time “taking care of myself. When the kids were at home it was work-family. That was it. Now there is more time for friends, more vacations.”

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Jill Gwaltney, founder of Rauxa, one of OC’s largest marketing agencies

Learning business from a reliable source: Dad

The road to this more relaxed stage of Gwaltney’s life is paved with hard work. She worked her way up the ladder of her father’s company: from sales to sales manager to VP of sales to president. “Everything I know about business I learned from my dad,” she says. One piece of sage advice he imparted to her was that in the then very male-dominated world of the printing business, if certain customers were to ask her for more than printing services, she needed to be mindful of the potential fragility of their egos. 

“He suggested I say something like, ‘I’m so flattered, but I really don’t think it’s a good idea to mix business with pleasure.’ I was 22 then. Now, I’m 61 and still no one has made a pass at me!” she says laughing. “The likelihood of me getting to use this line is not increasing. I should have worked for Bill O’Reilly,” she adds wryly.

Choosing to make the glass half full

While she laughs at the lack of opportunity to rebuff male customers’ unwanted advances, Gwaltney’s early success in a male-dominated field has impacted how she runs Rauxa. “I tweeted the other day, ‘Come to Rauxa where there is no glass ceiling to shatter,’” she says good-naturedly. Gwaltney knows what it’s like to be the only woman, something she says she saw as an advantage back in the early days. And this might be her secret: what others see as a hindrance she sees as an advantage.

The side project doesn’t stay part-time for long 

She and her father sold the printing company in 1996. She was asked to stay on as president for three years. However, Gwaltney says she didn’t really have any authority so she left after 18 months. “I thought I was going to retire,” she says, amused at the thought. “I coached (son) Cooper’s soccer team. I did Ladies Golf Day…then I started this little agency. I thought of it as maybe a part-time thing.” The “little agency” was Rauxa, of course, and Gwaltney should have known better. She can’t do “part-time.” “Well…I’m super competitive,” she admits with a laugh, “Plus I really like to take care of people. I really enjoy fulfilling the needs of others.” The combination of those two personality traits meant Rauxa was not going to be a side project for very long.

Seeing the advantages of being a woman in business

“We kept adding things based on what people needed,” she says of Rauxa’s growth. “Marketing is so data driven. The question becomes how do we personalize that data?” Asking questions and, even more challenging, being willing to listen to the answers is something Gwaltney practices personally and professionally. “Now, there are a lot more women in business. Back in the old days it was all men. I always felt being a woman was an advantage because the client wants help. It’s easier for me to be open, vulnerable, and help them do better in their jobs.”

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Jill Gwaltney in her Laguna Beach home office. Rauxa is located in Costa Mesa.

The importance of women at the top

While there may be more women in business today, Gwaltney still bemoans the lack of women in leadership positions. “There’s still not enough women at the top,” she says. “So much is based on relationships. A man in a key position brings people along because he trusts them. If you’re a woman it makes it harder to break in because of that.” In typical Gwaltney-fashion she adds, “When I was younger I never gave it any thought. I just thought I’ll work harder and stay after it until it’s done.” And she did.

Finding a true partner

Gwaltney’s commitment to her career is only matched by her dedication to her family. She credits her husband with helping her create that ever-elusive work/life balance. “It all starts with the husband, a true partner,” she says. Gwaltney remembers seeing Chris, a former tennis professional, on the court at the Laguna Niguel Racquet Club. “He was teaching these four and five year old kids. I thought he was adorable,” she says with a laugh. “I was always an outlier, always very outspoken. He enjoyed that...He never tried to shush me.” 

Committed to work, dedicated to family

The couple, married for 34 years, has two grown children, Dylan and Cooper. Dylan is completing her pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital LA. “I happen to think she’s the smartest, cutest and most empathetic doctor the world has ever seen,” says her proud mom. Her son Cooper is listed on Rauxa’s’s website as the “Lead Account Guy” for Cats on the Roof, a division of Rauxa that focuses solely on video content. Showing that her pride is equally shared between her children, Gwaltney recounts a recent pitch Cooper and his team made for Linzess, a treatment for opioid-induced constipation. “They came in with 16 ideas! The client was amazed. They were like, ‘Who can come up with 16 ideas about this?!’” 

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The view from the Gwaltney’s Emerald Bay home

The next chapter is coming, but not just yet

With her kids excelling in adulthood and the daily management of her company in very capable hands, what’s next? Gwaltney says she is pondering that question. “My next step is figuring out what I can do in the community to give back, maybe start a foundation…but I’m not quite there yet.” And the reason she’s not quite there yet is because she’s at a place with Rauxa where she gets to do what she likes best: work with clients and work with Alshuler on Rauxa’s vision and business development.   

So while she may be spending some more time on the golf course, and taking family vacations and visiting friends, she’s still very committed to her very full-time project.  Those philanthropic endeavors will have to wait. “Whatever I do, I do 100 percent,” she says, stating the obvious.  And that is clearly another secret to her success.

Brooks Street Books’ Sarah Vanderveen: Poet, philosopher, publisher


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Author and photographer Sarah Vanderveen, former editor of a literary journal, searched Southern California for a small independent press compatible with her values and aspirations (and I will add, talent), but she couldn’t find one that matched her publishing goals and those of her creative friends and colleagues. 

So in 2012 Sarah founded one: Brooks Street Books, which for the moment primarily publishes art and gift books steeped in the culture and natural history of Laguna and its surrounds. 

“Every day I wake up and think how lucky I am to live here,” Sarah says. “I wanted to capture the wonder of living somewhere so inspiring, and that’s how my book came about. Also, it made sense to use it as a way to figure out the challenges of the publishing process.”

Sarah Vanderveen

Sarah’s first book, Once by the Pacific, showcases her poems and photography and is beautifully produced. The contents are a paean to the wonders of our coves, wildlife and trails as well as the quirkiness of local characters. 

Two of my favorite poems are Hike and Coyotes (you’ll have to buy the book to read them…it’s available at Laguna Beach Books, Tuvalu and Areo, as well as traditional booksellers).

The essence of creating poetry

Like most of Sarah’s poems, both Hike and Coyotes capture the essence of what it means to live in Laguna, while subtly referencing more universal themes, even the mystery of life itself, in a form that invites the reader in, and doesn’t intimidate, as some poems tend to do – whether intentionally on the part of the poet or not.

“There’s a quote I love, though I’m not sure of the source,” Sarah says. “’[People should] love poems the way they love snow,’ in other words, viscerally. Poems should resonate emotionally, not present a wall the reader can’t get in.”

As, we agreed, is the case with quite a few poems published in The New Yorker.

Inspiration from an early age

Sarah’s sense of wonder about the natural world is a product, she says, of having lived in several inspiring places, from Mendocino to Napa Valley to Seattle, as well as the result of her childhood with parents who loved nature and the written word.

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Sarah’s and other author’s books published by Brooks Street Books 

 “My father used to read us poetry,” she says, recalling in particular a book of poems called Reflections on the Gift of Watermelon Pickle. I had never heard of it, and when I looked it up on Amazon, I was sad that I had never read it as child. (So, always willing to revert to childhood pleasures, I ordered the book.)

“I remember as a kid living in the Bay Area, collecting shells in the tide pools, how frigid the water was, the scent of the native plants on the hillsides, the fog rolling in, how incredibly mysterious the world became. I remember seeing huge sea lions, smelly but so awesome, sunning themselves, just ruling the beach, and they were so close,” Sarah recalls. “That image has stayed with me.”

Sarah’s instinctive connection with nature, combined with the presence of many books in her childhood home, seemed to point her toward a career in the creative arts…“which I resisted at first,” she says, “not wanting to be predictable, I suppose, wanting to be different from everyone else in the family.  So as a kid I thought I’d like to be an architect.”

But both nature and nurture have conspired to turn her into a poet and writer, with a dash of entrepreneurship thrown in.

A special place in her heart

Why Brooks Street Books, I asked?

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Working on new ideas

Turns out that Brooks Street has a great deal of emotional resonance in Sarah’s life. “It’s my husband’s favorite surfing spot, for one thing,” she explains. “Anytime I go down to Brooks Street beach, I’m likely to see friends or people I recognize there, and there are always people at the lookout watching the sunset in the evening, still amazed at the beauty, because it never gets old, even after living here for decades.”

The Vanderveens ended up in Laguna in part because one of their dearest friends, Mark Metherell, lived here with his wife. 

“We found a house across the road in Brooks Street. Those were wonderful times. Tragically Mark, a former Navy Seal, died in Iraq in 2008,” Sarah explains. “So I have a strong emotional connection with Brooks Street. There’s not a day we don’t think about Mark.”

Creativity, good fortune and gratitude

Brooks Street Books has also published the popular 101 Things to Love about Laguna, compiled by writer Sally Eastwood and illustrator Helen Polins-Jones. This book coincidentally arrived in my hands at the same time as a visit from my long-time friend Carol, who is now living in Australia. We happily perused it together, learning more about Laguna than I had known even after all these years living here – did you know that John Steinbeck wrote Tortilla Flat while living on Park Ave?  

As I write this, Carol is wandering around Laguna, seeking out as many of the 101 things that she can fit into her visit. 

The company also recently published The Accidental Naturalist, created by Jo Situ Allen, an adult coloring book which Sarah points out also contains a glossary of the flora and fauna represented on the pages, providing education along with fun.

These are books that represent Laguna, yes, but also the quintessential Sarah Vanderveen – a generous, creative, warm person who loves to walk the trails, surf, and hang out with her college-age sons and friends and family on the beach – and who doesn’t for a minute take for granted the good fortune that has led her to this place at this time, but instead has made it her mission to celebrate the wonder of our world in words and pictures.

Chris Olsen’s crazy busy world: wine and family life


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When he was a young guy in college, Chris Olsen had a fortuitous friendship. Chris was studying business and finance with the aim of going into the mortgage business, while his friend, whom he had known since high school, was researching a way to go into the wine business. Chris went on to pursue the world of mortgage financing, working for a large company, but a little voice inside his head kept reminding him about his love of wine and that friend’s thesis, and how fun and rewarding it would be to be in business independently.

He dropped what he was doing, contacted that friend, partnered up and launched The Wine Gallery. 

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Chris Olsen

Business on your own? Not always so easy.

“There are times I wish I wasn’t, but this is what I signed up for!” Chris says with a smile, as he checks his phone while answering vendor’s questions, inspects an order of shrimp, and still manages to give me the time to get to know him better. Oh, and he threw his back out, but that doesn’t stop him from loading supplies into the kitchen at their Woods Cove restaurant.

The entrepreneur is born

It was once upon a time, in 1999, that the partners opened that first little business – a boutique wine market in Corona Del Mar. Chris was 26 years old. That small space expanded into neighboring property, and then added a kitchen to the delight of their devoted customer following. But as time went on, Chris hankered for a full kitchen, not simply the electric one that they had been using.

“We were organically growing as we went along,” Chris says. “But I wanted to build on that – add a full kitchen.”

One of his customers happened to own property in Laguna that would be a perfect fit. Chris signed on for that space in 2012, and Wine Gallery Laguna Beach was born. It quickly became a happening place, both for wine and for the food. 

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Chris laughs, “[Corona Del Mar] that’s my day job, this [Laguna Beach] is my night job.”

In Laguna Beach alone, he manages 18 employees, some part-time, some full-time. Between the two locales, Chris says he’s something of a moving target these days.

Enter the wine world

Chris entered the wine world in an unconventional fashion. Growing up in Corona Del Mar, he would bring his high school dates to Laguna. He’d take the girl to a restaurant and order a bottle of wine.

“My date spot was Las Brisas,” he says. “My go-to spot.” 

Having a “baby face,” he knew he would command better attention and respect, and get away with it, ordering by the bottle (“The least expensive bottle”). At any rate, going to Laguna Beach, and going out to its restaurants, most likely launched Chris’ career.

“I love going out to eat, and cooking. I’ve always had an affinity for wine,” he says. “I just had a palate for it. And I always loved Laguna Beach.”

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As far as wine, Chris says he knows what he likes, and especially, “I know what sells.” One wine that is both his favorite and a best seller, is actually his own wine. Yes, he makes wine too! It’s a Pinot Noir varietal, called Mile 216 (named for the distance of the drive to the vineyards).

A family guy

A special girlfriend he brought to Laguna changed his life, one restaurant at a time. Chris and Heather loved to go to Javier’s, Sushi Laguna, and Tabu Grill often. Dating for almost nine years, they married and are now the happy parents of daughter Tyler, seven, and their four-year-old son, Tanner. And not only are they busy parents, they’re re-modeling their Laguna Beach home – another sort of full-time job.

The family is anchored in Laguna.

“I’m going to raise my kids here start to finish,” Chris says with pride. “Good friends, great schools, the beaches… we’re embedded in this community.”

And then he’s off to his son’s T-ball game, where he is the assistant coach.

“They’re learning to catch the ball ‘like a bulldozer’ and throw ‘like a cobra.’”

Just getting started

Before his “day job and his “night job,” Chris’ day goes like this: “I drop my kid at pre-school every day. Go check on the remodel, check emails, and work out… weights and run. If I’m lucky, I’ll get in the water and surf.”

How does he manage to juggle so many things in his life? He’s barely scratched the surface. Ahead are further plans to expand the business, and launch new lunchtime hours at the Laguna Beach locale.

“And I’d like to plant a vineyard.” 

Of course he would!

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If there was one word to describe Chris Olsen, it is energetic. He’s not one to let his back spasm slow him down; he’s a can-do guy, and he’s always ready with a quick smile. You can catch that smile just about every evening at Wine Gallery.

As the man says, “People know where to find me!”

LBPD Detective Cornelius Ashton is a “Top Cop”


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Detective Cornelius Ashton has been with the Laguna Beach Police Department for just two years. His brief tenure has, however, hardly hampered his ability to make an impact, not just on the police force, but in the wider community as well. In June 2016, after being on the force only a year, Ashton was awarded Laguna’s “Top Cop” award along with fellow officer, Dave Gensemer. The award was created to publicly recognize officers who exemplify exceptional dedication to their communities. 

After spending time with Detective Ashton it is easy to see why he was recognized: he is passionate about his job and committed to having a positive impact on everyone he meets, regardless of the circumstances.

The Juvenile Crimes Detective for LBPD

As the city’s Juvenile Crimes detective, Det Ashton is responsible for investigating all crimes involving juveniles including sex crimes, child abuse, narcotics and burglaries. It’s a big job because he works with children who are victims as well as perpetrators. “I deal with not only kids who commit crimes, but I’m also a school resource officer. I do what I can to build trust between the police department and our youth,” he explains. 

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Detective Cornelius Ashton of the Laguna Beach Police Department

Well-suited for detective work

One of only four detectives in the Laguna Beach Police Department, Det Ashton says each detective has an area they handle: crimes against persons, property crimes, fraud and juvenile crimes. If a juvenile is involved in any of the aforementioned crimes, Det. Ashton will become involved, depending on his caseload. As a newcomer to the department, Det. Ashton says he has two more years as a detective. Then, because Laguna has such a small force, he will rotate out and go on patrol. 

Every detective follows this rotation. Det. Ashton says it’s to ensure the younger officers in the department get a chance to be a detective. “I prefer being a detective,” he explains. “I can connect with people more effectively. On patrol you’re there and then you’re off to the next patrol. When my time is up I will be really sad.”

Committed to impacting people in a positive way

Connecting with people comes up frequently in Det Ashton’s conversation about his work. Whatever role someone plays in a crime, victim or perpetrator, Det. Ashton’s goal is for that interaction to be constructive. 

“I feel like my purpose is to affect people in a positive light. What better way can you do that than as a police officer? Helping people with their problems, it’s the most rewarding thing. The Top Cop award, or any award, doesn’t thrill me as much as impacting people in a positive way,” he says sincerely.

An empathy born of experience

A San Diego native, Det. Ashton brings a level of empathy to his position that comes from a challenging upbringing. Without elaborating, Det. Ashton says he grew up around drug addiction and homelessness. 

“I left home in my early teens and began working,” he says. “I met a police officer who told me about the Explorer program at the Chula Vista Police Department. It had a sense of family that I was looking for. I stayed three years. When I was 20 and half I got hired on as a police officer,” he says.

Building trust in difficult situations

His history gives him a credibility that the people he interacts with feel. “I’ve grown up around those situations (drugs and homelessness). I have a way of making people believe and trust in what I say to them. I always make a point of shaking hands with someone I’ve arrested. It’s powerful. When they hear me tell them ‘they can do it and turn it around’…sometimes they’ve never heard that from anyone before. It’s a good day.”

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Detective Cornelius Ashton in front of the Laguna Beach Police Department

Looking for – and finding – the right community

Before coming to the Laguna Beach Police Department, Det Ashton was with the San Diego Community College Police for 15 years. He left because it was such a small force and there wasn’t a lot of room for advancement. He may not have known exactly where he wanted to end up, but Det Ashton knew what he wanted in a force: “I wanted to work in a vibrant community where I’d have a positive impact and work for a police department that had a feeling of a family environment. The Laguna Beach Police Department definitely won me over,” he remembers enthusiastically. “I went on a ride along and there’s just this positive vibe in the air here. It doesn’t feel militant. People truly care about you – totally different from the policing I was accustomed to.”

The importance of teaching youth to trust the law

The position that was available is the one he holds now, juvenile crimes. Because he had worked on college campuses that had child development centers he found his new position to be compatible with his old. 

“I was very familiar with how school services worked and how they expected it to work with the police department. Having children of my own I feel it’s important to connect with youth at an early age to have them trust law enforcement and understand the importance of respect and following the rule of law.” Det. Ashton lives in Irvine with his wife and children.

On call 24-7 all summer long

One thing that surprised Det. Ashton about Laguna Beach was how many people come to visit all year round. This presents problems with traffic and “bad elements” coming in, in addition to the normal crime that happens in any community. However, while being a vacation destination poses challenges (Det. Ashton says he is on call 24-7 all summer long), he and his fellow officers strive to be what he calls a “service oriented department.” “We take time and we go above and beyond to help people. That coincides with my values. It was something I paid attention to before I transferred to the LBPD.”

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The Laguna Beach Police Department at 505 Forest Ave

Determined to change negative perceptions

Something he is determined to fix is some of the negativity directed towards police officers, especially right now. “I’m an African-American…” he begins thoughtfully, “So…I take it as a challenge. As police officers, we’re parents, we have loved ones just like everyone else. Our interest is to keep people safe, solve crimes – solve problems.”  

Det. Ashton is determined to defy negativity. If people walk by and give him a bad look, he will intentionally smile and try to engage them in a conversation. He says that frequently, after such efforts, the response he will get is a somewhat surprised, “You’re a cool cop.” 

More than a job: a calling

Working in law enforcement is not an easy job. Det. Ashton says the only time he really relaxes is when he’s away from his job with his family. However, while it is stressful, he says he can’t imagine not doing it. “This is my calling. This is my purpose. I can’t think of any other profession where I can use my strengths --communication, problem solving -- to such an extent,” he says. 

And Laguna Beach is a great place for Det. Ashton to use those skills. “There’s more diversity here than people think. That’s what I love about Laguna. Laguna Beach Police Department is good about finding people that fit their values. I’m definitely happy that I came here.”

Frets, strings, and jumping fleas: Tom Joliet, ukulele player and teacher, tells all


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Whether ukulele is pronounced “oo-koo-lay-lay” or “yoo-ka-lay-lee” the word and the instrument it describes almost inevitably makes people smile. Why?  Most musical instruments don’t evoke that response. No grin follows the mention of a guitar, or piano, or cello. 

Tom Joliet, beloved teacher of the classes at the Susi Q, thinks that the smiles occur primarily because people associate sing-alongs with the instrument, nor are there expectations that players should be musical geniuses, so there’s a comfort level with the instrument. 

“Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s an accompaniment to singing,” Joliet says. “And the melodies are fun, they’re universal, catchy tunes.”

Also most folks can at least imagine themselves learning to play the instrument, because its simplicity, small size and portability make it appear much less daunting than, let’s say, a harp.

Why fleas?

Joliet then began to speak of frets and strings and fleas. He is fascinating on the subject of his favorite instrument, even to someone as musically challenged as I am.

“The word ukulele means ‘jumping fleas,’” he tells me. “They say when Portuguese sailors arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, the locals were fascinated by the speed of their fingers on the strings of a small guitar that would later evolve into the ukulele. That’s how the name came about.” 

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Tom Joliet and Jack Morse: Ukulele players extraordinaire

“Here in Laguna Beach in the forties, if you were strolling along the old boardwalk, you might encounter Jack Morse playing melodies along with Hawaiian transplant beach boy Hockshaw Paia,” Joliet says. 

Morse is now 82 and still teaches beginner and, sometimes, intermediate classes at the Susi Q.  

For a while, Joliet says, the ukulele became an object of some derision, when Tiny Tim “killed it on the mainland.” 

Fortunately, Beatle George Harrison was a big supporter. “I’m told he composed Here Comes the Sun on the ukulele,” Joliet says.

Then, in the early nineties, the instrument regained popularity when Hawaiian Israel Kamakawiwo’ole recorded Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World with a reggae beat. 

From sutures to strings

Joliet didn’t set out to be a ukulele maven.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he lived in an orphanage until his first birthday. Then he and his sister were adopted and the family moved to Reseda and then Huntington Beach – the nearly perfect place for a wanna-be surfer. 

But not as perfect as Maui, where he headed after high school.

“I realized that odd jobs in construction would not pay for college so I joined the U.S. Army from Wailuku to get surgical tech training and four years of college paid by the GI Bill,” Joliet explains. “Army Basic was at Fort Ord, and I was sent to Advanced Combat Medic/Operating Room Technician training at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas.”

His on-the-job surgical skills were put to use in Long Binh, Vietnam. “I learned to sew stitching soldier’s wounds. I won’t detail the mass casualty triage or medevac situations, but I did catch choppers to surf in the South China Sea at Vung Tau with the Aussies who were based there, where the sea snakes were plentiful!” Joliet adds.

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This great shot shows Tom Joliet in action during his ukulele class

Back in Maui, he led hikers through Haleakala Volcano, surfed, spear fished, played tennis and guitar. Further adventures followed in Europe, where he hitchhiked with his surfboard, after which he returned to Hawaii, working as a tour guide.

“A job in Hollywood writing scripts and imagineering amusement park rides moved me back to California,” Joliet tells me. Turned out, though, that much of the work had to be done on spec, so he looked for alternatives.

His surgical training resulted in a job as South Coast Medical Center. He then earned a degree in social ecology at UCI, working as a wilderness tour guide to pay for school, and also gained a teaching credential and later a Masters degree. He spent many years teaching and also coached surf and golf teams. In 2007 he was named Teacher of the Year. 

He and his wife Gayle are focused on social justice and recently he got an enormous kick out of leading his ukulele players on a rendition of “If I Had a Hammer” in front of approximately 1,000 people at the Women’s March on Main Beach.

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Tom Joliet has strong connections to Hawaii

Our conversation turned again to ukuleles. I wondered if his skill with sutures was perhaps related to his skill with strings. Joliet said that could be the case, because dexterity is important to playing the instrument well.

“That’s the great thing about learning to play the ukulele,” he said. “It helps with hand-eye coordination, stimulates your synapses and sharpens your ability to memorize. And it’s a lot of fun.”

Joliet and his wife Gayle lived in a small home in Treasure Island for years. “Gayle is my soul mate,” he says. “We got married on the beach, March 24, 1984, accompanied by the spouts of migrating whales.”

In addition to teaching at the Susi Q, the retired Joliet also volunteers at the local youth shelter and he is a volunteer co-host of The Radio Neighboring Show on public radio KX 93.5 FM in Laguna. 

And how does he plan to spend the rest of his days on this planet? (As if he isn’t already busy enough!) 

Cruising to the finish line

“I love to play guitar at beach bonfires, longboard, golf, play paddle tennis, hike the Sierra and ocean kayak with Gayle. As members of the garden committee, Gayle and I have helped build and maintain the South Laguna Community Park,” he says. “And travel, we love to travel, we’ve been to all seven continents. We have a cabin in Huntington Lake in the Sierras where we love to stay also.”

Then Joliet leans across the table, his eyes bright with mischief. “And then, when we get too old to be active?” he says. “We’re going to go on endless cruises instead of to a nursing home. They’re half the price, you get clean sheets every day, there are valets, and doctors on board and great food that they’ll serve to you in your room, and then when you’ve had enough of it all, you just throw yourself overboard!”

Sounds like a plan to me – though I imagine (and certainly hope) that there’ll be a lot more ukulele playing and adventuring for the cheerful, generous, multi-talented Joliet and his wife before those days come to pass.

Lori Kahn: Teaching, coaching and sharing at Om

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

When Lori Kahn, owner of Om Laguna Beach, moved to Laguna full time from Los Angeles in 1999, reluctant might be the word to describe how she initially felt about it. “I didn’t know what I was going to do down here,” she remembers with bemusement. A former clothing manufacturer and stylist, she felt that Laguna did not present a lot of options for her in those areas at the time. 

However, it didn’t take long for her reservations to be put at ease. “When I finally surrendered (to living here) and we could just walk down the street to the beach it was such an amazing way to raise kids. I fell in love with the town, the community. The other moms, they became like my family,” she says.

Trusting in Om Laguna Beach

Kahn opened Om Laguna Beach in 2012. Her vision was to create a space to “introduce people to all different kinds of meditation. Originally, I envisioned a ‘Yoga Works’ of meditation,” she explains. However, five years later, while her studio is certainly a hub of meditative practice, Kahn finds that her business of teaching and coaching has grown beyond its four walls. 

“I approached my business like meditation,” she says, explaining that when she first opened, “I’d sit and wait for people to come in. That’s what mindful practice does. You trust the moment even if it’s uncomfortable. Show up. Trust. Things will happen as they should.”

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Lori Kahn, owner and founder of Om Laguna Beach

Fashion, yoga and “moving meditation”

This faith in things falling into place is something Kahn has developed throughout her years of first practicing yoga and then meditation. The fashion business, she explains, was stressful. The intensity of that industry led her to seek an outlet for that stress which led her to yoga. “I didn’t like gyms. I’m not athletic. A friend got me to try yoga and I totally fell in love with it,” remembers Kahn. 

She was so enthusiastic about it her friend convinced her to do a yoga training program. Her teacher, Erich Schiffman, taught “moving meditation.” So while yoga was the primary focus, Kahn says for her, “the fundamentals (of meditation) were already there. I always had that meditation component.”

Health woes bring meditation front and center

Kahn began teaching yoga when her then husband took a job in Vancouver. Kahn could not continue working in fashion but she still wanted to work. Teaching yoga was a perfect fit. “I could get paid in cash,” she says with a laugh. It didn’t matter if I was legal.” Unfortunately, after the birth of her second son, Kahn’s health began to decline. 

“I had headaches, joint pain, fatigue. I had to stop teaching,” she says. “My health had become so unmanageable all I had left was my meditation practice. It saved me. I had a husband who traveled all the time, two boys ages five and two and I was sick all the time. The only thing that kept me moving forward was meditation.”

Meditation leads to “integrative coaching”

The more committed Kahn became to her meditation practice the more she wanted to learn about it. “I started really getting into it,” she says, “As the kids got older I started going to workshops and that kind of thing. My health got better. I didn’t want to teach yoga, only meditation.” Then in 2007 Kahn went to the Ford Institute and became a certified Integrative Coach. “I very much blended meditation in my approach to my coaching practice,” she says of the progression.

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Lori Kahn in her studio preparing for her next client

Helping make meditation do-able

Kahn believes that meditation is slowly making its way to the mainstream as yoga has, but it’s not there yet. “One of the obstacles is people feel they are too busy or too stressed. It’s a double-edged sword.” She likens it to exercising; something easy to put off but once you push through you see the results and it becomes a habit.  “When it comes to doing stuff that’s good on an emotional or psychological level we resist. A lot of people think it’s hard. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but it’s a lot more do-able than people think.” 

A coach is an ally

The same goes for coaching, something that has really taken off for her. “For my integrative coaching I use meditation to help people get through whatever it is they’re going through. It’s more of an ongoing relationship,” Kahn explains. “People often don’t know what to expect. They think it’s like therapy. It isn’t easy to change, but wouldn’t you rather have an ally who supports you as you go through challenging times?”

Working with groups and individuals

Besides the individuals she coaches, Kahn also works with groups like Fisher-Paykel, United Capital, The Whole Purpose Company and Lululemon. She really enjoys the challenge of developing programs for her corporate clients, as well as those for a one-on-one environment. “My corporate clients are probably my biggest area of growth which is really exciting, but I also really enjoy designing practices for just one client. It’s so intimate. I love teaching,” she says enthusiastically. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Something clicks and it’s not about me. No ego, no pressure…it’s so satisfying.” 

“Om at Home” on KX93.5

Her love of teaching is what prompted her to do a radio show, “Om at Home,” on KX93.5 every Sunday from 7:00-7:30am. “It has been three and a half years, a couple of hundred shows,” marvels Kahn. She describes her show by saying, “It all starts with the basics of meditation, learning to focus and direct our attention to simple things (like the breath and the senses), and what to do when we can’t! “OM at Home” is an opportunity to give ourselves the permission to stop for 30 minutes and do nothing, just listen and breathe and practice what it feels like to relax and let go, a natural sense of peace of just being in the moment starts to grow and becomes something we want to spend more time doing!”

NeurOptimal Neurofeedback

In addition to meditation and coaching (in person, via Skype, FaceTime or on the radio) Kahn provides NeurOptimal Neurofeedback. “It’s an incredible program,” she says. “It treats nervous system disorders like PTSD, depression, anxiety.” It is offered as a stand-alone service or in conjunction with coaching and/or meditation.

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A wall helps clients remember to “breathe” inside Om Laguna Beach

An “unbusiness-like” approach to business

So while Kahn’s business now may not exactly resemble her original plan, she couldn’t be happier with its path. “What’s funny about my approach to business is that it’s not very business-like,” she says good-naturedly. “I had no idea what to expect, only what I wanted and what my vision was. I trusted the intention and I never questioned the challenge. I learn as I do.”

A full-time mom and full-time teacher

Learning by doing seems to work quite well for Kahn. “Being a mother and teacher, they’re both who I am. My work has always had to accommodate me being a full-time mom. It makes sense to realign my goals when my kids go to college,” she says, which isn’t too far off. 

Taking Om outside of the studio

While Kahn loves her studio and what it represents, once her youngest son leaves for college she envisions a practice beyond the studio. “It’s kind of fantastic. My business has grown to not need four walls. I didn’t plan it this way, but I really like it. I’d love to find ten more teachers to teach (in the studio) while I am out traveling, teaching, Skyping one on one with my clients,” she says enthusiastically. 

From “Om at Home” to “Om Anywhere.”

Ann E Wareham: A woman for all seasons – or the wizard behind the curtain? Both.


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

See Ann E Wareham arrive at the theatre on the opening night of Our Great Tchaikovsky looking stunning in a black lace dress, her blonde hair shining, her expressive blue eyes beautifully accentuated with liner and mascara, and watch her deliver a heartfelt thank-you from the stage to Playhouse supporters in the sold-out audience, who in true Laguna style have kept this dream of a theatre going.

Listen to the applause of the crowd, who know a heroine of the arts when they see one. Hear the confidence in Ann’s voice as she welcomes the audience.

Think to yourself how poised Ann looks onstage, and how inaccessible and impossible to emulate she must seem to people who aspire to a position such as hers – artistic director, Laguna Playhouse – just as, when she was a teenager, her future mentor and boss Gordon Davidson had appeared to her at the Mark Taper Forum.

Ann Wareham behind the scenes

But recall Ann just two days earlier being very accessible indeed: warm, and friendly, and funny. Behind the scenes, she chats easily as as we sit on a faded couch in the dressing room that has provided respite for many famous actors and will soon host the talented Hershey Felder. 

Still, on being invited to go up to her office, I half-expect to see signed portraits of a sophisticated Ann photographed with the rich and famous along, perhaps, with a spread of shiny theatre programs artistically arranged on a table. Flowers. Maybe a tableau of awards. 

But no, that’s not what I see at all. Ann Wareham is as unpretentious an achiever as you could wish to meet, and appropriately, she has an unpretentious (but very productive-looking) office.

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Ann E Wareham, artistic director of Laguna Playhouse

“I keep an open door,” she tells me, “and when I want to have private meetings, I’ll say, follow me to my office, and guests will find themselves on our very tiny balcony overlooking Broadway.”

When she says open door policy, Ann is not being metaphorical. Inside her upstairs office, crammed with desks and chairs and filing cabinets, I find her smiling assistant Sarah along with Ann’s five-pound Yorkie, Sailor, and much larger black lab mix named Murphy, and during the short time I’m there, several staffers wander in and out with messages or issues that need Ann’s attention.

And then there’s that open-roof thing in the next-door office, though that’s not a choice, it’s the result of recent rains.

The wall above her desk is a-flutter with yellow Post-it notes adorned with the names of productions. “That’s how I figure out the seasonal schedules,” she tells me. 

However chaotic that incidental Post-It poster art may appear, those sticky notes represent thoughtful and packed days, weeks, months, years of conversations with actors, directors and producers. They’ve led to terrific season line-ups. 

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Inadvertent poster art: Wareham plans for new seasons with an unconventional, but very successful approach

Plus of course Wareham spends a great deal of time watching plays and musicals and shows of all kinds, figuring out what productions will most please the Laguna community. “We have a great team, working together, which makes my job so much easier,” she emphasizes.

She loves every moment on the road – well, almost every moment.

“Once in a while, if I’m tired or just not intrigued by a show, I’m tempted to leave at intermission, but I never do, because that’s so disrespectful to the actors,” she says. “Plus I’m recognizable…But no, I wouldn’t anyway, I have too much admiration for all the work that goes into a production.”

Her job often entails a commute to LA, where she used to live.

“I’m probably the only person you’ll meet who will tell you she felt nostalgic seeing the scene on the 405 in La La Land,” she says. “Well, I miss LA sometimes, but not enough to live there. I love Laguna Beach. I feel like a local now after six and a half years in this job.” 

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Ann Wareham is most at home at the theatre: here she enjoys the set for Our Great Tchaikovsky, currently playing

LA is where Wareham grew up, and where she first experienced the magic of the theatre. As a 16-year-old, she worked as an usher at the Music Center, watching in awe as her future mentor Gordon Davidson worked onstage. (Sadly, Davidson passed away last year in October.)

“Gordon’s energy and passion impressed me so much,” she says. “I wanted to be him. It still amazes me that 10 years after first seeing him, I had become his assistant. Gordon was my boss for 27 years, my mentor and guiding light. There will never be another like him.”

Energy and passion are also evident in Wareham’s packed schedule and lively presence. She practically lives at the Playhouse (and so do her dogs).

Her “sacred space” is Monday evenings, she says, or early mornings. “I like to be in my garden, or play or watch tennis, that’s my other great love.”

Wareham likes to mingle with the audience after opening night, trying to pick up the odd comment, spontaneous and uncensored, that might give her a sense the audience’s true feelings. So far she hasn’t donned a disguise to do so, though she’s been tempted.

Ann has many favorite productions: some of the finest are soon to arrive on stage

She’s excited that the Laguna Playhouse is thriving, with tremendous community support and great productions – a favorite of hers was the recent Billy & Ray production, of course the currently running Our Great Tchaikovsky with Hershey Felder, and Ann’s thrilled that up soon will be the world premiere of King of the Road: the Roger Miller story, directed by the accomplished Andrew Barnicle. 

Deaf theatre is one of her greatest passions, particularly the work of LA’s Deaf West Theatre, which recently received three Tony nominations for their production of Spring Awakening.

“I would love to bring a deaf musical to Laguna,” Wareham says. “Watching those productions can be a life-changing experience.”

I’d guess it won’t be long before Lagunans are privileged to experience such a show. Indeed, Ann E Wareham’s creative mind and exquisite taste have brought Laguna some of the finest productions in the Playhouse’s long history.

Planes, pickup trucks and a pickle jar: A history that led Dr. Jorge Rubal to CEO at the Community Clinic


Photography by Mary Hurlbut

A few moments in Dr. Jorge Rubal’s company is enough to know he has a wonderful bedside manner. His smile is infectious. His style is professional but laid-back. Dr. Rubal treats the whole patient, and considers their whole circumstance. 

While his caring nature is certainly inborn, his ability to communicate his deep compassion was no doubt fine-tuned as a result of his early experiences with the neediest of patients. During his pre-med years, still undecided on a career, Cuban-born Dr. Rubal was offered a rare opportunity. 

Rubal’s first language is Spanish. That asset, combined with his then-burgeoning interest in medicine, made him a natural choice for a volunteer medical translating position in the remote locales of Mexico. 

“I was told if I could afford a seat on a Cessna, I could accompany doctors on their volunteer medical missions to Sinaloa, Mexico,” Rubal says. 

And so that’s what he did. For three years. That experience solidified his commitment to medicine, and to serving the underserved.

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Dr. Jorge Rubal, director of the Laguna Beach Community Clinic

With LIGA International, known as the Flying Doctors of Mercy, Rubal traveled to Mexico two days a month. In the 48 hours they spent on the ground, their medical staff served as many as 500 patients. When their plane touched down, patients were already waiting. 

“We’d land on dirt fields,” Rubal says. “The pick-up trucks were lined up on the landing strip, waiting for us.” 

Doctors provided primary, pediatric, psychiatric and surgical care for people who otherwise had no access to medical care. Some doctors performed surgeries 24 hours a day. Others caught snatches of sleep on the roof of the surgical center in makeshift tents, or in homes offered up by locals.  

Not only did his experiences with LIGA solidify Rubal’s commitment to medicine, it sparked his interest in marrying both the art and science of medicine, and to serving the under-privileged. 

From flying doctor to family medicine: Meeting Dr. Bent

After graduating from University of California, Riverside, Dr. Rubal obtained a joint MD/MBA degree from UCI, specializing in family medicine. During his years at UCI, Rubal met Dr. Thomas Bent, then director of the Laguna Beach Community Clinic. They worked together in the early 2000s, and kept in touch. 

“I’d always wanted to work with Dr. Bent,” Rubal says. “I remained interested in the patient population and who we serve.” In 2013, that goal became a reality. And, in September of last year, Dr. Rubal took over as CEO and Medical Director of the Laguna Beach Community Clinic.

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Dr. Rubal’s consulting room is as welcoming as the man himself

The clinic began forty-six years ago as an entirely free provider. Its mission was to care for artists and local workers. “They would pass around a pickle jar, asking people to contribute whatever they could,” Rubal says. In the 1980s it changed to a nonprofit, seeing patients on a sliding scale basis.  

“Back in the 80s,” he says, “it was the only clinic in Orange County servicing HIV patients.” In fact, many patients went on to become healthy, employed and insured, but still chose the clinic for their healthcare needs. Now their office accepts most insurance, and helps patients on a sliding scale.

But Dr. Rubal laments the changes the Affordable Care Act have brought upon them. “With every patient we treat, we lose money,” he says. “Imagine. You call a plumber to fix your pipes and every time he comes out, he loses money.” 

This has been Dr. Rubal’s biggest frustration. Through grants, fundraisers, and community support, the clinic has been able to close the financial gap each year. But it’s one of the last true community clinics. “If we didn’t have the full support from the community,” he says, “we couldn’t sustain our work.” 

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The Rubal family, L- R: Lauren, Blake (2), Jorge and Christian Rubal (5)

While in the first year of their medical internship at Harbor, UCLA Medical Center, Rubal met his wife, Dr. Lauren Rubal, now an OB/GYN who specializes in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. The couple has two boys, Christian (5) and Blake (2), and they hope for more.  

Dr. Rubal is proud of his Cuban heritage. Although born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley, he didn’t begin speaking English until age six. “With so much family, so many cousins, we never watched TV.  From sunrise to sundown, we were running around the neighborhood. No one spoke English.” 

He still loves Cuban music, and has traveled to Cuba three times, hoping to go back again with his grandfather before he passes away.

In his spare time (at 5 a.m.!), Dr. Rubal is a cross-fit fanatic. He’s always been an athlete, playing baseball throughout high school and into college.  

He practices what he preaches to patients: stay healthy and stay active. 

There’s no question that Dr. Rubal has those bases covered.

Madison Sinclair and Wyatt Shipp: Why they’re Patriot’s Day Parade Junior Citizens of the Year


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The Laguna Beach Patriot’s Day Parade is Saturday March 4. More than a hundred residents (at least!) are expected to participate in the 51st annual event. A slice of Americana if ever there was one, the parade features marching bands, floats and enthusiastic marchers from a myriad of civic groups.  

The Patriot’s Day Parade honors many

The Patriot’s Day Parade also features a host of honorees ranging from the Parade’s Grand Marshalls (this year, gold medalists Aria and Makenzie Fischer), an Honored Patriot of the Year (Robert W. Sternfels USAAF), Citizen of the Year (Doug Miller), Artist of the Year (John Barber) and two Junior Citizens of the Year (Madison Sinclair and Wyatt Shipp). Clearly, much could be written about every honoree whose stories are as compelling and different as the recipients themselves.

Junior Citizens of the Year are proven leaders

The stories of the Junior Citizens of the Year, Madison Sinclair and Wyatt Shipp, are quite different from each other’s. However, they have some obvious similarities. Both are 12th graders at Laguna Beach High School and both were selected by the LBHS faculty and staff “on the basis of their achievements in leadership, scholarship, athletics and service” according to the parade’s website.

In other words, both students have managed to fit more into their high school years than seems humanly possible.

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Madison Sinclair and Wyatt Shipp, Patriot’s Day Parade Junior Citizens of the Year

Energy drinks are a necessity for Madison Sinclair

“I live on energy drinks,” explains Sinclair good-naturedly. This fact seems like an understatement when she runs through her schedule. Currently taking six Advanced Placement classes while editor-in-chief of the school paper, “Brush and Palette,” and acting as Secretary General of the school’s Model United Nations (MUN) one can certainly understand why Sinclair might need a caffeine boost.  

As our conversation continues, it seems unbelievable that a double latte could be close to enough to get her through her day. 

So many activities but a special love of horses

In addition to her scholastic, editorial and MUN duties, Sinclair is on the varsity track team, she is a Juntos liaison (Juntos is a program that tutors children in order to help their English language skills), she is in this year’s LBHS production of “Cinderella,” she coaches and referees AYSO soccer as well as coaching basketball at the Boys and Girls Club, and she volunteers at UCI Medical Center. And, because “horses are (her) favorite thing – ever,” she barrel races outside of school and teaches riding to younger children. 

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Cowboy boots are a must for Madison Sinclair’s favorite activity

A desire to try everything

So, why does Sinclair choose to come home from school around 9:30 p.m., frequently stay up until 3 a.m. only to be at school at 7:30 a.m. the following morning and do it all over again?  

“I really wanted to try everything,” she says simply. “A lot of the things I tried for fun I really liked doing.” Take track, for example, “It has been one of my favorite high school things,” she says enthusiastically. She joined track her sophomore year after playing soccer and basketball. 

“I could make my own workout schedule,” she explains. With a schedule like hers one can see how this would be attractive. She also says her coach, Lance Peterson, “is the nicest man I have ever met.”

Making a difference is one of Madison Sinclair’s career goals

“MUN,” she says, “is what I want to do with my life. I have a strong interest in global awareness.” Her goal in college is to major in International Relations or Political Science and minor in Spanish. “Senor Garvey, my tenth grade Spanish teacher, is one of the most dedicated teachers. He cared so much he made me love Spanish.” 

She hopes to meld the two interests and make a difference in the world.

“Being on my feet and talking to people I want to help, that’s my dream job,” she says emphatically.

Leaving her family will be tough

Like most high school seniors, Sinclair is waiting to hear if she got accepted into her dream school, (for her, it’s either Duke of Vanderbilt). It seems unfathomable to me that she, with her 1,200 hours of community service and her 4.6 GPA would hear anything but yes, but just in case, she can relax a little knowing she has already received a scholarship to USC. 

The thought of leaving her parents with whom Sinclair says she is “super tight” is a daunting one. Nevertheless, she says she’s ready to give it a try. And that is a word Madison Sinclair is well-versed in. She has literally tried just about everything. “I put my whole heart into everything. Nothing is for the resume,” she says sincerely. 

Nothing can keep Wyatt Shipp down

Wyatt Shipp also knows a lot about putting his heart into everything. He also knows a lot about overcoming obstacles. Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age three, Shipp has worked tirelessly with the help of his parents to not just manage his disorder but to achieve success by anyone’s standard. 

Working to help others and give them hope

His experience has prompted him to spend countless hours helping children cope with their own disorder as well as working to help find cures. Shipp works with Talk About Curing Autism in various capacities, volunteering at each of the group’s events. Shipp also formed a club, the Spectrum Superheroes, that works with kids on the autism spectrum and helps them learn to skateboard, for example.  

“We were thrust into unchartered territory,” he says about his diagnosis 15 years ago. “Back then autism was a relatively new field…I’ve been able to give hope to other families just like others were there for me,” he explains.

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Wyatt Shipp, LBHS senior, and frequent Park Avenue Player lead

One door closes but another, more meaningful one, opens

“The Hidden Voice” is a powerful Youtube video Shipp created to tell his inspiring story. It also highlights two of Shipp’s other passions: acting and making videos. He is hoping to study film production and acting at UCLA, Arizona State, Northwestern or Chapman. 

This love of performing, in typical fashion for Shipp, was born out of adversity. As a freshman, Shipp had planned on playing baseball for the Breakers. “I thought I was going to be a centerfielder,” he says somewhat ruefully. 

When he didn’t make the team, a sad but determined Shipp found something else to put his time into: LBHS’ Park Avenue Players. This endeavor turned out to be a much greater calling than baseball ever was.

A leader on the stage

Shipp says he has auditioned for every single show in the last four years. “I usually get a lead role. This puts me in a leadership role. You have to take on this role-model persona. I’ve tried to do that since I’ve been in the program. I’ve tried to stay true to myself.”

A nomination to American Legion Boys State

Between his community service work and his commitment to the Park Avenue Players, Shipp is president of the Film Club, was a Link Crew leader, (Link Crew is a group that helps freshman acclimate to high school) and was nominated for the very prestigious American Legion Boys State. He has managed all of these activities while maintaining a 3.94 GPA.

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Wyatt Shipp behind the camera with his aspirational Oscar

Overcoming hurdles, both literally and figuratively

There is one more activity that fills up Shipp’s already full plate: running hurdles on the track team. Shipp credits his coach, Mark Harris, and the entire track community for “allowing (me) to discover my passion for running hurdles.” He is one of the team captain’s this year and last year he got second place in League. However, for Shipp this sport carries significance beyond the track. 

“I’ve overcome hurdles myself,” he says. “I like to use the hurdles as a metaphor for life. You just have to make it to the end of the race.” For anyone who has been told “no” Shipp’s determination to find so many “yeses” should be quite inspiring.

Two remarkable LBHS seniors get ready for what’s to come

For Wyatt Shipp and Madison Sinclair, the future stretches out brightly. However, one thing that will soon be in their rear view mirror is their high school years. The close-knit community is something Shipp says he will miss. 

“Laguna is such a small community. It’s so easy to connect with people,” he says.

The Laguna Beach Patriot’s Day Parade exemplifies Shipp’s sentiments. And Shipp and Sinclair exemplify the best of Laguna’s citizens, junior or otherwise.

Sound Spectrum: 50 years of music in Laguna


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Jim Otto opened Sound Spectrum in Laguna Beach 50 years ago this year. While it’s remarkable for any storefront business to last 50 years, it’s even more remarkable when that business is a record store. It’s hard to think of an industry that has undergone more changes than the music business, and these changes have not been kind to storefront businesses that sell music. Otto’s theory for his store’s longevity? “The format changes, but we don’t.”

A real record store

When you walk into Sound Spectrum and you’re of a certain age (basically any age that grew up pre-digital music) there’s an almost overwhelming sense of familiarity to it. It’s a real record store. There are vintage concert posters on the wall, incense, t-shirts and other somewhat random memorabilia for sale. The centerpiece of it all, of course, is the music. 

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Laguna’s Sound Spectrum owner, Jim Otto

With real records

And just to show how things go full circle, Sound Spectrum is brimming with vinyl albums, some old and some brand new. Otto explains that when he and his partners (long since gone) built the store it took them awhile to get it finished. “We were typical 60’s people, not the most efficient, but we managed to get it done.” 

The wooden racks are the same original racks they built back in the day. Then those racks housed vinyl albums, later CDs and now they’re back to displaying predominantly vinyl albums again. “Seven or eight years ago records started coming back,” Otto explains. Of course there are used classics, but record companies are releasing new vinyl as well, and Otto carries it all.

Crediting a long list of dedicated employees

Sound Spectrum was started because, Otto says, he loved music and “I really love dealing with people.” He credits much of its success to his employees, many of whom he told me about in great detail. Clearly, working at Sound Spectrum is like being part of a family. He speaks glowingly of two current staffers, manager Wave and Greg White, whom Otto calls a “musicologist.” 

Wave has been at Sound Spectrum for 15 years; White eight to ten, Otto isn’t exactly sure. Not only does the store have staying power, but its employees do too. 

A fountain of youth

Wave says that when he came to Laguna in 1972 ,“The Sound Spectrum became my ‘musical home.’” He explains that his “job description” is “harmony, love, friendship and fun.” The record store, for him, is a “fountain of youth” and he has a special shout out regarding the return of records, “And thanks to the kids who brought vinyl back!”

Changing while staying the same

White views the store as “a beautiful 60’s-themed environment which preserves and extends the legacy of the past for the new generation of music lovers.”  And while the store definitely is the epitome of a flashback, there is music from every decade, past and present. As Otto explains it, “The customers, both old and new, they like things not to change, but you do have to change.”

Jim Otto with Sound Spectrum manager, Wave, and “musicologist,” Greg White

A former employee makes it big

Another former employee from years back, Robert Santanelli, “showed up from New Jersey. He wanted to be a music writer and write bios,” explains Otto. “So he came here, following the hippie trail, so to speak. He went on after about one to two years.”

According to Otto, Santanelli moved on to work at The Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, he wrote a book about Springsteen, and is now the executive director of the Grammy Museum at LA Live.  “He came to the store recently. He told Greg, ‘I wish I had my old job back.’”

A master of the electric stereo

There have been lots of celebrity sightings over the years. And Otto knows his musicians. When asked if he himself is a musician, Otto replies in his deadpan manner, “I play the electric stereo. I have a really wide repertoire.”

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The “stacks of racks” inside Sound Spectrum

The college of musical knowledge

Otto’s eclectic musical appreciation is something he takes pride in and it pervades the store. “The element of being here opens up people’s third ear,” he says, riffing on the idea of the third eye. “People who come work here usually have developed a singular interest in music, but as they work here and play different music and talk to different people their musical tastes change. This is the college of musical knowledge, with mounds of sounds, and stacks of wax,” says Otto, as only someone who off-handedly uses the expression “far out” can.

The comeback of vinyl records

The fact that these “stacks of wax” (that are now vinyl) have made a comeback clearly pleases Otto as much as it does Wave. He thinks they came back because people like the way records sound and they value the information on the liner notes. However, for him the best part about records is that you get the whole story. 

“A true album is like a book. There is a beginning, middle and end. You wouldn’t skip to the best chapter in a book and just read that. You have to get what you need to get from the whole record. You have to go in order. It opens your ears to the other parts of the album.” 

This kind of experience, argues Otto, can’t be created by listening to a digital byte. 

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Jim Otto taking in the view outside Sound Spectrum

Sound Spectrum brings generations together

Just like downloading a song can’t replace the experience of going into a record store and flipping through records to find the one you want. Otto tells me one of his favorite things is when a grandfather comes in with his grandchild. The grandfather has “all these cool memories” and the grandchild is absorbing this knowledge. 

As if on cue, when I went to meet Otto at Sound Spectrum on a recent rainy morning, a father and son walked in together. No sooner had they walked in Otto began talking to them and a conversation ensued with music as the cross-generational conduit.  

Music can bring us all together

Music, according to Otto, can do more than just bring families together; it can bring everyone together. “The times we’re in now, people can’t agree on anything. One thing they can agree on is the music they like. We might not be able to agree on big issues, but music is something we can all agree on,” says Otto.

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The “new” business card for Sound Spectrum, circa 1967

50 years and still hanging on

Another thing we can all agree on is how lucky Laguna is that Sound Spectrum is still thriving. When Otto decided 50 years ago that a record shop was what the town needed, he couldn’t have realized just how much. He may not have been the most efficient businessman when he started, but what he built he built to last -- right down to the racks. Clearly things have changed in the 50 years Sound Spectrum has been around. Otto says the traffic is worse (of course) and he laments that the expense of living here makes it harder for Laguna to hold on to some of the things that make it…Laguna. “People are hanging on for dear life,” he says.  

Fortunately for us, Sound Spectrum is holding tight.

Betsy Jenkins: an advocate for learning continues to make Laguna a friendlier, flourishing arts haven 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Betsy Jenkins has a special sensitivity to the care and needs of people around her. I first met her many moons ago while I was walking in our same neighborhood with my new baby in a Snugglie. Betsy came right up to me and said, “I can see how much you love your baby. I see you walking with him every day.” I beamed, as I felt her kind nature wash over me. 

Since that day, I have witnessed Betsy continue spreading her kind and generous ways in almost every facet of life in Laguna. She is involved with many philanthropies and arts programs including being on the board of the Laguna Beach Art Museum, Laguna Beach Live!, Laguna Playhouse, and the Laguna Beach Sister Cities Association. Her husband, Gary, is on the board of the Friendship Shelter.

“Our focus is to think globally and act locally,” says Betsy. “We support organizations trying to make Laguna a richer, more diverse, more exciting place to live.”

Education is for everyone

Betsy was originally a high school teacher, and continued on in academia not only by being an involved parent in the PTA while her two sons, Kyle and Christopher, were in the Laguna Beach schools, but also by serving on the Laguna Beach High School’s Scholarship Committee, followed by a 12-year tenure with the Board of Education. She just retired as president of the School Board two years ago.

Even with her participation in many arts organizations, as she reflects on her life’s passion, her commitment has continually zeroed in on education.

“I’m still passionate about education,” she says. “Now it’s adult education!”

Betsy Jenkins

It is her passion, and it’s also a gift to future generations that Betsy has devoted so much of her time and talents to education. 

“It’s such a cornerstone of our democracy,” she says, as we veered off topic and into the current political scenario of public education. She’s clear-sighted on the need for equal educational opportunities. Her bright blue eyes light up, “We need free, public, quality education for every kid – ESL, special needs, gifted. All kids!”

The place to be, for many reasons

Betsy and Gary met when she was a young high school teacher in Fullerton, and Gary was a young doctor practicing in Orange, on staff at CHOC. They had both signed on for a Sierra Club ski trip to Sequoia. 

“It was instant. We knew,” laughs Betsy. “Although it took him a year to propose!”

Betsy grew up in Pasadena, and Gary – “he’s from a tiny little rodeo town in Idaho,” she says. Together, they visited a friend in Laguna and knew that Laguna Beach was the place for them.

“We were at some fundraiser,” said Betsy. “There were local musicians – including Beth and Steve Wood – and we knew, this was not only the place, but the people we want to live with and grow old with.”

For Betsy, that is still the special cherry atop Laguna’s sundae, “There have always been vibrant and fascinating people here.”

Travel, culture, and lifelong learning

At first, Betsy thought that after 12 years on the School Board she’d be a little bereft – unsure where her feet and mind would take her. But then, of course, she had all those other organizations vying for her time. It’s the Laguna conundrum: so many charities, so little time. With more time on her hands, “retirement” has kept Betsy Jenkins very busy.

The Sister Cities Association has steered her in a southerly direction as she helped out San Jose del Cabo especially after the devastating hurricane. Laguna stepped in to send a ton of supplies. 

“We actually sent a whole house kit,” Betsy said. She’s headed there again soon and will report back on the progress they’ve made since that dark time.

The Sister Cities’ intention is to foster learning about other cultures. In France, the Laguna Beach group met with the Menton mayor, and made many friends. “Twinning” they call it, Betsy tells me.

I happened to run into Betsy and Gary at LAX this past October as they were heading off on a trip with the Laguna Art Museum. “We loved Spain!” she now says emphatically. 

The Art Museum is near and dear to Betsy’s heart as they promote learning both abroad and at home. “There’s a large focus on education: family art days, teaching kids to experiment with creativity, and art appreciation.”

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Betsy and Gary’s home is filled with works of art – most from local artists and most acquired at charity fundraisers, a win-win situation

Then there’s Laguna Beach Live!, which is something that Betsy gives her time and heart to. “It’s quality music at affordable prices,” she says. “We do bluegrass, jazz, classical…” And, of course, it’s educational. “We had 60 people seated here at the house. The president of the Orange County Philharmonic was talking about Bach. There was a cellist. So cool!”

A flourishing community

Betsy Jenkins has walked the talk every step of the way, putting in countless volunteer hours to further learning. She has enriched Laguna with her generous soul, giving back to the community particularly by promoting culture and education. She’s one of those quiet heroes working often behind the scenes, making us all the better for it.

She and Gary were deservedly honored at the Patriot’s Day Parade in 2012 as Citizens of the Year. In every way, they both embody the best of Laguna.

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When the Jenkins’ have a little time off as good-deed-doers, they are often out enjoying nature. Betsy is a big fan of walking the hills, while Gary takes the hills on his bike. Their neighborhood, like a microcosm of greater Laguna, feels like family. “Our neighborhood gets together at the park. We all help parent,” says Betsy. “This community embraces our kids.”

Even as an empty nester, Betsy still helps parents. 

She’s a little surprised with what retirement looks like. “Now we’re out so much!” she smiles. “We get out and have great conversations, watch a play at the Playhouse, enjoy music – all these arts flourish in Laguna.”

Thanks to people like Betsy Jenkins, the arts will continue to flourish and the people of Laguna Beach will grow closer in community.

Effervescent, English, and wildly energetic: Our food writer, Laura Buckle, is in love with Laguna


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Once upon a time, and thankfully for a short time only, Stu News Laguna’s effervescent, fun-loving columnist Laura Buckle earned her living by cleaning the toilets at the offices of the Ministry of Agriculture in Cheshire, England. She was just 16 years old at the time, attending drama college. 

Not surprisingly, “That was the worst job of my life!” British-born Laura tells me as we drink our coffee at Moulin on Forest Ave. “But I still had fun those days!”

Mesmerized by her passionate utterances, I see capital letters and exclamation points dancing in front of my eyes. (That’s what being an editor does to you.)

Indeed, if people were punctuation, Laura would be an exclamation point – bolded, brightly colored, and italicized, what’s more. Listeners can’t help but smile.

As Laura herself says, “I’m a super-happy person.” 

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Laura makes sure to support local businesses: here she is styled by Jill Watson at The Shop, with hat by nbrhd Laguna

After working hard all week scrubbing and sweeping, she and her two best friends would jump on a train and head to the clubs in Manchester, where she learned to love dance music along with acting. Laura had been involved in theatre since the age of five.

At the age of 11, she won Best Actress Under 21 while playing the role of a mother – of all things – at the Potteries Theatre Company.

Then, at 17, she toured Sicily playing the role of Jocasta in Oedipus Seneca. Before and after her marriage, she taught drama, also while pregnant in her (very) early twenties.

Later she worked at a rehab center for ex-offenders, putting her degree in psychology (which she earned while taking care of two small children; she has a degree in performing arts also) to good use.

Laura has a work ethic that has to be experienced to be believed. 

“My family was full of love but short on money,” she says. “I started work in a kebab shop when I was 12. I’ve done all kinds of jobs since then.”

Right now she holds down five – or is it six? – jobs, not including mothering two great kids, Jesse (14), known in Laura’s food reports as “the bottomless pit” for his voracious appetite, and young Lula, nearly 11, an aspiring, already accomplished singer and actor with a few sophisticated taste buds, developed while devouring aioli for breakfast with her mother when the family lived in Ibiza, Spain, for a while.

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Laura is in love with Laguna Beach, and the feeling is mutual

So, the five jobs? Well, Stu News food writer, of course, for a start.

“I love to tell stories,” Laura says. ”And that’s what Stu and Shaena wanted in a food writer, so it’s not just about the restaurants or my opinions, it’s about the people who work there and what my guests think about the food also.”

Her grandmother and mother are both excellent cooks, Laura says, which didn’t always please her. “I would say to my mum, why can’t we have chicken nuggets for dinner? Why must we have ratatouille? When I had friends over, they hadn’t even heard of half the dishes she cooked. They weren’t fancy but they were different.”

Laura is also extremely thrilled about her role on KX 93.5 FM radio. 

“I was literally just unpacking my boxes here three years ago when I heard a northern English accent on the radio,” she tells me. “Almost right away I contacted Jason Feddy, which led to a DJ spot from 11 to midnight on Saturday nights. Now my show SMASHED, dance music, airs every Friday evening from 7 to 9 p.m. Even more exciting, I’m going to have a new show targeted at the after-school crowd.”

Every Wednesday from 3.30 – 5 p.m., Laura will be playing a variety of music including rock, pop, dance, hip hop and global sounds as well as broadcasting school announcements. As well as games competitions and lots of fun, Laura will be giving students the opportunity to join her on air with their very own 10 minute takeover, a chance for them to share their chosen music with other KX listeners.

“I love radio, it’s great, I love to DJ, and I love to eat!” she says. “That’s why I’d never do TV. I have the figure for radio, I put on eight pounds after I became a food writer,” – though truth be told, Laura’s hiking, swimming, yoga, and Pilates workouts keep the thirty-something blonde quite svelte.

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Laura spins dance music on Fridays, and soon will be DJ’ing an afterschool program on Wednesdays from 3:30 – 5 p.m.

Number three job (though the numerical order doesn’t imply that she prefers one over the other): Being an event DJ, spinning tunes at local happenings. 

Number four: Laura is putting together drama workshops for the young adults who live at Glennwood, a residential home for those with development disabilities. “Acting is a great outlet to express emotions that you are struggling with,” she says. “I think it’s going to be fun.”

And her number five job, another example of Laura’s initiative and ebullience, is as director and founder of an events company, Laguna Beach Luxury Events, which she runs with her business partner Stephanie Quarles. (www.lbluxuryevents.com).

Laura is quick to point out that “luxury” means different things to different people. The company is happy to plan any event, from a picnic