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.”

Click on photo for a larger image

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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.

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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. 

Click on photo for a larger image

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.” 

Click on photo for a larger image

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

Story by MARRIE STONE

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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.” 

Click on photo for a larger image

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

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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. 

Click on photo for a larger image

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

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. 

Click on photo for a larger image

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.”

Click on photo for a larger image

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. 

Click on photo for a larger image

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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 

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

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.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

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

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

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.” 

Click on photo for a larger image

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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 to a large corporate gathering in an upscale restaurant, she says.

“The important thing is that we benefit local businesses and workers,” Laura emphasizes. She’s a terrific supporter of all things Laguna.

You’ll notice that Laura while works a lot of jobs, not all of them are paid – or they don’t pay much. She can’t help herself: it seems she was born to volunteer her energy and generosity. Ask James Pribram, founder of Eco Warriors, how much she’s helped with local beach cleanups. Ask the Glennwood folks. Ask Patrick DiGiacomo of The Kitchen in the Canyon, a place she adores not just for breakfast but because of their outreach to the homeless population. Ask her kids…

But what we most love about Laura at Stu News, of course, is her ability to turn meals into adventures and bring restaurateurs and “the help” to life every week on our Front Page II food column as she tells of our latest local dining sensations.

“When I first heard of Laguna, I associated it with that TV show,” she says. “I thought I’d never want to live here. But when I visited, I knew it was my soul place. Now I have a deep love affair with Laguna.”

Which is pretty much how Laguna feels about Laura.

Though there is one more thing Laguna could do to show its affection, “Someone, open a great Indian restaurant!” Laura urges, in full exclamation mode. “Please!!” 

I couldn’t agree more.


Bob Whalen takes pole position, working to make a great Laguna better and safer every day

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Since moving to Laguna Beach in 1984 Bob Whalen has made a lasting imprint on every facet of civic life he has involved himself in. Currently serving a second term on the City Council, Whalen has been involved locally with youth sports, education, the Boys and Girls Club and the city’s Planning Commission.  

And the word “involved,” as it pertains to Whalen, means making a lasting imprint through leadership roles. His contribution to just one of these causes would fulfill almost anyone else’s checklist for civic involvement. However, that’s not how he seems to approach things. 

As he says, “There was no long range vision” to his involvement.  “You get involved in one thing and it leads to another.” And so it has.

Looking for a town with good schools and personality

Whalen and his wife Kirsten chose Laguna Beach because it checked a lot of the boxes they deemed important. Before coming to Laguna, the young family (their daughter was one year old), was living in “a beautiful, old neighborhood” in Santa Ana.  They decided to move because they wanted a community that offered what most people with young children are looking for: good schools. 

There was one more thing on their wish list: “We wanted good schools, but we also wanted something with character, individuality.” 

This meant Irvine was out. Laguna Beach, on the other hand, fit the bill, since it had good schools, character and, something else that was important to the Whalens: an artists’ community.  

“My wife is an artist,” explains Whalen, so living in an artists’ community was a huge plus. The Whalens purchased a house on Holly St. and they have lived there ever since, albeit with three remodels under their belts.

Bob Whalen, City Council member, attorney and community volunteer

It all began with coaching youth sports

With three active kids, Whalen says he coached soccer, baseball, and basketball at the Boys and Girls Club. “I loved youth sports,” he says enthusiastically. “The best reward is running into a kid you coached 25 years ago. That’s really fun. You get to help some kids along the way; you get to know kids along the way. That was a great period of time.” 

In addition to coaching, Whalan was president of Laguna Beach Little League. He also got involved in SchoolPower. “I was active in that for several years and was president for a year,” he says.

Using his expertise to help the schools in a modest way

However, it was not SchoolPower or youth sports that really got him involved in Laguna civic life. “Back in ‘95/’96 the school district was facing an extreme financial crisis. The state was thinking of putting the schools in receivership,” he explains. “The people on the School Board knew I did a lot of public finance in my work (Whalen is a public finance attorney). Whalen helped the Board do a ‘relatively small transaction’ borrowing $200-250,000 so “the schools wouldn’t get taken over.”  

Then the School Board had an opening…

In 1997 there was a vacancy on the School Board because one of the board members moved away. Whalen was appointed to the position, then ran in 1998 and was re-elected in 1992. “That was a really great period of time,” says Whalen. “There were a lot of new, exciting things: new superintendent, new principals, just a new energy and focus in the district.” 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Bob Whalen working at his home in Laguna

Using his expertise to help the schools in a major way

Despite this great new energy, Whalen says the schools were in terrible fiscal shape.  “Drawing on my professional experience it seemed that what the community needed was a bond issue to rebuild the schools.” 

The bond passed in 2001 with 80 percent approval, something Whalen says he found “extremely rewarding.” The Board spent $55 million over the next four years rebuilding all four schools. 

“It made a huge difference,” says Whalen. The money funded technology, the Black Box Theater at Thurston Middle School, and new libraries, to list just several of the improvements. “It touched every classroom in one way or another.  That was a great long term investment in the community.” 

A break from civic life means more time for the B&GC 

All of this took Whalen to 2006 when, he says, “I was ready for a little break from civic life.” He may have needed a break from civic life, but that didn’t mean he stopped giving of his time. “In ’04 I’d gotten involved with the Boys and Girls Club…I’d been involved with my own boys and was very happy to get involved at the Board level,” says Whalen who served as Board president. His involvement with the schools helped enhance the collaboration between them and the Club. Additionally, the Boys and Girls Club, like the school district before it, was going through some “fiscally trying times,” according to Whalen. The economic downturn in 2008 did not help. 

“We worked really hard to get the Club on good footing. Now it has expanded through the city. It’s one of those Laguna organizations that’s so critical to kids and families. We’ve very lucky to have it.” 

Some forward thinking friends bring him back to civic life

At this point, Whalen had been away from government for a couple of years. Some friends, Elizabeth Pearson and Anne Johnson, prodded him to “get back involved.”  “That,” he says, “led me to my appointment on the Planning Commission.” Whalen served for four years. Then, “Ann, who is always thinking two steps ahead, said, ‘Let’s get this guy to run for city council.’ Whalen first served in 2012 and was re-elected in 2016. “That’s’ how it all strings together,” he says modestly.

Arts and public safety are focuses for his second term

Now that he’s firmly entrenched in governance of the city, Whalen says his focus is on two issues: the arts and public safety. Whalen has served on the Board of Directors of the Laguna Art Museum and with his wife an artist, Whalen’s interest in maintaining or expanding Laguna’s thriving art community is not surprising.  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Kirsten Whalen, a long-time exhibitor at the Festival of the Arts

Kirsten Whalen helps with the art cred

Kirsten Whalen has, herself, an inspiring story. After embarking on a second degree in Fine Arts from the Laguna College of Art and Design (she had been trained as a graphic artist) she was diagnosed with breast cancer her senior year. Despite this, she managed to not only finish her degree, but graduate as valedictorian. 

An exhibitor at the Festival of the Arts for many years, Kirsten Whalen is an accomplished artist and someone very familiar with the art community.  Clearly, art matters in the Whalen household.

Finding ways to help artists thrive in Laguna

Councilman Whalen speaks highly of the Arts Commission and the work they’ve done on things like public art installations. Another thing he says the city council is working on is “finding ways to allow local artists to thrive.” The council hired a consulting firm to “find more artists’ work space, for example. As the community has gotten more expensive it is hard for them to stay here and work here,” he explains.

Electrical poles and public safety

Whalen’s other “big focus” is public safety. Calling the possibility of a fire the city’s “biggest catastrophic risk,” Whalen feels strongly that the aboveground utility poles should be moved underground.  

Recently, several fires have been sparked as a result of the wires. “Thanks to the fire department we’ve been able to keep them under control, but we may not always be so lucky.”

Formulating a plan to take the issue of the poles to the voters

The poles present another safety problem: collisions. “There have been 50 collisions in ten years of cars and poles,” he says. “We have to get those things out of the way.” Acknowledging that such an undertaking is no small feat, Whalen says. 

“My hope is we can present a plan to do the whole community for $150-175 million. Laguna Canyon Road alone is $40-50 million.” 

The expectation, according to Whalen, is that state and regional funds in addition to contributions from Southern California Edison would help ease the financial burden. “It’s a big ticket item,” he acknowledges. “We will have to go back to the voters.”

Managing Laguna’s six million annual visitors

There are many other issues Whalen, and the other members of the city council, concern themselves with, of course. An ongoing topic is how our small city of 23,000 people absorbs sometimes 150,000 people over a busy summer weekend. “We are constantly trying to figure out how to manage the waves of visitors,” says Whalen. “It’s not a problem you solve, but a problem you manage.”

Bringing some small-town, east coast sensibilities out west

Managing problems is something Bob Whalen excels in, although I doubt he looks at things that way. He is unfailingly modest and speaks as someone who just likes to contribute. He credits his mother and his small-town upbringing. 

“I grew up in a small town outside of Boston, smaller than here,” he says. There they run town meetings. “It’s a real direct democracy. I got a lot of it from their commitment to civic engagement.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Bob and Kirsten Whalen in front of the Festival of the Arts grounds

A model of making a difference in one’s community

While things are run differently in Laguna than the hometown of Whalen’s youth, he hopes the next generation is ready for their entrance into civic engagement. 

“We have something pretty special here, and it will only stay this way if people work to preserve the great qualities we have in Laguna Beach. The arts we support here are unique, but also the environment, the open space. We have to take care of that as well. 

“So I hope there is a whole new generation ready to get involved and carry Laguna forward,” says Whalen, a man whose efforts for doing just that should definitely serve as an inspiration to us all.



Best-kept secret, hidden treasure: that’s Bill Atkins, unique in Laguna for his brilliant graphic art skills

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Bill Atkins’ art is visible all over California, not only on the walls of art- and poster-lovers, but on the byways and highways of our state. Many know his work, but few are aware of the talented man behind the iconic license-plate “whale-tail” image seen around California. 

This achievement came about because the California Coastal Commission chose Atkins to design the license plate graphic after he won the CCC design competition in 2011. He was delighted to be able to work on a project promoting our oceans and sea creatures, a cause dear to his heart.

To be quite clear, Atkins is quick to point out, “I won the contest itself, but along with another artist, Elizabeth Tyndall, from Northern California, who was also then chosen to contribute to the license plate. She did not help in the design, but I included a portion of her painting in the ocean background layer.”

The plate is the newest and among the most popular choices for drivers who are proud of our state and who care about the health of its oceans. (Profits are donated to the Commission’s education program.)

“The design is deceptively simple,” Atkins notes, showing me several of the more than 50 versions that he completed as part of his commission to develop the design. “There are layers upon layers, if you look carefully.” 

The winning design, now adorning many a vehicle, shows a humpback’s fluke against the blue of the ocean and scudding white clouds. “I needed to pay attention to the tiniest detail, for example, tilting the tail to make sure the last two letters of California are visible,” he explains.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Bill Atkins shelters from the recent rain

“Deceptively simple” is a description that applies to much of Atkins’ work, which requires significantly more artistry and attention to detail than most people realize.

“Marrying images and typography for the kind of result I want, and that my clients want, can be tricky,” Atkins says. “Poster art is sometimes not given the same respect as other art forms, maybe because here in Laguna plein air has ruled for so long, but it has a rich history and demands a lot of focus. I love the challenge.” 

Atkins’ posters depict iconic local places and events, including Crystal Cove cottages and the Festival of the Arts, as well as famous performing artists such as Cyndi Lauper. Atkins is also a long-time teacher, and has taught digital imagery and art at LCAD and Irvine Valley College among other schools.

Posters are unique, he says, because they tend to carry explicit messages through images and typography, images that transcend international and cultural barriers. Think of travel posters, and film posters, or of Atkins’ Sister Cities series, featuring scenes from Laguna’s sister cities: Menton, France, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, and St. Ives, England. The detailed graphics and colors reflect the commonality and shared appreciation of our ocean-side communities. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Bill Atkins contributes his time and talents to many nonprofits

These images are among his favorites, especially as they helped win a grant from the City for the Sister Cities nonprofit, which, as he mentions, “brings an international flavor to our town.” He’s an active member of Sister Cities as well as many other Laguna organizations, including the Garden Club, the Beautification Council and, more recently, helps with Susi Q’s Gallery Q. 

He’s donated his time and talent to graphic arts campaigns benefiting the Art Museum, AIDS Services Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign. His generosity and warm spirit are legendary among those in the know.

Atkins’ love for his work, Laguna Beach, and the outdoors, is evident to me as I chat to him on the deck of his apartment, surrounded by greenery, including native plants and succulents and a plate of fruit that looks ready to be turned into a still-life.

Hummingbirds dart among tree branches in this super-serene setting, and Atkins shows the same high energy as he jumps up and down to find various examples of his art to answer my questions about his award-winning work, which includes attractive bronze plaques honoring legendary figures such as Harry Lawrence, “Mr. Laguna.”

Atkins has wanted to be an artist since he was a young boy. “My father was fine with that, as long as I had a career like a friend of his, a commercial artist who made money – ‘not the other kind,’ my dad said,” he laughs.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Bill in his studio, holding the whale-tail license plate

His immediate goal is to improve his social media skills and rework his website, www.lagunaposter.com, to raise his visibility locally. “I don’t think many people know about me,” he notes. “That’s partly because marketing isn’t my favorite thing to do. Most of my business comes through word-of-mouth and that’s the way most of my teaching jobs have come also.”

Atkins’ work has been on display on the walls of the Wells Fargo Building and, for the past 18 years, at Vintage Poster Gallery on Coast Hwy, where his work has proved popular among locals as well as visitors looking for vibrant art.

Like so many Lagunans, Bill Atkins, a Philadelphian by birth, says he visited here with a friend and was so charmed that within three months or so, he’d packed his things and moved, back in the early seventies. “Somehow I knew this was my home,” he says.

It’s a decision he’s never regretted. While he would love the time (and resources) to travel more, for the moment he feels content in his secluded eyrie in the woods, his small but cosy apartment inland from Crescent Point and close to Dartmoor, his favorite wilderness trail. 

“Posters are history, they’re cultural icons,” he says. “People need posters. They always will. They fill eyeballs!”

And by extension, the public needs artists who create posters, and plaques, and banners, and who are uniquely sensitive to creating meaningful, beautiful synergy between the written word and images.

Especially artists as talented, generous and sweet-natured as Laguna’s Bill Atkins.


Don’t go big, go small, says Aaron Talarico: Laguna’s future will depend on the presence of young families

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

I interviewed Aaron Talarico at his home office on a rainy Wednesday morning, finding my way to his place by putting one careful sneaker in front of another on the narrow muddy sidewalk abutting Coast Highway, traffic swishing past me within what felt like inches. Even professional tightrope walkers would have found it a challenge. (Here I exaggerate.)

“Those sidewalks need to be fixed,” Aaron said immediately when he met me at the bottom of his yard and led me up to his office overlooking the Pacific, the ocean’s surface silkily silver on that wet January day. 

“But this view – it’s so wonderful,” we both agreed. 

And that’s Laguna, right? We have our problems, but boy, do they feel insignificant given all our advantages. Doesn’t mean we can’t improve matters, though, as Aaron strongly believes.

Aaron Talarico, Laguna born and bred, is personable, amiable, and involved

Young by Laguna standards – our population is definitely aging – Aaron opened his eyes and saw the world, or at least bright lights and white walls, for the first time in 1980 at what was then South Coast Hospital, now Mission Hospital, only a few miles from where he now lives with his wife Catherine, young daughters Caroline and Claire, and in-utero son, who is scheduled to arrive in May.

Aaron attended Laguna schools, winning many awards for tennis, and, until his sophomore year in college at Notre Dame, he had a singular ambition: to join Andre Agassi and company as one of the sport’s greats. Finally, after several injuries, he realized the impossibility of his dream, though he didn’t give up easily.

Singles tennis taught Aaron personal responsibility

“Tennis taught me how to lose,” he notes wryly, though his current success in the real estate business suggests that he doesn’t have to rely on that particular skill too often these days.

Aaron wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. (A personal aside: that’s a very uncomfortable image, is it not? For the mother, if not the baby. But I digress.)

“I feel lucky that my parents moved here when they did, in the early seventies,” he says. “My dad was a county planner and my mom a kindergarten teacher. People in those kinds of professions can’t afford to live here anymore, especially young families with kids. That’s a problem.”

This generational gap is only going to get worse, Aaron believes, as Laguna becomes an increasingly desirable destination internationally, resulting in extremely wealthy people buying second and third homes here, visiting only once in a while. This is already happening.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Rain or shine, the view from Aaron’s home office is spectacular

“Laguna has fantastic schools. But you have to have school-age kids for them to continue to flourish in the future,” he says.

Aaron knows there’s no easy answer, but he does have a suggestion or two. 

“I’d rather see four one-million dollar homes built than one four-million dollar home,” he says. “There are plenty of young families out there who would choose a smaller house in Laguna over a bigger place in Irvine or Ladera Ranch, if only more [such homes] were available, more easily approved, and more effectively marketed. We need Laguna to stay multigenerational.”

True to his beliefs, Aaron and wife Catherine and family live in a 900 square foot home now and so far have never lived anywhere larger. 

Also, in 2004, Aaron bought the land behind his house and after four years of bureaucratic challenges, built two stunning but small homes on the property, each 1000 square feet. 

There are other ways to attract young families, Aaron believes: “I think we need more small kid-friendly open spaces scattered around the neighborhoods, pocket parks, especially in South Laguna.” 

Young, old, and in-between: Laguna will benefit from a multigenerational mix of locals

Aaron also wants to make sure that older Lagunans have the ability to continue to live here. While he’s a big supporter of the Susi Q aging in place initiative, he feels that a couple of assisted living facilities, perhaps close to Mission Hospital, would be a welcome addition.

His love for Laguna is absolute, but it frustrates him that so many decisions are tied to parking, for example. “It’s a dated way of looking at things,” he says. “We need to welcome fresh thinking. Be more flexible.”

Locals also need to listen to each other more, he feels. Aaron has done just that for years, serving as a board member of the Chamber of Commerce and on a variety of civic committees since 2000, including the Recreation Committee, where he was in part responsible for the overhaul of the kids’ playground off Main Beach. 

“I love to take my kids there, knowing I helped improve it so much,” he says. “It feels good to make a difference, however small.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

True to his beliefs, Aaron built two small homes on land behind his house

A few years ago Aaron founded the NextGen group with the goal of encouraging his generation, especially those in their thirties and forties, to become more involved in the decision-making that now, and in the future, will affect the tenor and ambience of our town.

“At plenty of City Council or committee meetings, I’ve been the youngest one there by 20 or 30 years,” he says. “My wife and I are encouraging our friends to do what they can, even just to show up, because that’s so important, though we know ourselves how hard it is to find time with kids and work commitments.”

In Aaron’s mind, Laguna’s “greatest generation” consists of those who saved the Canyon, encouraged the arts community to flourish, and beautified Main Beach and Heisler Park, among other major accomplishments. 

“What will our generation’s legacy be?” he asks.

You can bet that whatever that legacy turns out to be, Aaron Talerico’s name will be mentioned when our town’s history is told. That man was born to serve, I can tell, and I’m not just talking about his tennis game.


Carla Tesak Arzente: Her saltfineart gallery adds zest and an international flavor to the Laguna art scene

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The woman in the painting gazes out of the train window. The light falls faintly on her arm; her expression is inscrutable. Is she arriving somewhere with hope in her eyes? Or leaving a place in sadness? 

Both interpretations of this work of art by famous El Salvadorian artist Rafael Varela, known as one of the master realists of Latin American art, feel deeply personal to Carla Tesak Arzente, on whose wall at home the painting hangs. 

Carla, owner of saltfineart & raw salt gallery, at 346 N. Coast Hwy, is an immigrant, born of Hungarian parents who lived most of their adult lives in El Salvador. She knows the melancholy that comes with leaving home and family and friends; but she also knows the joy of arrival in a place that warms the wandering soul and feels instinctively the right place to settle. 

In Carla’s case, as for so many of us, that place is Laguna Beach, which also provides the perfect setting for her passionate love of art. 

Carla Tesak attributes her deep passion for art to her father’s influence

“My earliest memories are of my father taking anyone who crossed our doorstep on a tour around our house. Each of the hundreds of paintings had a story. When he was dying and lost his ability to speak, when people were visiting for my wedding, he would point to each one knowing I could tell the story in his place,” she says. “Varela’s Girl on a Train was my favorite as a young girl.” 

The painting spent a brief period of time “lying next to the bathroom scale in his home, awaiting a place to hang,” she says, “because he had such a huge collection and had run out of space on his walls. I begged him to send it to me, but at first he was reluctant. Like me, he wanted to keep all the art pieces he bought.”

Her late father’s influence on Carla’s life has been profound, though except for Varela’s work, Carla says that her taste differs from his in most regards. 

But she shares his pleasure in stimulating conversation through art. And that’s exactly what happens when passersby wander into the gallery: conversations.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Saltfineart features an intriguing selection of pieces by famous Latin American artists as well as emerging local artists

“We love to educate people. We live off our windows,” she says. “Where we are located now is perfect; we have Sue Greenwood, JoAnn Artman and Kelsey Michael as neighbors, to mention just them for a start. They’re terrific, and there’s a kind of cross-pollination that goes on, an energy that happens from our collective presence here on this block. 

“Of course the Art Museum is close by too. I wish I’d known how vital location is when I first started the gallery back in 2009,” she adds. “That was a tough time for us. But of course there was also the recession then. Still we managed to survive even though I knew nothing about business, I’d barely seen a balance sheet.”

For many years Carla worked as a copywriter for Young & Rubicam, one of the top advertising firms in the world, rising to the executive level as a creative director and working on national campaigns ranging from Wrigley’s to Chevron. 

So Carla has always been an ideas person, with plenty of passion and heart and generosity in the mix, all qualities that served her well despite her former lack of business acumen. 

These traits of hers are evident as I chat to Carla, whose excitable flow of words reminds me of a popcorn machine in full popping mode. Her charm is irresistible.

“When we moved here, I thought I might work in a gallery. Then I thought, why not open a gallery?” she explains.

So she did. The pristine white walls of saltfineart provide a backdrop to a mix of conceptual, pop and a little representative art, some works created by famous artists – famous in many parts of the world, that is, yet little known in the States, particularly in California – and some by locals just beginning their careers.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

All are welcome in Carla’s gallery, from first-time art buyers to collectors: here Carla chats with gallery director Suzanne Walsh and me, hiking shoes no problem

“Maybe three out of 35 artists came with collectors in tow,” she says. “We actually like first-time art buyers. Some of them stay for hours talking about the work on the walls. Over time some of our artists gather collectors. There’s almost a chemical reaction that occurs, which is great, one thing leads to another and suddenly we’re helping fill an entire house with art. 

“From the artists’ point of view, we want to provide space for Latin American but also emerging artists, and we love to educate people about background and style and the symbolism in some of the more abstract pieces, seen in the context of history and culture – why a kitten in a painting might be telling us something about violence, for example,” she adds. “Mostly what we hope for is an emotional response.”

The “we” in question includes her elegant gallery director, Suzanne Walsh: “It’s a tale of two girls,” Carla notes. “Suzanne is indispensable. I love what is weird, and passionate, and interesting. She understands, she has the same passion, but knows we have to pay the rent too. There has to be a balance in the art business to stay alive.”

The two met when Carla’s dog “busted” into Peter Blake’s gallery, where Suzanne was working at the time. 

“We had lunch and bonded over my salami and butter sandwich,” Carla explains. “Suzanne’s parents are from Poland. We talked about this funny thing Americans do, putting mayonnaise on their sandwiches instead of buttering the sides of the bread. Then of course we talked so much about art.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Carla loves to discuss the stories behind each of the pieces she chooses

Saltfineart gets its name from Carla’s belief that, like salt, art adds zest to life and crosses all boundaries. 

“As a gallery owner, I know I have to keep things fresh and interesting,” she says. “Here in Laguna, there is such a wide swath of support for all kinds of art, so we can all follow our passion. That’s what makes this town so great, along with the energy and goodwill I feel.”

And Carla is giving back to the community, working with Ryman Arts, the Laguna College of Art and Design, the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach and the Laguna Art Museum, to mention just a few nonprofits – and of course, she plays a significant role through her gallery in expanding our horizons internationally, one artwork at a time. 

Saltfineart is clearly not just the flavor of the month. The gallery, and Carla Tesak Arzente, and her husband George and children Georgie, Charlotte and Henry – her “magnum opus” as she describes her family unit – are thankfully here to stay.


JORDAN VILLWOCK plans for Laguna’s emergencies

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Jordan Villwock, Laguna Beach’s Emergency Operations Coordinator, has been with the Laguna Beach police since he joined at age 16 as a police explorer. Thinking initially that he wanted to be a police officer, Villwock eventually changed his mind, deciding civilian life was more suitable for him. 

However, his clarity regarding what he did not want didn’t necessarily translate into a defined picture of what he did want. So he decided to keep his career options open.

A Police Explorer finds a career

“As a police explorer one of the things they had me training in was dispatch. My whole long-term process was that I would do this while I attended college. I was able to get hired full-time in 2004. I worked the graveyard shift during the weekend and went to school during the week,” Villwock says. 

He decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Emergency Service Administration. He says he originally chose that field because “It’s kind of broad; it covers all the bases.” 

Filling a brand new role

Eventually, Villwock was promoted to senior supervisor at the Laguna Beach Police Department for his dispatch work. Then, in December 2015, he moved into his current job, a position that had not existed until he filled it. 

“My job was the collateral duty of another person, either a detective or a sergeant,” explains Villwock of his responsibilities. Hearing the many critical roles Villwock is responsible for, it’s hard to imagine his job being part of another. It also makes his choice of study exceptionally prescient.

Jordan Villwock, Emergency Operations Coordinator for Laguna Beach

Teaching residents how to take care of themselves through CERT

One of Villwock’s responsibilities is running the city’s CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program, a group he started for the city in 2011. To listen to Villwock describe the classes, it sounds a lot more interesting than the title might suggest. Villwock says his classes have trained more than 250 volunteers over the past five years. These volunteers are trained to help themselves and their families in case of a disaster, and also to assist their neighbors. 

“That’s what separates Laguna [from other cities]. People are interested and passionate about preparing their homes and their neighbors’ homes. Inevitably, these people will be able to help others,” says Villwock.  

Things everyone can do to be prepared

Every week in the program presents a different discussion. “I challenge the class to go home and do one thing to prepare themselves,” Villwock says. The next week he asks them to share what they did. Things like having 72 hours worth of water for every family member, checking batteries for flashlights, having a wrench to turn off utilities are easy yet critical things every household should have in case of an emergency.  

Villwock stresses the latter in a story about the Northridge earthquake: “Fire trucks were driving down streets turning off people’s gas because people didn’t know how.” 

The frustration – and folly – of this is that during an event such as a large earthquake when emergency resources are strained, the more we can do to help ourselves and our neighbors, the fewer impediments there are for emergency crews to tackle the truly critical tasks.

The city’s new CERT class starts January 9. (Visit the city’s website for more information under Police Department and Emergency Preparedness.)

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Some of the information you’ll find Jordan Villwock’s office in the Police Department

Social media, NIXLE and AlertOC help get the word out

In addition to the city’s CERT program, and developing citywide emergency plans, Villwock also oversees the police department’s social media. He says one of the most important things is alerting the community. 

“Before this position was established we didn’t bridge that gap very well,” he notes.  Now, however, the city uses two alert systems, NIXLE and AlertOC. The NIXLE alert is mostly for traffic, although it does give other alerts as well. 

AlertOC is much more targeted and, for this reason, Villwock strongly urges everyone to sign up (simply go to www.AlertOC.com). AlertOC sends out messages based on your geographical location. For example, if there is a fire in South Laguna, those residents would be given instructions that pertain to their location. 

People in North Laguna would receive different instructions. 

Next Door Laguna Beach

Another way Villwock helps the city connect is through Next Door Laguna Beach. 

“We launched a Next Door account a couple of years ago. It’s like a Facebook page for your neighborhood,” he says. “We really wanted neighbors to talk to neighbors for purposes of public safety and disaster preparedness.” 

The city has created 17 neighborhoods. Other cities that weren’t so on top of things have had residents creating their own neighborhoods, which can be problematic. 

“Next Door is our largest platform to reach our residents,” explains Villwock. “We have 4,094 claimed households which equates to 27 percent of all Laguna Beach residents on this platform. It’s a great opportunity to engage the community.”

You still need to call the police

It may be a great way to engage the community, but it’s not a great way to report a crime. Villwock explains that while he can post things he wants the various neighborhoods to know, he can’t see what’s being discussed on the site. 

“I can see what people’s responses are to my posts, but not what is being discussed (beyond that),” he says. This has caused some confusion with people “reporting” incidents on Next Door assuming that the police will handle them. 

Unfortunately, since the police can’t read the Next Door discussion they’re not aware of the problem and it doesn’t get addressed. The bottom line is, “People still need to call the police,” says Villwock.

Making preparedness a top priority

For the past 16 years, Villwock has worked in Laguna Beach, since his days as a student at Dana Hills High School. “I have a lot of interest in this community,” he says.

 The fact that Laguna is prone to every kind of natural disaster one can think of in California makes it especially attractive for someone in his line of work. 

“The best part is there are so many hazards; it’s a challenge to prepare for,” he says, a statement only someone immersed in disaster preparedness can make without sounding careless of the tragedies that can occur. It’s not that he wants them to happen, of course, just that he enjoys developing by the range of strategies and tactics that need to be in place.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Jordan Villwock in his office: photos of recent disasters hang behind his desk

Creating his own blueprint

The inherent challenges Laguna faces, plus good fortune in having a supportive city council and staff, as well as a genuine passion for what he does, has allowed Villwock to create a critical position where one did not exist before. 

“There is a learning curve because this position is new. I can make this what I want with the help of management, but I don’t have a blueprint to follow. I can make it my own,” he notes. 

And he has. In addition to his work in the city, Villwock is active in several organizations outside of the City. One example is the Urban Area Working Group. This group is made up of 21 members who vote on security initiatives for the county. 

Villwock says “I make sure Laguna doesn’t get lost.” 

Fighting for South County

Another group that Villwock is a member of is the Orange County Emergency Managers Association. He was recently recognized with the Helping Hands award for his work “helping out for the greater good of emergency management in Orange County,” according the city’s website. 

“I advocate for South County. We might not have the population of Anaheim, but my voice is as big as Anaheim’s,” he says with a smile.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Residents in Laguna Beach are very lucky that Jordan Villwock is so passionate about his job. And that should help everyone sleep a little better. Of course, the city had emergency plans before he took this job, but there wasn’t one person solely responsible for them. 

And because disasters do happen, much as we like to think they won’t, it’s nice to know how seriously these plans are taken. “3 a.m…that’s when these plans are worth their weight in gold,” says Villwock emphatically. 

As far as disasters go, “You prepare for one, you prepare for all,” according to Villwock. The key is, of course, to do just that: prepare. At 3 a.m. we will all be glad we did. For more information on emergency preparedness visit the city’s website  (www.lagunabeachcity.net) under the Fire Department.



Going with the flow: Rene Miller loves her coffee but most of all her coffee-drinking customers

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The perfect coffee drink means different things to different people, and that’s what keeps Laguna Coffee Company manager Rene Miller intrigued by the industry that she’s been a part of for 15 years, and loved for much longer. She’s fascinated by the almost infinite variety of possible coffee drinks and has memorized 500 versions.

There are the coffee beans themselves, of course, to take into account, but also temperature, strength, different flavors, and size of the serving, to mention just a few elements, and now, increasingly, various types of milk – not only whether it is steamed, nonfat or half-and-half or foamy or frothy, but also its origin.

Rene Miller, manager of Laguna Coffee Company, loves her customers

“There’s almond and soy, and now coconut and rice milk, and other more unusual ingredients,” she tells me. “My current favorite drink is the bullet-proof, a 12 oz. Americano with organic ghee butter and organic coconut oil. It’s especially great for those who are lactose-intolerant.”

This description blows my mind and confounds my taste buds. (It still does, three days after the interview. Clarified butter in coffee? And coconut? But Rene’s love of the drink is quite obvious.) 

I have to say that the complexity of the coffee drinks that some customers order astounds me, the way the words trip off their tongues like an entirely different language. I love coffee, but my order is usually quite simple: “Regular coffee with room at the top for cream.” I still don’t really understand why tall means small.

This Rene understands. “You’re not the only one,” she reassures me. “I make sure that our baristas clarify exactly what the customer wants. Customer service is vital to our success. Having answers is one thing. Asking the right questions is what’s most important.”

When the tourist season hits, it is important to understand phrases like “I’ll have a flat white” or “a long black,” Miller says, which in Australia and New Zealand mean, respectively, an espresso with steamed milk and an Americano, terms that have nothing to do with steamrollers or skin color.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Two Laguna icons in one shot: Laguna Coffee Company manager Rene Miller and the Greeter, a frequent customer

But it is the coffee drinkers that most fascinate Rene. 

“During the winter, almost 80 percent of my customers are locals,” she says. “After seven years here, I know many of them on a personal level and quite a few I see nearly every day. I feel privileged to be in some ways a part of their lives and to be able to help cheer them up, or celebrate with them or sometimes sympathize when they come in. I hear about tragedies and blessings, from suicide to weddings and births. 

“It’s like a microcosm of the world in here. I’ve learned that there’s nothing that can’t happen to anybody, no matter what their circumstances,” she adds.

A gathering place for all ages, for loners and for the gregarious

Microcosm is the word for this coffee shop, but in the best way possible: Laguna Coffee Company’s small interior space and warm ambience (there are tables on the patio too) encourage conversation and interaction among customers, who run the gamut in age. 

Nor is this is a sterile environment dominated by millennials gazing blankly at the walls while they listen to headphones and tap on keyboards – though they are welcome to do so, and (if they so desire), will find themselves left to their own devices (literally).

People read; talk; network; or simply meditate over their coffee: it’s that kind of place, very laissez faire. No one is hassled and no one looks lonely.

Significant connections do happen. “I’ve witnessed a number of conversations that began between strangers and resulted in long-term relationships,” Miller says. “It’s really satisfying. So much laughter happens here every day.”

The success of Laguna Coffee Company is easy to understand as I watch people wander in and chat to Rene and each other. Often they order their “usual,” occasionally along with a tasty addition such as Laguna Coffee’s celebrated carrot cake. 

When she was young, Rene fantasized about becoming a lawyer, attracted to the idea of coming to the defense of people who needed help. However, her life took a different path when she married and had children, three daughters, and her desire to be a comfort to others is still evident in her caring attitude toward her longtime customers.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Laguna Coffee is unique locally in roasting coffee beans onsite

Laguna Coffee Company, located at 1050 S. Coast Hwy, is unique in the area for roasting its own coffee beans, which happens at least twice a week. 

“People follow the scent trail all the way here, I’m told,” Rene says. “It smells like toast.” 

The man in charge of the process, Randy Warner, the owner’s brother-in-law, roasts as many as 10 varietals at the same time. It’s quite the ritual, reminding me of feeding time at the zoo as people cluster around the machine to watch the process and ask Randy for his roasting tips, willingly given.

Laguna Coffee also serves wine and beer, which is quite unusual for a coffee bar.

“Most customers don’t even realize that we do,” Rene says. She picks up ideas on her trips, and recalls a coffee place in Austin, Texas, that serves tequila with coffee first thing in the morning. “I don’t offer that, not yet, anyway,” she says.

When she’s not working, Rene enjoys biking, often with her daughters, recently completing a Centurion cycling ride (100 miles in a day) in aid of the homeless. She’s interested in writing and is currently taking a course at the Susi Q, thinking she might write a memoir one day about “life on the other side of the bar.”

Life on “the other side of the bar” is rich for Rene

I asked what people are most surprised to find out about her. Frequent customer Mike overheard and said, “That she has eight grandchildren” – to which Rene agreed. And I understand why: with her brown hair tied back in a ponytail, and wearing an off-the-shoulder T-shirt and skinny jeans, Rene looks much too young to be a matriarch.

She’s very supportive of Laguna’s small businesses and also the town’s artists. Every six weeks, Laguna Coffee changes the artwork on the walls. Local artists benefit from the exposure. During my visit, I admired wonderful one-of-a-kind coffee cups as well as items sold by the Peace Exchange. 

Most impressive was an artistic exhibit of framed butterflies and moths, creatures close to Rene’s heart (and tattooed on her ankle). 

“I love the way a caterpillar turns into something so beautiful,” she says. “The possibility is in us all, isn’t it, to turn into something wonderful, even if at times we’re in a cocoon of our own making and can’t see our way out. You just have to persevere.”

I didn’t delve into the details of Rene Miller’s life – interviews have their limits, I feel – but I sensed that her empathy with others comes from challenges she herself has encountered. Her kindness is palpable, and it is clear that her warm personality draws people to the Laguna Coffee Company just as surely as the alluring smell of roasting beans leads them to her door.


Kylie Spence: A talented girl with a vision and a plan 

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

She’s a girl beyond her years – an “old soul” her mother calls her. Kylie Spence is a shy, introspective 15-year-old who is also sympathetic to other people’s stories. All of this is channeled into her music.

Gifted with outstanding musical sensibility and a five-octave vocal range, Kylie has given voice to her feelings and those she intuits from other people, and written them into her own compositions. She’s been writing songs since she was 12 years old, and this spring she’ll be releasing her first EP of original music.

Kylie Spence

Kylie’s also fond of covers, adding her unique sound to classics such as her release of The Christmas Song (here it is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk8DRuCgEEY&feature=youtu.be), which is available for purchase on iTunes. Her interpretation of The Christmas Song is a goose-bump worthy rendition in which her remarkable voice is crystal clear alongside her own piano playing.

“I get to experiment more with the genre when it’s a cover song,” Kylie says. 

Don’t get the impression that everything musical comes easily to Kylie. She not only works hard – a half hour of vocal warm-ups and three hours of music practice daily, plus weekly trips to LA to study with her voice, piano, and guitar teacher – she additionally struggles with the challenge of her health.

Balancing body and mind

It first showed up when she was injured as a water polo player. Her spleen and ribs were bruised, but unbeknownst at the time, she also had mononucleosis. It could be that the injury caused the mono to further its damage to her immune system. 

She was 13 years old and spent all summer in bed. She kept getting sicker and sicker, and eventually was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). Kylie’s mom, Tracie, tells me that one out of 100 kids may get that from the mono virus. POTS is a disorder that affects the flow of blood through the body, thereby causing dizziness with postural changes – even by simply standing up quickly, plus debilitating fatigue, and irregular heart palpitations. What it means for Kylie is that she continues to have very low blood pressure and often experiences tachycardia heart symptoms. It has also meant that the regular school day is nearly impossible. 

Shortly after beginning her freshman year at LBHS, blood tests confirmed she was not getting better, despite medical treatment. She continued to experience tachycardia, and her blood circulation was such that her face was completely pale.

“One kid told me I looked like death,” Kylie said. “That hurt.”

She has since found a happy alternative: the public alternative school, Pacific Coast High School, where most classes are online. With the exception of the science lab and Spanish language class at the physical campus located in Tustin, Kylie is able to manage her physical challenges by being at home and working on the computer.

I met with Kylie and Tracie Spence on a sunny afternoon over coffee. I had wondered how a 15-year-old would be able to get away from school in mid-week, but now it made sense. Kylie explained that the online school meets her two most important goals. “It’s been great for my music and my health,” she said.

Becoming who you want to be

Philosophically, she sees life in terms of what gifts she’s been given and how grateful she is, saying, “It seems like it all happens for a reason.”

 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

She finds inspiration in everything around her

The school program has allowed her to pace herself according to her ability, but the downside is that it’s also meant a retreat from friendships she once enjoyed in middle school. Still, Kylie chooses to see the bright side. 

“I’m a tough kid. I pretend I don’t have it [POTS],” she says. “I find inspiration for my music in everything… I lost friends, and I wrote about that.”

Her mom shared that it has been really difficult socially. 

“She has an innate empathy; an ability to write and understand what people are going through.” said Tracie. “But it’s been hard for her.”

With the alternative school regimen, with adjusted medication and physical therapies, and with a total change in diet, Kylie is working her way through, improving every day. There’s a good chance that POTS will be something she will outgrow as an adult. She has the will and the plan: to travel and perform coffee shop gigs all over the U.S.

Working at “amazing”

Kylie’s headphones may be filled with her favorite bands – Coldplay, Of Monsters and Men, Zella Day, and Daughter – but her musical style is uniquely her own. Her genre would be best described as fitting into Indy/Alternative, and she reaches emotional depth with her interpretive voice.

 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

The music room with sounds and images of inspiration for Kylie

This spring will mark the release of the very first Kylie Spence EP. For months, she’s been demo’ing and working with producer Mark Portman (who also produces Selena Gomez), and is hoping to include five original songs on the EP. 

 “I want to take it slow and do things right,” she says. “I want to put something out that’s amazing.”

Second Voice

Ever sensitive to what she has to offer people, Kylie plans to reach a broad audience. “I want to inspire people,” she says. “I want to be playing to a lot of people. I want them to have something to take away.”

Her gift is in reaching people with her beautiful voice, even if she’s sometimes too shy to do that in person. She’s not the party girl. She’s the sensitive, mature-beyond-her-years kind of girl. 

“She relates more to adults,” says her mom. To which Kylie adds, “I like having deep conversations, not superficial.”

She may be shy in person, but performing lights her spark. Kylie has played for three years at San Clemente’s annual Carnival Colossal, and locally at JoAnn Artman Gallery during Art Walk, at Mozambique, and downtown at The Grove on Hospitality Night. “I made $270 in tips!” she said, smiling. “That was so cool!” 

Her mom couldn’t be more proud. “Me and my husband love to see her perform in front of hundreds of people,” Tracie says. “Because she’s not an outgoing person.”

Performing is a form of self-expression that Kylie can relate to.

“I like to perform,” she says. “At first I was scared I’d mess up. I’m growing now, making mistakes, but I enjoy it! 

 “Singing is like my second voice.”

Substance, style, and the support group

There are a lot of people who recognize talent when they see it. With the support of her family – mom, dad, and younger sister, Jaden – along with many local music talents such as sound engineer Nic Rodriguez, and guitar teacher Tommy Benson, plus the LA-based producer, and her music and vocal coach, Ron Anderson, Kylie’s on a solid path to success.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Kylie’s music is coming together on every level – emotionally and professionally. “It’s like a snowball,” she says. “I’m starting to see that happen.”

“She’s got this amazing group supporting her,” said Tracie. 

“They totally believe in her.”

Kylie can see the progress she’s made even at such a young age, and she appreciates all who have accompanied her on that journey.

“Having people work with me and believe in me, that’s been amazing,” says Kylie. “Most people don’t believe I’m 15. My writing has matured. Everything about me has too!”

Mature, yes, even an old soul. Kylie will still have many years of inspiration to draw upon in her life and we look forward her many music albums to come. Debuting a professional quality EP before she even has a driver’s license? Pretty cool.


John Shanahan: 2016 was a good year for the new LBHS head football coach – and for his great team

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

LBHS football coach John Shanahan may be relatively new to Laguna Beach, but he’s definitely not new to football. The Foothill High School graduate says he ended up living in Laguna after being introduced to the woman who would become his wife. As Shanahan tells it, a mom of a kid he coached set the two of them up. It was a successful match as Shanahan happily explains, “I’ve been with her ever since.”  

At the time they met Shanahan was living in Corona del Mar. His future wife had just purchased a home in Laguna. While not initially eager to move to the more isolated Laguna, Shanahan says, “We decided to give it a try.  I just love it.”

Coaching football since he was a teenager

Shanahan’s coaching story, on the other hand, goes back 30 years (and, yes, Shanahan did start coaching as a teenager). “I would go to my practice and then when it was over I’d get on the other side of the line and help coach.” His first mentor was a coach named Tim O’Donaghue. Their bond continues today as O’Donaghue, who recently became a deacon in the Catholic Church, is the man who married Shanahan and his wife in Ireland earlier this year. 

LBHS Head Football Coach John Shanahan takes a break from post-season practice duties

With his playing days over, coaching became the focus

Shanahan loves football. This love compelled him to keep playing after graduating from Foothill. He suited up for Fullerton College. “I was tiny and slow so it ended pretty quickly,” he says good-naturedly. 

If his playing days were relatively short-lived, his coaching career was just getting started. From there, he says, “I spent five years at Tustin High School. Myron Miller (who recently returned as head coach there) is an incredible individual. I learned a lot from Myron. Those kids are great kids, great athletes.”

Unexpectedly finding himself in the football big leagues

From Tustin Shanahan went to J. Serra High School. “I had taken a break away from football to do some other things,” Shanahan explains. “Jim Hartigan (J. Serra’s head coach) was interested in some of the youth players I had coached. I wanted to get to know him before I recommended him to my players. This got us talking and eventually he was asking me, ‘Why don’t you coach football here?’”  

Rebuilding and finding success

J. Serra plays Division 1 football in the powerful Trinity League, called the second toughest high school football league in the United States by MaxPreps. They face opponents like Mater Dei and St. John Bosco, always nationally ranked teams.  Shanahan says he was intrigued because J. Serra’s football team had won just one game the year before. That the varsity program went on to win a league championship and finish second for several years while he was there as the freshman coach speaks to what a program can do when right people, in all areas of the program, are put in place.  

An LBHS parent makes the ask

With such success, it isn’t hard to understand why Shanahan wasn’t terribly interested when he heard that there was a head coaching position available this year at Laguna Beach High School. When Laguna football parent Jason Wenk asked to meet with Shanahan, “I thought it was because he wanted to talk about his son coming back to J. Serra. He asked me, ‘Are you interested in coaching at Laguna Beach?’ I told him, ‘I don’t know…it seems like a long way back.” 

Undaunted, Wenk convinced Shanahan to meet some of the kids, the LBHS Booster representative, and other people involved in the program. Apparently, Shanahan liked what he saw. “I really enjoy the building process. I enjoyed that at J. Serra,” he says. “It seemed like a great challenge.”  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

A successful team is a happy team and vice versa: the players are looking forward to 2017

Undertaking a “great challenge”

Calling it a “great challenge” is one way of looking at it. Shanahan was being asked to turn around a Division 13 program coming off a 2-8 season, with no local youth football program to pull from. “I talked to my wife. She said, ‘If it’s something you want to do go for it.’” So he did. 

“We got it going back in February and March and have been grinding ever since,” he says enthusiastically.  

No experience means no bad habits, at least

Ever the optimist, Shanahan says that while less than five percent of his players come to the LBHS program with any prior football experience, at least “they don’t have any bad habits we need to undo.” He coaches the kids like he coaches his junior clinics.

 “I get questions that are absolutely shocking,” he says laughing at some of his players’ inexperience. “We have really good football players, but they were really, really raw. I didn’t know if we could get it going this year, but we have incredible families, incredible kids, just incredible support.” He adds, “Our frosh-soph team went 8-1-1 this year after going 1-9 the year before. That’s probably the most rewarding piece of this whole year,” he says proudly.

Consistency is the key

The varsity program had a similar turn-around, making it all the way to the CIF semi-finals. It’s remarkable, really, that a 2-8 team one season can make it all the way to the CIF semi-finals the next year. Clearly, Shanahan is doing something right. He says it all starts with consistency. 

“I told the kids ‘We are going to come up with schemes and no matter what we’re not going to change.’ We got our butts kicked for four straight weeks. We had very heated conversations in the coach’s office. I said, ‘We are here for the long term. It’s bigger than one season’. It was difficult but it paid off.”

The game that turned it all around

Shanahan attributes a game against Godinez High School as the moment the tide began to turn in his favor. “We lost that game, but the kids believed in themselves.  They believed in the schemes. After that we went on a six game winning streak. They were all must-win games. They believed in themselves and they bought into the plan.”

Lacking size, but not talent

As the smallest public high school in Orange County, Laguna simply lacks the number of bodies that other schools can draw from for their sports teams. It’s also not known for producing particularly large kids. 

However, what the program lacks in numbers and physicality, according to Shanahan, it makes up for in athletic talent. It also helps to have an extremely dedicated group of supporters. That support is invaluable for a program that, according to Shanahan, is in “the most difficult place to win. You can’t follow a coach; Laguna is geographically isolated…there are inequities.” 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

LBHS football players learn the importance of the weight room in the offseason 

Inherent inequities that simply must be overcome

The “inequities” he is referring to are the private schools Laguna has to compete against. Whether Division 1 or Division 13, the private schools can recruit players from all over to play for their teams. Public schools cannot recruit, and are only able to pull from the student population within the school district. When you live in a town of just 25,000, the pool of players you’re pulling from is pretty small. Shanahan is not bothered. “We have to beat those teams. We have the talent to beat those teams. We could have beaten any team in Division 13 if we had played well,” he says.

Big plans for OC’s smallest public high school

In case you’re wondering what Shanahan’s goals are for the future of the LBHS football team, he’s thinking big. “Our goal is to be a top five program in the county…We’re on our way to getting there.” 

Shanahan believes the key to elevating the program is in the weight room. “We talked to the kids. We told them that you win games in the off-season.” 

Committed to bringing a youth football program to Laguna

Another thing Shanahan believes will help is a youth football program in the city, something he is committed to starting. “We are going to do everything we can to get a youth program if not in 2017 then 2018,” he says emphatically. 

Shanahan knows he is up against a powerful force working to keep kids away from football: concerned parents. “There’s a lot of moms who are concerned with the dangers of football,” Shanahan acknowledges. “It’s a very safe sport if coached the right way.” He says on the high school team this year, there were four or five concussions, though none of them “major.” Shanahan takes them seriously enough to say that if one of his players sustains two concussions in a season he’s done for that season. “It’s not worth it,” he says.

A great season begins with great kids

2016 has been “an amazing year,” according to Shanahan. He had a fantastic football season in his first outing as a head coach, and has felt the love of a grateful high school community. “We drew from the crowds. I felt it. The kids felt it. I’m grateful for everything the student body and all the supporters did to create such great energy at the games.”  He is also gratified by the effort of his players. “They’re great kids. Everybody should be proud of them. I’ve been coaching 30 years and I’ve never been around a better group.”  

2016 has been a very good year away from the field, as well

And yet all of this pales in comparison to two other events in Shanahan’s life that took place this year: marrying “the perfect wife” and finding out a new family member, a boy, will be joining Team Shanahan in April 2017. 

In case you’re worried this news might alter Shanahan’s coaching plans, perhaps his words about the future with his son will ease your mind: “I really look forward to the day when he’s five or six and running around the field with 100 uncles.” Now, he didn’t specifically mention it was going to be the LBHS field, but I took it as a given.


Santa’s mantra: It’s all about kids and their dreams at this most wonderful time of the year

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Last week, Ken Schreiber and I talked on the phone and arranged to meet at a coffee place downtown for our interview, but I forgot to suggest a way to make sure that we recognized each other.

Luckily Laguna’s Santa Claus was easy to spot, even without a sleigh or elves or jingle bells anywhere in sight. Ken’s full white beard and luxuriant white hair, kindly blue eyes, and red T-shirt hugging his comfortable girth made it clear: I was in the presence of the authentic Santa. 

I sat down and asked for a house with an ocean view for Christmas, and mentioned a few other things on my list. (Not really, but the urge was hard to resist.)

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Santa (Ken Schreiber) loves to see the excitement and wonder on kids’ faces

“Sometimes I’ll be in a store, like Costco, without my suit and hat, but I’ll see a kid look at me and give their mom a nudge,” he says. “I just wink.”

Ken clearly revels in the opportunity that his role gives him to bring joy and happiness to the children who visit him with their dreams and hopes. 

“They are so excited, so full of wonder,” he says. “I see their minds turning over and over as they tell me their wishes. It’s all about the kids this time of year. I love it.”

Ken adds that almost entirely without exception, the kids are great (though he was once briefly scolded for spilling milk). Parents, on the other hand, can very occasionally be a problem. Santa does not like it when moms and dads are impatient. 

“Let the kids talk, let them take their time,” he urges. “They’re dreaming, they’re imagining, they’re making lists in their heads. Don’t cut them off.”

Hooked on giving

Ken and his family became hooked on the rewards of giving long before Ken took classes in the nineties at USC to learn the art of being Santa Claus. Back in Chicago, in the eighties, he and his wife and kids had volunteered for years with a group that gave away Happy Meals and other goodies to kids challenged by difficult circumstances. Thus becoming Santa Claus seemed a natural sequel once Ken had more time to devote to his new vocation.

“One of my happiest memories is the day I was given the chance to fulfill the dream of a child through the Make-A-Wish program,” he says, his voice a little shaky with emotion. 

“All that a seriously ill young lad, he was maybe six years old, wanted was a chance to light a Christmas tree. I rode with him in a horse and carriage and gave him a container of fairy dust, confetti. We arrived at a huge tree that was part of the parade. He took a handful of the dust and we counted slowly: One. Two. Three. Then he tossed the dust toward the tree and it exploded with light.” Ken shakes his head in wonder recalling that moment. “The kid’s eyes were like saucers. It was a gift to me, to see his happiness at something simple yet amazing to him.” 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Santa Claus stands at the door of his home away from home

Ken is a member of Real Bearded Santas, a group of honest-to-goodness bearded men who meet regularly to share their experiences. 

“I believe it started when a company hired a bunch of Santas for a commercial they were making,” he says. “The Santas found they had a lot in common and decided to form the group.”

I asked if Santas were competitive. Ken doesn’t believe so, instead emphasizes that the ones he knows help each other, but clearly he does take pleasure, as he should, for being selected in the past to be Santa at South Coast Plaza, which some believe to be the Super Bowl of Santa-dom. 

Fortunately for Laguna, Ken’s current position at the Sawdust Art Festival and Hospitality Night keep him busy here in his hometown.

Ken recalls the magic of his own childhood Christmas mornings, and the care his father took to create the most wondrous of Christmas trees.

“My dad would get three trees and then cut them apart to create a single amazing tree covered with tinsel and decorations,” Ken recalls. “That was his pride and joy. We would wake up to see his creation and our gifts would be there, once a train set with the train going around and around the tree, once an entire toy ranch with cows and everything.”

But Ken does not like to talk about himself – not his successful career in the printing industry, not his love of swimming as exercise (“I don’t like to sweat”), not even his deep affection for Laguna Beach. 

“It’s all about the kids,” he reminds me. “That’s why I do this. That’s all that matters to me, their joy.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Selfie with an elfie: Christmas brings out the kid in all of us

Spoiler Alert: Santa’s secrets

We’ve all heard of Secret Santas, but how many of us know Santa’s secrets? Ken agreed to tell me a few little-known facts about life as Santa. 

One is this: to figure out what kids might like for Christmas, he asks what they chose to wear for Halloween. “If they were a character from Frozen, or Jungle Book, that gives me a great clue for our conversation,” he says.

Then there’s this: many, if not most, of the Real Bearded Santas pay a visit to a salon in the weeks before Christmas to achieve just the right shade of white for their hair and beard. “It’s a three-hour procedure for me,” Ken says. “But it’s part of the fun, and I often see my Santa colleagues there under the dryers.”

Another secret that’s maybe not so secret: Santa doesn’t actually need a chimney to deliver gifts.

“When kids ask me about coming down the chimney, though they don’t much these days, I just ask them: did I visit your house last year?” he says. “Almost always they say yes, and I say, see, it’s magic – I don’t need a chimney. And they’re fine with hearing that.”

And if a child says, “No, you didn’t come last year,” Ken makes sure to let an elf know to check whether the family is too poor to afford Christmas presents. Then Santa Ken can help make gifts happen through one of the nonprofits that specialize in such things, such as Toys for Tots. He is more than delighted to be able to help.

Finally, I wanted to know why Ken thought Christmas was so very magical, for kids and often adults too. He thought for a while. 

“Because,” he said, “we all want to feel special, to be loved, to be noticed. To feel that we matter. Santa helps kids to feel important no matter what else is going on in their lives. When they talk to Santa, they’re the star of the show. And Christmas brings out the kid in all of us.”

So true.

I said goodbye, drove home, and hung up my stocking.


KATRINA MARTINO: Making things happen in and out of the salon – a true turn-around artist

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Katrina Martino, owner of Hudson Salon and Spa in Laguna Beach, still makes sure she “gets behind the chair” one or two days a week. As a successful salon owner, Martino says she has a knack for putting “a twist on things.” 

However she twists it, it must be the right way as she has been able to take two failing salons and turn them around.  

An entrepreneurial spirit

A true entrepreneur at heart, Martino has set her sights on another turn, Spa by Hudson, a spa concierge company that provides spa services to hotels that do not have spas on their property. Currently offering spa services in Laguna Beach, Charlotte, and soon in Savannah, Georgia, Martino is clearly someone who can’t sit still. This is true away from business as well. Despite such a busy work schedule, she still makes time to help others in really significant ways.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Katrina Martino, owner of Hudson Salon and Spa and Spa by Hudson

Successfully turning around two salons

When Martino took ownership of her first salon, Salon Pompeii in Mission Viejo, it was 1998. When she visited the salon the first time, she says, “I was in three weeks later, essentially I took it over.” 

In May 2011 she took over Hudson Salon and Spa in Laguna Beach. With Hudson Salon and Spa she had again acted quickly. Seeing an advertisement on Craigslist, Martino called right away. “The owner wanted out,” she explains. After the original buyers offer fell through, “I went to see it the next day then went to see the landlord.” Just like that she was in business – again.

For five years she ran both businesses, and both businesses needed her expertise. 

Making room for a new venture

In August of this year, Martino sold Salon Pompeii. “It took time to find the right owner,” she says. “I didn’t want any of the staff to be displaced. Everyone’s still there. I go in about once a month.” Martino was motivated to sell her business of almost 20 years because she wanted to pursue Spa by Hudson. “I wanted to free myself up,” she explains. 

Five years ago she started working with four-star hotels in Laguna offering in-room spa services. It’s a win-win for the hotel because, as Martino explains, “We offer additional amenities. And everything is about the reviews.”

A southern expansion that includes potentially haunted hotels

In September, Martino partnered with a co-worker in South Carolina. “The market there is ten times what it is here,” explains Martino. “The hotels there, so many of them were built in the 1800s and1900s. They don’t have room for spas.” 

The way it works is Martino’s staff is on call part time. The guests are charged for their services through the hotel. 

“I work best when I’m creating something. It’s super exciting to watch its growth. And I love no overhead,” she says with a laugh. 

Next up is Savannah. “They have the same kind of historic hotels. A lot of them are said to be haunted. I’m looking forward to feeling the vibe,” she says enthusiastically.

Working both sides of the chair is a plus

While Martino may have shed one business with significant overhead, she still has another with Hudson Salon and Spa. She credits her understanding of the business as part of the reason she has been so successful. “Being a stylist, I know both sides of the industry. Stylists are a creative group,” she says with a smile. “It helps to be passionate and understand the many sides of it.”

Finding time for The Peace Exchange

Clearly passionate about her businesses, Martino is equally passionate about helping others. As a single mother with multiple businesses to manage, it’s hard to believe she has the time to give, but somehow she does. She is a board member of The Peace Exchange. 

According to Martino, “The Peace Exchange works with marginalized regions of the world to create social enterprise, economic growth, sustainability, and entrepreneurial training for citizens of developing nations.”  

Martino says she got involved through the founder, Katie Bond, who is a friend. “I’ve help put together fundraisers,” she says lightly when pressed about what she does for the group. As with many altruistic people, she really doesn’t want to talk about her contributions, much preferring to talk about the group’s mission. (Visit www.thepeaceexchange.com for more information.)

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Katrina Martino in downtown Laguna Beach, taking a rare break

Doing what she could for a friend in desperate need

A very high profile charitable endeavor Martino started was for her former employee and friend, Sandra Woodard. Woodard was diagnosed with a very rare form of ovarian cancer in April 2016. Martino jumped in and started a GoFundMe campaign to help Woodard, a single mother of twin girls who attend Thurston Middle School, with medical bills. Woodard’s diagnosis was very grim, but she was committed to fight her disease. Martino launched the GoFundMe campaign to help Woodard pay for treatment in Germany. 

“I know a lot of people,” says Martino. “I like connecting people. What a community Laguna is. People who share…what a blessing! They gave her hope to fight.”  

While Woodard tragically passed away on October 19, Martino strongly believes that while Woodard did not find the cure she was hoping for the donations did give her five more months with her children as well as some more time to come to terms with things. “She was more accepting of her situation,” says Martino.

A community steps up and continues to help

The campaign is ongoing. Donations are now being accepted to help Woodard’s daughters. Martino is grateful to StuNews for being so supportive of the campaign for Woodard. It has paid off. 

“Sue and Bill Gross walked in with a $15,000 check to help Sandra after reading about it in StuNews,” she says, still marveling at the memory. The Grosses didn’t stop there, recently giving even more for Woodard’s children. They are not the only ones.

“So many people in Laguna believe in paying it forward,” says Martino.

Like mother, like daughter

A willing community is only half the story. People need someone to start the proverbial ball rolling. Martino is that kind of person. It takes a lot of energy, which Martino seems to have in endless supply, to make things happen. This energy is amplified when the subject turns to her 22-year-old daughter. The two have been working together lately, something Martino clearly relishes. Her daughter has been helping Martino with her website. 

“It’s the millennial teaching…whatever I am!” laughs Martino. “She’s entrepreneurial, a super dynamic individual.” 

Of course, she’s talking about her daughter, but Martino could just as easily be describing herself.


Viking with a Santa Claus heart: Look for silversmith Greg Thorne near the waterwheel at the Sawdust

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by MARY HURLBUT except as noted

If Santa Claus were a Viking, I believe he’d look just like silversmith Greg Thorne: tall, solid and tawny, with long brown hair, his goatee and sideburns framing a square face most notable for (please forgive the cliché, it’s just so apt) his twinkling eyes and quick smile. 

The sword in the scabbard, brown kilt and leather sandals add the necessary northern nuance to his imposing figure. 

Instead of red, though, Greg wears dark earth shades on the day I meet him, as befits a man who believes that our connection to the land is the source of all things good, and who is deeply committed to the values of hard work and community learned during time spent with the Navajo and Hopi back in the early seventies.

“In those days, I lived in Flagstaff, and I worked as a shell runner delivering shells in gunnery sacks from the ships that docked in San Pedro to the Pueblo of Santa Domingo in Arizona, also brought them rocks from the mines for their turquoise jewelry,” he says. 

Greg’s Norwegian and Scottish ancestry is a vital element in his life

“I was a large white man, representing everything the Navajo could have resented, but they embraced me,” Greg adds. “I was entranced by their sense of community, their ceremonials, their celebration of the ‘great mystery’ of life, of the wind and water spirits, the animals, the sense that we are all relatives, that there was no religious dogma they felt the need to impose, just acceptance.”

Nor do the comparisons with Santa end with Greg’s magnetic presence and (here we go again, I can’t help it, a thesaurus only goes so far) twinkly demeanor. Not only can you find him in a magical place – in his case, the Sawdust Festival – where his tucked-away hut near the waterwheel is shiny with potential gifts of gorgeous handmade jewelry, but he also has a Santa Claus heart, giving away “penny wishes” to small children who happen past, and books – real, honest-to-goodness printed books – to older kids.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Kids are drawn to Greg, and he loves to give them pennies to toss for wishes

“I go to the library to buy up books they’re about to discard, from classics to history books and more,” he says. “Then I try to match them with the kids I meet, see what will resonate with them.”

For Greg, a former history teacher, this is not an endeavor taken lightly.

“I remember reading Chaucer and realizing maybe for the first time how universal human emotions and drives are over time and place, how we are all the same at heart,” he says. 

“Literature and education break down walls and that’s really important especially right now. I love the way the musical Hamilton is teaching a new generation about history, in their language and style.”

Greg’s personal favorites include Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the latter perhaps a nod to his Scottish ancestors who lived in Argyll, where many Vikings settled. 

The past is prologue to the future

Greg’s past informs much of who he is now: the pioneer force is strong within him.

“My grandfather was born in 1898. He was in the Royal Horse Artillery during World War I. He came out here and owned a huge cattle ranch in Arizona, he was truly an old cowboy, he knew Wyatt Earp, he was an immigrant of course – we should celebrate all immigrants, because that’s what America is, it’s the great world experiment,” Greg says. 

He spent his childhood and teenage years roaming Irvine Ranch, “hunting and trapping, fishing, leading a free-range life, raising hawks, owls and falcons” he says, “and then I had a great time in the sixties surfing, enjoying the hippie chicks, playing rock ‘n roll.” 

Greg and his buddies were some of the first protestors to fight developers, disabling tractors and earthmoving equipment, and he still believes in protests to save our lands from short-term profiteers “like the situation in Standing Rock,” he says.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Submitted photo

 

After a 50-year break, Greg’s back to performing in a rock ‘n roll band

And now, after a 50-year hiatus, Greg is singing and playing guitar again, most recently at Angel Stadium at an event to raise money for kids with Down Syndrome, performing with a band so recently created, it doesn’t have a name. 

“Loved it,” he says. “We’re planning to do lots more shows.”

Greg’s philanthropic activities are so fascinating that I barely had time to ask about his jewelry, though while I interviewed him, his beautifully crammed booth was clearly a major attraction for Sawdust attendees. 

I asked about his inspiration, because that’s the kind of question reporters feel obliged to ask of creative people – though it is often one of the hardest to answer, given the capricious nature of muses.

Greg says that he responds emotionally to the rough stones. “I sense that some want to feel part of a family around a hearth,” he says, pointing out stones of more-or-less the same size in a cluster on a bracelet, “while others, like this one” – he shows me a magnificent necklace with a dominant stone – “need to be the center of attention.”

Just like people. 

He’s practical too. “Plus of course I like to create pieces that women like,” he adds.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Greg’s talent and attention to detail is obvious in his booth display

Greg’s ties to the past are evident in his present. Many of his tools are Navajo-made, crafted from old horseshoes and files. He owns an old English hammer inscribed “Thor” (one does wonder at the coincidence of his last name, Thorne) as well as, of all things, Aaron Burr’s family iced tea server. This disconnect is interesting, the extraordinary and rare shelved alongside the quotidian, rather like life itself. 

Or perhaps it is simply that Greg collects antiques.

I left the Sawdust and visited his Facebook page to see if I could learn more about him. There I learned that recently he had had “a Bonaparte kind of day.” How many times have you seen that on a status update?

Along with a love of European history, Greg has embraced Native American culture, appreciating their continued deep connection with nature – with the animal, vegetable and mineral fruit of the land – and thereby with history dating back to humanity’s genesis in Africa.

Thus it is that when you buy Greg’s jewelry, you’re buying more than silver and turquoise born of the land and shaped with love by human hands: you’re buying a philosophy honed over time.

And if you’re a kid, and prefer books, well, there’s that Santa thing he’s got going.



Adam Bernstein, Sapphire’s craftsman behind the bar, sees an empty glass as a canvas to be filled 

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The hospitality business is a notoriously transient one. People enter and exit the profession rapidly and, even if they stay in the profession for a long time, they tend to move from place to place.  

In both regards, Adam Bernstein, the bartender at Sapphire Laguna, is an anomaly. He has worked in the hospitality business virtually his entire life. For 17 years he has tended bar in Laguna Beach; the first seven of those years he was at the old Partner’s Bistro and for the last eight he has been at Sapphire. There was a brief stint at The Rooftop in between the others, but obviously when Bernstein finds a place he likes, he stays put.

Learning from some of the best

“I don’t like moving around,” he says. Plus it’s easy to stay around when you hold the people you work for in high regard. He remembers working with Rick Sadlier of Partner’s Bistro as “…one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had.” Bernstein says Sadlier had “cool, modern ideas” while admitting, with a grin, that he might not have had “the best bedside manner.” 

Now, under Chef Azmin Ghahreman, Bernstein has found another great fit. “That gentleman,” says Bernstein, “is a mentor. I owe him a ton of respect and love. What a great man. He has made me a full part of his family.” That feeling of family and community is very important to Bernstein.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Adam Bernstein, bartender at Sapphire Laguna, on the “other side” of the bar

A “dual life” in two great towns

Bernstein came to southern California from Florida in 1997. “My friends and I, we were all skating and surfing,” he says. So, they followed one another to the action sports industry capital: Southern California. Bernstein landed in San Clemente and he’s still there today.  

“I have a dual life,” he says. By this he means that while he’s a fixture in his hometown he’s equally a part of the fabric of his work town, too. “You create family and a sense of community. I feel that here. I love Laguna Beach,” he says emphatically.

A craftsman in an art community

For Bernstein, his work is multi-faceted. There is the actual skill of tending bar and all that entails in addition to his commitment to making every patron feel welcome. For him, both parts of the job are equally important.  

“We’re in an artists’ town. My expression of being creative is in the cocktail realm.”  As someone who attended culinary school, Bernstein takes the “mixology” part of his profession very seriously. He considers himself a craftsman and his “canvas” is an empty glass.

A cruise leads to a book

Just how seriously Bernstein takes his creations is evidenced by the book he’s creating about them. While working as a guest “mixologist” on a Crystal Cruise that went to Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, (Ghahreman is currently partnering with the company), Bernstein says, “I was in the middle of the ocean and had time to think about things. I thought, ‘Adam, let’s put all of this in writing’. I figure even if it’s not successful I should do it just to say I did it. To do a book, to share my creativity with everyone else…there’s no downside to that.”  

Striving to make everyone feel “hugged”

The other side to Bernstein’s job is the part that’s harder to measure, and you certainly can’t make a recipe book about it. “When I’m behind the bar I like to get to know a person. (Laguna) is a place that’s a destination for world travelers…people can go to Newport Beach; they can go to Laguna Beach. You are attracted to what hugs you,” he explains.  

The fact that Bernstein says things like this isn’t surprising. He’s in the hospitality business, after all. What does surprise me is the sincerity with which he says it. When he says he wants you to feel hugged, he really means it. This attitude, combined with his bartending skills, helps explain his longevity in the industry. “It’s important not only knowing recipes, but knowing people,” he says.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

A collection of Bernstein’s handcrafted syrups – a source of great pride

A true professional

Another thing that helps explain his longevity is his commitment to his future. “I was smart about it. I started an IRA. I have a 401k. I’ve had my health insurance forever. I say work smart, not hard. I’ve taken it to the professional level.” He also credits Bobby Doerr, now an owner of The Saloon in town, with getting him on the right track. “To this day when I see him I always say ‘thank you’ and he knows exactly what I’m talking about!” Bernstein says.

And while he’s not thinking about leaving his post behind the bar anytime soon, he is always thinking about the future. “I’m a Virgo through and through. I’m all about being stable.” For Bernstein that’s just one more great thing about working at Sapphire with Ghahreman: Ghahreman has established quite an empire; there are many different directions to go if Bernstein should one day decide to hang up his cocktail shaker. “He thinks globally,” says Bernstein about Ghahreman.

Challenging himself to continue creating

Coming up is another Crystal Cruise to the Caribbean. “I think I will have an opportunity like this every year,” he says excitedly. Such exposure is not only personally fulfilling, but helps expose Bernstein to different cultures and food that he can translate into his craft. “I feel a lot more challenged to be creative. That is the change I’ve seen in myself. It has upped my ante. I’ve come a long way. I’m constantly creating new things all the time.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

When he’s not behind the bar, look for Adam Bernstein in the water

Being a good guy has paid off

So while he puts in five nights a week, works on his book and readies himself for his next exotic voyage, Bernstein makes sure to make time to enjoy things close to home. “I’m a surfer. I surf every day. The water calms me. How can you not look around and think you’re in paradise?” he asks. And it’s true. We are sitting at The Rooftop on a picture-perfect, extremely warm November morning staring at the intensely blue Pacific.  It certainly looks like paradise.  

Determined to appreciate his surroundings, Bernstein is also committed to living by a creed that he feels has worked quite well for him thus far. “I do the best I can every single night.” He then holds his hands apart as if bracketing two very important ideas.  “For me, Adam Bernstein…good guy. Living that has gotten me a long way.” 


Kieran Leedom and Alex Martin: Two new friends with struggles and successes in common

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

There was a time, not that long ago, when a child with special needs could not attend school in Laguna Beach. Kieran Leedom, now 38 years old, grew up in that time. Kieran has Down Syndrome and public school education did not exist in Laguna Beach classrooms for kids like him. Laguna was “too small a district,” the families were told. Special education meant being bussed to bigger districts such as Mission Viejo.

“He was not able to make friends in town because his school was so far away,” said his dad, Robert.

Well, Kieran made up for that lack of local friends, fast becoming a part of the fabric of the community by working first at Wild Oats, followed by Whole Foods. He’s been working at that site for 15 years now and will soon add The Ranch to his resume.

“I love working!” says Kieran. 

That’s something he says he’s most thankful for at this time of giving thanks. His goals this year: “The Ranch! Whole Foods! I don’t want to be late!”

Kieran Leedom

Fast forward to Laguna Beach schools of today, and meet Alex Martin. Like Kieran, Alex, 21, grew up in Laguna and required special education. In the first years he was also bussed out of town for day classes, but by the time he was ready for third grade, Laguna had special educational systems in place within its own classrooms.

Special Needs + Education = Success

Someone instrumental in helping to achieve that educational goal for Laguna was Alex’s mom, Sandy. “Times have changed,” she said. There is more progress in terms of educational standards and at the same time there is significantly more need. According to the Autism Society, prevalence of autism in U.S. children has increased 6-15 percent each year – from one in 150 in the year 2000, to one in 68 in 2010. Sandy said that one in 100 children have autism now in Orange County.

Alex Martin

Kieran and Alex met at the job fair at The Ranch. They reconnected this week as we chatted over coffee along with Alex’s mom, Kieran’s dad and his sister, Maya.

Click on photo for larger image

 

Kieran with his loving big sister, Maya

Athletes in common

Alex was excited to talk about the Special Olympics. Not only is he an athlete, he’s also training to speak publically on behalf of the Special Olympics as their “Global Messenger.” In the middle of regional games now, playing bocce, golf and volleyball, Alex got super motivated after his volleyball team won the gold medal. “I want to win another gold – a bunch of them!” he said, beaming.

Kieran is also playing in the Special Olympics, and they were thrilled to find that they had that in common. Kieran is a water lover, often diving fearlessly into the waves at Emerald Bay. He’s taken that talent to the pool for the Olympic games where he relishes the freestyle and backstroke. “I want to swim faster!” he says. The two young men are also avid bowlers, making plans already to go bowling together.

Meaningful Work for Both

Laguna not only supports education for special needs students, the city has also welcomed this diverse population with community integrated independent housing at Glennwood House, and with meaningful work opportunities such as at The Ranch and The Montage.

Sandy mentioned that Montage Laguna Beach has some 12 or 13 special needs young people working for them, “Whatever they need them to do,” she says. “These are good workers, reliable, steady, and on time.” So reliable and steady, they seldom leave the position – so there’s very low turnover.

Despite being fairly busy guys, taking classes and working occasional jobs, Kieran and Alex were excited to learn of the job fair at The Ranch.

Most of the jobs available to people like them are zero paying. Different vocational programs will often put special needs young people into job situations for training skills, such as cleaning flatware and rolling them into napkins at restaurants to learn a little about the hospitality business. Alex, for example, works at Marshall’s one day and at Feed & Tackle another day – but they are non-paid jobs. 

Kieran collects money for the city at the Sunday morning basketball games at the high school gym, and goes around collecting the money raised through Tip-a-Cop fundraisers for the Special Olympics. He is paid at Whole Foods, but since the recession, his hours have been reduced to one or two days a week.

Click on photo for larger image

 

New buddies, Kieran and Alex

These two are hard workers, ready and willing to do whatever they can, so they happily applied at The Ranch, and were even happier to be hired. It’s real work, and they’ll be paid for their real effort.  

“How fantastic. We are really looking forward to having them both join our team,” said Lisa Rosecrans, Human Resources/Payroll Supervisor at The Ranch. “This is a new and very exciting opportunity for us and our new team members, Alex and Kieran!”

Thanks to Give

With thanks, both Kieran and Alex are grateful for the opportunity at The Ranch. And there are a couple of other things to be thankful for, they tell me:

Kieran: “Thanksgiving with my family. And my [vocational] group is going to have a dance! I love to dance!” 

Alex: “I’m thankful for friends and family – and sometimes my teachers.” 

He pauses reflectively and smiles again, “And my new friend Kieran!”


Ray McAfoose: 30 years in Laguna real estate

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Ray McAfoose has had the same business phone number for 30 years. This fact in and of itself is somewhat remarkable. However, when one considers that his business is real estate, it’s positively astounding. McAfoose began his real estate career three decades ago at Coldwell Banker and he’s still there. I don’t think there are many real estate agents, here or anywhere else, for that matter, who can say that.

A math teacher in pursuit of his PhD

McAfoose was born in Pennsylvania. He became a math teacher and moved to South Dakota. Then he went to Colorado State University to pursue his PhD in either education or business. Once he completed all of his advanced course work, McAfoose says his enthusiasm for earning the degree waned. “I was already programming. I went off into the computer world for a lot of years. That’s how I ended up in Costa Mesa,” he explains.

Time for a career change

McAfoose worked for Emulex in Costa Mesa, but chose to live in Laguna Beach. “When I left the computer industry 30 years ago I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had a sister who worked in real estate. I’d been buying investment properties from her. I thought, ‘Why don’t I do this?’” 

But where to work? McAfoose says he chose Coldwell Banker because, “When you’re in sales and you don’t have to explain the company, that’s a leg up. I chose Coldwell Banker and I’ve never regretted it.”  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Ray McAfoose, Laguna Beach resident and real estate agent for 30 years

A quiet beach town becomes a destination resort

Living and working in Laguna for the past 30 years, McAfoose has definitely seen some changes. “Laguna Beach has transformed itself from a very quiet little town…it has more of a resort feel to it now. The Montage, St. Regis, the Ritz-Carlton…Laguna is a destination. That brings in a different level of buyer. People are buying second homes or they come to visit and fall in love and decide to move here.”

The Internet, public access and recreational home viewing

The biggest change in the real estate business during his career, according to McAfoose, is the how the Internet has brought public access to the market. “In the early days we had a real estate book that was printed. We treated it like the Bible. We didn’t share it. Now everyone has access.” This access has helped spawn an interest in looking at houses for enjoyment. 

“On some of our listings we give our clients a recap on how many hits their listing has gotten. The owners will say, ‘With so many hits how come we’re not getting more offers?’ And I have to remind them that a lot of people just like to look at houses for fun.”

The importance of technology can’t replace relationships

With McAfoose’s background in computers one would expect him to embrace technology, and he does. “I think as technology continues the business will change.  We must stay current or we’ll become dinosaurs.” However, while he’s a believer in technology he’s an even bigger believer in the importance of relationships. “There’s nothing to replace face to face meetings with clients,” he says. And for him, that’s the best part of his job. “I love it,” he says of the real estate business. “I love architecture. I love working with people. I believe in investing in real estate. I know I’m glad I did.”  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Coldwell Banker, where Ray McAfoose has worked for 30 years – now the real estate business needs the Internet along with brochures

StuNews’ first advertiser

Another thing he’s glad he did was say “yes” when Stu Saffer asked him to listen to his pitch for this online newspaper he was thinking about starting. “I immediately signed up to be Stu’s first advertiser on his newly created StuNewsLaguna.com. I sensed Stu was onto something that was about to take off…and it has!” he says enthusiastically. 

Work and helping family are enough

When asked what else he enjoyed doing when he wasn’t working, McAfoose took a lengthy pause. “Not too much,” he replied with a laugh. “I have my extended family.  That makes me happy.” McAfoose approaches those relationships the same way he watched his father handle his: “If you can help someone, you help them. I got that from my dad. He had beans but he’d help if someone needed the help. I think that has come through our family.”

Good advice for new licensees

Not just one to help friends, McAfoose also has helpful advice for new agents starting out, “When I started I knew I wanted to ‘farm’ Laguna Beach. But I was making money selling condos in Aliso Viejo. Those sales gave me the ability to work in Laguna. I tell new licensees to do that: establish yourself somewhere else and make an income.  There are too many well-established agents in this town for you to make an impact right away. I don’t mean that to sound negative in any way, but it’s just the real world.”

Nothing master planned about Laguna

Laguna is unique. The houses and neighborhoods are anything but uniform so it’s a challenging place to sell real estate if you don’t know the market. “It’s not like buying Plan A at the end of the cul de sac,” he says. “I tell all new licensees, ‘You picked a tough place to sell real estate.’” 

But if it’s not an easy place to sell, McAfoose is fine with that because he loves the challenge. He also loves Laguna. “I’m just thrilled I’m in Laguna Beach. I count my blessings, I do. Even when I’m having a bad day I stop and say how privileged I am.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Ray McAfoose, Laguna Beach Realtor of the Year in 2006, in his meeting room at Coldwell Banker

A “Golden Rule” philosophy for business

McAfoose is grateful for Laguna and his loyal clients. “I’ve had so many repeat clients…if you treat people how you want to be treated it usually works…It’s just nice to work that way,” he says. This philosophy is definitely working for him and his partner, Liz Comerford, as they were named as one of the “Top 100” Coldwell Banker teams nationally in 2012 and 2013. 

Not looking to slow down

It also helps that he just loves his work – and loves to work. McAfoose has no plans to slow down, let alone stop. “I’m not going to retire,” says McAfoose. “I’d be bored to tears. I find it a challenge, and I find it fun.” He also has a healthy attitude towards working in such a competitive industry. “Competition is healthy, but we have to keep it in perspective.” More words of wisdom from a true professional.


“Small yet fierce” Sandra Woodard is mourned: December 4, 1961 - October 19, 2016

Go Fund Me campaign continues on to raise money for her young twin daughters

By SAMANTHA WASHER

A memorial service will be held on Oct 28 at 3 p.m. at Mariners Church Chapel, 5001 Newport Coast Drive, Irvine, for Sandra Woodard, who passed away on Oct 19 after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in April this year. Following the service a celebration of Sandra’s life will take place at the home of Charlie and Brandi (Paris) Hawkins, 705 Temple Hills Drive, at 5 p.m. 

Sandra Woodard was born in the Philippines. At age 11, she and her family relocated to Hawaii. Her father was in the military and the family lived in Mililani. As a student at Mililani High School, Sandra was a cheerleader and a member of the church choir. When Sandra was 16 her father was reassigned. The family left the tropical haven of Hawaii for a much different part of the US: Leavenworth, Kansas. 

From Kansas to California and twins!

Sandra completed high school there and attended college at the University of Kansas. After working for Sprint in several capacities from 1988-1998, she moved to Southern California in 1993. In 1998, she married Scott Woodard and the couple joyfully had twin girls in 2002. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Sandra with her beloved daughters, Sage and Sierra

A savvy businesswoman and well-respected aesthetician

After her twins were born Sandra opened Laguna Image Skincare. She developed a reputation as highly skilled aesthetician. Katrina Martino, owner of The Hudson Salon and Spa in Laguna Beach says, “I met Sandra almost two years ago when she came into Hudson looking for a place to work/rent a spa room for her clients. She had a very good reputation in the industry with skin care and lash extensions with a large, loyal clientele base. She could work like a machine; meaning you’d see her in the morning, maybe a break for lunch outside of her room, and then she’d work straight through the day. Then, like a magician, poof! She was gone, headed home.” 

Small yet “fierce”

Martino describes Sandra as “a tiny, little Philippino. When healthy, she was maybe 95 lbs. wet, I’m not kidding. I referred to her as ‘Tinkerbell,’” adding she was “small yet fierce.” This ferocity was much relied upon when, on April 21 of this year, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. 

Discomfort, scans and a devastating diagnosis

Sandra had been experiencing abdominal discomfort that affected her appetite and overall feeling of wellness. Doctors prescribed a CT scan and an MRI.  Shockingly, they found a tumor. Surgery was scheduled. During her operation, they found that the original tumor was malignant and it had spread from the pelvic area to her abdominal cavity. Some of the tumors and nodules were inoperable and unable to be removed.   Tests ultimately confirmed she had an 11 cm ovarian tumor. Unfortunately, it was determined that Sandra had “the rarest form of ovarian cancer: Clear Cell Carcinoma.” 

A Go Fund Me campaign gives hope

Due to her late diagnosis, as well as the type of cancer she was diagnosed with, Sandra’s oncologist gave her no hope and advised her to prepare herself.  However, Sandra was not willing to accept this prognosis. Martino came to the aid of her friend and started a Go Fund Me campaign for Sandra so that she could fly to Germany for an experimental treatment. The campaign was a huge success, helping Sandra raise $40,000 for her treatment. Sue and Bill Gross memorably delivered a $15,000 check to help the cause.

There was no miracle, but there was the gift of time

Sandra in Germany during treatment

Sadly, the miracle Sandra was hoping for did not appear.  While in Germany the treatment seemed to be helping for a while. Unfortunately, it could not conquer the cancer that had taken over her small frame. Sandra returned home to Laguna a month ago. While the treatment did not cure the cancer, it did give Sandra invaluable time to be with her daughters, her family and friends.  

Devoted to her daughters above all else

All who knew Sandra speak of her devotion to her daughters, Sage and Sierra who attend Thurston Middle School. They say she always put them first, before all else. She held fast to her faith and was finally able to reach a place of acceptance. While her family and friends are devastated by her passing, all are grateful for the time they were able to share with her these past few weeks. They are thankful she is at peace and finally free of pain. They would also like to thank the Laguna Beach community for their support of Sandra. 

Sandra’s girls need our help

Sandra Woodard is survived by her two daughters, her ex-husband, her mother, Gavina Tamonte, siblings Lauren, Ronald, Emma, Carlos (Jun), Lynn, Karen, Marvin, and numerous aunts and uncles. She is preceded in death by her father, Carlos, and brother, Jerry.  

The Go Fund Me campaign is still active, now focused on raising funds for Sandra’s daughters as they enter this next stage in their young lives. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/29ax6xak?ssid=782699195&pos=1.



From Ophelia to alien monsters to a drunken nun to reindeer: talented Ava Burton has played them all

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Actress Ava Burton has range. How many people, in the course of their careers, have played Shakespeare’s Ophelia, Viola, and Kate, as well as a drunken nun and “various alien monsters,” not to mention each of Santa’s four reindeer? 

Burton has also starred as Wynne, one of her favorite roles, in well-known dramatist Moira Buffini’s hugely successful play “Dinner,” and during Burton’s 15 years as an actor, she has taken on a variety of roles on London stages as well as international venues, including in Hamburg and now Laguna Beach.

Perhaps there are actors with somewhat similar backgrounds, but given her effervescent personality, I’d bet Burton’s renditions have more oomph and receive more audience “ahs!” than most.

Not that Leeds-born-and-bred Burton gave me a full accounting of her many successes. After all, she’s British. The British are brought up not to blow their own trumpets – or, as Americans say, toot their own horns. So I had to Google some of her many accomplishments.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Ava Burton loves to act and acting loves her

“I tried out for ingénue parts at the beginning of my career,” dark-haired, hazel-eyed Burton told me over an iced coffee at Heidelberg Café. “But I was often cast in comedic roles. I realized quite quickly that they were so much more fun to play.”

Locals have seen the ebullient Ava Burton in Love Letters, with actor Mark Miller, and she was also a cast member in the Ephron sisters’ Love, Loss, and What I Wore at the Laguna Playhouse. She stars in productions of Shakespeare’s Fool, developed by her husband Jason Feddy. The event usually takes place at Heisler Park, and most recently was featured at UCI’s New Swan Theatre, a moveable pop-up theatre seating 120 people. The band plays Shakespearean songs with a modern twist and actors deliver speeches  – and there’s plenty of amusing improvised banter in between.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Ava loves Mrs. Pickles, her “little fluffy blessing”

Burton and Feddy have known each other since they were kids.

“Our parents actually went to school with each other,” she says. “I always knew who he was, because he was so funny. His best friend’s youngest sister was my best friend. We had a fling once when I was a drama student but I had a career in London and he was heading to Laguna. Then in 2009 he was visiting London on business, and he asked if he could stay with me, and we’ve been together ever since.”

Not just staying together, but laughing together pretty much nonstop, from what I gather, though Burton says, “I’m actually funnier.” (Jason?)

Two nations divided by a common language

Adjusting to America wasn’t easy at first, “though by now I feel welcome and part of the community,” she says. “But I think Brits are more cynical in many ways, and it took me a while to lose some of my edge. It was hard for me to believe that people saying, have a good day, were really sincere. Now it doesn’t matter, I’m used to it. I think I’m a big-city person really, but Laguna is lovely and peaceful.”

Burton points out that, “Just because England and the US speak the same language, doesn’t make America less foreign.” 

Which is an interesting take on George Bernard Shaw’s comment that “England and America are two nations divided by a common language” (or was it Oscar Wilde who first said that?)

As a former South African, I tend to use British pronunciation too. Ava and I agreed that, surprisingly, “water” is one of the hardest words to pronounce the American way. (“Wadda,” we’ve learned to say.)

And then there’s word confusion. Here’s an example: the Sunday joint in England, enjoyed at lunchtime surrounded, say, by pot plants, means having a roast such as a leg of lamb in the presence of potted plants – not the marijuana-infused experience that the American terminology might suggest.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Working for Laguna Beach Live! has been a great joy for Ava

Finding work locally was also more challenging than back home. “For a while I worked at Kohl’s. What a horrific baptism of fire,” Burton says. “Then Susan Davis of the Festival of the Arts suggested I work there for the summer. I still do, I love it. One thing led to another and now I’m an associate producer with Laguna Beach Live! I also do voice-overs and work as an actress whenever I can.”

Burton wasn’t always sure she’d be an actress. But after a stint as a hairdresser, she applied to study acting at the East 15 Acting School in London. She couldn’t afford the fees, so she wrote “literally hundreds” of letters in longhand looking for a sponsor to pay for her education. The letters resulted in a sponsorship from Anthony Hopkins’ Charitable Foundation (which he shut down in 2000 after divorcing his wife Jenni).

Her latest venture is with Bare Bones Theatre, which uses Sandra Jones Campbell’s studio as a setting for play readings.

“I’m so excited, my favorite actor to work with, Ben Farrow – he’s so incredibly talented – will be coming into town to read at our next Bare Bones event on November 14,” Burton says. “I love Bare Bones. After each reading, the actors and the audience talk about the performance, and it makes for a really interesting evening.” Talented playwright Lojo Simon is also involved with the theatrical project.

Burton juggles all her jobs with great aplomb as far as I can tell. 

But it can be a challenge. 

“It’s hard for Jason and I to spend much time together because of our schedules, but we have the most fun together on his Sunday morning radio show at KX 93.5 FM, just talking like we talk at home, and we try to get to each other’s events as much as possible,” she says.

And then there is Mrs. Pickles, a Lhaso apso poodle mix, Burton’s “little fluffy blessing” – her very first dog ever– who accompanies her everywhere she goes, and, apparently, has as big a personality as her owner.

“I do miss my family back in England, particularly my grandfather, who is 98, and my sister, who lives in Israel,” Burton says. “But Laguna’s beautiful. I have Jason, and great friends, and Mrs. Pickles. I’ve even found a great Indian restaurant. That’s important to a Brit. 

“I’m a lucky girl.”


Fire and rain, love and loss: Georgia Andersen’s life and times are deeply entwined with Laguna’s history 

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain/I’ve seen sunny days I thought would never end/I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend/But I always thought that I’d see you again…

Walking back home after interviewing Georgia Andersen, who, with her husband Claes, bought the Hotel Laguna more than 30 years ago, I couldn’t help but think how beautifully James Taylor’s sweet, melancholy lyrics seemed to describe Georgia’s life and times as the owner of Hotel Laguna (though I doubt she’s ever had trouble making friends). 

But yes, Georgia has seen fire, and seen rain, and sunny days that she thought would never end – until the untimely death of her husband Claes at age 63 in 2010 from cancer. Grief clouded her days then, and made it tough to continue with the business that had given them both so much pleasure. 

“When he was ill, Claes said, sell, don’t put yourself under stress, but I said no, I want to keep going, and I’m so glad, and I know he would be too, especially after all we’d been through,” she says. “This hotel, and our employees, mean everything to me.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Owner Georgia Andersen delights in the Hotel Laguna’s setting

The fires of 1993 began burning while Georgia and Claes were at work at the hotel. With dozens of residents, they stood on the hotel roof and watched as the flames stampeded down the hill toward their house in Mystic Hills, destroying home after home in their fiery if erratic path. 

“The smoke made it hard to see, but our house had a very distinct roofline. We saw our home literally explode,” she recalls. “The redwood shingles meant we didn’t stand a chance.”

So what did the Andersens do? They got to work. They opened the hotel to firefighters and to residents who needed somewhere to stay. And at four o’clock the following morning, despite their personal loss, Claes was doing what Claes loved to do: baking croissants and cinnamon rolls and serving coffee to dozens of Lagunans who had nowhere else to go.

“It took two and a half years for us to rebuild our home,” Georgia recalls. “But it never crossed our minds to leave this town. Even now, I don’t particularly have any desire to travel for pleasure. We have so much beauty here.”

Then rain: in 2010, a hundred-year rainstorm flooded many Laguna businesses and homes. “We had problems with some of our rooms, but nothing like what many people endured,” she says. “The damage to the boardwalk was incredible though, it was just turned into matchsticks.”

Undaunted, when the repairs were done, she re-launched the hotel.

There were more storms. And recessions. Still the Andersens stayed. They were in love with Laguna. And with each other.

Georgia met Claes through her father. They double-dated with her mom and dad, then went out together 27 consecutive times. Within two months they were engaged, and within six months they married.

They had a son, Stefan, (who is now the managing partner of the family’s new venture, Two Left Forks). Then they decided to adopt a little girl, Katie, whom they found in Russia. (She now runs the retail store Puppies & People Too!)

Click on photo for a larger image

 

The iconic Hotel Laguna has gone through many changes over the years

To get the go-ahead to take little Katie back to the US, they needed the approval of a judge. Amazingly, they learned that the judge mentioned he had just returned from the States…where he had eaten lunch the previous week on the terrace at the Hotel Laguna. Within a short few minutes, the Laguna-smitten judge gave his approval and the Andersens brought Katie back home to meet her new brother.

Talking to Georgia, it is obvious how deeply in love the couple were, and how much she misses Claes. 

“But I’m excited to be living the dream now that we both had, not only to run the hotel, but also to open our own restaurant,” Georgia says. 

So it was that she opened Two Left Forks, a Dana Point restaurant (with another soon to open in Quail Hill). The restaurant has an unusual Happy Hour (and a half), during which rare wines are available by the glass, and classic appetizers with a California twist are served. 

“It was always a matter of the right location and timing,” she says. “And when I realized that escrow would open on the date of Claes’s birthday, Sept 10, I knew I’d made the right decision. It was serendipity, just like the judge dining at our hotel the month before we were in Russia to sign the adoption papers.” 

Georgia Andersen is living her dream – and Claes’s

The name Two Left Forks turns out to be a direct result of a mix of aquavit, beer, and a fun family brainstorming session.

“We wanted a name that was memorable and different. When he came up with it, the entire family – and later our attorney – just yelled out, Yes!” Georgia says. 

The name perfectly suited the concept for the restaurant: that there would be such a variety of dishes to taste that two forks (at least) would be needed at the table setting.

“Claes would have been so happy,” Georgia says wistfully. She is grateful, though, to have her two children working so closely with her, which is not the kind of luck that every mother has, she knows.

Over the years, Georgia has served on a number of nonprofit boards, including the Laguna Playhouse, Laguna Beach Community Foundation and the National Charity League.

She’s also a member of the Chaine des Rotisseurs, the oldest gourmet club in the world, with 7,000 members in the States and 75 in Laguna. The club meets six or seven times each year, and members enjoy delicious dinners, wine, camaraderie and conversation.

Claes may be physically gone, but the couples’ dream lives on in Georgia’s continued dedication to the Hotel Laguna and her Two Left Forks venture. In that sense, every waking day, Georgia does see Claes again, remembering him busy in his beloved kitchens at home and at the hotel, and knowing that he would be beaming with approval at the achievements of his wife, his son, and his daughter here in his adored Laguna.


Brandy Faber: Waves, wine and Roark Revival

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Brandy Faber has lived in Laguna “pretty much” his whole life. A product of Laguna Beach schools from elementary through high school, Faber grew up surfing competitively then worked and traveled as a professional surfer for more than 15 years.

 Faber is still involved in surfing as the Brooks Street Surfing Classic contest director. But, as those who follow the country’s longest running surf contest know, it is a flighty and fleeting event, and it is just one of several projects Faber is involved in.

Surfing’s influence on all aspects of work

Faber’s “day job” is as marketing director for Roark Revival, an action sports clothing brand based in Laguna Beach. He is also a founding partner for the wine Purple Corduroy. Faber may not make his living riding waves anymore but they certainly still influence his work. Even the name Purple Corduroy echoes his commitment to the surfer’s lifestyle. Purple Corduroy references what surfers call the rows on a map that represent the swell emanating from a large storm.

Brandy Faber, contest director of the Brooks Street Classic, marketing director for Roark Revival and partner in Purple Corduroy wines

From surf contests to editorials

Faber got his start when he transitioned from a professional contest surfer to being the featured surfer for magazine editorials. “Some of the (surf) brands I was approached by said, ‘We don’t want you to compete for us, we want you to go ‘here with a photographer.’ There was a switch in the industry in the early 90’s where it was cheaper for brands to do this than to run ads.”` 

Eventually, Faber began writing the stories he was being featured in. “You get a little more recognized by the brands and they say ‘Why don’t you do some stuff for our marketing?’ And it went on from there,” he added.

A new world with Roark Revival

According to Faber, Roark Revival is “…five years in. We’re in the tween years.” “We are all from here (Laguna) and are inspired by the energy of brands like Gotcha, World Jungle and Stussy. But we don’t really consider ourselves surf wear.” 

The brand Roark is inspired by the character Roark who travels around the globe having adventures. “We go to unique and interesting places. I’ve traveled a lot but when you travel for surfing you tend to go to the same spots over and over. It gets a little stagnant. The cool thing about Roark is we’ve been to places like Cuba before it opened up, Iceland, Vietnam, Nepal. We just came back from India. Our spring 2017 line is based on our trip to India.”

Down days surfing lead to a love of wine

And while Faber relishes going to places beyond the usual globally recognized surf spots for Roark Revival, he’s certainly not complaining about that. In fact, many of them are near great wineries, which has been helpful in regards to his wine venture. 

“Surfing in France, there’s Bordeaux; in South Africa, Australia…when there aren’t waves the wineries are 20 minutes away. On down days everyone would go the wineries and listen to music and have fun,” he says of his days as a professional surfer. Those days fostered a deep appreciation of wine.  

Click on photo for a larger image

Brandy Faber with some of the Roark Revival clothing line

The waves even influence Purple Corduroy

His two partners in Purple Corduroy, creative director Steven “Sli Dawg” Chew and wine director, Jeff Farthing, are both from Laguna, although Farthing relocated to the wine country years ago. Steven Chew is a well-known local surf instructor and artist, among other things, and Farthing was the first person in US history to receive a MS in Viticulture and Enology from CSU Fresno. 

All three men carry their love of the sea with them. 

Faber says his knowledge of wine is more experiential than technical. “Does it taste good? Did I have a good time? I’m an expert in those two areas,” he says chuckling. “All the other more technical things like the soil, the canopy management…it’s crazy! I’m not at that level.”

Brooks Street, south swells and summer

If he’s not yet an expert in wine microbiology, he’s definitely an expert at running the Brooks Street Classic, which just ran Sept 24 - 25. His involvement stretches back to 1993 or 1994, long enough that he isn’t exactly sure. And if the running of a surf contest that has been around since 1955 seems like an exercise in rote management, it is anything but. Because Brooks Street only breaks in the summer time and needs a big south swell to create waves large enough for a contest, the organizers (the City of Laguna Beach and Faber) can only let people know that it will happen, hopefully, between June 1 and the end of September-ish.  

The pros of new technology and the Brooks Street Classic

With the data available now, Faber has some warning that a swell is coming. If they originate from Australia, for example, as the one that green-lighted this year’s contest did, they have some notice. 

“We knew this swell was coming for two weeks. With Cabo storms, we only get three to four days notice,” explains Faber.  

When the right surf arrives – the right size, the right time of the week -- the organizers talk Friday, meet early Saturday morning to check out the conditions and then, depending on how it looks that day, the contest either happens or not. “We typically have three to four fire drills a summer,“ he says matter-of-factly. With all the conditions attached to making it happen, it seems a wonder it ever happens at all. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Faber’s surfing days in South Africa and Australia led to an interest in wine

The cons of new technology and the Brooks Street Classic

The age of technology has made things easier in terms of swell forecasting and getting the word out, but Faber, while appreciative of the upside, misses the old days when people didn’t have the luxury to wait at home for a text to let them know if the contest was on. 

“It used to be everyone would just show up. You’d get a much larger turnout.  Even if the contest wasn’t going on everyone would hang out and catch up with their cups of coffee.” A cardboard sign no longer lets surfers know “No Brooks Street. this weekend,” but Faber does his best to ensure that the contest stays true to its roots.

Staying true to his passion

Laguna is definitely where Faber’s roots are. If not living here, he says it would be someplace outside of the US. “…Australia, New Zealand. But Laguna is the most special place in Orange County.” It certainly influences his many projects. “I have a lot of drive and passion for all three things,” he says. “I didn’t have a road map or an exact plan. I grew up here. I surfed a lot and have always been very passionate about the beach lifestyle. My friends and I, we were all doing the same thing. It was competitive but motivating,” he says. 

“But I say, no matter what, follow your passion. If you’re going to make something of it, you might as well be happy doing it.” Brandy Faber definitely practices what he preaches. More at www.roark.com and www.purplecorduroy.com.



Heidi Miller’s body of work is well suited to her Tight Assets store and her local nonprofit work is legendary

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

(Except as noted)

Before Heidi Miller turned to retail to satisfy her entrepreneurial spirit, she was a gymnast and a bodybuilder, impressing readers of numerous muscle and fitness-related publications with her dedication to hard work, not to mention her toned form.

Aptly, Miller now owns Tight Assets, where she sells outfits that flatter her customers’ bodies (and hers: 27 years after founding the store, she is still in great shape, regarding herself as a necessary “human mannequin,” modeling the clothes she stocks), and also the World Newsstand on Coast Hwy and Ocean, which sells approximately 400 publications ranging in focus from business to health.

Miller describes herself as a serial entrepreneur with a range of interests and a desire to “fill the void” – to start businesses where there’s a customer need she can predict and meet.

That’s the reason she started her first business, Heidi’s Frogen Yozurt, in 1980, at a time when the product was barely a tang on potential consumers’ tongues, building it up to 120 stores in nine states. She sold the business in 1989 and opened her first Tight Assets store in 1990.

Heidi Miller believes in Tight Assets

“I had my business plan for Tight Assets in place before the yogurt stores even opened,” Miller says. She’d seen another void that needed to be filled, a store catering to women who wanted fashionable, unique clothing that was also functional. 

Anticipating customer needs is one of Miller’s special talents: that’s why Tight Assets stocks TUTUblue UPF 50 one piece bodysuits, a line of swimwear for those who don’t want to be seared by the sun or smeared with sunblock, but do want to spend plenty of time swimming, waterskiing, paddle boarding, or surfing. It’s the only place in California where shoppers can find the TUTUblue brand, which got its start on the TV show Shark Tank.

Creativity with words and in dance and song

As readers can tell, Heidi also enjoys the marketing aspect of her businesses, especially the opportunity to play with words to create catchy names, which makes her a winner in my book.

 “I’m the least scholastic of the five kids in our family, but I’m the most creative,” she says. And, it seems, the one who is most fond of performance art, especially with a philanthropic bent. She’s performed with The CHOC Follies for 16 years now, “…dancing and singing our way to healing children.” The Follies has raised $8 million dollars toward that goal during those years.

“My full name is Heidi Ann Miller, which spells HAM,” she says. “You can imagine what fun my family makes of that. My parents said I came out of the womb with jazz hands.”

Despite the acting talent and good looks that landed her many a photo shoot during her bodybuilding days, Heidi says while she did get a SAG card, she had no strong desire to be a Hollywood actress. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Heidi Miller is a “human mannequin” often wearing the clothes she stocks

Miller’s philanthropic efforts and ties to Laguna run deep. She has served as a Trustee on the board of directors of the Laguna Playhouse since the 1980s – “The oldest continuously running theatre in California, opened 96 years ago,” she points out with pride. She also serves on the board of the Laguna Beach Historical Society. 

For now, Miller enjoys the focus on having just one store, but she’s currently negotiating for a space in Costa Mesa too. 

It was in 2003 that Miller bought The World Newsstand, which has been in existence for 43 years, but at that point had closed and looked set to be gone forever. The truth is that this purchase was mostly a result of her altruistic nature and her love of our town, a desire to preserve Laguna’s iconic treasures. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Tight Assets “fills the void” for function along with fashion, says Miller

 “The newsstand is part of our history,” Miller says. “I’m hoping locals will continue to support it so we can keep it open for another 43 years.”

Miller’s range of interests is reflected in the variety of publications on sale. 

“A while back, I picked up The Economist, Time, Vogue and Rolling Stone to take back to the store to read when business was quiet,” she said. “Someone pointed out to my employee that a woman had just taken four magazines. After he was told that I owned the stand, he said he’d been surprised, as much as anything else, at the variety of magazines I had chosen to ‘borrow.’”

But that eclecticism is very Heidi Miller, as is her energetic nature.

“I know I’ve had a lot of lucky breaks,” Miller says. “I’ve been fortunate to have amazing friends and mentors, including Henry Segerstrom and Harriet Wieder. Harriet was incredible, a wonderful support, especially as I’ve always felt like a woman in a man’s world. She really listened and taught me so much.”

But there have been challenges, too, most notably the floods of 2010, during which she lost $300,000 worth of inventory. The Newsstand was pretty much wiped out.

She’s honored and privileged to live in Laguna

“What are you going to do?” she says. “You just start cleaning up. It was wonderful the way the City rallied and helped everyone. That’s what is great about this town.”

Indeed, Miller is one of Laguna’s biggest fans, and we all know how many fans this town has. Every day she posts on social media, pointing out what a fabulous place this is, and talks about and promotes the best restaurants and shops. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Submitted photo

 

The iconic World Newsstand is Heidi Miller’s gift to Laguna

“Just yesterday I’d estimate that Le Macaron, next door to me, got 20 new customers because I raved about their confectionary,” she says. “That makes me happy.”

Miller is proud of Laguna’s police, too, who she says are extremely responsive whenever she has an issue with a potential shoplifter or similar challenge. “I respect them immensely,” she says.

 “The way I see it, life’s an unbroken circle, part of success is being willing to give…I have a grateful heart, and I feel so glad to live in Laguna, to have so many friends in this town, and I’m honored and privileged to be in a position to contribute to the community,” she adds.

With that, Heidi Miller gives me a big hug, and I make my way through the store intending to return next time not as a reporter, but as one of her treasured customers – those Moxies are just screaming out the name of a good friend of mine…


Skipper Carrillo: Every day is a home run day

BY: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

 Skipper Carrillo came to Laguna Beach in 1953. Before that he, his mom, dad and sister lived in Alhambra and then San Marino.  

“Our first ballpark was on High Drive. It was a very nice ballpark,” he remembers. 

If you’ve never spoken to Skipper before it’s helpful to note that he peppers his conversation with baseball analogies. His home is a “ballpark”; his parents, Sally and Bill, are referred to as “Don Drysdale and/or the Umpire” and “Coach,” respectively. When asked a question he finds hard to answer he replies, “Well, strike three! Nice pitch…belt high on the outside corner.”  

His sincerity and enthusiasm are infectious; if you want to have a better day, a “home run day” as he is famously known to say, find Skipper. 

Just a few minutes with him and things will definitely start to look up.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Skipper Carrillo, at his home, in his LBHS baseball uniform

51 years at Laguna Beach High School

Skipper says he worked for Laguna Beach High School for 51 years, proudly remembering when he made his “debut” in 1957. “That was my rookie year,” he explains. “My job was to help take care of the (football) uniforms. We had about 70 uniforms. I made the coach’s job a lot easier. I organized the uniforms for 23-24 years.”  

In addition to working with the football team, Skipper umpired at Riddle Field for 25 years.  “My batting helmet’s a little bit loose these days,” he says, smiling. “It has been a while.” 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Skipper shows off his 2016 LBHS baseball CIF championship ring

Officially retired, but still working for LBHS teams

While he may have officially retired, Skipper has not stopped working for his teams. He is the official batboy for the LBHS baseball team, in addition to being the inning-keeper and team motivator. Newly retired LBHS baseball coach Mike Bair says, “The past five years Skipper Carrillo served as our honorary assistant coach, always dressed in full baseball uniform attire and very much full of enthusiasm and passion for our players and the game of baseball. Before each home game Skipper would give the team a memorized snippet of a famous Knute Rockne (Notre Dame Football Coach) speech that always fired up our players and made a lasting impression and memory on every one of our senior players.  

“Skipper’s presence and demeanor constantly remind us to slow down and enjoy each moment. His joy will always be in the fabric of the LBHS baseball program.”  

When asked what he thought about the team winning its first ever CIF championship last year, Skipper enthusiastically calls it a “Hall of Fame” event.

The Breakers home games are played at Skipper Carrillo Field on campus.

A love for baseball passed down from his dad

While he loves many sports, baseball is the one that holds a special place in his heart. His house, perfectly situated to see the LBHS baseball diamond and football field, is painted Dodger blue. “I like the Angels,” he says, “but I love the Dodgers.” He says when he was a boy he used to hear about how the Yankees always dominated the Dodgers. “I almost liked the Yankees, but I stuck with the Dodgers ever since they were in Brooklyn. In 1955 they beat the Yankees,” he says enthusiastically. His love of baseball stems from his father who played semi-pro ball.  “He played for the Santa Monica Merchants,” remembers Skipper. “They would play teams like the Santa Monica Teddy Bears.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

His kitchen that Skipper calls “Mary Hartman,” with his favorite team plate

Dodgers, Trojans and the Rams - forever

If Skipper bleeds Dodger blue, he’s a big fan of the cardinal and gold. “My sister went to USC,” he says. “That’s how I became a Trojan. My first football game was between USC and the California Bears. Once a Trojan always a Trojan!” In addition to USC, Skipper is also a Rams fan, from back when they were in Southern California the first time. “My first pro game I went to see was with Jon Arnett, number 26. I am very, very happy that they came back. I will always be a Rams fan.”  

A fixture at LBHS baseball, basketball and football games

Skipper may not go to many college or pro games anymore, but he is a fixture at not only LBHS baseball games, but football and basketball games, as well. Current LBHS teacher and former football coach, Jonathan Todd, says about Skipper, “I’ve grown up with Skipper. When I was in Little League he was the second base umpire at Riddle Field. I just remember he never missed a call. When I played high school football he was at every game as the down box umpire. When I played here he gave me the nickname of “Earl Campbell,” which ranks as my all time favorite nickname. When I coached football here he was at every home game and he always gave an encouraging speech to the players. 

“I can’t imagine Laguna Beach High School sports without Skipper.”

“The best example of a human being”

Brett Fleming, LBHS basketball coach says, “I became the Head Coach in 1990 and Skipper has been a part of our program ever since. He’s played different roles for various sports at LBHS but, for us, he’s always been a “ballplayer.” We’ve always thought of him and treated him as part of our team. Skipper is the best example of a human being that I’ve ever had the pleasure to be around. He just naturally loves everybody he meets and that’s the best example I can think of for the players in our program.”  

Making an impression at St. Catherine’s, too

While all of his work with his teams keeps him busy, Skipper does not confine himself to sports alone. His other job is with St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Laguna Beach. He has several jobs at the church, but he says his favorite is when he is an altar server. “I’m right up there with the priest,” he says. “That’s why I like it so much.” 

Suzy McInerny is a member of St. Catherine’s and has gotten to know Skipper well. She was instrumental in organizing our meeting and kind enough to stay through its entirety. Her son also played baseball at LBHS capping off his four years with last year’s CIF championship team so Suzy has had lots of opportunities to see Skipper at work.

“Skipper teaches our children to appreciate the simple meanings in life, and to embrace the village of Laguna Beach we are blessed to call home.  

“He is such a special gem!” 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Skipper proudly showing off his “dugout”

Skipper’s top three list

If you ask Skipper why he thinks he has such an impact on people he does not hesitate, “There are three important things that have helped me get these special honors. One is my Father in heaven; two, my parents and sister and three are my teammates.”  

When asked what is his favorite thing about living in Laguna, he again doesn’t hesitate, “The best thing is the community. It’s major league. That’s what’s number one!”  

It’s hard to translate what makes Skipper so special. His is a joyful spirit that is hard to put into words. I left our meeting knowing why he is so many teams’ honorary member. It’s too bad that he can’t be every team’s honorary member.  When we finished our interview I asked him if there was anything else he wanted to say to anyone who read this story. True to form he said, “Well, all I say is, ‘Have a home run day!’”  

After spending time with Skipper, I know exactly what that means.


Aria Fischer and her most abnormal year yet

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Aria is like your average teenager. “I like to go to the beach, hanging out with my friends, and cooking with my mom,” she says. “Just normal teenage stuff.” Except that maybe she’s not. Okay, let’s say she’s had a pretty unusual year. 

Witness the beautiful carved wooden box she holds. Twisting it open, she reveals a small slot holding a Rio pin, and a grand, velvet lined space nesting the truly grand – the Olympic gold medal she earned in Brazil this summer.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Aria Fischer

Along with her sister, Makenzie, 17-year-old Aria Fischer has just returned from the women’s water polo dominant run at the 2016 Olympic Games. The Games of the XXXI Olympiad, as they are officially known, were the crowning achievement of a year of intense training, and on the back of another eight or so years in the pool in which Aria has perfected the athletic and strategic skills of water polo. 

“It’s the weirdest feeling,” Aria says looking back at all she experienced in Rio. “I haven’t had a chance to stop and think. Now I’ll have the chance.” 

In the spotlight

When she wasn’t in or around the pool during those weeks of August, she was swept up in the rarified atmosphere under the Olympic spotlight. She met and made new fans of water polo with the likes of actor Samuel L. Jackson and comedian Leslie Jones. The team was featured with Al Roker on the Today Show, and given mounds of swag clothing from Nike and Ralph Lauren.

“We got so many clothes for us to wear,” she says. “Nike shirts, a bunch of jackets, three pairs of shoes, pants… Ralph Lauren pants, shirts, jackets – all USA themed. There were two stuffed suitcases (they also gave us)!” 

Add to that the winner’s shirts with the polo pony in gold and “Medalist” embroidered on them. It’s a good thing the team was all measured and fitted en route to Rio because Aria looks to have grown at least an inch in the last year – now reaching six feet. “My old clothes don’t fit anymore!”

The clothes fitting was done in Texas, along with some of the other athletes, including track and field, fencers, and the men’s rugby team. 

“It was exciting to meet well-known athletes, but also other small sport athletes like pole vaulters,” said Aria. “I discovered new sports and watched them on TV and learned about them.”

Yes, they had a little downtime in between games, right up to the semifinal against Hungary, and the gold medal match against Italy. 

Then came the shining moment in the spotlight.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

“It’s really something walking out of that tunnel representing the USA. It’s great,” she says with a big smile. “The podium – that was nice! When you’re up there, you’re thinking about everything and everyone who’s gotten you there. It’s very emotional and happy. Then the flag goes up and it feels great to achieve a goal for your country, your family, friends, and yourself.”

Definitely not a normal day in the life of a teenager.

The pool of family

Aria Fischer’s family has been supportive in the pool and out. Mom, Leslie, and dad, Erich, were also water polo players – Erich having played for team USA in the Barcelona Olympics. And sister Makenzie is a stellar player who made several game-changing goals for the US in Rio. 

“Makenzie and I have played together all our lives. It was great to play at the highest level and experience our dreams together,” said Aria. “There are not really enough words to describe what goes into that.”

To help the girls achieve their goals, the family relocated up to Long Beach last year, where they could be close to the pool for training with the national team, and so that Aria would have less of a commute and more time for doing her studies as well – on hiatus from Laguna Beach High School. 

“I liked online school because I had this goal I wanted to achieve,” she says. “But it was a struggle to adjust to as it was unconventional.”

There’s nothing conventional about this family, or the team of athletes she calls her sisters. 

“The year helped me mature a little bit. I had to be responsible – commuting to my ‘work’ (at the pool) and I had to still do schoolwork after six-hour training. But the people I was surrounded by… strong, independent women. It was great to have that perspective.”

The unknown

The hardest part of the training leading up to the Olympics was not knowing if she’d actually make the team. Aria is, after all, a youngster despite her wise outlook. 

“I always believed in myself, but there was a lot of doubt from the team that I’d make it,” she recalls. “It was a little surprising I made it.”

But make it she did, and Laguna enjoyed the journey along with her. There was the city’s kickoff event in July, in front of City Hall, where the Fischer girls were honored and in turn gave out autographs. Then there was a viewing party at the community pool to watch the Games, and there were folks who made the journey to watch it live as well, including LBHS coach, Ethan Damato.

“We had people from Laguna there, and people from the school. I had no idea they were coming!” said Aria. “That was cool.”

The surprise when they returned to Laguna was a house decorated with banners and golden balloons. “Nice!” And this past weekend there was a rally at LBHS stadium to honor Laguna’s golden girls.

Back down to earth?

Coming off the high of the Olympics is a bittersweet experience. It’s “weird and an adjustment” being back, Aria realizes. There’s the glorious win still casting its rosy glow, but now the team has gone on its individual paths. Like any production in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, team unity is something Aria will miss.

“They’re like my sisters; my friends,” says Aria. “You train and train and all of a sudden it’s gone. But I’ll always have positive memories because of how it came out.”   

There will be occasional team reunions, like last week when they went to an Angels game – teammate Courtney Matthewson (now a two time Olympian) threw out the first pitch. And they will reunite sometime in the foreseeable future to train for the next Olympic games, though who’s in and who’s out will not be determined for quite a while. With her talent, and being the youngest member of the team, chances are looking good for Aria Fischer.

Next up – being normal

Still, it’s hard to have goals when you’re a teenager. Sometimes you’d rather just sleep in. Aria assures that she is very glad to be home and “catch up.” 

“First thing was just unpacking, laundry, and sleep!” she says.

And, of course, the LBHS water polo team is happily expecting her return for this, her senior year. The girl’s play season is in the spring, but there are practices, physical training, and club team games on the horizon.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Being “normal” is the norm again. “I’m excited to take classes normally again,” says Aria. “LBHS is a great school. I love to see my friends again.”

She’s still figuring it out, but says that she likes science, math and, especially, creative writing. Potential colleges in the near future include the usual high-end water polo suspects like Stanford, USC, and UCLA.

It would be easy to say the world is her oyster, but hard work is the backstory there. Aria has shown by example what vision and determination can do, and now she’s got the gold to prove it. What’s up next?

She laughs, “Being a normal teenager again! It was fine being abnormal though.”

And then she gives it a second thought, “I’ll never be completely normal!”


Jason Feddy: Using his voice in very many ways

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Jason Feddy is very funny. If you’ve ever tuned in to KX93.5, Laguna’s only FM radio station, you probably know that. A well known local musician, in addition to being a deejay and director of production at KX93.5, Feddy banters easily and humorously, bringing that very British sense of the absurd to just about everything.  

If you only know Feddy in his rock-n-roll-inspired roles, it may come as quite a surprise that he has another deeply fulfilling side to his musical career: that of a cantor/soloist at a conservative Jewish temple in Newport Beach. 

The role of the cantor is, according to the dictionary: “an official who sings liturgical music and leads prayer in a synagogue.“ 

Rocker, deejay…cantor? Why not? Feddy certainly has enough passion and energy for all three.

Coming to America

When asked what brought him to the US from England, Feddy quips, “British Airways.” And while I’m sure that’s true, Feddy says there were other reasons he crossed the Atlantic. 

“It was time for a change. I went to Las Vegas to get sober. My brother was there and had already gotten sober. My dad lived in Laguna Hills. I had friends here; spent summers here as a kid,” he explains. 

In April 2000, Feddy got his first local gig at Hennessey’s. He played music and worked a construction job mixing mud for tiles for two years “until I was legal,” he says. 

A year after that he made the transition to music full time, ready to take the “leap of faith” that he could make a living solely with his music. Working challenging day jobs and playing at night is not easy.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Jason Feddy, musician, DJ, cantor/soloist maintains some of his English ways

Zionism, socialism and rock-n-roll

“I never doubted that I’d make my living at it (music),” he says. He got a guitar when he was ten years old, but singing came first. “I was part of a Zionist, socialist youth movement in England,” he says laughing at the incongruity of how that sounds today. “It was the best thing ever. I went to camp two times a year, everybody sang. They needed someone to play guitar.” And that’s how it all started.

The next big thing…

Feddy says he had success in England and was touted as “the next big thing for many years, but it never really panned out.” There is no bitterness in his voice when he says it, no blame. He does not give the impression of someone living in the past. 

Rather, he says, “I was excited about being in California…I was excited about having a new life. I felt reborn. It felt like everything was a new opportunity.”

A talent for surrounding himself with incredible people

“When I came to Laguna I kind of knew the ropes (for being a musician). The ropes are: be consistent, work hard, be reliable and be amenable. My real talent is surrounding myself with incredible people. Incredible people are generally not irresponsible. It’s important because at the end of the day there is always someone else,” he says.

Solo shows, The Beatles and Shakespeare

Feddy is ingrained in the local Laguna music scene. He has regular shows at the Hotel Laguna on Saturdays and Las Brisas every other Wednesday, in addition to gigs at Fashion Island and the Irvine Spectrum. He is also working on a CD with “legendary producer Ed Stasium.” 

They are putting together ten songs from Shakespeare’s plays, another long-time Feddy project. His wife of eight years, actress Ava Burton, is collaborating with him on the project. 

He has another English-born project as well, his Beatles tribute band, The Beatroots. 

Formed in 2006, according to Feddy’s website, they “play the songs of The Beatles in their own inimitable style…”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Jason Feddy with his custom guitar in his home office/studio/music room

Talking about spoons

If music has literally been a lifelong passion, Feddy’s radio career has been somewhat of a happy accident. “I volunteered at the radio station in the fall of 2012. Tyler Russell (founder and program director of KX93.5) who, back then was 13 years old, called me because somebody told him about me,” explains Feddy.  

Just to be clear, Tyler Russell was not actually 13. He was closer to 22, but you can appreciate Feddy’s point, how much older he felt than Russell. “I went to lunch with him at Zinc,” continues Feddy. “I had no idea why he wanted to talk to me. He tells me ‘I’d like you to do a show.’ I’m thinking, ‘about what?!’ Then he tells me, ‘Everybody loves an English accent. Talk about spoons. It will be fine’.  So, I’ve been talking about spoons for four years.”  

Deejaying as a public service

Feddy started as the mid-day DJ, but now has the all-important morning slot, in addition to his director of production role. 

“I’m the right age to do this now,” Feddy says. “I’m aware that I’m part of a team. It’s not about me. Even when I’m being a lunatic on the air it’s all for the station. And just as important, I’m there as your friend as you drive in to work. I’m there to give you a giggle. These acts of service are good for a recovering alcoholic.”  

He pauses with a stricken look on his face, then, with great humor, of course, launches into a lament about how horribly self-important he must be sounding. So let me be the one to reassure him, and readers, if necessary, that there was no need for his lament. 

If anything, Feddy comes across as truly appreciative of the chances he has to connect positively with people on the radio or otherwise. 

KXclusive 2016

In talking about his radio station duties, Feddy enthusiastically mentions that KX 93.5 has its biggest fundraiser coming up on September 30 at Montage Laguna Beach.  

“There’s a band called Painbirds with members of Train, Sugar Ray, Doobie Bros., Steely Dan [involved]. There’s also the 133 Band, of which I am a part, along with local legends such as Steve and Beth Wood, Nick I, Alan Deremo, Paul Pedersen, Bob Hawkins and Drew Hester.”  

Now he can add Cantor/soloist to his resume

Between the music playing and deejaying, it seems hard to believe Feddy has more room on his plate, but he does. “Recently, I was asked to be cantor/soloist at Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach. When I got the job no one was more surprised than me. Well, my family was maybe more surprised,” he says.  

Every Friday and holiday Feddy plays music and sings at the service. He speaks Hebrew. “My Judaism is linked to Israel and Israeli issues. I’ve been doing this for two years. Coming up are the high holidays so my head is really in the books.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Jason Feddy may be relaxing or he may be studying for the high holy days

Two faith-based projects

Feddy’s commitment to his faith doesn’t end with cantoring. He recently partnered with Rabbi Marsha Tilchin to begin a new Jewish collaboration in Laguna. “There are 12 churches and one Jewish center in Laguna. I think it’s good to have a place for Jews to meet up and do Jewish things,” explains Feddy. 

The group held their first meeting at Mozambique on August 19 and more than 100 people attended the service and dinner. The next one is September 16 at 6 p.m. (Visit www.jewishcollaborativeoc.org to learn more).

But that’s not all, folks. Feddy has a “pet project” called Music in Common.  

“We bring groups of Jewish, Christian and Muslim kids together to learn song writing. We got a My Hero Award for it,” he says proudly. 

It’s a workshop where kids, ages 15-20, learn to write songs. 

“They have a transformative experience,” he says. Finding the kids to participate is not easy. “If anyone has kids these ages, please email me,” he pleads. Write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if interested.

Many pieces make up a cohesive whole

All of these seemingly disparate pieces actually make a very cohesive whole, the religion and the music inextricably intertwined. The Shakespeare project, his Beatles tribute band, the solo work, his radio career, his commitment to his faith all complement each other, the way his British-ness and his present beachside home somehow work so well together.

A fan of the weather and celebrating our differences

“I’m very grateful to Laguna. It has given me a stage for my shtick,” Feddy says. But his “shtick” is much more than witty banter. 

“There are certain things I really believe in…I believe in being respectful, really respectful, not in a posy-way because life is too short.  There is a dignity in the differences between us,” he says emphatically.  

Jason Feddy definitely has more to talk about than spoons.



Spin on a bike at her studio or spin a fringed ‘Brella on the beach: either way, Shelley’s got you covered

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Back in 2014, Shelley Arends-Cornwall began a serious search for the perfect beach umbrella: something “cute,” something that would stand out amid the colorful but predictably patterned ones that she saw every day on the beach. And the umbrella had to be lightweight. She’d had it with lugging the equivalent of a large, unwieldy animal – one with sharp spokes, moreover – either from her home on Flora Street or from the car to the water’s edge when she went surfing down in San Clemente. (She’s a longboarder.)

So she made her own, fringe and all. Both friends and strangers loved the design. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Shelley in her element: Surf, sand, and shade beneath one of her Beach Brellas, this one designed to attract the male market

That’s when her older son Zac asked a simple yet profound question: “Mom, why is there an ‘um’ in umbrella?”

Perhaps it was at that moment, Shelley surmises, though she can’t say for sure, that her personal quest to find the ultimate in beach umbrellas took on a whole new dimension. Indeed, why the “um?” Why the hesitation? Who needed an “um” when you could simply jump straight to Brellas? Beach Brellas?

A quick Google search revealed that the address www.beachbrellas.com was available. And so Shelley’s latest entrepreneurial adventure took off. 

Did she think it was meant to be, then, I asked, that she would create a line of handmade Brellas for the hip and discerning beach-goer?

“I don’t know about it being meant to be,” Shelley responds as we talk at the Heidelberg Café about her life and times pre- and post- the Beach Brella launch. Straw-blonde, with a great tan and a light-up-the-room smile, adventurous and an ocean-lover, she’s a Lagunan through and through. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Shelley Arend-Cornwall is a Lagunan through and through

 “When I come up with an idea, my brain just doesn’t stop,” she says. “Things just seem to evolve. I’ve started quite a few businesses. I was always that girl in high school who wore something different just because I wanted to, then I’d see others wearing the same style.”

The trendsetting talent that comes so naturally to her has been a consistent factor in all her ventures, and never more so than with her fringed Beach Brellas, many of which, for all their sturdiness, have the look of floating jellyfish as the sea breeze blows.

“Girls really get it,” she says. “They’ve been able to buy designer bathing suits and towels and bags, but there’s been nothing quite like my Brellas before. We call it modern vintage chic.”

Before Beach Brellas, Shelley’s career had literally gone from soup to nuts. Or, more accurately, from seltzer to soup to nuts.

From seltzer to spinning, to Beach Brellas: It’s all about the brand

After college, Shelley began working in marketing for NY Seltzer, an iconic brand of bubbly water that offered natural sodas in different flavors, but without the traditional coloring (strawberry tasted like strawberry, but it wasn’t colored red). Shelley had a terrific career with them. Then the company was bought out. In any case, it was time for her to move on.

“For a while, I owned a deli, Between the Slices, in South Laguna. It was wildly successful, but I was happy to sell it after my boys were born. But because of the demand, I continued making soups at a facility in the Canyon,” Shelley says.

After her business grew to such an extent that she was producing 400 gallons of various kinds of soups a day (that’s 6,400 cups of soup, I calculated!) in batches of 40 gallons to ensure that their home-made taste was maintained, she realized that her work-life balance was out of whack.

For a number of years she owned and ran two vacation rentals in South Laguna – legal ones, Shelley emphasizes – which was a perfect job while her sons, Zac (now 25) and Zane (now 22), were growing up.

And then came the nuts: sports nuts, that is, who love the way she has taken spinning to a new level, as attendance at her RhythmRide classes prove.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

At her Rhythmride classes, the beat goes on

“Johnny G started the spinning craze,” Shelley told me. “My innovation was to add new choreography with music that has a beat according to the riding rhythm, so every level of spinner can benefit.”

(Before I interviewed Shelley, I was entirely ignorant about spinning. When she mentioned Johnny G’s name, for a moment I thought she said Kenny G, and I wondered how Pan Pipes could inspire anyone to work up a sweat. When I realized my mistake, I looked up Johnny G, only to find out he was a fellow South African, now Californian, who in the late 80s, with his wife pregnant, hit upon making a stationary bike as a way of training and building up cardiovascular stamina for a long ride without leaving home. Who knew?)

Shelley has no intention of franchising her RhythmRide classes, though the name is trademarked.

“Too much commitment,” she says. “I want to be able to surf, waterski and do other things I love.”

It’s the Beach Brellas that occupy most of Shelley’s time now, whether she’s trawling through vintage stores looking for fabric ideas or managing the manufacturing process, one of her least favorite aspects of the job, along with bookkeeping.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

It ain’t heavy, it’s my Brella…

“I’m creative, I love the design aspect and the marketing, but sometimes, now that they are becoming so popular, the logistics can be overwhelming,” she says. “I’m lucky that my husband Kelly is handling most of those aspects for me.”

I can attest that Beach Brellas are wonderfully lightweight. Currently nursing a broken shoulder, (damn you, flip flops and a high curb!) I was still easily able to tote a Beach Brella in its pocketed bag using just one hand. If I were more agile, and more coordinated, and about a hundred years younger, I could imagine twirling and tossing it like a cheerleader’s baton.

Shelley’s future looks to be made in the shade

As to the future, Shelley is looking forward to seeing evidence of her Beach Brellas on beaches and riverbanks all over the world, from Bondi Beach to the Black Sea. Already they are available in 25 stores and several have been planted in the coastal sands of Nantucket and Florida.

Shelley is also a tremendous supporter of youth sports, from football to volleyball to cross-country to soccer, providing a venue for fundraisers, and she supports local entrepreneurs of every stripe. She holds at least one charitable event a year and is active with the Food Pantry.

When she is not quite as busy (!), Shelley would love to form a group of local entrepreneurs, not so much for networking – she feels that Laguna business people are already wonderfully supportive of each other – but as a way to “dreamstorm” new ideas that are creative, logistically feasible, and thoroughly Laguna.

If Shelley does have it made in the shade, it’s only because of her dedication and her creativity, and, of course, her willingness to take the “um” out of umbrella.


Dr. Jason Viloria: A new Superintendent for LBUSD

By: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach Unified School District’s (LBUSD’s) new Superintendent, Dr. Jason Viloria, Ed. D has most definitely not taken the summer off. On the job since March, Viloria has been busy. He generously found the time to meet with me, but in what I gathered was a well-established pattern, there was someone walking out as I walked in, and someone, Thurston principal Jenny Salberg, to be exact, waiting to see him when I left. 

Meetings, meetings and more meetings

 “I’ve been meeting people all summer: PTA, SchoolPower, the City Manager, the fire department, the Boys and Girls Club, parents, the police…we are all invested,” he explains. His belief in the community’s “investment” in our local schools is what motivated him to meet quarterly with Police Chief Laura Farinella, for example. 

“She’s working with our kids too, so it’s important to build those partnerships. I met with Captain Jason Kravetz regarding the Healthy Kids Survey. I think it’s important for them (the police) to see and hear from us. I think they appreciate that.”  The California Healthy Kids Survey  “…evaluates how well schools meet students’ needs for school safety, drug and alcohol prevention, mental health, and other factors that influence learning,” according to the LBUSD website. 

Jason Viloria, Laguna Beach Unified School District’s new Superintendent

Communication is key

All these meetings, whether they are specific to education or, as with the meetings with the police department, deal with broader wellness issues, highlight Dr. Viloria’s belief in the importance of communication. In fact, he sees it as one of the critical components of his job, especially with Laguna being such a self-contained city. “It’s not very often that you can work in a school district that serves only one city. Capo Valley (School District), as an example, serves something like ten cities. We have one city.  t is unique: one fire department, one police…” 

And if Dr. Viloria believes communicating with outside agencies is important, then communicating with the Board of Education is essential. 

Empowering the Board of Education

“One of the reasons I applied for this job is because of the Board, the support they give to each school site. It’s a great thing to see,” he says. “It’s interesting because most people think that the Superintendent runs everything. The truth is I work for the Board of Education. My job is to implement their goals. One of my jobs is to empower the Board.  They need to make informed decisions so I’ve been working on enhancing the communication from my staff to the Board,” explains Viloria. “Communication is always an area we can improve on. Really hearing what the Board is trying to accomplish; principals being able to communicate with their staff, teachers and parents…it’s a two-way street.”

A LBUSD parent, too

Viloria lives in Laguna Beach with his wife and kids, both of whom attended LBUSD schools before their dad got the job as Superintendent. This gives him a unique perspective. “I have a vested interest,” he says.  “I want my children to be well-rounded students.  I’ve been pleased with what they’ve been coming home with,” he says.  Might it be awkward for a teacher if one of his or her students is the Superintendent’s kid?

“I’ve talked to other Superintendent’s who have had the same situation and they say it’s pretty easy to strike that balance,” he says confidently.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

The LBUSD offices are quiet but only because it’s a Saturday

A focus on developing thinkers

It’s safe to say that pretty much everyone wants “well-rounded students.”  

It’s also safe to say that the devil is in the details.  

“The pendulum always swings. We need to be able to look at the research and make sure the pendulum isn’t swinging in the wrong direction,” he says. “It keeps you from chasing the shiny new object.” However, while we don’t want our educators changing course every time a new study comes out, we do expect them to prepare students for the future.  

“We are educating students for jobs that might not yet exist. We need to focus on critical thinking skills. That’s not about a certain class. The focus has moved back to developing thinkers. Businesses don’t want problem solvers. They want people to solve things before the problem arises,” explains Dr. Viloria.

Making choices isn’t something every school district gets to do

How the District goes about developing “thinkers” is up to the Board. According to Dr. Viloria, once three of the five Board members agree on something, that’s a consensus.  Once there is a consensus, “We move forward,” he says. “There are generations of people who live here and whose kids are in the schools. There are people moving in because of our schools. Our budget is significantly stronger than other schools,” says Viloria. “This means we have choices. Sometimes that’s a challenge. We have to look at things and ask, ‘How is that going to achieve that goal or solve that problem?’”

LBUSD’s 4CLE and the modern classroom

One of the large-scale projects Viloria is continuing to move forward is the District’s 4CLE. It is an effort to modernize the classroom setting to enhance instruction. “We, along with SchoolPower and others, are able to change the learning environment.  That’s pretty cool. The focus is in the classroom. (LBUSD Chief Technology Officer) Mike Morrison is a rock star,” says Viloria emphatically.

A model for other school districts

This push is not something the District is doing in a vacuum. “We just did a presentation around our 4CLE classrooms to 24 other Superintendents.  After the meeting, at least five said, ‘I want to see what you’re doing in your classrooms.’  Other people are doing innovative things, too, of course. But that’s pretty cool to be able to help other districts with the work we’re doing,” he says.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Dr. Jason Viloria, officially on the job since July 1, in his new office

An “unprecedented time” in education

Calling now an “unprecedented time” in education, Viloria mentions the rise of technology and the implementation of standards as the two main reasons for this sea change.  “Change can be uncomfortable for people,” he says.  

“It is OK to be uncomfortable with change.” 

Technology and the learning environment

Google recently held a summit attended by Orange County teachers. Its focus: how to use technology to create a better educational experience for students. To make a point, Viloria asks, “Who is Ann Frank?”  

Not that long ago, if someone asked you that question, your answer would be based on what you remembered learning about Ann Frank. Now, he says, “You can ask Siri.” Having information at your fingertips is a new phenomenon, relatively speaking.  “How does it truly impact the learning environment? How do we enhance it? How do we make sure students aren’t sitting passively?” he asks. “The 4CLE classroom is part of this,” he says.

Waiting for instruction to start

Before anyone thinks that all of this talk about communication and 4CLE classrooms means Viloria has forgotten about classroom instruction, let me assure you it’s very much on his mind. However, while he was hired in March, Dr. Viloria didn’t officially start until July 1 and thus there has simply not been much instruction to witness. With the school year fast approaching, that will change soon. 

Supporting what happens inside the classroom

 “One of the best things about education is everyone’s in it for the right reason,” Viloria says. “Educating kids is so rewarding.  My focus has always been on supporting what happens inside the classroom. That is what’s most important to me. We are all trying to support students and to help them become well rounded.  We need to always ask, ‘Are we meeting the needs of our students and, if not, what changes do we need to make to do it better?” 

The questions sound good. We should all pay attention to the answers.



Shaun MacGillivray: Continuing an epic local family tradition that’s making an impact around the world

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Shaun MacGillivray, president of MacGillivray Freeman Films, says he got his start in the family business as “a cheap extra.”  Of course, when the family business is making epic nature films, being an extra, cheap or otherwise, means your “set” could be Palau, and your job might entail being filmed while snorkeling there. 

“I caught the bug early,” MacGillivray continues. “Going to all these locations as cameras were rolling; seeing rough cuts on the VHS player and giving my two cents; watching it with my peers…I realized this is so cool.”

From “Five Summer Stories” to “Fly!”

Shaun’s father, Greg, started it all in the 1960s with his legendary surf film, “Five Summer Stories.”  As a result of that iconic piece of filmmaking, MacGillivray Freeman Films was invited to produce the IMAX film “To Fly!” for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in 1976. The company has since produced 38 more IMAX films.

MacGillivray says that when they started there were “…four IMAX theaters and now there are 1,000.”  Clearly, the public has embraced these large format films, in no small part because of the movies MacGillivray Freeman has created. 

The newest release: “National Park”

MacGillivray Freeman’s film “Everest” was their highest grossing movie, while “Dolphins” and “The Living Sea” were both nominated for Academy Awards for Best Documentary Short. The title of their latest release, “National Parks”, says it all.  

“We have always wanted to make a film about our national parks. It’s the 100th anniversary (of the National Park Service) this year. We got Brand USA, Expedia, and Subaru as partners. It took two years to make, going park to park. Six months for scripting, six to eight months of editing…we got the right script and the right narrator. Robert Redford was inspired by the story. I wanted to get fantastic music. We have Bruce Springsteen singing This Land is Your Land. It’s iconic,” explains MacGillivray.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Shaun MacGillivray brings his personal warmth to the film making business

The film tells the story of how the parks were developed.  

“John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt…” says MacGillivray, “they say it’s ‘the most important camping trip of all time.’”  

If MacGillivray sounds excited about their latest release, he is, calling “National Parks” his favorite of all their films. “I remember how awestruck I was as a kid,” he recalls of an RV trip he took with his family to some of the parks. “I can’t wait to do that with my kids.”

The importance of partnerships

When we met, MacGillivray had just returned from a member screening at the American Natural History Museum in New York.  

“There were more than 700 people. Most of the (IMAX) theaters seat 400 people. It was just incredible; huge laughter, huge gasps…incredible,” he says enthusiastically. 

 But while his could possibly be considered one of the best jobs ever, it’s not all screenings and epic locations. It is a business, and these films need money to be made.  Finding that money and those partners is one of MacGillivray’s responsibilities. One of his favorite partnerships was with Coca-Cola and the movie, “To the Arctic 3-D.”  

“Coca-Cola worked with the World Wildlife Fund and we helped inspire four million people to do a ‘text to donate’ campaign to preserve an area in Canada for polar bears. I love those types of partnerships,” he adds.

Compelling stories for social responsibility

The audience for MacGillivray films is, according to MacGillivray, “25 percent school children.”  While a riveting story and breathtaking visuals are hallmarks of their films, there is a strong public service aspect to them as well. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

The numerous MacGillivray Freeman awards practically need a room of their own

I asked him if he ever despaired, having seen so much of the world and sometimes how degraded it is, despite so many people’s efforts.  

“You gotta keep up hope,” he says. “And I think that’s important for our story telling. The story about humpback whales (‘Humpback Whales” 2015) is an incredibly positive conservation story. They were hunted to the brink of extinction, but once we heard their song…they haven’t come back to where they were, but their return has been pretty incredible.”

Inspiring kids to get more engaged

Other ways MacGillivray Freeman films subscribe to conscientious filmmaking is by trying to encourage kids to think about their own possibilities.  

“The beauty of our genre is you can inspire kids to learn about and get more engaged in topics they wouldn’t normally gravitate to. We made a concentrated effort, for example, to find young women biologists to inspire young women,” says MacGillivray.

Spanning the globe from Laguna Beach

They have also made a concentrated effort to stay in Laguna. Greg MacGillivray grew up in Newport Beach, eventually moving to Laguna with his wife, Barbara, who is the director of research for the company. Shaun MacGillivray and his sister, Meghan, grew up in Laguna, attending Laguna Beach schools when they weren’t being whisked around to exotic film locales. Now a parent himself, Shaun is also bringing up his kids in Laguna. 

Conveniently, the MacGillivray Freeman offices are in the historic Villa Bella. Their offices have an old-fashioned feel to them, highlighted by a mini-museum of different antique motion picture machines and a decidedly old school (looking, anyway) screening room.  

Of course, there is nothing antique or old–fashioned about the way MacGillivray Freeman make their films.  Rather, they are known for pioneering filmmaking methods that help set their work apart.  

One World One Ocean

Another project that sets MacGillivray Freeman apart from other film companies is their One World One Ocean campaign. According to their website: “In 2012, we launched One World One Ocean, a campaign engaging audiences across all platforms, designed to change the way people see the ocean and to spark a global movement to protect it.”  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Editing a film is vital in shaping the final product

By using all types of media, the hope is “to inspire, educate and connect millions of people” to restoring our oceans. The goal is to use the company’s fan base as a jumping off point for a movement they hope will encompass one billion people to actively help heal our oceans.  

MacGillivray Freeman Films doesn’t adhere to the mantra “think globally, act locally.”  Rather, they think globally and act globally. But that doesn’t mean they ignore what’s going on here at home.

Hoping to create a Sawdust Festival project 

“We’ve been working with the Sawdust to do a short documentary. They’ve been trying to fundraise for it. We’ve gotta do it! There has to be something commemorating the 50th anniversary. It’s a big deal,” says MacGillivray emphatically.   

The MacGillivrays may be known for their large format, exotic documentaries, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing and very capable of making a great movie about a local institution.



Novelist Kaira Rouda – and her books – sparkle with humor and heart: we’re lucky to have her in Laguna

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

One look at Kaira Rouda’s face while she is writing one of her novels, and husband Harley knows exactly what kind of character she’s working on. 

“He cracks up,” Rouda says. “He’ll say, you’re writing about a bad guy, right? Because I’ll be frowning and looking angry. Or smiling if I’m writing about one of the characters I love. I can’t help it, I have favorites, although I always try to give my antagonists some redeeming qualities.”

Just as well Rouda isn’t a poker player.

Meeting with Kaira Rouda was great fun. Despite her stunning blonde and blue-eyed good looks and “writerly” success, she is a down-to-earth, chatty person, and not in the least pretentious or imperious as I had feared that someone with her attributes and accomplishments might be. (I’m easily intimidated.) In fact, so friendly was she in her comfortable home that I found myself babbling on about my life and times, forgetting that I was supposed to be interviewing her, and not the reverse. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Kaira’s dog Tucker likes to supervise Kaira’s writing at her stand-up desk

At one point, Frankie, one of her dogs (Rouda describes her as “a sort of bichon”) took up position on the couch cushion and patted my shoulder with her paw, proving that Rouda’s dogs are just as friendly as she is. Her other dog, Tucker, is a shipoo, a mixed breed with a name that can’t help but invite jokes.

Rouda sent me into giggles telling me about Frankie’s battles with her weight, and their attempts to walk it off, which usually result in them both reclining in the shade within a few hundred yards of her house – and how a neighbor seemed offended that her dogs had such pedestrian names despite living in prestigious Emerald Bay.

“I should have named her Francesca, maybe?” she said.

Then I suddenly remembered that I was a reporter, not a friend (not yet, anyway) and began asking questions.

Rouda began her career as a reporter and subsequently worked as an advertising executive and copywriter in Columbus, Ohio. She received her first publishing credit when her nonfiction book, Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs was published by Wiley in 2008. The book was inspired by her love of branding strategies, especially with regard to franchises, and in turn the book inspired the Real Living brand, a business that Rouda and her husband founded. 

In 2010, after great success, they sold the business, the family moved to California. “I’d always dreamed of living near the beach,” Rouda said.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Kaira’s dogs, Tucker and Frankie, are as much fun and as friendly as she is

Then in 2011, with all four kids – three boys and a girl (sons Trace, Shea and Dylan, daughter Avery) – out of the home and living independent lives, Rouda began to wonder what she should do with her time. Back in Columbus she had worked with a homeless shelter, but, new to the community, she wanted time to survey her options in the nonprofit world. Yet she knew she had to work otherwise she would be bored, given the relative silence in the house. 

“I decided to write woman’s fiction,” she said, “which was satisfying, but those books take a year or more to finish. My first book was Here, Hope, Home. Then a friend of mine suggested romance writing. I gave it a try and had so much fun! There is a formula of sorts, but I don’t stick to it exactly. I’d say I write domestic suspense, anchored by place. I do always provide a happy ending, though.”

Sources of inspiration

Rouda’s love of Laguna Beach and a discussion with her hairstylist about reality shows stimulated a great idea for a series of books.

“I wondered what must it be like to be someone who was on a reality show – the way Laguna Beach high school students were – ten years or so after having your life exposed on TV? What kind of a lasting impact would that have on your relationships?” Rouda said.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Kaira is a novelist whose books vibrate with humor and heart

This idea led to four books (so far) set in Laguna. Her brilliant concept is to focus each book around each of the original stars of the reality show as they grow older, providing an unusual nexus of plot and character going forward.

“Setting is foundational to me,” Rouda says. “I love Laguna’s small-town feel, going to Zinc and recognizing friends, feeling like Norm in the TV show “Cheers.” I love the smells and the sounds and the ocean. I hope I never take living here for granted.”

I asked about her writing process, a question that most authors get at one time or another.

“I don’t really have one,” she admits. “I write when I want to write, when it feels good. I don’t outline. I follow my instincts. I hate to be so vague, but that’s just what it’s like for me.”

Though Rouda has gained increasing recognition as an author of note, and has given presentations around the country, including at the Romance Writers Association on topics such as “The Real You and Authors,” she rather likes the relative anonymity that comes with being a novelist rather than, say, a reality show star. 

Her low-key life may change next year, when her most recent book is slated to be published by a brand new imprint of a major New York publisher – the details can’t be reported just yet – though Rouda also fully understands the vagaries and the challenges of the publishing business, where best-sellers are never guaranteed even for the most talented of authors.

A love of the ocean, yoga, and fruit trees

No matter.  She’s quite content to attempt paddle-boarding (but only in ideal circumstances, when there is no wind and no swells, and, she notes, she is still getting used to how cold the water is here), to read her favorite authors including Liane Moriarty, Mary Kubica, and long-time favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald, and practice yoga, though a minor injury is keeping her from doing much of that right now. She also keeps fit by working on a stand-up desk that alternates as a treadmill.

“It’s good to get in your 10,000 steps that way,” she said. (While Tucker and Frankie both like to watch her work, neither chooses to join her on the treadmill, with Frankie particularly averse.)

Perhaps Rouda gets most joy, she says, other than family, from checking on her fruit trees, pomegranates, plums, oranges, peaches and avocado. “I love the way things grow here!” she says. 

Just as Rouda herself is flourishing, as well as her books, thanks to her pleasure in Laguna Beach as her muse, and the fruitfulness of her imagination. 

Visit www.kairarouda.com to learn more about Kaira and/or download some of her “Real You” wisdom for authors and entrepreneurs.



John Eagle: Sawdust artist flies high with happiness 

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

John Eagle still gets the chills remembering the day in 1989 that his teacher and mentor at LCAD, Javier Alvarez, walked into his makeshift studio, took one look at a five by six foot depiction of Laguna Canyon that Eagle had been working on, and said, “Wow, you’re painting, Johnny!”

At that time, Eagle, now 78 years old, was in senior management at an insurance company. Since grade school, he’d dabbled in painting, but he didn’t think he could make a living out of his art, especially with a wife and kids to support.

“I’d always appreciated art, seeing the reverence my teachers had for the work of the Masters, but I wasn’t good at drawing, although a number of the other kids in my class were,” Eagle says. “I didn’t have the best fine motor skills, still don’t. But I loved color, especially influenced by growing up in Hawaii, I think, surrounded by all those vibrant plants and flowers. So then, and still today, I enjoy pushing beautiful color around, using a warm palette, creating harmony on the canvas.”

John Eagle and his beloved wife Taffy, “as sweet and bubbly as her name”

Eagle decided to try his luck at the Sawdust Festival in 1991. He sold 65 paintings that summer, and around 30 in the winter, and never did go back to his insurance job, though his original plan had been to return to the corporate world the following January. Despite enticing offers from his former company, his mind was made up: he’d found a way to do what he loved and take care of his family.

He’d happened upon Laguna Beach during a business trip, while living in the Bay area. “I was driving south from Newport Beach and at some point, I just stopped the car, gaga at the beauty,” he says. “I’d always been a beach bum. I got out of my car and swam in the ocean. Later I saw downtown and all the galleries. I knew I’d found my lifetime home.” 

After moving to Laguna, he started taking part-time lessons at LCAD in 1987. 

“My teacher said, ‘John, take a year and bring me 50 paintings and let’s talk,’” he recalls. “It took me longer, maybe a year and a half, but that’s what I did. He looked at them, picked out five, and said, ‘okay, these are good, they’re saleable. Here are the reasons why, see the techniques you’ve used, why they are unique to you? They aren’t just happy accidents. The rest, put them in the Dumpster.’”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Eagle’s booth is popular for its iconic paintings of Laguna

Eagle said that’s how he learned to make the kind of art that people would want to buy – art that makes other people happy, not only the artist himself.

“That’s what’s so great about being an artist, or a musician, or a writer, I think. We get to enjoy the release from tedium that comes with creating, and we see our work pleasing and benefiting other people,” Eagle adds. “What’s important is to be passionate and productive, and to develop a unique style. That’s what makes an artist successful, not technique alone, or even talent alone, except in rare cases.”

His cheery mien is no doubt another reason why festivalgoers are drawn to his booth and why he is so well liked around town and appreciated by his students.

A plein air artist and Impressionist whose paintings changes according to the light and the distance of the viewer from the art, he loves to be outside. 

“It’s healthier, too,” he says. “I also love to surf and hike. I still do 100-yard sprints. You have to be fit to be in this business. I can’t imagine being confined to a studio.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Is there any accounting for taste – and color preferences?

We discuss why some people love one color, and others another, and why different tastes in art exist. Eagle believes that one’s upbringing has a lot to do with taste and color choices, but in ways we may never truly understand.

There is another incident that raises happy goosebumps on Eagle’s tanned arms. One day he arrived at his booth to find a note from his then 10-year-old granddaughter. “Grandpa, you are a great artist,” it said. Eagle kept that note. He still gets emotional thinking about it. 

“We all need validation,” he says. “Sometimes it comes at an unexpected time from an unexpected place.”

The note resides in his bank safety deposit box, and its writer, Jessica Kirker, is now living in London and studies art.

His two sons and two daughters didn’t turn to art. “I guess they say it skips a generation,” he says. Which is just fine with him, as long as his kids are happy. 

Eagle feels lucky that his beloved wife, Taffy, “as sweet and bubbly as her name” handles much of the logistics of his business, leaving him free to ponder the landscape and paint. “Couldn’t do this without her,” he says.

He tells me that he considers the ocean “a giant tranquillizer,“ and that he feels uncomfortable when he is not around water.

But he is clearly comfortable at his booth, surrounded by his serene paintings, on the lookout for festivalgoers who will want to take a piece of Laguna home with them.

He smiles. “I still feel like I’m playing hooky,” he says. 

“This is just too much fun.”


Dr. Ken Garcia: Healthy smiles and guitar strings

By: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

You’re probably familiar with the story of the young, talented musician who walked away from his passion to find a more stable profession, only to regret and wonder what might have been. While parts of this tale certainly echo the story of Dr. Ken Garcia, his ending is happier.  

He may have been a talented young musician who chose to pursue a more stable – and very prominent – profession as a dentist, but he certainly didn’t abandon his passion for music.  Walk into his dental office and you’ll see how true this is.  

Mini-concerts in the waiting room

Upon entering, it looks like a fairly typical medical office waiting room.  That is, until you see the small stage all set up and ready for action right in the center of it.  Root canals by day, guitar solos by night (or even, sometimes right in the middle of a work day).  Dr. Garcia is probably not the only dentist who also happens to be a professional musician, but I can’t imagine it’s a large club.  

It seems particularly fitting that he does what he does in Laguna.

Dr. Ken Garcia, Laguna Beach dentist and musician

San Bernardino and the Hawaiian beach style

“When I think about it, I didn’t know one person from San Bernardino that moved to Laguna.  People say, ‘How did you pull that off?!’  And I say, ‘I really don’t know,” muses Garcia.  And while he’s a native Californian, when you talk to him about his journey to Laguna from San Bernardino he speaks like he’s from somewhere far, far away.  And, really, for a kid who grew up in a working class family in Bloomington (part of San Bernardino) Laguna Beach is a somewhat exotic locale.  But if Laguna was relatively unfamiliar to Garcia growing up, beach culture was not.  

“My uncles’ lived in Long Beach and we’d go fishing and have luaus.  My mother had 17 brothers and sisters and they married Filipinos.  It was like the Hawaiian beach style to me,” he says about his early days.  Yet beach living was not to come for many years.

The cardboard piano prodigy

What did come was music.  “All my uncles played music.  When I was seven the hall monitor at my school told me she taught piano.  She told me, ‘I’ll give you lessons for free.  After you complete one music book you can do a recital.’  The problem was I didn’t have a piano so I had to practice on a cardboard piano I made.  I wrote a song about it,” remembers Garcia.  He also remembers his dad not going to his recital, and telling him there was no money for a piano.  

“My dad didn’t really know who I was.  I wasn’t mad at him.  He just didn’t understand me,” explains Garcia.  

A one-man rhythm section

From piano he moved to the guitar.  “My uncle told my mom, ‘He really needs a guitar,’ I picked it up quick without lessons.  I became the rhythm section for my uncles.  Then my brother started making good money at his job and started buying me whatever I needed.  I started playing all over.  Then my dad got excited about it.  He loved music,” says Garcia.  His father loved it so much that he tried to convince young Kenny to stay with it.  “My dad said, ‘Play guitar.’  My mom said, ‘You’ll just play in bars.’  And my dad was like, ‘What’s wrong with that?’”

Musician or dentist?

Garcia says what prevented him from focusing exclusively on music as a career was self-doubt; not about his skill level, but about his ability to maintain the discipline he knew he needed to make it.  “A lot of it was I didn’t know if I had the knowledge to manage myself.  Even though I was practicing five hours a day, I didn’t know if I was always going to have that discipline.  I was just a kid still.  Because of that I made the decision to go to school.”  

Garcia’s older brother had gone to school to become a dentist and because he liked the way dentists can manage their own schedule more than doctors, the younger Garcia followed suit.  Again, Garcia says, his dad didn’t immediately jump on board.  “He didn’t think I was smart enough to go to college,” he says without a hint of bitterness.  “He didn’t really know my strengths.”  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Dr. Garcia plays with his wife, son, daughter and niece in front of his office

Being called “doctor” and learning the value of “no”

Garcia was not only smart enough for college, he was smart enough for dental school, eventually becoming a dentist and opening two offices in the inland empire. “I viewed dentistry as something that was going to give me the opportunity to do what I wanted.  Plus, back then,” Garcia says smiling, “I was excited to be called ‘doctor’”.  But the music, he says, “Never stopped.”  

In fact, Garcia feels the skills he has learned as a doctor have helped his music.  “It has helped me say ‘no’.  When you say ‘no’ you become more valuable.  I try to tell other musicians that.”

Goodbye smog, hello Newport Beach

 Something he said “yes” to that started him on his journey to Laguna was an apartment in Newport Beach.  “In my 30’s my wife and I had a house, nice cars and a view of the smog (in the inland empire),” he says.  So they drove straight down the 55 Freeway until it ended in Newport.  “We went down there and visited,” he says, eventually getting an apartment there.  However, neither he nor his wife liked Newport much. “It was too crazy, too much of a party town for us.” 

A gig at the Marine Room changes everything

So the couple decided to go back to their house with the hazy view – but not before Garcia played a gig at The Marine Room in Laguna.  “I told my wife the next day, ‘Let’s check it out; it’s really cute’.  We didn’t even know how to get there.  We just went ‘that’ direction and ended up at Fisherman’s Cove,” explains Garcia.  They saw a “For Rent” sign out in front of a house there.  A man approached them asking if they were interested in renting it.  They all went to dinner and the place was theirs.  Still they kept their house inland, just in case.

Living in Laguna, working in Fontana and playing the Marine Room

After living in Laguna for a while, the couple decided they weren’t going to return inland to live. However, Garcia still drove east every day to work at his dental practice.  “I’d drive to Fontana, work eight hours, drive back (to Laguna), go play the Marine Room – we had no kids then,” Garcia says. 

Finally, his wife asked him to move his practice closer to home.  “I met some really smart dentists.  They helped me.  I put my practice up for sale in 2002. It sold in the first day.”  In July, 2002, he opened his practice in Laguna Beach.  2002 was a big year in other ways, too: Garcia and his wife bought a house on Poplar St. in north Laguna and, most significantly of all, they adopted their son, Tayber.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Dr. Ken Garcia with a “patient”, his daughter Lea

Feeling “unstoppable’ until…

Along the way the Garcias added a daughter, Lea, to their family and things were going great.  “At 57 I felt unstoppable,” says Garcia.  “I felt like nothing bad could happen to me.”  It was 2014 and, as sometimes happens when things are humming along, Garcia was thrown a potentially life-threatening detour: a brain aneurysm.

“I wondered if it was because I’m a type A personality.  Then decided that no, it was just bad luck.  I was depressed for a year. I was on all these medications.  I thought, ‘How did I get put back so far?’ Garcia seems to have recovered fully, but he says he rarely drives.  “I walk everywhere in town.”  He continues, “I told my wife, ‘It’s never been easy.’  We thought about moving down south (near San Diego), but since I got sick we’ve been enjoying our time here.”  Since he can’t fly, home is where they vacation.  “The last six months my family has been hiking a lot,” he says with a laugh. 

Mini-concerts, football and family

Garcia is also helping coach his son’s football team at LBHS.  “I tell the boys to live for the moment.  I tell them ‘You’ll probably never play football when you’re 20 and definitely not when you’re 40 or 50 so enjoy it now.”  His son used to be a percussionist but, “Because of his sports schedule,” Garcia says, “he doesn’t have time.”  

His daughter sings, however, so music is still in the family.  And it’s also at the office. “We have a lot of talented musicians who come to see me when they need to see a dentist.  There have been some great mini-concerts:  Dave Mason, Donovan Frankenreiter…” he rattles off several more names but my hand can’t keep up.

Making his own luck

“I got lucky,” says Garcia modestly.  

Luck is usually involved to some extent in all success stories.  However, luck is not what drove young Kenny Garcia to become a highly accomplished musician.  Luck is not what got him through dental school. Luck is not what has built a thriving dental practice.  

If Dr. Garcia is lucky, most of that luck would seem to be the kind he made for himself.



Monica Prado is a magician with her mosaic art

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

In 1979, following her high school graduation, Prado, now a successful ceramicist, visited Chinautla, Guatemala. At that point, she hadn’t focused on a particular profession or chosen a college major. She was on a mission as part of a nonprofit group helping to rebuild a washed-out bridge and supply store in one of the poorest areas of the country. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Monica works at her booth at the Sawdust

While in Chinautla, Prado became mesmerized by the pottery produced by the villagers, who hauled clay from riverbanks and formed it by hand into bowls and animals and figurines. They had no pottery wheels, no fancy kilns, no special tools, yet many of the designs were reminiscent of the finest Greek designs. 

She was inspired.

At the Sawdust Festival, where she’s been exhibiting her ceramics – featuring fine mosaics with a contemporary color palette – for sixteen years, Prado shows me a one-of-a-kind bowl made for her by a Chinautla villager more than three decades ago. The piece is decorated with grapes and leaves. Nowadays trees and fruit and birds find expression in her serene works of art. 

There’s also a beautifully misshapen turtle that I immediately crave to have as my own. But these are Prado’s muses, not mine or anyone else’s to own: they are palpable and enduring evidence of her long-ago artistic awakening.

Yet that wasn’t obvious to her when she first returned to the States. The desire to become an artist lay dormant while she went to college, where she majored in social anthropology and social work. After graduating from Cal State Long Beach, she pursued a career working for political campaigns that she believed would make the world a better place.

“I still do some consulting work, but I feel so lucky that Laguna is a place that focuses on making it possible for artists to earn an actual living,” Prado says.

Prado has several times visited Europe in search of inspiration “whether it is from the inside of a church or a bank logo,” she notes. 

The influences of Barcelona architect Gaudi and mosaic master Marco de Luca are evident in many of her creations – de Luca, who memorably said, “I want each mosaic to have the maximum liberty to be itself.” 

Similarly, “I don’t start with a theme or idea,” Prado says. “The image evolves.” She points to Spanish Grotto, one of the works hanging in her booth. “That changed time and time again over the last year, only a few weeks ago taking its final form.”

In her work I see a fusing of the visual and the visceral: art that is aesthetically appealing to the senses and also creates some kind of order out of inchoate emotions, leaving the viewer somehow soothed.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

A reflection of Monica’s beautiful ceramic art

Along with creativity, caring remains a consistent thread in Prado’s life. So it is that she provides consulting services to the director of development for the Laguna Community Clinic, which provides continuity of care for many people who would otherwise fall through the cracks in our complex health care system. 

“Within an area of just 5,000 square feet we handle 15,000 patient visits per year,” Prado notes. “Nine exam rooms plus a full laboratory and pharmacy are all located onsite. It’s an ingenious use of a small space.”

James Koch, who is HIV-positive, says of the care, medication and love he received when he needed it, “I want to thank the Clinic and Dr. Korey Jorgensen for giving me the opportunity to grow old.” 

That’s the kind of tribute that gladdens Prado’s heart and makes her work for the Clinic worthwhile.

She is also the president of the Board of Trustees of the Artist Benevolence Fund. The Benevolence Fund got its start in 1987, when a critically ill artist needed financial help, and local artists clubbed together to help him. Since then the fund has helped literally hundreds of artists through difficult times caused by illness or natural catastrophes.

“That’s it, though,” she says of her work in both the profit and nonprofit arena. “I have no desire to be a multitasker. I feel lucky to have such a deep, full life here in this beautiful place.”

Prado loves to hike the Canyon trails or walk along the beach with her brindled Australian cattle dog, Shasta. “On my travels and in nature I soak in the inspiration, and on the beach in Laguna I sort it out,” the Canyon Acres resident says. 

With that, Prado is ready to do business at the booth and we say farewell. 

I drive away, thinking about what Monica told me about her dog, Shasta – how she, the daughter of working dogs, cannot help but follow her instinct and so does her best to herd other dogs at the dog park – just as Monica Prado herself cannot help but create and care, because that’s simply who she is. 

To take a look at Monica’s art, visit her booth at the Sawdust Festival or her website at http://www.pradomosaica.com.


Beth Fitchet Wood & Steve Wood: The talented musical duo shares their story – with a common voice        

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When I met with Beth Fitchet Wood and Steve Wood, I had the distinct impression I was talking to one person. Of a like mind, they never fail to finish each other’s sentences.

Beth: “Music has always been a part of me, since I was three or four.” Steve: “Music energizes.” Beth: “It’s not that it’s part of your identity, it’s way deeper than that.” Steve: “Like any good relationship you make the choice to go deep. You don’t put yourself first. You’re serving music.” Beth: “You’re not first, music is first.”

Absolutely, they think alike. They’ve been soul mates, and in service to music together since 1969. Originally with the band Honk, the pair has collaborated for many years performing with big name concert acts, as well as at the local art festivals. This summer they will be playing at all three festivals – plus a Honk reunion, coming up Aug 5 at the Coach House. Additionally, Beth composes and teaches piano and voice, and Steve composes and records the music for MacGillivray Freeman’s IMAX Films.

Hatched on a Hoot night

They met at the famed Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, where they were each trying out for a gig. It was open mic night, known as “Hoot night,” a good stepping-stone toward booking a job. As Steve tells it, The Golden Bear was generous toward musicians, “As soon as you got a job there – even as opening act – you got paid.” Which was pretty great, because back then he was paying $75 a month for his Laguna Canyon rental, and stood to make $25 a night for gigs. 

In those days, a musician could afford to live in Laguna Beach. (As he says, it was when Laguna was “an artists’ colony, not a collectors’ colony.”)

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Beth Fitchet Wood and Steve Wood

Both are self-taught musicians. Beth leans toward “Jazz Americana,” and Steve cites jazz, rock and roll, and multi-cultural influences. Of his musical sensibility, Steve says, “I’m less of a performer, more of an architect.” But Beth interjects, “He’s really good at rock and roll!”

As far as favorite musical influences, Beth cites Bob Dylan. Steve thinks of Rachmaninoff. “And Bach!” Beth says. 

The analog life

The pair has just returned from their little cabin in the woods of New Hampshire. Steve had a very unwelcome guest there, in the form of a tick whose bite had launched him into a high fever. Thankfully his Laguna doctor figured it out quickly, and had him on the mend with antibiotics right away, so he could reflect fondly of their time there. 

It had been Beth’s grandfather’s cabin – now a sanctuary in the woods for the Woods. “No TV, no internet, no distractions. We play music,” said Steve. “It’s an analog life instead of a digital life,” said Beth. 

A cabin on an island in the middle of a lake – sounds idyllic. Except for the ticks. 

When they get their next breakaway it will be to Croatia, sailing on the clear, blue Adriatic with the MacGillivrays. No doubt, these travel experiences bring them and their music fresh perspective.

A Laguna journey

Beth Fitchet grew up in Phoenix and found her way to LA in the heyday of the music scene there by the early 1970s. She was the girl folksinger onstage at the Troubador and at many other Southern California Hoot nights. 

She recognizes that her original music is not the typical bar-band type. “It’s not that great for drinking music. People don’t just space out when they listen to me,” she says. Of course, with bars being the most available venues, it has not always been easy being a thinking person’s musician, rather than a drinking person’s musician. 

“It’s not great for my business!” she laughs.

Then Steve shared his background as Laguna local wannabe. 

His dad was the unlikely combination of FBI agent and beatnik piano player. Both his parents were freaks for the beach. “My parents were beach-niks from the San Gabriel Valley,” said Steve. “I’ve never known anybody as in love with the beach as my parents. So they came here!”

Much as they loved Laguna, his parents bought where they could afford, in Newport. Steve managed to make it to Laguna once it became affordable following the mudslides of 1969. “I wanted to be a local so bad!” he says. “I’d hang around the lifeguard stands, and write information down for them – like a Junior Guard.”

He surfed to his heart’s content, while also founding Honk, and matching up with bands such as Kenny Loggins’ (as keyboardist and musical director), and the Pointer Sisters. 

Ultimately, becoming a Laguna local, Steve feels he’s completed his parent’s journey.

The jewels that are family and friends

The Wood family includes two sons, Nate and Jimmy. Nate, a musician, is back east, living in Brooklyn and playing in a band called Kneebody. Jimmy is a wood cabinetmaker, and a Tae Kwon Do instructor. He got his mom and dad into Tae Kwon Do, too, which they are all happy about. 

“We do Tae Kwon Do four times a week,” Steve says. “Pretty good for a couple of 67 year-olds!”

A big part of Beth and Steve’s “other family” are the musicians they have known and played with over the years, such as Honk, as well as several musicians they produce from all over the world.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

At home at their piano

Although Honk seemed headed for the big time, it’s probably due to their dis-banding that the members have all stayed friends. “We just couldn’t keep the spirit up with all the commercial pressures,” said Steve. “Fortunately we broke up because we are all still best of friends all these years later. Plus I got to keep the family jewel, Beth!”

Steve has been long-time friends with fellow Laguna local Greg MacGillivray, now the biggest producer of independent IMAX documentaries. They share a love of surfing, and of music. To have a professional and personal connection is something rare – and fun. As Steve says, “I have composed and recorded 25 scores for him and this has led to many adventures and friends around the world.”

Together with one voice

Beth Fitchet Wood and Steve Wood have music coursing through their veins, and they’ve managed to be financially supported by music their whole lives. But whether playing acoustic in a cabin in the woods or jamming on stage, recording original scores in the studio or producing international musicians (such as the “Bob Dylan of Slovenia”), they do it together best.

Steve adds, “We enjoy hanging out together. We’re best friends – so, everywhere we go, everything we do, we want the other there.” 

Spoken as one.


Sandra Jones Campbell: Comfortable with change 

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Sandra Jones Campbell was making her way up the coast of California when she and her then husband stopped in Laguna Beach. The Patriots’ Day Parade was going on and Campbell says, “This (Laguna Beach) just felt right. It’s like everyone who comes here and they say it’s like they’ve come home.”  Apparently, it still feels right since that was 30 years ago and Campbell is still here.

An exhibitor at the Festival of Arts since 1988

Back then she was an established artist from Portland, Oregon, looking for a new audience for her work. Laguna Beach offered her that and more.  

“This seemed like a place I could blossom. You get to a place in your career where you have to make a change,” she explains.  

An artist who specialized in watercolors, Campbell says she changed to water-based oils because she was developing a “more fluid kind of style.” If you pay any attention to the Laguna art scene -- or even if you don’t -- you have undoubtedly seen Campbell’s German Expressionistic-inspired, bustling political and social scenes.

Represented locally by the Pacific Edge Gallery as well as an exhibitor at the Festival of the Arts since 1988, Campbell’s work is a familiar sight. Publicly, her work has been used for the Festival’s banner. 

“The Festival has been good for me and good to me,” she says. Campbell was also commissioned to paint a mural in downtown Laguna. When you see her work, you know it’s hers.  

Local artist Sandra Jones Campbell in her studio

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Old photographs and “714”

“I love old photographs,” she says emphatically. Campbell says she has hundreds of photos that inform her work. 

Another somewhat unlikely influence was a free magazine called “714” that people in Orange County found in their driveways back in the late ‘80’s. It had photos from different social happening around town and, Campbell says, “It was perfect for my figurative style. I started noticing the social scene here. It was very different than Portland,” she says as we laughed about those days of big hair and big…everything.  Seeing it as somewhat of an outsider allowed her to appreciate it while seeing it with a critical eye.  

She says her work isn’t “quite satire, but…”  The “but” is telling.  While Campbell describes her paintings as “pretty” they are much more than that. 

A tattoo artist and a barrel racer

While Campbell is known for her paintings depicting social events, her work isn’t all cocktail parties and bar scenes. She lived on a ranch in eastern Oregon for many years and images from those days can also be found in her work. 

“The ranch was heaven for the kids,” explains Campbell of living there with her son and daughter. “But it was stifling for me as an artist.” However, the “shadow of cowboys and images from the Oregon trail” are things she says she can “slip back into very comfortably.”  

Interestingly, her children followed two distinct passions from those days in the ranch.  Campbell’s son is now a tattoo artist who, she says, “is a much better illustrator than I am.”  

Her daughter fell in love with horses and barrel racing.  Campbell says that there were a lot of people working at the ranch, which meant there were a lot of built-in baby sitters.  One of them was a cowboy who taught her daughter to ride at an early age and she was hooked.

Being called an artist just felt right

Campbell herself was hooked at an early age on the idea of being an artist.  She recalls being in third grade and one of her classmates saying, “’Let Sandra do it. She’s the artist.’  When they said that it just felt right.”  

Back then she says she was drawing hydroplanes.  “I was exploring movement,” she remembers with a laugh.  “By the time I was done with high school I’d had a lot of opportunities. I went to a camp that was like ‘Fame’ -- in 1964!” she says.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Sandra Jones Campbell blends into one of her paintings

A need for change

A constant in Campbell’s career is her willingness to seek out change. “I went back to school in 1980,” she says. “I’d been painting romantic, pastoral women. I was bored with them. So I went back to school and studied with James Kirk (at Western Oregon State College). I spent an entire semester there and all I did was art. It was lovely of my family to let me live away and study art. It was a kick start for me at the age of 30.”  

This “kick start” coincided with her own socio-political awakening. After her studies she says, “I was being radical.  In my paintings the women were not pretty.  I was turning 31 and I was feeling all the ‘times’ of being a woman.”  

Celebrating openness

Now, Campbell says, some of that inner turmoil has subsided. “I find that I still have my own controversy, but I’m in a very, very graceful place right now. I’m very receptive to what’s going on in the world.  But I’m a little bit more content now. I just love the fact that I get to do what I love.  It’s very rewarding.”  

And she is branching out and embracing other artistic mediums, as well, opening up her fabulous studio to others. “We had the Bare Bones Theater here in June. It’s more of a reading than a play. It’s wonderful. I’m getting to explore by letting people come into this space.  All we have to do is be open to it and it comes.”  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

One of Campbell’s paintings creates a lovely spot in her Laguna Canyon studio

A charmed career

Campbell has won many awards and has achieved great success. By her own admission her career has been “charmed.” 

Believing “Your deepest feeling is your highest truth,” she says she never doubted her career as an artist. Despite her success and longevity, she still continues to push forward and challenge herself.  “Now I’m really comfortable. I’m comfortable with where my art is. But I’m always ready for a change,” she says somewhat mischievously.


Poet, broker, painter and more: Kate Buckley is a woman of many talents, inspired above all by home

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Since her childhood, Kate Buckley has been actively seeking the answer to a question posed in Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day: Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?

“I know it sounds impossible, but I’m interested in everything,” Buckley says, sitting on a white couch in her beautiful Laguna home, which she has decorated in a gorgeously contemporary, yet eclectic style. “My mind is always telling me, let’s explore this, let’s explore that.”

Kate Buckley

For Buckley, then, the question of “what it is [she] plans to do” has never, and probably will never offer a single answer, and for her that’s a good thing. Over the years, she’s investigated many different fields, from art to health and nutrition to business – and she has several accomplishments in each of these areas. 

(Given the above, in a weak attempt at humor, I asked Buckley what she wasn’t interested in, or perhaps just hasn’t done yet. She thought for a while. “Calculus,” she said. “I can’t do calculus. Or surgery. I’m not a musician, though I love Brazilian jazz.” 

She says this with her brow just slightly furrowed, in a completely unpretentious way, and I have a strange feeling that after I leave, she might just study some math, or perhaps check out a medical encyclopedia, or sign up to learn the saxophone, because why not?)

Let’s take a closer look at Kate Buckley’s many-splendored life.

Hitting a home run with domain names

Working as a broker for the Castello Brothers, Buckley recently scored big, selling www.rate.com for $725,000, the fourth biggest domain sale reported in 2016, according to The Domain Industry News Magazine. She specializes in ultra-premium domains, website names with the greatest value.

“I met and began working with the Castellos back in 1998, when they had the foresight to accumulate domain names,” she says. “At that early time in the Internet’s history, few people predicted their future value. That’s been a key part of my success.”

Domain names mark a company’s home on the Internet, of course, and are therefore a key part of a company’s branding strategy. Brand management is another skill at which Buckley excels. She offers marketing services through her company, Buckley Media Group. 

Domain names brought Buckley to Laguna from Kentucky via New York and Palm Springs: after co-launching www.palmsprings.com, she focused on www.lagunabeach.com, and once she had explored our multi-faceted city, decided that this was a place that reflected her own personality. 

Kate believes in good, clean eating and knows how to make that happen

Buckley is also an accredited life coach, and has worked with CEOs and others on many aspects of their lives ranging from nutrition to business and romantic challenges. 

“I like to think that by reframing our stories, we can reclaim our past in a positive way, especially as no one has perfect memories, another aspect of the mind that fascinates me,” she says.

Poems inspired by Kentucky, her place of birth, win many prizes

Somehow Buckley also finds time to write, to frame her own stories, many inspired by her Kentucky home, where she spends part of her year. 

Poems that appear in her two books, A Wild Region and Follow Me Down – as well as numerous literary journals – have won the North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Prize and the Gabehart Prize for imaginative writing. 

What do poetry, domain name sales and brand marketing have in common, I wondered?

“All involve observation, strategy and detective work to arrive at the right place, to provide a sense of shared experience,” she says. “And they demand creativity, and curiosity, which has informed my whole life. I started writing poetry at the age of three and a half. I’m high energy and I’m always looking for solutions to challenges.”

Not surprisingly, Buckley describes herself as a serial entrepreneur – and more surprisingly for someone who in conversation appears so grounded – a mystic. 

I ask her what that means, to be a mystic. She thinks for a while, her hands curled around a mug of Earl Grey tea, her Cavalier King Charles spaniel Murphy nestled happily by her side. 

Murphy the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is Kate’s constant, adoring companion

 “When I’m in the woods in Kentucky, I often have the sense that I’m downloading the voices and emotions of others, living or dead, who have also walked among the trees, generations earlier,” says the ninth-generation Kentuckian, who loves to immerse herself in nature. 

(It’s interesting to me to hear words such as download and bandwidth in conversation with Buckley, and to realize how closely her worlds intertwine.)

She hastens to clarify that the images she senses are not always positive. 

“The beautiful and the brutal necessarily coexist,” she says. “That’s the great mystery of life.”

These preoccupations are evident in her poems, many of which take as their themes the malleability of memory and the transformational nature of landscape.

Her paintings also reflect these themes. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Kate Buckley is surrounded by beauty of her own making

Because, yes, Kate Buckley is also an artist. Her paintings adorn the walls of her Laguna Beach home, which is decorated in pink, cinnamon and green tones and seems to beg for coverage in Architectural Digest.

Buckley is a yogi, and loves Ritual Arts Yoga here in town on South Coast Highway. Teacher Cole Jacobs is a favorite of hers. She’s a hiker who loves our wilderness trails. She likes to cook and to garden. And to travel. And antiquing. 

Volunteering is another interest

Buckley is also a serial volunteer.

“Just yesterday, I received news that I’m going to be a Big Sister to a young girl in Dana Point who shares many of my interests,” she tells me. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

Buckley is a past and present volunteer for the Friendship Shelter and the Peace Exchange.

With her friend Gretchen Westgaard, she co-founded the Laguna Beach Hiking Club, which she says is perhaps the best example of how a passion of hers, in this case hiking, has resulted in productive community building, something she loves.

One of Buckley’s next goals is the publication of a collection of short stories, one of which was shortlisted for the prestigious UK-based Bridport Prize.

At this point in the interview, my mental mailbox had reached capacity, so to speak, though I guessed that there were many more interesting topics to cover with Kate Buckley in the future. 

I said goodbye to her and Murphy (what a dog!), thinking how lucky Laguna Beach is that Kate Buckley calls the city her home and to benefit from her generosity, her multiple marketing talents, and her musings.


Joe Hanauer: A Laguna visionary respects the past, supports the present and plans for the future

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

  Joe Hanauer says that when he and his wife, Jane, contemplated moving to California from Chicago 25 years ago, they thought, “Let’s do this. It will be fun.” Joe didn’t think it would last.  “My thought was, this is going to be brief; maybe two, three, four years might be plenty,” as he remembers. “This California lifestyle seems kind of crazy to someone from the Midwest.”

They ventured west because Hanauer had sold his company to another, located in Newport Beach. The Hanauers chose Laguna because, as Hanauer explains, “Our youngest daughter was five at the time so our focus was on what type of environment we wanted to bring her up in.  We looked at other places, Newport, for one, but culturally it wasn’t what we were looking for. Laguna fit the bill. Its size, culture, schools, values… Plus it’s a lovely city.”

Joe Hanauer at his offices at The Old Pottery Place in Laguna Beach

Coming west and staying

Hanauer figured he’d be with the new company for three to four years then return home.  However, his involvement lasted much longer.  “It ended up being 11-12 years,” he explains, “But the other part of it is, just as you would expect: friends, the lifestyle and the shallower things like the weather and the beauty of the scenery. They became pretty compelling reasons to stay.” 

Finally, he says, after close to seven years in California, they finally sold their family home in Chicago. It was official: they were now Lagunans.

Investing around the corner

Hanauer is chairman of the board of Move, Inc. and a principal at Combined Investments, LLC. In town, however, he may be better known as the developer of The Old Pottery Place (formerly the Pottery Shack). 

“I mostly do business in other parts of the country,” he said. “[When I get involved in something] where I live, it’s not because it’s a core business, but because I like investing in the community. When we were in Chicago, I did the same thing. Snow Mass, the same thing. So here, it was just a natural continuation. I’ve always been interested in doing stuff around the corner. It’s satisfying beyond the project’s economics.”

Giving an iconic property new life

Hanauer describes the old Pottery Shack as an “iconic property since the 1930’s.”  His interest was based on what it could become. 

“Lots of people had ideas about what to do with the space: hotels, supermarkets, a Rite-Aid. What I tried to do that worked was take the ‘history’ (and I use the word loosely) back, and look at the role it played in the neighborhood.”  

Hanauer, fortunately, decided that what was needed was what exists there now: offices, restaurants and shops. Sorry, Rite-Aid. 

“The fringe benefit,” says Hanauer, “is it ended up having a beneficial relationship to the businesses up and down the street. Today it’s a much more dynamic neighborhood than when the Pottery Shack was in its decline.”  

It has been so energized the area’s local merchants formed the HIP (Historic and Interesting Places) District “as a way to communicate the large diversity of dining, shopping and services along PCH from Thalia to Bluebird,” he explains. 

Finally, Laguna Beach Books is born

Another “fringe benefit” is that Hanauer’s wife, Jane, was able to become one of the center’s tenants with her bookstore, Laguna Beach Books.  

“She has wanted to do that most of her life.  She had been talking about it forever, wherever we were.  She’d say, ‘Gee, Joe, this spot would be terrific for a book store.’  I was maybe the selfish husband.  I’d tell her, ‘You’ll be tied up. We travel so much…’ She’s very smart, very well read so when we were doing this she did the same thing.  Eventually, my arguments diminished,” he says with a laugh.  “This has been her first business. Here she is ten years later. She loves it and it has been great for the community. She’s there six days a week. It’s her life.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

It was important to Hanauer that The Old Pottery Place retained elements from the original Pottery Shack

Bringing music to the masses with Laguna Beach Live!

A keen interest in what’s “good for the community” doesn’t end with business.  Hanauer is heavily involved in several local arts organizations, like Laguna Beach Live!, which is one that is close to his heart. Back in college he minored in music, though he insists he has “no talent.”  Regardless, he loves music. And he recently began taking piano lessons – again.  

Hanauer sits on the Board of Laguna Beach Live! and says that the group’s mission “is to supply good, quality music for everyone.”  The group puts on Jazz Wednesdays, for example, throughout the summer at Hotel Laguna.  “It’s great jazz for $20. It’s in town so it’s accessible. We will arrange pick-ups for seniors. Having it be accessible is very attractive to me,” he says.  Education for children is also a priority for the organization. (For more information visit lagunabeachlive.org)

Seeing the value of The Laguna Playhouse, beyond the shows

Another organization Hanauer is involved with is Laguna Playhouse, serving as its board co-chairman. “I’m very involved with that. My involvement isn’t so much based on being a theater buff,” he says. “It’s more about the importance the arts can have for the community, and the way people think and believe.”  

He explains that his interest in The Playhouse began when they sold him the building next door.  

“I became aware of some financial problems the Playhouse had. It was during the Great Recession. So I got involved, more as a matter of trying to assist the Playhouse in being able to have the kind of influence it should have, rather than from a love of the theater.”  

He proudly tells me that now Laguna Playhouse has 80,000 people a year going through to see 325 performances of music, theater and youth theater, in addition to their outreach to schools throughout Orange County.  

“The Playhouse is a critical element of the community,” he says emphatically. 

And Hanauer sees that as important, whether you’re a fan of live theater or not.  “A lot of people use Laguna as a bedroom. If they’re interested in the arts they [may] look for it elsewhere, but there is a lot to be had right here,” he says.  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Joe Hanauer stands in front of a mosaic at The Old Pottery Place that states, “Do not sacrifice freedom for pomp or show”

The importance of supporting local everything

Just as he values a vibrant local arts scene, Hanauer views shopping locally as a crucial element of the community – and it’s not because his wife owns a local bookstore.  He worries that people “don’t recognize the impact of having services for locals as well as visitors. It impacts our town,” he says. “When you go to places where residents don’t support their local businesses, you’ll find a lot of condo sales offices, but you won’t see people strolling. And shopping locally is just a matter of habit.” 

Hanauer sees things very holistically, which may be why it’s so important to him to support the things that make Laguna so uniquely Laguna. 

“With our nearly 100 year old Playhouse and Museum plus outstanding organizations such as Laguna Dance, Laguna Beach Live!, Laguna Concert Band and so many others, they can only grow and become even better if supported by the town’s citizens.”

With citizens like Joe Hanauer giving back to the community he lives in, Laguna has been truly gifted. Laguna remains the grateful beneficiary of his care and concern for its history and its future.



Amy Kramer: Helping out Laguna Beach schools

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Amy Kramer’s arrival in Laguna Beach 21 years ago was not the realization of a life long dream. “My husband is a builder and he found a lot in Arch Beach Heights.  He built a house and we ended up moving in,” she says. “There was no big plan. It just kind of happened. He just kept building spec houses in Laguna,” she says, good-humoredly.  

Prior to coming to Laguna, the couple lived in Cypress.  Kramer worked in marketing for a medical device manufacturer located in Irvine. Clearly, whether coming here was fate or happenstance, the Kramers have embraced their hometown, “I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere,” Kramer says, sounding somewhat surprised.

From CSULB to Japan and back

A Cal State Long Beach grad who grew up in Burbank, Kramer thought she was going to become a professor. Now she says she finds that idea “totally funny.” 

She received her Master’s in Communications from CSULB, but says that she realized she wanted more “real world experience” than academia could provide.  

Not quite ready to settle down career-wise, she took a job teaching English conversation in Japan.  

“I got a job as an ‘emergency teacher,’ so I would travel to the locations as people’s contracts ended, mostly through central Japan.”  

She has not returned to Japan since, although she says she’d like to take her oldest son, Josh, before he goes off to college next year.

Amy Kramer, outgoing SchoolPower president

The perfect work schedule ends

When Josh was six months old, Kramer said she had “a perfect schedule” at her work,  “I had come back to work part time. It was great!” she says with a laugh. “But then I got pregnant with my daughter…” Her company explained that the part-time thing wasn’t really working for them anymore. 

But Kramer couldn’t commit to the crazy hours she had been working prior to becoming a mother.  

“They asked me if I wanted to resign, or be fired so I could get benefits,” she explains. So resignation it was, albeit grudgingly. “I really liked that part time thing,” she says laughing.

Helping out wherever her kids were

With two kids one year apart, Kramer clearly had her hands full. 

Not too full, apparently, because she decided to run the Laguna Presbyterian Preschool fundraiser for the two years since her children went to school there.  

“After that I volunteered in my kids’ classrooms; I did PR for SchoolPower for two years and then I got pregnant with my third kid, James.”  

She continued to stay in the mix by producing the Top of the World Elementary newsletter and, as her oldest kids progressed through school, handling the public relations for Thurston Middle School.  

At each new school her children attended, Kramer worked to make a difference for them, and the rest of the students.

President of Laguna Beach Republicans Club

Amy also worked to make a difference in people’s opinions by branching out from her kids’ schools and becoming president of the Laguna Beach Republicans Club. She jokes about her rare bird status of being a fairly outspoken conservative in what she sees as a pretty liberal town. 

People took interest in what she had to say.  

“About a year after (becoming president), Andrea Adelson at ‘The Indy’ asked me to write a column. It was basically the ‘conservative take’ on local Laguna; everything I wrote had to be tied back to Laguna. And after doing that for awhile, I went to write for Stu (Saffer, of StuNews).” 

I asked her if she was ever taken aback by people’s reactions to what she wrote in her column. “You know, I was surprised,” she said. “There are a lot of conservatives in town but they’re pretty quiet. I always remind myself to try and see all sides while putting my opinion out there. It’s really good for learning diplomacy. But I believe things are better when there are different voices.” 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Amy, with her youngest son, James, a 4th-grader at Top of the World

Jumping back into SchoolPower with both feet

Kramer’s openness to other voices definitely served her well in her next phase of community service: her return to SchoolPower.  

Re-emerging as a trustee in 2013, Kramer wasted no time diving in, co-chairing SchoolPower’s Dinner Dance (with fellow trustee, Nina Langton). 

“The organization had changed for the better, in my opinion,” she says.  “It was tighter, more efficient and much more process oriented.”  

As for co-chairing the Dinner Dance, one of the things Kramer wanted was for the theme of the night to reflect back on its purpose. “I think it’s helpful to have a foundation for the message.”  

Is it an earth-shattering change to an event with a 30-year history? No, but it exemplifies Kramer’s ability to gently and smartly tweak an idea while striving to better its outcome.  

She went on to co-chair the event again (with Angela Shipp) the following year.  For an evening that consistently brings in hundreds of thousand of dollars for Laguna schools, raising your hand to put it all together is no small undertaking.

President of SchoolPower, among other jobs

Kramer didn’t stop with the Dinner Dance, deciding to take on an even bigger challenge, and become SchoolPower president this past year – in addition to being in charge of the Dinner Dance’s silent auction.  

“I like SchoolPower because it’s bigger-picture thinking,” she says. “I like that it impacts the entire school community. I felt I had stuff to give and could make the biggest impact there [at SchoolPower].”   

Kramer’s tenure as president had just ended when we met, an event she saw as bittersweet.  She says, “You don’t necessarily realize what you want to do until it’s done.”  

Pondering life at a cross roads

As SchoolPower’s outgoing president, one might expect Kramer to rest on her laurels. Rest, it seems, is not high on her list of priorities. She is planning on getting back to helping out with the Dinner Dance for 2017, in addition to continuing to work part time with her husband, something she has done since 2007.  

“I really enjoy doing it… And we’re still married!” she says, laughing.  

As for what’s next, Kramer says she’s not quite sure. “I’m kind of at a crossroads.  Being SchoolPower president requires such a big amount of time and energy,” she says. “I need that kind of stimulation… So right now, I’m kind of in this weird limbo.”  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Amy, her son, James, and husband Josh, a local builder

Thinking about more than Laguna’s schools

Wherever her interests take her next, it’s a safe bet they won’t take her out of Laguna. “We’re really blessed to be here,” she says. “I grew up in LA.  You couldn’t go to public school there then. I just think we’re so lucky!”  

And while she obviously has a passion for Laguna’s public schools, they’re not her only interest.  

We chatted briefly about city happenings. Amy is curious about many things; things like the trolleys and whether they are really benefitting local businesses, or simply clogging our already jammed streets.  

“If they’re bolstering local businesses then that’s one thing. If not, then maybe we should reassess,” she says, thoughtfully.  

Kramer asks such questions because she really wants to know the answer; it’s important to her to see if things are operating at their highest level. If they’re not, she’s more than willing to roll up her sleeves to see if she can help. 

Laguna’s schools have benefitted the most so far, but who knows what’s next?


Ellie Tipton Ortiz: A balance of professional, family, and community life – and some fun thrown in the mix

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Aga Stuchlik

You wouldn’t think a paralegal could be so happy. At least not one who gets in the middle of divorces – by choice. But Ellie Tipton Ortiz always has a smile on her face, and has the quick, ready energy to jump into anything. Even into the thick of it.

“I love what I do!” she explains cheerfully. “I love socializing…being out in the community. I want to make a difference.”

I chuckle to myself as I imagine her sunny personality between two bickering partners. But that’s what a divorce mediator does. 

“We end in agreement,” she says. “It doesn’t always start out that way; we have had some screaming matches! But there are rules to keep things positive, not raise your voice. Sometimes, if there’s no one interrupting, and they hear themselves say something over and over, they think, ‘Hmm, that doesn’t sound so good.’”

Ah, sweet harmony, more or less, in the end. 

Ellie Tipton Ortiz

Ellie believes she may have come to this career by way of her own family. She describes her brother as being particularly affected by their parent’s divorce. The feeling of the family falling apart inspired her to reach out and help people.

“I made a video from the heart about why to do mediation,” she said. “It’s less damage to families. If parents can get along, kids aren’t damaged by that poison coming home.” Plus, a traditional divorce can take a long, embattled time. “Three years versus three months. It’s more friendly: not enemies.” (themediatoroc.com tells the specifics of divorce mediation, and her laguna-legal.com gives an overview of what they do.)

I can imagine she’s seen all the good, the bad, and the ugly that can transpire between two adults, but I can’t help myself from asking if any of them ever get back together. “Yes!” Ellie says. “A lot of times people get it in their head to divorce, then they get it off their minds, and out of their system.”

Ah, sweet mystery of life.

How did this seemingly happy-go-lucky person become the go-to mediator in Laguna Beach? “I’m a technical person,” she explains, “not artistic/creative. It’s why I’m good at mediation. I’m not emotional.” 

Ellie started by doing regular legal court certified documents, “Then people started asking me to mediate. I didn’t even know I was mediating, but people told me, ‘You were the best!’” So she carried on with what she does best, and she’s glad of it. 

“I feel like I’ve made the biggest difference in divorce mediation. I think I have a gift,” she says.

Organizing and Uniting

I met Ellie several years ago through her involvement with The Woman’s Club. She has been on its board for five years, and served as its president for two years. Within organizations, just as within partnerships, there can be political differences, and that’s where Ellie Ortiz shines. “My mediation skills help with political differences, like at the Woman’s Club,” she says. “I was good at uniting and bringing people together.”

Ellie in her comfortable and calming office

As the president, Ellie created an historical wall at The Woman’s Club celebrating Laguna’s history. She also started a charitable assistance program for Laguna Beach School District families. The Woman’s Club provides supplies such as backpacks, school supplies, and sports equipment, and liaises with the schools to reach out to provide for those in need. 

Additionally, Ellie is part of Soroptimist International of Laguna Beach, does volunteer events for Glennwood House, and is an affiliate member of the Laguna Board of Realtors. “We do community things like Taste of Charity,” she said. “They all do so many wonderful things, and I want to be involved with all of them!”

Sometimes it’s overwhelming to her husband, Roland, but he kids her, saying, “Remember us? We’re your charity!”

Woman of the World

Ellie is culturally Persian, and her husband, raised in Argentina, is Spanish and Italian. Their multi-cultural family includes Jake, 19, Cameron, 17, and Layla, 15. They are most certainly globetrotters. 

In 2007, Ellie and Roland figured it was a good time for the family to experience living abroad. Their children were young enough that they were open to the idea too. So they packed up their stuff and moved to a small fishing village in Spain. The kids were immersed in public school there, loved it, and now they all speak Spanish fluently. 

“It was the best time!” said Ellie. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Roland is a motorcycle/Moto GP enthusiast. He created a business for lifestyle European motorcycle brands called Euro Papi, and he collects and restores vintage motorcycles. (“We have five in our living room!” says Ellie. “It’s our museum.”) While in Spain, the both of them travelled around on motorcycles, visiting his family in the north, and their many new Spanish friends.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Ellie and Roland Ortiz with one of his vintage motorcycles

During the summer, when the kids were out of school, the family returned to Southern California, near where Ellie grew up in Laguna Niguel…a beloved little town called Laguna Beach.  “It’s closest to the European lifestyle,” says Ellie. 

For two summers they rented the former home of Rita Hayworth. “We made the best friends and the best memories there.” On the third summer, they moved back to Laguna Beach for good.

Home is where the heart is

Now Ellie runs her business, Laguna Legal, in town, and Roland continues Euro Papi online (EuroPapiUSA.com). You may see him tooling around town on one of his vintage cycles with a group of friends. “He calls it ‘Putt-putting around,’” laughs Ellie. “But, he’s happy, I’m happy!”

The kiddos are in school – Jake studying to be a diesel mechanic to work on oilrigs in Canada. Cameron’s at Pomona studying medicine and writing, and Layla is at Laguna Beach High School where she’s also a tennis player.

One thing Ellie loves to do is cook, and she loves it even better when joining up with Layla. “My daughter is a really good cook!” she boasts. “I love cooking with her. She’s like a precise surgeon!” I know that Ellie is a really good cook – specializing in Persian fare such as the herb and vegetable stew, Ghormeh Sabzi. It’s a dish she may bring to one of the many charity functions she attends.

Cooking, sharing meals with family, and entertaining are the things that balance Ellie’s time. She’s really good at uniting and bringing people together in all sorts of ways, political divide or no. And she does it all with joy and energy. It is fitting that she was drawn to a profession symbolized by the scales of balance.

You will surely see Ellie Tipton Ortiz at non-profit events in Laguna Beach, usually lending a volunteer hand. You may see her professionally, working out equitable solutions, and you may see her sipping a latte at the café Zinc. 

Trust me, you’ll know her by her smile.



Mike Tauber: The Laguna artist very much at work

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If the name Mike Tauber doesn’t ring a bell, his artwork certainly will.  Whether it’s his beautiful tile installations all over town (at the Laguna Beach Water District or along Mermaid Street, to name two) or his dancing sardines along the wall of the Hagan Place apartment building on Third Street, or even his painted murals outside Whole Foods; if you’ve driven around Laguna, you’ve seen Tauber’s work. 

Mike Tauber

When we met at his studio on Laguna Canyon Road he was swamped. There was commission work to be done, pieces for this year’s Festival of the Arts to be completed, and an important event that he is involved with called “Art-to-Go” coming up on June 2 at City Hall. After that event he’ll be heading over to Nuance Home at the Old Pottery Place for another event… If you thought the life of a working artist was easy, think again. 

“Art to Go” for a good cause

“Art-to-Go” raises money for The Artists Fund, an “artists’ disaster relief fund,” as Tauber describes it.  He is responsible for coordinating the fundraising of the event that pools money to help artists in case of flood, fire or illness.  This year’s theme is “shoes.” 

“We encourage everyone to show up with fabulous shoes,” he says, enthusiastically.  

The artists donate a work of art they created out of shoes. Tauber had two artist’s pieces at his studio that I got a sneak peek at: a boot that had been turned into a floppy-eared dog and two wedge sandals that morphed into a bug-eyed insect.  Both were very creative and utterly unique. Tauber’s own creation was two metal relief pieces depicting a man’s oxford and lady’s classic pump.  The pieces will be on display at City Hall then they’ll be shown at the Festival grounds where they can be purchased.

From Illinois to San Diego State University

An Illinois native, Tauber came to the west coast when he transferred to San Diego State University. “I did a lot of ceramics there – a lot of different things. When I graduated I was a draftsman so I had some practical skills. I focused on painting,” he says. “I started working for the building industry in the early 2000’s. But I wanted to do more outdoor pieces. My degree is in environmental design so I like art that relates to a space as opposed to strictly gallery work.”

After college, Tauber took a job in Los Angeles with the famous interior design firm, Cannell and Chaffin. He learned the ropes, and then hightailed it out of LA.  

“I did not like LA,” he says. “I’m not a big city guy. I’m a cornfields kind of guy!” he says with a laugh.  

He took a job in San Clemente. “Everyone told me, ‘If you’re going to work in San Clemente you have to move to Laguna!’  I like the small town, the thriving arts industry here. Plus I work for a couple of non-profits so I have to be here,” he explains. And while Laguna has become his hometown, it’s one of the reasons he’s so busy, because, as he says, “It’s not cheap to live here.” 

Creating painterly ceramic tiles

One of Tauber’s first big projects in his hometown was for the Laguna Beach Water District.  “They called me to do a mural in 2005.  I decided it was best to do it in ceramic tiles. I was also painting at the time, but in 2008 I re-juried in ceramics for the Festival. I just enjoy the medium,” he explains.  

Of his ceramics style he says, “The aesthetic is painting – all the disciplines of plein air painting – but it’s not common to see it in tile.  Why would you do that?  It’s hard.  You don’t normally see those two disciplines together.” 

Tauber points to mid-20th century travel posters and the old packing labels used on orange crates as influences on his tile work.  There is a glow to them that is very painterly yet also very graphic.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

One of Mike Tauber’s painterly tile creations along Mermaid Street

A diverse range of disciplines

As a self-proclaimed “working class artist,” it’s important for Tauber to be diversified for artistic as well as economic reasons.  “Artists can get a little bit set in their ways so it’s good to do other things: painting on canvas and large murals, teaching, ceramic tiles, metallic relief work. I appreciate it when people notice the aesthetics in my mediums; that they are seeing my style.”  

Tauber makes “Art” with a capital “A” as well as “art” that helps pay the bills. “I do a lot of production painting,” he explains. “It’s not necessarily portfolio work, but you’re using your technical skills.”

One example of this kind of work is his partnership with Geppetto’s Toy Stores in San Diego.  “I do these commercial projects that are financially rewarding, but also fun.  I enjoy going to San Diego and painting these giant cartoons,” he says with a laugh. “My clients are the best. I’ve been with the Toy Store for 20 years! These really good, professional relationships are critical. I feel very lucky to have them.”

Tauber is also appreciative of public art. “Public art can make the whole area better. It gives the location a sense of identity.  Hopefully, everyone who sees it appreciates it.  It can help make them respect the place a little bit more when there is art there.”  

One of Tauber’s public installations, the sardines on the Hagan Place apartment building, is just such a piece. Deceptively simple, it enhances what had been a big, bland wall. Tauber says this piece is “an example of where the space informs the art. I like the relationship between two dimensions and three dimensions…[the sardines] look like they’re jumping off the wall, especially at sunset.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Mike Tauber’s work, “Sardines,” at the Hagan Place apartments

Why sardines? 

“This building parallels Wyland’s big whale mural on PCH. I perceive myself as a working-class artist. I like to root for the underdog.  The sardine is just as important as the big guys at the top.  The whale can’t survive without them,” he explains with a mischievous smile. “I like it that those two pieces are speaking to each other.”

Working the other part of his brain

In addition to the many different artistic disciplines Tauber works in, he also likes to exercise the other part of his brain with his non-profit work.  “When I’m tired from too much production I like to do the non-profit work, get more intellectual. The art can be very physical.” Besides “Art-to-Go,” Tauber is involved with LOCA as their marketing manager, as well as a teacher.

A new teaching gig that he’s excited about starts this summer at The Festival.  “[Artist] Tom Swimm and I are teaching fun stuff at the Festival on Saturday nights throughout the summer,” he says. “I really look forward to that. I love teaching, but tiles are too hard, there are too many steps – painting is much more straightforward. It will be a fun reason to come to the Festival. The grounds are so beautiful at night.  Come, have a glass of wine with me and we’ll do some painting! It will be way more fun than going to the same old bar!”  

Tauber sounds genuinely enthused about the prospect.  But while teaching art to potentially un-artistic types like myself under the stars with a glass of wine doesn’t sound too terrible, just remember it will likely be the 10th project Tauber has managed to get done that day. He makes it all work by working – a lot.  

Despite his workload, he somehow manages to find a little time for fun: listening to live music, mountain biking in Woods Canyon, photographing the kelp off Casino Point in Catalina.  He also likes to host game nights with good, old-fashioned board games: a by-product of his youth. Growing up in a family with four boys it’s no surprise that competition was a staple.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Mike Tauber in front of one of his murals for Whole Foods in Laguna Beach

More plans, more work

While his brothers followed more corporate routes of employment, Tauber says his “parents weren’t thrilled with (his) decision to become a self-employed artist.” However, his drive, talent and pragmatic approach has meant steady work throughout his career.  

And he’s not done yet.  

Tauber would still like to become an Artist in Residence at a national park, secure more commissions in other countries (he has already completed one in Australia and one in Brazil), and organize more programs for arts organizations, like Art-to-Go.  

In his words, to make it as a working artist you must: “Narrow your vision, expose yourself to a lot of different disciplines and turn it into your own vision. Work in the industry, develop practical skills, work with non-profits that can help get you closer to your goals, treat clients with respect, be prepared to work really, really hard – and meet your deadlines.  

“Also, there is value in taking commercial jobs that you don’t want to sign your name to.  At least it keeps your brushes wet!” 

And, he adds, “Stay humble.”   Young artists take note.


Ellen Girardeau Kempler, winner of Ireland’s Blackwater International Poetry Competition, is a poet with a mission

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

 

Click on photos for larger images

 

“Place poet” Ellen Girardeau Kempler and her “self-esteem cave” where she surrounds herself with reminders of her achievements and happiest times

Three-time winner of Laguna Beach Library’s annual poetry prize, and more recently the winner of the prestigious Blackwater International Poetry Competition – based in West Cork, Ireland – Ellen Girardeau Kempler is a much-published Laguna poet with a mission. She wants to help people to “feel in [their] deep heart’s core” (a quote from William Butler Yeats, one of her favorite poets) a visceral connection to the immensity and mystery of our universe. 

“When we are open to the unexpected, both poetry and place can awaken us to the deep link between the personal and the universal,” she says. “If throughout your life you continue both physical and intellectual exploration, you are more likely to sense the magic around you.” 

Kempler’s trip to Chilean Patagonia in 2013, during which she caught sight of Andean condors flying free in the immense, glacier-carved landscape, was a transformative experience for her, bringing home the importance of being receptive to the power of the universe and reminding her how close California condors came to extinction in the eighties.

“We need to pay attention so that we will be alert to astonishment,” she says.

Kempler quotes Matsuo Basho, a Japanese poet considered the master of haiku, from his introduction to “The Narrow Road to the Deep North,” to make her point. 

“Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one—when you have plunged deep enough…to see something hidden glimmering there.”

In this quote, Basho, who lived from 1644 – 1694, seems almost to have anticipated the ‘selfie’ obsession that consumes our society these days, with him admonishing us in advance of the perils of narcissism.

“We’re so caught up in branding ourselves, and seeking attention, that we don’t seem capable of living in the moment. It’s all about who will see us and what they will think of us based on the image we choose to project,” Kempler says. “Usually what’s in the background is ignored, but that’s where the condors fly and the whales spout and the unexpected happens.”

Also, Kempler notes, so much photo-shopping is done these days that the public is often suspicious that stunning natural photos – such as the Milky Way reflected on Lake Titicaca – are not real. “The only way to know the reality of nature is to become a personal witness to the phenomena that occur – and it isn’t always possible to predict their timing,” she says.

The value of wandering—and waiting

Kempler’s visit to Patagonia brought home to her to the realization that being willing to wander without expectations, at home and abroad, could greatly enrich her life. She recalls one of the most wonderful travel experiences that she has had by simply “putting [herself] in a place” without too many expectations. 

“In Reykjavik, our travel group took overnight shifts, hoping to see the Northern Lights, but that night there was nothing to be seen. The following night was so cold and windy, I gave up after a while and went inside the hotel. But eventually I went outside again.

“Suddenly the night sky changed, and bands of green began to circle and enclose us, interspersed with shimmering lights made up of transparent rainbow colors. It was an otherworldly feeling, as though we were literally seeing the wind.” 

Kempler says watchers reacted in almost primal ways, dancing and screaming at the sight. 

“It’s particularly important that people understand how connected we are to nature in these times of climate change. In recent years, I traveled to the Athabasca Glacier in Canada, and saw just how fast the ice is retreating,” she adds “The glacier has lost half its volume in the last 125 years.”

That’s one reason why Kempler built a website, Gold Boat Journeys, to inspire others to explore the written word and the wonders of the world in person, and to share her own life-changing experiences.

Not just a “place poet”

While Kempler is happy to be known as a “place poet,” she writes about a range of subjects. Birthday Wish, the poem that won the Blackwater International Poetry Contest against strong competition from poets all over the world, from Sri Lanka to Ireland, is a poignant reflection on her dying father’s last days. Although he, a theoretical physicist, could no longer understand complicated algorithms, he was able to read, on his e-reader, an illustrated biography of Marc Chagall, given to him by Kempler. The thought that her dad was still able to appreciate patterns and colors and abstract images in his last weeks has been a comfort to her.

 

Click on photos for larger images

 

Besides travel, Kempler loves her terrier Arlo and hosting a Little Free Library

The Laguna poet will be flown to the West Cork Literary Festival, where she will read her poem and enjoy four nights free accommodation. She’s hoping not to have to drive – one of her most humbling experiences, she says, involved a solo trip to Ireland, a pink rental car and the challenges of driving on the left hand side of the road, especially around roundabouts. The toll collector told her not to worry to pay. She had suffered enough, he felt. She agreed.

Kempler says that writing poems, besides giving her pleasure, has helped during difficult times in her life. She has established her office as a “Self-esteem Cave,” noting that like most creative people, she often doubts herself and needs to remind herself of her achievements (which include being a finalist for the Tucson Festival of Books and Ireland’s Fish Poetry Prize, judged by Billy Collins). 

Here in the “cave,” she has hung her prize certificates and a map of the world, and her desk and shelves contain reminders of her journeys to Ireland, Iceland, Patagonia and other destinations, along with books by favorite poets including Yeats, Pablo Neruda, and Emily Dickinson.

Travel is great, but you don’t have to go far afield to experience the wonders of nature. Kempler recalls going for a walk on the beach in Laguna and being lucky enough to see a mother whale and baby gamboling in the ocean.

Armchair travel that engages the mind and the spirit

Visiting Kempler’s website is a journey in itself. Here the hyperlink-clicking visitor will find inspirational quotes, writing prompts, even a writing contest, along with stunning travel photos and an invitation to use her consulting services through her Gold Boat Journeys. She’s also a whiz at social media and for a while worked as a consultant for Expedia.

Kempler, who has in the past handled marketing communications for the Laguna Canyon Foundation and Laguna Art Museum, and her husband Roger, a lawyer, are the parents of two grown daughters, Alex and Holly, and a cuddly terrier named Arlo. Since moving to Laguna Beach in 1997, they’ve been active volunteers for a variety of nonprofits including the Laguna Playhouse, Pageant of the Masters, Friendship Shelter and Transitions Laguna. The Kemplers have also hosted plein-air artists from all over the world.

“My favorite thing about Laguna is that it is an island surrounded by wilderness – the greenbelt on three sides and the bluebelt on the other. I love listening to the city’s soundtrack from here where I live on Top of the World: birds chirping, owls hooting, coyotes howling, wind chimes dinging, kids skateboarding, the boys down the street practicing drums and piano, punctuated by echoes of fire trucks, seals barking and other noises from down below,” she says.

Besides writing, traveling and volunteering, Kempler enjoys an eclectic range of activities including picking berries and baking pies, taking pleasure in the books that come and go from her Little Free Library, and watching the occasional TV mystery and drama. 

In September, Ellen Girardeau Kempler, an Oregon native who loves “green places,” will head to Japan to enjoy its natural beauty, and she hopes, see snow monkeys – and who knows what else? She looks forward to finding out.

Visit Ellen Girardeau Kempler’s website at www.gold-boat.com. You never know what you might discover.



Dr. Korey Jorgensen: Specializing in helping others

By: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Dr. Korey Jorgenson began his work at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic (LBCC) as a volunteer back in 1972.  “I was attached to the Marines…I was a doctor at the El Toro base.  One of the people I worked with was Bill Anderson (now at Sleepy Hollow Medical Clinic in Laguna Beach).  He was one of the physicians at the Base and he said I should look at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic as a place to volunteer my time,” explains Dr. Jorgensen.  

He did more than look, continuing to see patients at the clinic until November of 2014 (that’s 42 years, if you’re counting).  Not only did Jorgensen find LBCC a good fit for his services, he found the city to be a good fit for him personally, as well. “When I got out of the service in 1973 I was really ready to make Laguna my home,” he says.  

Leaving a thriving practice for Laguna Beach Community Clinic

The Laguna Beach Community Clinic was founded in 1970 as “a free clinic.” While the Clinic still serves low-income and uninsured patients it is no longer “free”, but rather relies on a “sliding fee scale and public support funds for care reimbursement” according to the group’s website.  It is a licensed non-profit agency.  Dr. Jorgensen continued his private solo practice in Costa Mesa as a family practitioner and an HIV specialist while also working at LBCC.  In 1991 he decided to take “a break” from his solo practice and start an HIV treatment program at LBCC.  

“I stayed at the Clinic from then on,” he says.  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Dr. Korey Jorgensen just stopped seeing patients at LBCC after 42 years

Bringing his HIV treatment expertise to LBCC

Before Dr. Jorgensen arrived the Clinic didn’t have anyone who was knowledgeable about HIV, nor did they have any funding to pay for such treatment.  Under Dr. Jorgensen’s leadership, LBCC utilized money from the Ryan White Foundation, a federal program named for an HIV positive boy who had been discriminated against as a result of his having HIV, and partly funded by a tax on cigarettes. However, in 1991 HIV was “still a death sentence,” says Dr. Jorgensen.  It wasn’t until 1996 when better treatments were discovered along with better testing.  “This allowed doctor’s to more effectively treat and monitor patients with HIV. Then the death rate started to go down.”

“Everything has gotten better” for those with HIV

Things have changed so much in regards to HIV since it first arrived – its treatment, the public’s perception of it – that it’s hard to remember how dire a diagnosis of HIV was back then, not to mention the paranoia and fear regarding its transmission.  

“People’s attitudes have changed,” says Dr. Jorgensen.  “There is still a stigma attached to it, but there is a much better understanding of how it is transmitted; not from kissing, not from sharing a utensil.”  

As the only HIV treatment center “south of the 55”, as Dr. Jorgensen points out, he has seen many – and lost many – patients through the years.  Thankfully, things have improved. “Everything has gotten better…it has totally turned around,” he says.  Nevertheless, there are still 50,000-60,000 new cases a year.  This has been the statistic for the past 20 years with certain ethnic groups making up a larger share of those numbers, according to Jorgensen.  

“Women of color,” Jorgensen explains, “are a growth group for HIV.  Latinos, who are a hugely important group in Orange County, for example, bear a disproportionate share of the disease in the county.”  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Dr. Korey Jorgensen, a past recipient of the Laguna Beach Patriot’s Day Parade Citizen of the Year Award, on the deck of his Laguna Beach home

Retired but still heavily involved

Dr. Jorgensen, who, up until his retirement, was one of three doctors seeing patients at LBCC, also served as Clinic Director for several years.  And while he may be “retired” from LBCC, he is still involved.  “I donate money.  I also collaborate with staff on a pain management program; I have an advisory meeting with Dr. Bent, the current Clinic Director who is retiring soon; and I also collaborate with the people who write the newsletter, a very effective tool for informing donors what the clinic is doing with their money.  My fourth role is my involvement with maintenance issues.  No one was doing it when I Ieft so…” he says laughing.  I’m just guessing here, but I got the feeling that Jorgensen would happily hand off this particular responsibility in case anyone is interested.

Grateful for the kindness of strangers

And while no one disputes the importance of maintenance, Jorgensen strongly believes in acknowledging those who donate to LBCC.  “Without them we don’t exist.  Being alert to the fact that you depend on the kindness of donors…and strangers…you must be ready to thank them.  Many of my friends support the Clinic because they know I work there,” he says.

The LBCC’s biggest fundraiser just took place on May 5.  “The Cinco de Mayo fundraiser is a fun, fun party,” he says, “and a major source of funding.”  There is also “Handbags for Health” where high-end, vintage handbags are donated and then sold to raise money for LBCC.  “We also participate in ‘I Heart OC’ as well as make an annual appeal four times a year where we ask for money.   And we have grant writers, too.”  All of these things help keep the LBCC running and able to do its important work.

Chairman of The Laguna Food Pantry

The Laguna Beach Community Clinic is not the only place Dr. Jorgensen helps do important work.  One might think that with his retirement from seeing patients at LBCC Jorgensen would be honing his golf swing or some other equally indulgent activity with his new found free time.  If he is, it didn’t come up in our conversation (and it would mean his days have more than 24 hours in them).  Rather, Jorgensen finds time to be the Chair of The Laguna Food Pantry.  

“The Pantry gives away 2,000 pounds of food each day,” he explains.  “At least one third of these folks (who receive food from the Pantry) live, work or go to school in Laguna Beach.”

From running an efficient meeting to feeding 3,000 families a month

Jorgensen has been involved with the Food Pantry for “about 10 years”, he says, and was asked to join their Board by Jane Fulton, who was then the group’s Director.  

“I became the Chair because I know how to run a meeting,” he says with a laugh. 

Jorgensen explains that The Laguna Food Pantry gets food from Ralph’s, Pavilions, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and, now, Gelson’s.  “We also purchase what might be in short supply.  We give out fresh fruit, vegetables, frozen meat, canned goods, bread by the baleful – a lot of bread.  I think we serve 3,000 families a month.”  Jorgensen says that while the group happily accepts food donations, their preferred method of receiving support is cash.  “We can buy the food really cheap so the money goes a lot further,” he explains.  They have their “Pantry Palooza” coming up on June 10 at the Marine Room.  Jorgensen says it’s a “very, very fun event” that runs from 5-7:30 with “a great band for dancing and a terrific taco bar.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Dr. Korey Jorgensen somehow finds time to tend to his avocado tree

Laguna Beach HIV Advisory Council

And still Jorgensen finds the time to help more.  He is part of the city’s HIV Advisory Committee.  “It’s mostly to educate people about HIV and reduce the stigma of it,” he explains of the group’s purpose.  “The meetings are once a month.  They are outreach meetings.  This is not a charitable organization, but an advisory committee.  But I value my involvement.  I’m the only doctor.  The rest are concerned citizens – about 20 – who get together.”  The group meets on the first Thursday of every month from 4-5 p.m.  Check the city’s website for more information.

And still more interests…

Jorgensen does have interests outside of his philanthropic work, though when he has the time to indulge in them is a mystery.  “I own and manage three apartment buildings in town.  And I enjoy doing that.  I enjoy going to the museum for music.  I love the (Laguna) Playhouse, No Square Theater and Theater Out in Santa Ana.  It’s a gay-themed theater, like No Square, with amateur actors and lots of energy, signing and dancing.  It’s really a lot of fun,” he says.

Homework, snack and a standing handball game

However, it seemed pretty obvious during our conversation that the thing he enjoys most occurs every Wednesday.  “My son and daughter-in-law live close by.  I spend every Wednesday with my grandson who is eight.  I pick him up after school and we do homework, play handball, have a snack…it’s really, really great.  He loves coming over,” says Jorgensen with satisfaction.   

Which makes me think that in addition to continuing his lifelong work helping others, Dr. Jorgensen’s got game.  

Eight year olds are known to take their handball pretty seriously.


Mia Ferreira: Improving lives and providing shelter for those less fortunate, one warm smile at a time 

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Aga Stuchlik

Mia Ferreira ups the happiness quotient in any environment she enters. But her easy-going nature, and sunny smile belie an earnest yet caring take-charge administrative style. Just ask the residents at the Alternative Sleeping Location (ASL).

Mia is the Program Manager, effectively running the ASL homeless shelter in Laguna Canyon.  With a rotating staff of ten, Mia supervises, handles case management, and coordinates efforts with Friendship Shelter for the 45-60 “guests” who show up every night at the ASL.

“People come to us very broken,” says Mia. “A lot have serious mental illness. Their families may have written them off; they’ve been overlooked. I try to engage and show them I care, remember their names. 

“They’ve been treated like ‘clients’ and now they are ‘guests.’”

Mia Ferreira

In such an emotionally charged situation it’s easy to see what a difference a kind-hearted and engaging leader can make. One example is a guest that Mia was able to connect with through her unique sensibility: It was a flower that brought them together.

“There is one guest who is seriously mentally ill. She sits outside all day. She’s earthy,” said Mia. “Every day I brought her a gardenia from my garden – and because of that I’ve gotten to know her, and gain her trust.”

Family, school, work

Mia’s relationship to Laguna and the South County has come full circle. As a youngster growing up in Capo Beach she first had dreams of going to college far from home. Of course, she’s no dreamer, so she made that happen. “I swore I wouldn’t come back,” she jokes. 

After undergrad in Hawaii, she migrated over to the east coast and pursued her Master’s in Public Health at Emory University. Proudly an activist for social justice, she fondly recalls living for a time in Chicago while busy with anti-war protests. Mia was back on the west coast, working up north in Salinas with a homeless organization – a soup kitchen, work and arts co-op when her dad became ill. She wanted to help him out and has since found herself back on home turf.

Every step of the way Mia has been involved with social service agencies, working with the poor and homeless. It’s just in her nature. She laughs, “Crazy people love me! It feels good. I’m still smiling.”

And she’s going to school again on top of everything else she’s doing. At night she’s at class earning a second Master’s Degree, this one in social work. “I wanted to learn more clinical skills – learn more ways to engage people,” she says. “How do you help people effect change in their lives? I see it happen all the time. I’m getting better and better at it.” No doubt!

Her time, her mantra, “Family, school, work!”

Finding balance

Of course there has to be balance in one’s life when faced daily with the needs of the mentally ill and suffering. Mia meditates, and has a spiritual practice. She also loves to go biking with her mom, and go with her partner and 10-year-old stepson to Salt Creek Beach for his surfing, or to his soccer games. She loves the outdoors, the beach, and creating artwork – mosaic and block printing.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Mia is the always-cheerful program manager at the Alternative Sleeping Location

In her own life, as well as those she looks after, she says it best: “I believe in the possibility for everybody to lead a thriving life.”

Laguna has come to own a special place in her heart. “I’m so impressed with Laguna Beach,” she says. “The only [South County] city that has a homeless shelter!

“So many people in the community have commented to say ‘thank you for doing this important work,’ but anybody can do it – be kind to the homeless.”

The journey

For Mia Ferreira it’s about the journey more than a destination, though there have been a few recent blue-ribbon outcomes for ASL guests. “We just housed 44 people in permanent housing,” said Mia happily. “We screened over 90 people starting eight months ago, and got 44 into housing – apartments all over Orange County.”

That’s quite an accomplishment, considering it was a countywide application for HUD grant monies for just 100 housing units. Applicants had to be screened and identified as both chronically homeless and with a disabling condition.

“Meeting people where they’re at, non-judgmental, and loving…” is the way Mia describes the ASL approach to connecting with their guests. In this way they are able to start a journey toward wellbeing, and even success. Success came to one recently. “One guy did it!” said Mia. “He got a Pell grant to go to school. He did it and has a job now.” That makes her smile even brighter.

At work at the ASL office

Mia’s work at the shelter gives her joy, and that joy is infectious. “I have a strong sense of belief that my happiness is tied to other people’s happiness,” she says. The fact that many of the ASL guests stop by to say hi, and just want to hang out with her is testimony to her approachable leadership style. She is a friend to all. And her friendship adds a measure of dignity to the lives of the ASL guests.

The destination

 “People should work in jobs they would volunteer in,” Mia says. “This work is about wanting to live my values.” 

Clearly Mia has found her life’s passion in helping the needy in whatever way she can. But the way forward for the people who rely on the ASL is something Mia thinks about every day. “We need more affordable housing options in Orange County,” she says.  “A lot of folks have only minimum wage jobs.” 

For those who are homeless with no jobs, as many are in Laguna Beach, there is also the matter of what becomes of them during the day. For this Mia would like a magic wand. “If I had a magic wand I would create, in South Orange County, a day center. A drop-in center where there would be mental health and substance abuse services, case managers, and activities – things to do during the day.” 

Musings? Not likely for long. If anyone can create a magic wand to improve the lives of homeless people, it is Mia Ferreira.


Derek Ostensen: Keeping open space green and real

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

I met Derek Ostensen, of Derek Ostensen and Associates, at his home in North Laguna that is as close to the open space as one can live. This is fitting since Ostensen has committed his working life as an environmental scientist/ecologist to preserving open spaces. 

Our interview started off on unusual footing. He and his wife had just purchased a virtual reality head set and he, being a gracious host, asked me if I wanted to try it out.  After putting the headset on, I first found myself atop a very tall building that definitely kicked my acrophobia into gear. Then I was face to face with a raging, frothing T-Rex.

Virtual reality is very cool, indeed.  But I was there to talk to Ostensen, a Laguna native, about his work protecting open spaces in his hometown, as well as other places in California. 

Derek Ostensen, environmental scientist, ecologist and Laguna Beach native 

For him it is truly a labor of love. “I love wildlife and I love nature – that applies throughout the world. But Laguna has exemplary attributes; the arts, the education system, the sense of community, and the environment are all parts of that. The ability to quickly be in the wilderness is an important part of Laguna. That’s why I feel really passionate about preserving the open space in Laguna Beach,” he explains. 

An existential decision brings him home

Saving Laguna’s open spaces started with a letter to the editor. Well, that’s not entirely true. Before the letter, there were undergraduate degrees in digital media and environmental studies, and a Master’s in ecological restoration. 

There was a job with The Discovery Channel that resulted from winning a nationwide internship search, and lined up perfectly with both college majors. While he enjoyed the work at The Discovery Channel, he says, “I had an existential decision to make.”  The Discovery Channel is in Silver Springs, Maryland.  “I had to decide if I wanted to live an east coast life or come back home.  I’m really close to my family and it was really important to me to continue that relationship with them, and with the town I love so much.”

So back he came.

A letter can only accomplish so much

Then came the letter.

Carrying on his commitment to conservation and getting the message out about the importance of protecting the natural world, Ostensen was dismayed when he came home to find out how much of the wilderness surrounding Laguna was still in danger of being developed. “I wrote a letter to the local paper saying that the city had accomplished so much but that it was surprising to me that there were still so many large parcels vulnerable to private development. But you can only accomplish so much with writing a letter,” he says, laughing.

A mentor and commitment to the Laguna Canyon Foundation 

Scott Ferguson, a family friend and highly experienced conservationist who now serves as the Southern California Director of for the Conservation Fund, a national land conservation organization, read the letter and called Ostensen to meet for coffee.  

“He told me that writing letters to the editor was a fine and decent enough thing to do, but he offered me the opportunity to work with him and learn the process by which large amounts of open space are protected,” says Ostensen.  

Ferguson gave Ostensen a job, and this led to Ostensen’s first partnership with the Laguna Canyon Foundation (LCF), helping “link corridors and preserve rare species” throughout Laguna Beach.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

A hiker sets off on a trail through some of Laguna’s open space   

 “It was a fun and fascinating experience,” says Ostensen.  “Each property came with its own unique history and set of family complications. We had to find common ground in an unsolicited way. It was challenging and extremely rewarding.”  

Some of the stories he relayed to me could easily be their own reality television show. “I’m so grateful for these wonderful landowners,” he says, telling me about one of his favorite acquisitions that also happened to be one of the smallest.  

“Ralph Hahn, who lives in Laguna Canyon, has a profound love of the canyon. He had ten acres above his house. We didn’t have enough money to buy it for the appraised value, and he accepted less for it. To this day, we still see each other all the time. There are many relationships like that that have developed.”  

Ostensen’s work with LCF has been long and varied. A consultant for them since 2003 (as well as to The Conservation Fund), he has worked to help them facilitate the permanent preservation of open space in Laguna Beach.

Preserving and restoring the land

Ostensen says that while “the majority of top priority purchases have been completed,” there are still 400 acres left to complete all of the open space acquisitions in Laguna. One of the largest remaining parcels that Ostensen worked to preserve, 150 acres – adjacent to the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and Moulton Meadows Park – was purchased by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) just 12 months ago from Driftwood Properties. 

“OCTA has accomplished some of the biggest conservation successes in the past seven years. My hat goes off to OCTA. We are very grateful for their partnership.”

Again, working as a consultant for the LCF, Ostensen says, “My partners and I have preserved 15,000 acres across California. I’ve restored 100. Yet I find that part of it extremely meaningful.  

“When you start restoring a space you don’t have a sense of nature; it has been so degraded. But in a few years you can see the wheel of life coming back to the land. I want that to be a major focus of my life.” 

Despite all his success, Ostensen is knee-deep in, perhaps, his toughest project yet: restoring Aliso Creek. 

Working to restore Aliso Creek

In order to restore the “wheel of life” to Aliso Creek, Ostensen must focus a lot of time, money and energy on first eliminating arundo, a non-native species with an almost bionic propensity to grow. It’s a giant reed that can decimate up to 75% of the native habitat, from the nearly 20 miles of creek.  

“It’s a ten year process to restore the creek,” Ostensen says. Permitting alone took three years, he tells me, and it has taken over 18 months just to kill the arundo. They have removed 4 million pounds of the stuff so far. 

“It’s definitely a team effort, but it’s our hope that over the next decade, Aliso Creek will transform from a degraded habitat into a drastically improved, healthy creek with improved water quality.”  

Just the idea that progress is being made – right now – is something many who have followed the long tortuous plight of Aliso Creek probably never thought they’d see. Yet to talk of its completion? Even more fantastical, but true, thanks to people like Derek Ostensen.

High-rises on Main Beach?!

“There could have been high-rises on Main Beach,” he says with just a hint of indignation. “There are people in this town who have contributed so much [to preserve it].”  People like the ones who marched to preserve Laguna Canyon in 1989 when Ostensen was eight years old.  

“My parents picked me up from soccer. I still had my cleats on, and I saw 10,000 people all committed to saving the canyon.

“The community put so much effort into that – and seeing that it was saved reinforced in me that people could band together to accomplish great things.”  

The event to save Laguna Canyon was huge, but there are others that happen without fanfare. Ostensen likens it to “A thousand cups of tea.”

“I feel an infinite sense of wonder for nature; the way plants can adapt to harsh conditions, the extraordinary design of a wildflower,” he says. “I want to contribute as much as I can to protecting that. It’s all amazing to me.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Derek Ostensen relaxing at home with his daughter and the dogs.  (He and his wife went to Laguna Presbyterian Preschool together!) 

And while he gets particularly passionate about Laguna’s open spaces, his work spans from LA to the Mexican border, and east through the Mojave, providing him with a lot of different habitats to immerse himself in. These habitats once preserved, however, still need attention.  

 “We have gone through the last 60 years preserving the land. Sometime within the next 10 to 20 years the remaining open space (in Orange County) will either be developed or preserved.  

“The population of Orange County continues to increase dramatically, and the open space is experiencing increased visitation. The mission is shifting from preserving the land to educating people how not to love it to death!”  

It’s a startling reality when you think of it.  With no more land left to save, preservation must give way to stewardship.

Laguna’s wilderness is not an accident

All of this got me thinking about my experience with the virtual reality headset. It’s a very cool gadget for experiencing things like a volatile dinosaur. However, it is not how I would like to experience nature. I want the real thing. I want to smell the sage, stopping to pull the thorns out of my socks while listening to a quail call to its mate.  

The amazing thing is, thanks to people like Derek Ostensen, if you live in Laguna Beach, you can experience these things within minutes of leaving your house. 

“I feel a tangible sense of gratitude for all the people who have worked so hard to create and protect the things about Laguna Beach we all love so much,” he says. That gratitude is something we all should consider.  

It’s easy to take for granted, but one doesn’t have to look far to find other cities where the wilderness has long since vanished. Laguna would look a lot different if people like Derek Ostensen hadn’t cared – and didn’t continue to care – so much to protect it.


Justin Myers: mover, shaker and willing helper

Story by ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The word ‘no’, it seems, is not in Justin Myers’ vocabulary. The thirty-two-year-old has resided in Laguna Beach for nearly three years, and he’s already made a significant impact in town, simply because he has a hard time turning down an opportunity to help others. 

Justin was raised in Newport Beach, and he jokes that during his upbringing he “volun-told” at the insistence of his mother, who was involved in some local charity organizations. But it’s clear when speaking to Justin that volunteering is not something he’s ever really felt forced into. 

Rather, he’s always had an inherent desire to help others. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Justin Myers

When he was a student at Corona del Mar high school, for example, he set out to meet the minimum community service requirement of 80 hours, which he far exceeded. 

“I ended up having close to 3,000 hours of community service,” he says. “I was involved with Boy Scouts, and I was an Eagle Scout. Serving the community has always been instilled in me, and it’s something I enjoy.”

Justin’s dedication to service benefits Laguna Beach today in many different ways, and his willingness to say ‘yes’ and contribute his time, talent and energy to those in need is inspiring. 

“Laguna is such a great community, and it’s so incestuous in nature when it comes to philanthropy and being involved here,” he says. “It’s just great to see how active everyone is in this community.”

Getting Started with Sister Cities

One particular organization about which Justin has always been passionate is Sister Cities International—a nonprofit citizen diplomacy network dedicated to building and strengthening partnerships between the US and its international ‘sister cities.’

Justin got involved at a young age with the Sister Cities exchange program between Newport Beach and Okazaki, Japan. He made his first trip to Japan in 1997 at the age of 14, and he has since served as a chaperone for students on the same trip, as well as to Newport’s French Sister City, Antibes. 

“It really has had such a profound impact on my life, to experience life outside of the ‘orange curtain,’ and the whole premise is about promoting art and cultural exchange,” says Justin. 

In 2008, Justin got a call from the French Consulate, asking him if he’d be willing to support Laguna Beach’s Sister Cities exchange program. And, of course, he said yes. 

Though he’s lived in Laguna for a couple of years, he’s been actively involved in Laguna’s Sister Cities Association for close to a decade, and he was recently appointed to serve as the organization’s president. 

Today, he’s actively working to bolster the relationship between Laguna Beach and its Sister City, Menton, France, as well as San José del Cabo. And, in 2012, Laguna Beach City Council approved a friendship alliance between Laguna and St. Ives, England; Justin is currently working with LCAD on an artist exchange program between the two cities.

Extending His Reach to Countless Other Groups

Through his involvement with Laguna Beach Sister Cities Association and by relocating to Laguna several years ago, Justin has met many other community-minded people, who have seen in him the potential to make a significant impact in other ways. 

“It’s just been kind of a snowball effect,” says Justin.

He was asked, for example, to contribute his time and skills to build a website for the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library. Once the project was completed, Justin joined the nonprofit organization, to which he regularly volunteers his time, managing projects and helping the library with its website, emails and tech issues. 

When the Laguna Playhouse celebrated its 90th anniversary, Justin was asked to join that committee—and he was soon invited to join the board, too. Today, as a member of the Playhouse’s board of trustees, Justin enjoys helping the organization with its development and fundraising initiatives. He also volunteers his time in support of the Playhouse’s Youth Theater program.

And, more recently, Justin was brought on as the director of the Laguna Food Pantry, where he works part-time. Though there are many rewards for Justin when it comes to giving back to local families in need, he particularly loves watching families in need come in and pick out healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables together. 

“That’s why I get so actively involved,” he explains. “Everyone sees Laguna and thinks it’s such a wealthy town, but there are so many people in this town that are underserved and have a need for things,” he says.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Justin At Work at The Laguna Food Pantry

As for the challenges of being involved with so many thriving charities and non-profits? “It was a bit difficult at first to kind of shuffle my time around, and tough to get people to take me seriously because I was so young, but I think I have proven myself in terms of my involvement,” he says. 

And he has proven himself in the community—and enough to earn support and backing as he puts plans in place to revive Laguna’s Lions Club chapter, another nonprofit that has the potential to accomplish so much with Justin at the helm.  

Food and Wine

Of course, along the way, Justin has also built a career for himself. An international business major, he has an entrepreneurial mindset, and he recently started his own event planning and catering company in town. Prior to that, he ran the Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery’s special events. 

He has also worked with Lindsay Smith-Rosales, executive chef and co-owner of Laguna’s Nirvana Grille on some social media and marketing efforts. Starting his own Laguna Beach-based catering company married all of his skills—especially entertaining and connecting with people—together naturally. 

And, even when he’s not working, he’s still making the people around him happy.

“I love entertaining, and I love cooking, it’s my passion… usually on a Sunday my friends are all here at my house having brunch—usually lavender pancakes,” he says. 

A North Laguna resident, Justin also enjoys relaxing at the beach, and you can find him on the sand with a glass of wine in hand when he has a free moment. Which, of course is rare. 

Justin’s focus today is getting others involved in the causes and organizations about which he cares deeply, and he’s confident that he’ll be able to motivate others—no matter their ages—to get involved, too. 

“Really, I want to grow awareness about some of these groups that aren’t as well known, and I want to get younger people involved, because there’s no sustainability with these organizations if the younger generations aren’t there,” says Justin.


Aga Stuchlik: Passionately capturing life

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Agnieszka Stuchlik, or Aga, as she’s known, came to Laguna Beach it was originally meant to be a quick stop on a longer adventure.  “I was supposed to be here for a very short time, but ended up staying.  I loved the community!” she says.  So that, and the fact that her traveling companions were unable to secure their traveling money encouraged Aga to think longer term about Laguna.  

Five years later Aga is still here, but she has made some changes: leaving her longtime position at Laguna Coffee Company to augment her passion for outdoor adventure by working at REI. She’s been in the action sports department since November.  

“It was a hard decision, but it was time to move on,” she explains.

Determined and adventurous

 Born in Poland, where she lived until she was 18 and old enough to travel on her own, Aga got her passport and went off to see the world.  

“When I got my passport I went to England.  The first time it was for two months,” says Aga.  “When I was there I knew there was no way I am going back [to Poland]. It’s so hard to travel in Poland. Not everyone has cars, like here, so it’s very hard. In England you can go wherever you want.”

She did return to Poland just long enough to finish her degree. “Then I went back to England for nine years.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Agnieska Stuchlik, “Aga”: traveler, photographer, hopeful U.S. citizen

For six of those nine years, Aga says she lived in and worked with the Polish community there. “I didn’t learn English at all,” she says.  Wanting to rectify that, she began studying English, became fluent, and took a job “as a postman during the day and a long distance motorcycle messenger at night.”  

Ignoring the rules of a “macho” society – and her mother

Motorcycle riding was familiar to Aga because that’s how people got around in Poland when she was a kid, or I should say, how boys and men got around.  For girls, it was not encouraged.  Aga didn’t care.   

“Poland is a very macho society,” she explains. “I bet now it’s changing, but when I lived there it was a big deal that I rode a motorcycle.  I just had to do it.  My mom said ‘No, don’t do it,’ but I would say I was going to a sleepover and go riding.  

“When I showed up with a motorcycle my mother said, ‘I’m not talking to you!’”

Fortunately, her mother changed her mind about speaking to her daughter, if not about motorcycles. 

Aga has not abandoned her love of motorcycles.  She is the proud rider of a cherry red Yamaha R1, and to hear her describe the enjoyment she gets from it is to hear a truly passionate devotee. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Aga Stuchlik with her prized Yamaha R1 motorcycle

“I don’t know how many people go to work and say ‘This makes me happy.’ I never feel that way in a car, but a motorcycle is just so joyful,” she says. “I know I have to stop at lights, and it can be windy and all that, but it still makes me happy. It’s dangerous and uncomfortable when your shoes get wet with rain, but I have joy just touching the air. I just want to feel the air because it’s fun!” 

It makes me wonder what I’m missing in my car with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning set to a comfortable 70. 

Laguna Coffee helps launch a career

Aga’s joy in touching air, and her freedom of spirit have coalesced into another love: photography.  Photography started as a way to show her friends and family her travels, but it has developed into a new and meaningful career.  

“I think it started in England,” she says. “It was more…I wasn’t thinking about it much…but when I moved to Australia, it picked up.  Then when I got to the States people made me realize it was something I can do.”  

Many of those “people” were regulars who got to know Aga at the Laguna Coffee Company. “You think, ‘It’s just a coffee shop,’ but it gave me a start.  It gave me a home. These wonderful people… gave me so much,” she says of her time behind the counter there.  

It was not hard to see the bond she formed with some of the patrons there. In the span of our 45-minute interview at Laguna Coffee at least five people came over to give her a hug.

She tells me that it was her Laguna Coffee customers who helped her to believe in her talent. “I met a lot of people who encouraged me to put myself out there. Stu (Saffer of StuNews) was one for sure.  He always believed in me and poked me to do more. I’m not a very brave person, but they pushed me to do something different.  Also, it’s so easy because I love to travel and there are so many things to take pictures of.”

Bravery is in the eye of the beholder

I told her that I found it humorous that she doesn’t think of herself as brave. She, who rides a motorcycle everywhere; took off to live in several foreign countries; will go car camping in Canada in 20-degree weather; or will hike and rock climb to get to a waterfall (only to find out it’s dry). To me, she is the very definition of brave.  

When I tell her so she dismisses the idea. For her, embarking on these adventures is just who she is – it’s natural.  I still call it brave, but, then, I think camping five miles away from a Costco is an adventure.  

A versatile photographer who hopes to inspire others

Aga takes her photography seriously. She is enrolled in photo classes at Orange Coast College and she says they have helped her tremendously.  

“I do a lot of pictures of products. I’m very versatile,” she says of her work. And while she has learned to photograph different things, her true love is photographing her travels.  “People are so go-go-go here! They don’t take time off.  And I understand; it’s so expensive to live. But maybe one of my photos can inspire them to take a day off.  

“In the end, I will have those memories.  I want other people to have those memories, too,” she says emphatically.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Aga sees photo-worthy moments everywhere

Some people say things like that because it sounds good. Aga means it. She wants to share her joy. (To see her work you can go to her Instagram account at @agaxbike and you can also see it online).

A hopeful citizen who will always consider Poland home

Despite her determination to never live in Poland again she still views it as home. “It is where I grew up.  My family is there.” Next up is a trip to Poland, England, and Iceland. She has also recently applied to get her US citizenship.  “They said it takes from six to eight months so hopefully I get it before I go home.”  

After that, who knows?  Her dream is to photograph penguins in the South Pole.  “They’re my favorite animals,” she says. “I’m looking into volunteer opportunities to help get there.”  

I’m sure it’s not a matter of “if” this excursion happens, but “when.” Aga is nothing if not resourceful.

A remarkable “regular person”

“When communism broke down we didn’t have anything like here. No skateboards, no scooters. We’d play hockey on the pond,” she says. “Boys rode motorcycles; girls learned to cook. I don’t cook very well, but I can put a motorcycle together! That’s how I got my first bike. 

“My friend gave me a bag of parts and I just put it together,” she says matter-of-factly.  And that says a lot about Aga.  She’s happiest in places with “no reception” and could easily “live in a tent.”  But she will always have her camera handy.  

“Maybe people will see my pictures and think, ‘Hey, she’s a regular person and she did it,’ and they will want to do the same,” she says.  

She may be right about inspiring others to get out and see the world, even if it’s the world close to home. However, I have to disagree with her on one thing: she is anything but “regular.” 


Terri Meisberger: You’ve seen her at The UPS Store Laguna Beach… but wait, there’s more.

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

It would be so easy if a person could be summed up in one sentence; he’s a great guy, or she’s an atomic expert. But we humans are complex individuals. I found such is the case with Terri Meisberger. I’ve known Terri for many years – in the way that one knows a neighbor or a common school parent. So it was delightful and insightful to discover the facets of her life that don’t pop up in casual company.

Terri Nathan Meisberger

Fact one: I never knew she was an engineer. She’s the face and the force at the UPS Store in North Laguna. She’s mom to three kids (at one time, one was in each of the three school levels – TOW, Thurston, and LBHS). And she has a whole backstory to her days as Industrial Engineer Terri Nathan. 

Engineering days

“I was living in Dallas, and got my MBA while I was working at Texas Instruments,” she said. “It was such a fun place to get started.” That’s also where she met Mark Meisberger, the love of her life for 27 years now.

In her Texas days she went from work in manufacturing engineering at Texas Instruments to tech marketing for Rockwell International. Fact two: She travelled all over the world for Rockwell educating people about Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

When the company made changes, did mergers, and eventually moved, Terri was ready in case she got laid off, and so was Mark. “We had a bet, whoever got hired first, we’d move there,” said Terri. “He got Toshiba, in Irvine.” So, move they did to Orange County, and Terri managed to continue with Rockwell as it merged with Conexant, also in Orange County.

The couple soon found that Texas style notions for a home did not match up with southern California reality.  “We had relocation people and looked at every neighborhood in California!” Terri laughs. “Got rid of the pool – check. Got rid of the 3-car garage – check. Got rid of the 3,000 square foot house – check.” 

Finally, her boss, who had been extolling the virtues of Laguna Beach, got her ear. “I hated the cookie-cutter communities, and he kept saying, ‘Look at Laguna Beach!’” So they Laguna-sized down from Texas-size, into a 25-foot lot house in Arch Beach Heights, and loved it. “It was a great house and a great location.”

But that isn’t to say that a girl who grew up in Chicago and moved here from Texas would be prepared for the kinds of extremes we all faced here in Laguna in the 90’s. 

A different sort of life in Laguna

“Arch Beach Heights was scary at first. I’d lived there six months and there were the fires, then there was the mudslide, and then the Northridge earthquake. Mark was in Japan during the earthquake. I didn’t know what to do – go to work? Stay off the roads? I was not prepared for that.” 

She was flying back from a business trip as the fires raged in Laguna in 1993. “I flew over that from Oklahoma,” she said. “People helped shuttle folks into town… they offered to let us stay with them. It was my first glimpse of what Laguna really is: people helping people. I was a total stranger. So many people lost homes, but people helped however they could. This is such a unique town.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Mark and Terri Meisberger at The UPS Store

The Meisbergers moved to Top of the World when along came kiddos number one (Matthew), two (Ryan), and three (Luke). Having children raises lots of complicated issues, and for Terri that began after her second. When it became evident that there were “nanny issues” so awful that Terri really doesn’t want to talk about it, she made the decision to quit working, and stay home to raise the boys. 

After her third baby, Terri discovered a lump in her breast. “I thought I had the flu,” she says. “Turns out, it wasn’t.” 

The “C” Word

Fact three: Terri had the kind of breast cancer so rare, she had to research it herself to figure it out.

“I was nursing the baby [Luke] when I found the lump. I was lucky to find it,” says Terri. “I’d never had a mammogram. It might have been years before I’d found it. He saved me!”

From then on, it was a brave new world. “Everything the doctors told me, it was the opposite,” she said. “At first they said it’s slow-growing, you’re not going to need chemo.” But she had a type of cancer very untypical for a young person, called “Hormone Positive.” 

“I wasn’t on the 80/20 bell curve of average cancers,” Terri says. “An ‘Oncotype DX’ [genomic] test tells the likelihood of recurrence. You have to be your own advocate.”

Terri went on to explain that doctors generally treat patients as an average without examining further for more rare cancers. They also generally advise lumpectomy over mastectomy. “They don’t promote it,” she says. “If I want to live five more years, I had to do it.” She received the chemo and endured first one mastectomy and then the other. “To me it was a high risk I’d have [the cancer] again. I didn’t want to mess around.”

She witnessed the community gathering together again in support, this time for her. “I don’t tolerate drugs well and had severe reactions. Everyone came to my rescue,” she said. “So many friends helped – brought meals, took the kids… And Mark. I couldn’t have done it without him.”

The message Terri wants to get out is early detection. She was just out of chemo with a lot of complications herself when her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her mom was told she had six months. “I feel, after seeing what she went through, fortunate to have a diagnosis very early. 

“I’m totally a fan of early detection. Prevention is a lot easier!”

Attitude is everything

To say the least, it was “a tough few years” while Terri battled cancer and mourned the loss of her mother. The thing that keeps her going is her ever-positive attitude. “Everything happens for a reason,” she says. “I’m stronger for it. I have three great kids! My family keeps me grounded. Just make the most of every day and be the best you can be!”

The best of life these days includes the UPS Store, which Terri says is like a social hour every day, being with the kids and their sports (tennis, surf, basketball, football, soccer – and deep-sea fishing. Phew, that’s a lot!), and supporting the community with her volunteerism, including raising money for the sports teams and being part of the Orange County Women’s Health Project.

The little store with it all

The UPS Store Laguna Beach was originally Mark’s baby. He had been travelling a lot for business and his company even dropped those dreaded words – you’ll need to move. Oh no, he thought, and started searching for opportunities to stay in Laguna.  The former Mailboxes, Etc. was up for grabs in Boat Canyon. He started there as the Mailboxes corporate identity switched over to UPS. For a while he got a second UPS store in Long Beach with a partner. It was after he sold that branch to the partner that Terri jumped in to help out at the store here in town. Mark has since gone back to corporate life with Samsung, and Terri is manning the helm at UPS.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

It’s the little store that can. In a relatively small space, UPS Laguna Beach houses everything from post boxes to shipping and printing services, and sells everything from gifts to greeting cards. 

“We try to be everything for people, the festivals, galleries – making the shop work for everyone.”

Their store is the number one UPS Store in Orange County, and this year the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce awarded it Professional Service of the Year. The business is a big supporter of sports, such as Laguna Beach Little League and the Jogathon, and with organizations such as the Chamber, and Laguna Beach Business Club. They’ve recently taken a second location in Rancho Santa Margarita; hence Terri is even more busy than usual. 

Meanwhile, when she’s not at the shop, or opening the new one, Terri loves to cook. She’s taken the best of the Laguna Culinary School courses, and enjoys serving it up to her friends. But she’s most proficient at preparing one thing, as her son Matt hauls in the catch from his deep-sea expeditions. She smiles, “A lot of fish!” 

She’s been in a book club “…forever! It forces me to read!” And if there are enough hours in the day, she likes to travel with Mark, work out, hike, and train her new puppy, Abby, the cute yellow Labrador. Terri Meisberger has many facets to her life, yet she remains always calm and considerate. She’ll take the time even at the busy shop to enjoy the “social hour” that it is with her many customers who are also friends. 

She has been candid and open with me, and it is a privilege to share her story.


Alex Rounaghi: A bright future looms on the horizon for this LBHS senior  

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Alex Rounaghi, a senior at Laguna Beach High School, is doing what many high school seniors are doing at this time of year: waiting to hear from colleges.  But Rounaghi may be in a less stressful position than a lot of his classmates in that one of his top choices, Georgetown, has already accepted him. He’s just waiting to see if anything comes in that may change his mind.   

One of the most competitive colleges in the nation – with a 16% acceptance rate – is not bad as a “yes” to have in one’s back pocket. 

Senior Class President, Secretary General, to name two

Georgetown, near Washington DC, is a good fit for Rounaghi since he has spent much of his high school career focusing on government and world issues. He is senior class president (and held the same office as a sophomore). He is co-Secretary General of the Model United Nations (MUN), holding that position for the past two years.  In his junior year, Alex was chosen as a Boys State delegate by Laguna Beach American Legion Post 222 and traveled to Sacramento for a week’s education in government.”

He also played on the LBHS volleyball team for three years, only giving it up this year because, “there just wasn’t enough time in the day.”

Alex Rounaghi

Senate Page and Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade Junior Citizen of the Year

There is an abundance of high-achieving kids at LBHS (and everywhere else, it seems).  So many, in fact, it makes me reflect on what the heck I was doing with myself back in high school – certainly not running an 80-student program while putting on a 600-student MUN conference, or serving as a Senate page in Washington DC – two things Rounaghi has done in the last 12 months.  

For these efforts, and others too many to name, he was chosen as Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade Junior Citizen of the Year for 2016, an honor he shared with another LBHS senior, Elle Madhavi. Not bad for a span of less than 365 days. 

“Super interested in stuff”

In addition to all of this, Rounaghi has maintained a 4.4 GPA, which means when he says he doesn’t have time for volleyball, it’s not because he’s watching “I Love Lucy” reruns.  He explains his many accomplishments this way: “For me, I’ve always been super interested in stuff. I started high school wanting to be a doctor. So I volunteered at the hospital. Then I got interested in politics and government through MUN and the 2012 election.”  

His interest in politics and government peaked when Rounaghi took it upon himself to become a Senate Page. The Senate Page Program is a highly selective program whereby high school students are invited to work for their state’s Senator, side by side on the Senate floor.  

“I don’t even know how I found out about it. I just researched it on the Internet, and it seemed super interesting to me. I applied to both Boxer and Feinstein, not expecting too much, but then later, in April 2015, I found out I was Senator Feinstein’s page,” he said. “I was super excited.  I memorized every senator’s name…it just got me more involved.”

Serving our nation’s leaders

Alex and his family arrived in Washington DC on July 4th. “It was super cool to be there then,” he said as he smiled.  

His family left when he started work on July 7th and Rounaghi moved into Webster Hall, the Senate Page Residence, for five weeks.  

“We’d put on our uniforms and sit in the middle of the Senate. We set up podiums and got water…simple tasks, but it was cool to be so close to them and hear the nation’s leaders talk about their weekends, and things like that,” he said. “It was also hard sometimes. Once, I had to work from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., but still, that was super cool.  

“Another aspect I liked was being surrounded by the other pages.  One of my roommates was from Louisiana. I keep in touch with him.  And then one guy from Kentucky and another from Nevada are going to Georgetown…maybe more.  They’ll find out this week.”

When he returned home he resumed his duties as co-Secretary General with Elle Mahdavi, who was also selected as Patriots Day Parade Junior Citizen of the Year this year.  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Alex Rounaghi and Elle Mahdavi, Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade co-Junior Citizens of the Year, at the Parade Honoree Brunch at Tivoli Terrace last February

The Model United Nations

Rounaghi says he applied to be MUN Secretary General his sophomore year. “It’s basically a dictatorship,” he says with a laugh. “They just selected me and I’ve been doing it for the past two years.”  

According to the MUN website (unusa.org), MUN is an “authentic simulation of the UN General Assembly, UN Security Council, or other multilateral body, which introduces students to the world of diplomacy, negotiation, and decision making.” Students take on the role of Ambassadors of UN-member countries and prepare draft resolutions, debate and strategize how to solve real world issues. There is a competitive aspect to this, as well, with the best student “delegates” receiving recognition after attending a MUN conference.

A doozy of an election to cast your first vote

Since he has some political experience as class president and with MUN stressing diplomacy and problem solving, I asked Rounaghi to weigh in on this year’s presidential election, which is clearly lacking in the former, and, one could argue, the latter, as well. 

“The election is bringing out the worst in our political process. Compromise is now a dirty word. We should focus on experience, not vague or extreme ideas,” he says. “It’s super entertaining, but I don’t think it’s good for our country as a whole.”  

When I asked him to describe his duties as class president, Rounaghi says his job is to “achieve what people want while being pragmatic and realistic.”  Huh. If only…

Going to college with an open mind

Wherever Rounaghi ends up in college, he says he would like to study economics and government. However he adds, “I want to go to college with an open mind. I know I’m not going to be a scientist, but maybe I will study law or business…I want to find out what I’m truly passionate about.” 

In the meantime, he has a few more months of high school – and Laguna – before he sets off on his next journey.  Short-term plans include getting a summer job and “spending time with my friends here. LBHS is unique in that everyone is friends with everyone, and I will definitely miss that.”  

Other things he will miss about home? “I will miss the beautiful beaches, views, hiking trails, and everything else that makes Laguna so unique.”  One thing that won’t be hard to leave behind?  The familiar refrain, “I won’t miss the traffic,” he says.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Alex Rounaghi, taking a rare moment to relax at LBHS

Rounaghi says he’s not worried about leaving home. “I feel confident about it.  You come home at Thanksgiving, winter break, spring break…” he says. “You can call – whenever.”  

While he’s excited, there are two people who may not share the enthusiasm for him moving all the way across the country. “I don’t know about my parents,” he says, grinning.  Of course, they will get used to the idea.  

Rounaghi texted me after we met saying he has also been accepted to Dartmouth. Will it be Washington DC or New Hampshire? Either way he’s heading east to discover his passion. For someone with a strong interest in “stuff”, it’s bound to be an exciting journey.


At home with Rona Gromet

Story by ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Rona grew up in the Bronx in New York City, but followed a strong instinct to head west as an eighteen-year-old. And it was an intuition that, as it turns out, was spot-on.  

“I just looked at a map of California and picked the farthest school south on the beach,” she says. Rona attended San Diego State, and has called Southern California home ever since. And, though a mix of fate and brave determination brought her out to California, something much deeper has kept her here: a love for her community. 

In 1990, she moved to Laguna Beach, and it’s very clear when talking with Rona that she couldn’t picture herself living anywhere else. 

She and her husband, Stevan, raised their three children in Laguna, and have been active members of nearly every aspect of their community, from school sports to philanthropic endeavors. 

“I love this town, it is beautiful. I don’t ever leave Laguna if I don’t have to,” says Rona with a genuine smile. 

And her passion for Laguna explains Rona’s long history of giving back to the town, particularly by opening up her home to its residents, non-profit organizations and those in need, and for no other reason than the fact that Rona simply loves helping others.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Rona Gromet

Park Avenue Parties

 Roughly ten years ago, Rona and her family moved from their house on Marilyn Drive in South Laguna, to their current home on Park Avenue. And, just like her move to California, Rona knew instantly that it was a fit. 

“When I first saw it, I thought, ‘I have to have this house!’ It was so warm, inviting and welcoming,” she says. Which, interestingly, are the very words that I’d use to describe Rona. 

When I visited her Tuscan villa-style home last week, she greeted me outside a stunning, oversized front door and led me inside with earnest conviviality. The home is gorgeous, impeccably decorated and large—in fact, it sits on a 150,000 square-foot lot. 

It offers sweeping views of the canyon, and a spacious, open outdoor area with a pool, hot tub, outdoor fireplace, and plenty of seating.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

The Stunning Outdoor Space at the Gromet Home

But it maintains a cozy, well-lived-in feel. And that’s thanks, in part, to the four family pets—two dogs and two cats—that also greeted me once I stepped inside, and to the beautiful photos of the Gromet family of five that decorate the most frequently used room in the house: the family room. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Kobe, the Gromets’ Golden Retriever 

Rona’s now adult children happened to be home for the weekend, and she was visibly happy to have a full house again. Rona loves when there’s a gathering of any kind at her home and she has the opportunity to entertain in a space that was made for celebratory get-togethers. 

 “I am a social animal, and I love having parties and entertaining,” she says. “I just have a soft space in my heart for people.” 

 This ‘soft space’ has led Rona and Stevan, over the last decade, to open up their home just as readily to visitors and guests, too. The Gromet home has hosted countless fundraisers that benefit local institutions such as the Laguna College of Art and Design. It has also seen Laguna Beach Live! and Pacific Symphony concerts, and smaller-scale parties such as an afternoon tea party to raise money for families in Nepal through the local R-STAR Foundation. 

And, in 2007, the Gromets welcomed Hillary Clinton to their home after being asked by close friends to host a fundraising event for the then presidential hopeful. 

More recently, the home has seen personal gatherings—such as a festive, joyous family party for Rona’s birthday. 

No Place Like Home 

One of the most memorable gatherings for Rona, however, was the 2014 fundraising event hosted at her home for Steven and Michelle Chapman, following the news that their then-25-year-old son, Stephan, had been diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma. 

“It felt really good that we could raise money and help,” Rona says. 

She recalls a band, the donation of an impressive amount of food, and a silent and live auction. But what she loved most about this particular fundraiser is also what she loves most about Laguna Beach. 

“It’s such a small town, and it feels like a small town. It’s tight-knit, and if something does go wrong, people come together and want to help each other out.” 

This mindset has motivated Rona to extend her impact far beyond Park Avenue; she’s been involved with and attended fundraising events for other local organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, and SchoolPower. She also participates annually in the local Relay for Life event. 

And she’s encouraged her children to take her lead, too. For example, she and her daughter Danielle—who is currently a sophomore at CU Boulder—enjoyed volunteering their time together at the Friendship Shelter over the years. 

As a matter of fact, the Friendship Shelter may inspire the next big fundraising event at the Gromet home. Rona explains that she has a soft place in her heart, too, for the local organization. And, when she’s asked to help out and host an event, she’s almost always game. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Rona At Her Home on Park Avenue

“I feel that we’re very fortunate to have this kind of space, so if it’s needed, why not offer it up? That’s my general attitude—if I can help, then why not?” she says of her role as one of Laguna’s most kind-hearted hostesses.


Cary Redfearn: Lumberyard’s heart and soul

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He’s kind of quiet, and admittedly a fairly private guy, yet Cary Redfearn occupies the most popular corner in Laguna Beach. There isn’t an elected official, a theatergoer, or even a Farmer’s Market visitor who can resist the siren call at one point or another. In they come by the sidewalk-full, into Lumberyard’s everyone-knows-your-name embrace, and there’s Redfearn at the helm, sure to stop by for a quick howdy-do and a chat. He knows everyone’s name after almost eight years on this lively corner.

Cary Redfearn

Private guy or no, Redfearn is the first to step up for an ever-rotating turn of community events, giving of his popular watering hole space wholeheartedly. Programs including SchoolPower, athletic boosters, the Community Clinic, and other local non-profits count on the Lumberyard largess like a long-sought oasis, where there’s room for everyone and you can be sure a good percentage goes toward what’s near and dear to the heart of the benefit charity.

“One reason we do so much with the schools [in Laguna Beach] is because of my kids,” Redfearn says. “They’ve gotten a private school education for public school prices. Now my kids are in great schools [Berkeley, and Cal Poly], and it’s because of the Laguna Beach schools.”

It’s intimately about family

The Redfearn family – Cary’s wife Suzanne, daughter Halle, and son Joseph have long understood the restaurant life. Cary and Suzanne have been married 23 years during which time the restaurant has always been like another family – six days, five nights a week. “She knows that, and understands that,” says Cary. Suzanne has been the brain-stormer behind the SchoolPower Chef’s Challenge concept, an event in which the various school principals face off in the kitchen for culinary bragging rights.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Redfearn’s restaurant, The Lumberyard

The Redfearn kids have helped out with hostessing and bussing at the restaurant too. “Joseph’s first day - he was on his feet for five hours,” remembers Redfearn. “It gave him a new appreciation for the business.” With his self-deprecating sense of humor he gave his kids a bit of advice, “There are easier ways to make money!”

The life of a restaurateur is a mixed bag. One part, it’s a long-suffering lifestyle, “It’s tough to be away. It’s a very personal business.” One part, it’s a lot of fun, “It’s one of the things that keeps me young. It’s a social world – with good food and community.”

And then it’s also one part trying to keep it all in perspective.

“My wife said to me, ‘Every now and then, when the restaurant is full, take a look around and see people enjoying, celebrating – and realize that you’ve created that space.’ I generally try to do that. I feel lucky.”

I happen to know that Cary, Suzanne and the kids are busy enjoying a long-wished-for escape together to the land of milk and honey right now. Well, make that Buffalo mozzarella and other formaggi, plus pasta, and you get the idea. Yes, mecca for anyone, anywhere, interested in food and travel: Italy.

 “I love to travel. I love to cook,” says Redfearn. The family is celebrating Suzanne’s “big birthday” all together, with Italian panache. On the itinerary are culinary adventures like truffle hunting with a chef and cooking in the wine region. 

“I’m probably going to come back with all kinds of crazy ideas from Italy.” 

We look forward to that! 

Continually passionate about work

Laguna’s ocean started out coursing through his veins when Cary Redfearn was just a lad. His family would come down the coast from Los Angeles and visit often. 

“My dad loved to bodysurf,” he said. “One week turned to two, then to a month. My parents said, ‘When you graduate, we’re going to move to Laguna.’” Thankfully they owned up to those words in 1974, and Cary joined his dad in the love of bodysurfing at Oak and Victoria beaches. 

Meanwhile, he put himself through college working at restaurants. By the early 80’s, Redfearn found the way toward his ultimate goal.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

The Lumberyard’s handcrafted feature table

“I’d been dying to get my own restaurant. I found out Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach was available, and I made an offer,” said Redfearn. “I offered to rent it when the owner didn’t want to sell. I re-opened Walt’s in 1985 as GM, with Walt Babcock.”

He and Walt went on to launch Oysters, in Corona del Mar. They partnered together for 18 years, with Redfearn buying Babcock out in the last four.

“It was my first ownership,” says Redfearn. “I took a pay cut – no pay checks, no bonuses – suddenly you’re responsible for payroll, taxes, loans… it was scary.”

It worked out well though, with Redfearn attributing that to a good concept and a good chef. By 2004, the restaurant was recommended by an incognito reviewer, and invited to the prestigious James Beard House, in New York City, for a one-night culinary showstopper.

“I brought the chef and four other cooks, my wife, and all the demi-glaces,” said Redfearn. “You get one night, and present a multiple five-course menu.”

The night was a big success, and “showed where our restaurant was at the time.”

Redfearn and Oysters continued until the dream location presented itself, on the corner of Forest and Third, in Laguna Beach: the former Cedar Creek Inn.

“I always wanted a location in Laguna,” says Redfearn simply. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Redfearn at Lumberyard’s U-shaped bar, right up front

Now, being a business owner as well as Laguna resident, Redfearn brings a lot to the table. He’s newly on the board at the Chamber of Commerce. He says he’s “a rookie” among the good people who care about the town and make a difference, but he’s “in the thick of it.” He sees the city, for better and for worse, from multiple perspectives. 

And ultimately about sports

One of the joys of family life is sharing a common passion, and for the Redfearns that means baseball.

“I coached Little League, and always sponsored, first with Oysters and now Lumberyard every year,” says Redfearn. “Also slow-pitch softball league in the summer season.

“As a family, we love baseball. We do fantasy baseball. We’re huge Giants, and Angels fans.” His eyes light up when he mentions Lumberyard’s attraction, “[Angel’s manager] Mike Scioscia’s been in, Torii Hunter’s been in…”

Baseball boosters have hit a home run at Lumberyard too. One of the fun fundraisers they do every year is coming up on May 12. The LBHS varsity team will be out front, in uniform – and waiting on tables. (Make reservations mentioning the team in order to to be included on the fundraising).

Redfearn also manages to stay in shape with basketball. “I continue to do basketball at the Boys and Girls Club in San Juan Capistrano with a bunch of old guys like me,” he laughs. “If I didn’t do that, I’d be yelling at the staff more! It’s my release. It’s great camaraderie.”

So, when you don’t happen to see Cary Redfearn up front and center at Lumberyard, it’s probably because he’s playing sports or watching sports. 

If it’s Sunday, he’s making the family meal (“I love braising!”), with a glass of wine in hand, and sports on TV.


Dr. Diana Kersten: local eye surgeon, global reach

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Dr. Diana H. Kersten, MD, a board certified ophthalmologist and partner at Harvard Eye Associates, went to the University of Iowa, College of Medicine, because it was close to her home in Iowa City. “They have this huge medical center. It really dominated everything.  Three quarters of our neighbors were doctors. It was just really prevalent. I think of my friends, seven or eight of us went to med school. 

“I remember one of my friends went to business school and I thought ‘Why would you do that?’” she says with a laugh. 

Discovering a more “delicate” surgery

Thinking she was going to be an orthopedist, she nevertheless took a summer internship in ophthalmology.  “I thought, ‘That’s so cool!’” It didn’t hurt that the University of Iowa had one of the top three ophthalmology programs in the country. 

“Lots of surgeries are pretty masculine. This (eye surgery) was like a tea party! It was so delicate.”  

It turns out, that “there’s a lot of hammering,” as she describes it, in orthopedics – the opposite of a tea party. After spending some time with Dr. Kersten on her comfortable couch in the lovely Laguna home she shares with her husband, Mike, and son, Lucas, it seems only natural she’d gravitate towards such an intricate practice. She is the definition of elegance, even with wet hair and bare feet. Her demeanor is both gentle and calm, two traits that I, for one, think would be tremendously useful for any type of surgeon, especially one who works on eyes.

Dr. Diana Kersten, partner of Harvard Eye Associates

Who forgets to mention Harvard?!

 Paired with this elegance is understatement.  Getting in to a program ranked in the top three in the nation is obviously no easy feat, yet Dr. Kersten talks more about how she had decided to go into ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) practice if she didn’t get accepted into Iowa’s ophthalmology program. She acts as though getting in was just something that happened, when clearly it wasn’t. 

I later find out (but only because I went on Harvard Eye’s website) that she trained in ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. With the name of her practice perhaps I should have realized, but who forgets to mention Harvard training? In my notes I found mention of a “residency in Boston,” but that was it.  I’m sure, actually I know I’d find all kinds of ways to work my time at Harvard into completely unrelated conversations, let alone an interview.  And yet, with Dr. Kersten it’s not that surprising.  

She is brilliant, hardworking, and formidable, yet like most truly accomplished people, she just doesn’t seem to feel the need to tell you she’s brilliant, hardworking and formidable. 

A passion for international ophthalmology

In addition to that whole Harvard thing, Dr. Kersten also completed a fellowship in International Ophthalmology.  She has worked extensively in underdeveloped countries, spending two months in Kenya during her last year of med school. “It was amazing. I fell in love with international ophthalmology,” she says.  Because she was a “little younger than (her) classmates” she took two jobs overseas: one in Nepal for three months and another with Project Orbis.  

She explains that with Project Orbis, doctors traveled on a DC8 aircraft. The back of the plane was equipped as a small operating room. The team of doctors flew in, stayed three weeks, performed cataract surgeries or conducted lectures. She did this for a year. “It was a great experience,” says Dr. Kersten. “We went to Eastern Europe, Sudan, northern Nigeria, Tunisia, Mali…It was a really great experience. I got to meet so many people. After I came here (to Laguna) I worked for them once a year for a week or two.”

New responsibilities but still committed to helping others

Still active in international ophthalmology, despite adding the extra responsibility of becoming president of Harvard Eye’s new surgery center (on top of her regular surgical responsibilities), Dr. Kersten is involved with Direct Connections.  

“[Laguna Beach local] Mary Ellen Carter started this non-profit called Direct Connections with Africa. She’s a retired social worker, a real dynamo,” said Kersten. “I went to Malawi last May and had an amazing experience. It’s one of the poorest parts of Africa. People can’t even get glaucoma drops. I brought 100 pounds of eye drops.  There are clinics that provide free surgery, but the people are so poor they can’t afford to get to the clinics so I paid for their transportation to the clinic. There is one cataract surgeon per one million people. It’s very humbling. There is nothing like it to make you feel grateful. We can be so quick to be critical here, but there they can’t even buy something as basic as glaucoma drops.”  

Click on photo for a larger image

 

A photo in Dr. Kersten’s home of a family waiting for a mother undergoing 

eye surgery

What are cataracts?

Dr. Kersten says that in terms of her practice, “I like being a generalist.”  However, she mostly does cataract surgery. She explains that a cataract is, “When the lens of your eye gets cloudy, usually when you’re 65 or older, but sometimes if you’ve had an injury or taken prednisone it can happen much younger.  UVA light and diabetes can be part of it, too. It’s very common.  In fact, it’s kind of rare to see a 90 year old without cataracts. You may not need surgery for them, but to some degree it’s just a natural occurrence,” she explains.  “To correct it you’re vacuuming out the old, cloudy lens and replacing it with a clear lens.  Now is such a great time to practice.  The innovations make it a little more fun.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Dr. Kersten with son, Lucas, and husband Mike Austin, Dir. of Finance at Friendship Shelter Laguna Beach, and their newest adopted member of the family

Staying with and helping grow Harvard Eye Associates

When Dr. Kersten came to Harvard Eye there were two doctors: she was the third.  Now there are 13, with five partners, of which she is one.  It’s an impressive resume and according to Dr. Kersten, somewhat unusual because Harvard Eye was her first real job – and she never left.  

“That’s not usually how it goes,” she says.  

And while she gave no indication of retiring anytime soon she does say, “When I’m ready to retire I’d like to slow down and do more international surgery. There are new procedures I’d like to become proficient at.”  

Trying to do it all

In the meantime, she will keep up her busy work schedule, try to find time to read, exercise and, most importantly, spend time with her family.  And just so you know she’s human, she mentions that she, like every other working parent, sometimes finds balancing the two a challenge, like when her son, Lucas, a water polo player at LBHS, tells her he wishes she could come to more of his games – something she would undoubtedly like, as well.  And while she, like every other working parent, does her best to do it all, I’m just guessing she makes it look a lot easier than it really is.


James Pribram: ‘Eco-Warrior’, professional surfer, and compassionate Lagunan

Story by ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

James Pribram can still remember—with impressive clarity—the first time he tried surfing. He was a few weeks shy of seven years old, and he followed his older brother out to the arch off Pearl Street Beach. The first set came in, James got thrown around, and he was frightened and started to cry. When he finally caught a wave, he rode it all the way to shore, beached it, and ran home, tears still streaming down his face. 

“When I calmed down, I thought, ‘That was easy, I caught a wave and stood up!’ And I wanted to get back out there. From then on, my chosen path was always surfing,” says James. 

 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

James Pribram

Indeed his path—which took countless sharp turns in unknown directions, and brought him around the world—was formed by his passion for surfing. 

But it was also a path dotted with powerful experiences beside the ocean, which James has long viewed as far more than just a playground for his sport. He has an inherent passion for protecting beaches and surf breaks worldwide, which eventually granted him a different title: Eco-Warrior.

 “My earliest recollection was the ocean. It was my first love,” he says. 

Today, James runs the Laguna Beach-based Eco-Warrior Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at preserving oceans and beaches through education and activism. He is one of those rare, compassionate individuals who are determined to leave the world a better place than they found it. 

And though he’s seen much of the world, from exotic beaches to devastating environmental disasters, Laguna Beach will always be home to James. It’s a place that taught him many of the valuable lessons he’s learned—from how to navigate big waves and look after other people, to the importance of forging your own path and making a difference.  

An Education

 James was raised on Ocean Way, off of Pearl Street, and from the time he turned seven, he found immense joy—and success—on his surfboard. The first surfing contest he entered was the Brooks Street Classic; it was 1981, he was 10, he did well, and the exhilaration of the competition hooked him. 

He started competing locally, and by the time he entered high school, he had been invited to join the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA). He thought he had the world at his fingertips—that he’d make the NSSA national team that year—that surfing was everything.

And then he found out, during his freshman year, that his GPA was below NSSA’s required average. 

“That lesson changed my life. That was the first major crossroads in my life: quit and drop out of high school, or buckle down and do the work. It taught me that there is much more to being a champion than just your sport. You need also to be reliable, articulate, and responsible,” says James.  

He made the decision to stay in school, though it wasn’t an easy one. Not only did James prefer the ocean to the classroom, but he was also born with a speech impediment. 

He insists that no one made him feel different or made fun of him—it’s one of the best things that he remembers from the Laguna Beach he grew up in—and he’s still close friends with some of his classmates from Anneliese Schools. 

“But the classroom was just never my thing,” he says.

Nevertheless, he fought hard to get his grades up, with the help of his mother, who played an instrumental role in James’s eventual academic success. James recalls her sitting down with him every single day to help him throughout the remainder of his high school career.  

By the time he graduated from high school, he’d made the NSSA National Team, helped the LBHS surf team secure the national championship title, and he’d won the 1988 high school state championship. 

The day after high school graduation, he was on a flight heading to Australia to compete. 

“It was a huge deal for me. Nothing has ever come easily for me, but that’s the best possible lesson: no matter what it is, you have to work hard for what you want. That experience changed my mindset,” says James. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Making Waves

James became a professional surfer in 1990, competing in the U.S. Pro Tour, the Bud Tour, and the ASP Tour. 

And, in 1993, ESPN offered him the opportunity of a lifetime: to travel to Tahiti, where the network would film the surfing series “Hot Summer Nights”. The show was a huge success, and James found fame almost overnight. He traveled all over the world to film and do appearances, and he was featured in magazines and on the runway at various fashion shows. 

“I remember walking down the beach off Pearl, and people were coming up to me, stopping me. Up until that point I hadn’t really grasped what had happened, but in the blink of an eye my life was different. The show shifted my career from being a professional competitor, to being an ambassador of the sport,” he says. 

After 9/11, when the economy tanked and there were fewer professional events and opportunities for him, James eventually returned home to Laguna Beach to figure out the next step. 

In the fall of 2003, he founded the Aloha School of Surfing, and his timing couldn’t have been more perfect. That summer, MTV settled into Laguna to film “Laguna Beach”, and business was suddenly booming. James continues to run the surf school today.

The Eco-Warrior

Of course, along the way, James thought constantly about the state of our ocean and beaches. With the influx of tourists in Laguna, he couldn’t help but notice a subsequent influx of trash where it shouldn’t be: where he was getting in the water to surf. And he wanted to do something about it. 

James believes that, having been raised in Laguna Beach, the desire to make a positive change was instilled in him from a young age. 

When he looks back on the Laguna in which he grew up, he remembers there being an incredibly strong sense of community. He recalls the “older guys” who looked after him and taught him to be respectful and to take care of the things he loves.

“I grew up in an era where caring for the town and causes you believe in, that was part of our culture—I remember people like James Dilley, who were a big deal. I remember the March for Laguna Canyon. I feel like I’m just living up to the culture I was raised in,” he says. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

A Walk Along The Beach

He took that spirit in 2005 to Dick Baker of Ocean Pacific, and said he wanted to get support for a major beach cleanup. 

James was handpicked by OP to serve as an ocean advocate for a three-year project that would take him to beaches around the world. His role? Serving as a spokesperson for environmental and ocean-related issues. 

His first trip brought him to Chile, where he marched with other activists to protest a paper mill that was dumping chlorine into a nearby river. On that trip, a photo was taken of him holding a cross wrapped in olive branches for good luck; though James insists that he was merely in the midst of thousands of fellow protesters, in the photograph he appears to be leading the charge. The photo became an iconic, powerful image; he was soon dubbed the ‘Eco-Warrior’. 

Bettering the Laguna of Today

After he fulfilled his end of the deal, James returned home to Laguna Beach, still thinking about what he could do to help make a change and advocate for the ocean. And, once again, his timing was perfect. 

In 2011, he famously saved Maira Kahn, of Irvine, from drowning just off Pearl Street Beach. He was eating lunch on his parents’ deck when he saw her get swept off a rock by a set wave and thrown into the ocean. 

“We still keep in touch. I went to her wedding recently,” says James. “Maira was the one who said to me, ‘Hey, you’ve done all of these incredible things, but what are you doing for your home?’ I made an important realization then,” he adds. 

In 2014, he founded the Eco-Warrior Foundation, which is different from other non-profits of its kind in that it doesn’t raise money; it’s run by volunteers who get their boots on the ground and their hands dirty. Its Upstream Initiatives and Adopt-a-Beach programs have made a significant impact locally, and they rely on participants—especially Laguna Beach residents—for help. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

 “When people show up and pick up trash, they feel empowered, and those conversations that people have when they’re working toward this common goal, well, they bring the community together,” he says.

James hasn’t gotten in the water very much since August, due to a couple of injury- and skin cancer-related surgeries, so he’s focused on slowing down, building his foundation, and pursuing some other hobbies, such as yoga and meditation. And, of course, he spends as much time as he can back at his childhood home on Pearl Street, where he visits often with his parents. 

“It seems like I’ve been trying to get to this place for my entire life… where I’m healthy, happy, and back on the beach. If I could envision perfectly my life the way I want it to be, well, that’s exactly what it is today,” he says. 

Ever the compassionate champion for the ocean, he adds, “And, I’m where I need to be today to take my foundation to the next level.”

For more information, visit www.eco-warrior.org


Raise a glass to Renae Hinchey: She’s keeping our water clear and flowing through the Water District

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Clean water direct from the tap is a standard Americans expect, and just one of the reasons we were collectively horrified at the news from Flint, Michigan. But available and clean drinking water is something we humans can no longer take for granted. It is our responsibility to life on earth that we practice ecological balance to ensure the sustainability of our water supplies. 

Of course, here in Laguna Beach we are constantly reminded of the state of our water, or lack thereof. We can thank Renae Hinchey, General Manager of Laguna Beach County Water District (LBCWD), for minding our taps – keeping them clean, safe, and flowing.

Renae Hinchey 

Hinchey will have been with the LBCWD for 16 years this June. She was in the public water industry in Riverside prior to that, for 26 years. You could say she’s been deep in water for many years.

“Water is interesting. That’s the reason I’m here,” she says. “I like the challenge. Something is always happening!”

Such as troubleshooting, and emergency planning: What if there was an earthquake up north, and the supply line to our Colorado River water was broken? 

“It could take days to fix a break,” Hinchey explained. “We used to have five days of storage supply. Now we have a three-month supply.” Phew. A broken supply line is one of those worries that keep a water district manager awake at night.

Of course, if the water is local, you can fix it a lot easier.

Back in the Day

In the Wild West days of Laguna’s ranch beginnings – in the early 1900’s, there were a few shallow wells in Laguna Canyon. Ranchers would transport the water in buckets by horse and cart. Those wells dried up, and by 1922 even the drilled wells there were unusable, as they had become too salty. So, a committee of five guys headed up to Huntington Beach and posed as a duck club to get some water down here to Laguna.

That worked, and by 1925 Laguna voters passed a bond to create its own County Water District. Despite Huntington Beach suing Laguna Beach for snagging some of its water (they lost), that well water, too, became unusably salty. In 1943, Metropolitan Water supplied the Colorado River water via aqueduct, for which residents paid dearly.

“Reliable water has always been difficult for Laguna,” says Hinchey. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

The downtown office and gardens

And expensive. “In 1989 it was $356 an acre-foot,” said Hinchey. “Now it’s almost $1,000. We are a non-profit. We’ve had to raise the rates.”

A reliable, local supply is the answer.

Local Water – There is Such a Thing!

The most important thing on Hinchey’s agenda these days is local groundwater. 

“Metropolitan water prices keep going up for imported water. We want our groundwater back,” says Hinchey. “It’s been a fight since the 80’s.” 

Metropolitan countered that Laguna had “abandoned” its well rights, and could not enforce its use again. But Laguna had an adjudicated judgment from 1933 for groundwater. 

“We got that done. Then let’s get that groundwater again!” says Hinchey. “This is my fourth attempt.” 

She added that the political climate now is different now than in the past. “We don’t need a lot of water, so everyone finally agreed. It was worth all the energy and effort so we have a local source of water. It’s just extremely important.”

Water from the Santa Ana River Basin is all set to be flowing into our taps, and Hinchey is sure it will not only be reliable, but also that rates will be able to stabilize.

Best Person for The Job

 While Hinchey was working in the private sector, she was cognizant of fluctuating economic realities in Southern California. She sought out a good, stable job and landed herself in the public sector – working public administration, for a water district in Riverside County. She worked 11 years there while also earning here Master’s Degree in Public Administration as well as getting her teaching credentials.

“I’m very energetic, so I’d work at the [Western Municipal] Water District, and teach three nights a week,” said Hinchey. She taught business and publication writing. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

General Manager of Laguna Beach County Water District, Renae Hinchey

Moving on from Assistant to General Manager at the Water District was not easy, and not because she isn’t talented and intelligent. She’s simply the first female.

“I had push-back as the first woman,” says Hinchey. “I’d be at a meeting with all the GM’s at the time, and I was the only woman in the room… I had one employee say, ‘I won’t work for a woman!’”

There are now three women General Managers in Orange County. “I’m the first, and longest standing,” Hinchey says proudly. “I speak when I have something important to contribute.” She is aware of setting a positive and competent example of female leadership in this male-dominated sector.

Learn History at the WD, Right Downtown

One of the noticeable examples of Hinchey’s influence at the Water District offices downtown is the display right up front. “I’m big on the District’s history,” she says. There hadn’t been enough information about it for the public, so she set up a big display wall with facts and historic photos. “How we got started and the progress the District’s made – all the unusual things this District has done.”

For example, the building itself is the oldest municipal building in Laguna. The Water District, established in 1925, shared the building with the City, established in 1927. They all cozied up with the prisoners, too, as the jail resided there as well.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

The District’s history wall

These days, people stop in at the relatively new front reception window. Or they tune in via social media. “We do a lot on Twitter and Facebook,” says Hinchey. “If you ‘like,’ you get [water conservancy] tips.”

And then people phone in. “We get a lot of people calling in on neighbors,” she says. “We have to take it seriously, and be diligent.” 

Water snitches will be heard.

Conservation Minded Above All

There are not so many different issues amongst Orange County cities, as all have been reliant upon imported water. “The projects may be different, but the goal is the same – clean, reliable, sustainable water,” says Hinchey. “But we don’t have a huge population here. Laguna is built out, so water can be conserved.”

Still, it was a little annoying that after so many successful years of conservation, Laguna was asked to further cut back by equal percentages to our less-than conservative neighbors. “We were buying 4800 acre-feet a year, and brought it down to 3300 acre-feet since 2000,” said Hinchey. “We took it seriously.

“We’d conserved 30% already, then needed another 24%.” We got to 22%. But Hinchey is motivated and energized in dealing with the current drought. 

“We have very conservation-minded people here. I can’t believe the things people do! I’m amazed.”

The next step will be toward alternative technologies, like water desalination. We can count on our head of the Laguna Beach County Water District to be progressive. 

“We need to be out there looking for other sources of water in the future,” she says hopefully. Being open-minded and learning about science and engineering breakthroughs will be part of the job. Hinchey is up for it.  

“I like a challenge. I love this job!”


Mark Lewis: Puts LBHS girls basketball on the map

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

As Orange County’s smallest public high school, LBHS posts some pretty impressive results in the world of high school athletics.  At around 1,000 total students Laguna Beach High School successfully competes with schools many times larger.  Certain sports garner a lot of attention (girls water polo, anyone?) while others seem to only generate enthusiasm for the players and their parents.  It’s understandable, but unfortunate because there are some great sports stories taking place in the gym, on the field, or wherever Breakers are competing.

Mark Lewis, LBHS’ girls basketball coach and 2012-13 Coach of the Year

One of the most compelling success stories that has quietly and consistently unfolded over the last five years at LBHS, is the girls basketball team.  Beach towns are not generally known for their prowess on the basketball court.  However, with a small yet dedicated squad, coach Mark Lewis has put LBHS girls basketball on the map.

A former basketball star moves to Laguna

A former star basketball player at Tustin High School who went on to play at CSULB, Lewis is now the Director of Public Works for the city of Fountain Valley.  He and his wife, Melanie, came to Laguna right after college and eventually started a family.  “My wife and I are both athletes so we wanted our kids to be active,” he says. As a result, he adds,  “I coached everything, even sports I didn’t know much about.” 

Not surprisingly, both Lewis’ kids, Brandon and Alexandra, eventually focused on basketball. Since this was a sport he obviously knew a lot about, he happily continued coaching them.

A determined daughter makes a request

However, when Brandon entered high school only Alexandra, four years younger than her brother, was still in need of his coaching services. He assumed when she got to high school, he’d hang up his whistle.  Alexandra had other ideas.  When she got to Thurston she told her father she wanted his role as her coach to continue once she started at LBHS. The problem was, as Lewis says he explained to his daughter, “It’s not that easy to become a high school coach.  You don’t just volunteer and get to do it. I figured she’d just get over it eventually, but she was relentless. Finally, I was just like, ‘Get over yourself!’” he says, laughing.

She didn’t.  And amazingly, between her 7th and 8th grade year, the LBHS girls basketball coach, Jon Hendrickson, resigned. Because of Brandon’s success as a LBHS player (he set a school record for most three pointers in a season), Lewis was familiar with then athletic director, Mike Churchill.  “No one wanted to coach the team so I went to see Mike Churchill and he said, ‘Are you serious?’ I knew [then principal] Dr. C and some of the school board members so there was some comfort there, I guess, and I got the job.  I inherited a team and a schedule.  

“They’d just graduated their top two players.  Four girls decided to quit two weeks before the season.  We lost every game.  It was a rough,” he says matter-of-factly.

“Winning begets winning.”

Lewis admits he is “probably more intense” than his predecessor was.  He lost girls to his new schedule (no more two weeks off over winter break) and demanding training regimen, but the ones who stayed saw their hard work rewarded with results.  

“I knew what I wanted to accomplish.  I thought it was fair to ask the girls to put their best effort on the floor.”  

In addition to having the girls play together, he also gained control of the schedule.  He admits he didn’t exactly schedule the toughest teams right off the bat, but they won two tournaments and broke the school record for number of wins (19) in a season his daughter’s freshman year.  

“Winning begets winning,” he says. The days of losing every game became a distant memory.

Coach Mark Lewis runs through drills with his team in the LBHS gym

The challenges of injuries and demographics

Still, the program hemorrhaged players: some to injury (torn ACLs are a problem), and some to pursue other interests.  When asked why so many girls seem to migrate away from the sport (or not try it at all), it’s clear it’s a subject he has pondered quite a bit. “Girls basketball in south Orange County…it’s a different demographic.  It’s really hard to get girls interested in basketball. It is a very physical, skilled game.  You need to have a certain skill level to play.  You can’t get lost on the court.  

“But I’m recruiting!  I go and talk to the girls volleyball team and tell them, ‘You don’t have to be a basketball player.  You can be a volleyball player who plays basketball,’” he says emphatically.  “We also do really fun things as a team.” 

A Coach of the Year pulls out all the stops

Coach Lewis knows that fun is a great recruiting tool and he’s not afraid to use it. “This year we played at Staples Center before a Clipper’s game; we went to Hawaii, Catalina…other coaches tell me ‘You’re doing all that in one year? How do you not have people wanting to play for you!?’”  Such is the life of a high school basketball coach in a beach community, even one who was voted Coach of the Year in 2013-14.  

“We have a lot of great athletes come through our high school,” he says.  “They just play other sports.”

There are collegiate opportunities for girls basketball

Maybe it’s the seeming abundance of collegiate opportunities in the other sports?  Lewis tells me that there are plenty of collegiate opportunities for girls who play basketball at a school like Laguna. “Is Laguna going to produce a lot of D1 [Division 1] players?  Probably not, but there are a lot of places for them to play at a D3 level. I have a player who is playing at Vassar. There are definitely opportunities.”  

Making the most of his opportunities is something Coach Lewis excels at.  When asked about his strengths as a coach he says, “I think I know the game really well and I can teach it to the talent level I have.  You have to know your personnel.  I’m able to tap into what makes them go.  I know what I can and what I can’t get out of the girls.” 

Walking the line between coach and father

And when “one of the girls” is your daughter, that’s a good skill to have. “We have an amazing relationship as player and coach and then as father and daughter off the court.  I probably am harder on her, but I’m harder on my better players and she’s one of them.  What’s harder for her is the scrutiny she’s under for being ‘the coach’s kid.’  Plus she hears stuff about the coach, which is different when the coach is your father.  But she knows how to walk that line.  She handles it all really well.” 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

LBHS girls basketball players practice before their CIF game

Four record-breaking seasons 

Fast forward through the last four seasons:  Alexandra is now a senior. This is her last season. The team has gone to CIF for four straight years. They have won 19 games every season except this one, where they won twenty. They won league this season for the first time in 11 years and for only the second time in school history. The team was going for win number 21 against St. Paul in the 2nd round of CIF on Saturday.  Coach Lewis was hopeful, but not optimistic.  “They are a really tough team,” he says simply.  

When a sister breaks her brother’s school record

For now, Lewis says, “When I’m on the floor coaching, I’m in the moment, but sometimes I do stop and look at what’s going on as a dad, and I can say, ‘Hey, that’s my kid out there.  That’s pretty cool.’” Like when Alexandra broke her brother’s three point record this year with him in the stands cheering her on?  For a coach, coaching his daughter, it probably doesn’t get much cooler than that.

A season of firsts and lasts

 With the tough CIF game looming, Lewis says that this season has been one of “lasts” for him and his daughter, as player and coach.  As in the “last home game” or the “last time they will play Estancia”…those kinds of “lasts.” And, depending on how their game on Saturday goes, it could possibly just be the “last” game, period.   

Regardless of the outcome, the LBHS girls basketball team has worked its way out of the basement to achieve an impressive lists of firsts in the school record book. This is in no small part to a coach who takes pride in the fact that his small team is recognized for playing basketball “the right way.”  

Of course, winning doesn’t hurt, either.  

The girls lost that game to St. Paul; the final “last” for Coach Lewis and his daughter, in a long list of firsts.



Stu Saffer: A grudging subject, honored Citizen of the Year, and Laguna’s number one newsman

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Stu Saffer is being honored as Citizen of the Year by the Laguna Beach Patriot’s Day Parade Association this year. That is the only reason he agreed, begrudgingly, to be featured in this week’s “Laguna Life and People.”  It’s hard to tell the man whose name is on the masthead what to do. Of course, he has a deep sense of community spirit that prompted his acquiescence (plus Shaena can be very persuasive).

Stu Saffer

A father’s short-lived, but powerful influence

Born in Washington DC in 1942, but raised in rural Middleburg, Virginia, Saffer has lived many lives. He is the youngest of four children who lost their father, the town doctor, when Saffer was only 11 years old. 

Before his father’s untimely death, Saffer says, “I got a lot of one on one time with him because I was the only one still at home. He was a country doctor. Our phone would ring at 2 a.m. and I’d hear his car start. He believed in treating all people the same, and giving back. Sometimes he got paid in produce, or a nickel a month from people who couldn’t afford to pay him.” 

His father’s dedication to those he served made a lasting impression on Saffer who also believes strongly in giving back.  

“Those aren’t just words to me; I’m not just saying that,” he explains emphatically.  It’s real.” 

That commitment to community is what fuels Saffer to deliver two editions of StuNews a week, tirelessly and without respite.  Well, that and his absolute love for what he does.

Family loyalty takes precedence over a dream job

Determined to become a reporter when he graduated from college, Saffer had his new career with the Houston Chronicle all mapped out.  

“That was exciting,” he remembers.  “It was my dream job.” 

Unfortunately, he got a call from his oldest brother who needed him in California to help him with his business selling semiconductors. “My brother said, ‘Writers don’t make any money!’ So a year later I’m in LA (selling semiconductors), and I’m miserable. My brother and I were entirely different personalities. He measured everything by net worth.”  

Saffer adds, “He was a very unhappy person.” 

Just to add insult to injury, a year later, while watching the Academy Awards, Saffer sees his brother, the one who warned against the vagaries of writing for a living, sitting next to Larry McMurtry who had just won the Best Screenplay Oscar for “The Last Picture Show.”  

“He was the ‘poor’ writer my brother knew!” Saffer said indignantly. “I called him and said, ‘You SOB!’ He just said, ‘Well, sometimes a writer can get lucky…’”

The Vietnam War, Great Books and other jobs

After he quit working with his brother, Saffer took a job with Teledyne. 

“They were building helicopters for the Vietnam War. I was against the war so I was in kind of a funky position. I decided I couldn’t do that anymore, so I quit,” he says. “Then I started having fun.”  

The “fun” ranged from selling swimming pools to “The Great Books of the Western World.”  That was pretty lucrative. “Those books were great!” he said. “I sold the leather-bound books for $1,600 a set. I wouldn’t sell the ones that weren’t leather.”

Saffer says he was still “trying to write”, but he also wanted to get into the real estate business.  

“I got into the mortgage business in the 1970s. I had a very successful company, Churchill Financial Group,” he said. “We sold it in the early ‘80s [which is about when Saffer permanently moved to Laguna]. We had over one hundred employees. After we sold it I went to work for a savings and loan. I didn’t care as much about money. I’d been divorced two times by then. I’d made money; I’d lost money. It was something that was important to me at one time, but then it just became less important.”

The importance of children

Something that was always important was his relationship with his adopted daughter, Jackie.  Saffer was married to Jackie’s mother and had adopted her children.  Jackie was a toddler at the time, and the two developed a strong relationship that lasts to this day, even if the marriage to Jackie’s mother didn’t.  

“We were really close and had a lot of fun,” he says about those days. 

They lived in north Tustin at the time.  Saffer coached Jackie’s softball team, and the two went on long bike rides every Sunday. “We’d always end up at IHOP. I think that’s the only reason she went with me,” he says with a laugh.  

Jackie now lives in Naples (Long Beach) and has four teenaged sons. “No one could give me a better gift than that,” he says earnestly. 

Another gift is his relationship with his “surrogate son,” Brandon.  

“I wouldn’t be doing this [meaning StuNews] without him,” says Saffer. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Brandon joined Stu for one of the Stu News community gatherings at zPizza 

Brandon was the son of a single working mom who happened to live upstairs from Saffer. “I met him when he was one and we bonded fast and quick,” Saffer said. “I didn’t go out anymore because I wanted to spend time with him. His mom worked at night so I became the baby sitter.” 

It changed Saffer’s life. “I got involved in Brandon’s life. I started paying attention to what was going on in town – something single people don’t necessarily do. He made me settle down. 

“He’s thirty-one now, and I expect him to ride with me in the [Patriot’s] parade.  I will always be grateful that his mom let us bond. It was good for both of us.” 

From printing press to online newspaper

Though Saffer’s personal life had settled down, his professional life was booming. He finally found the career in journalism that had been his dream from the start. 

He ran, and ultimately sold, both “The Laguna Coastline News” and “The Laguna Beach Independent” (that he launched from scratch). But Saffer still was not ready to abandon the newspaper business.

He says that he had an online version of ‘The Indy,’ but it wasn’t much and no one paid attention to it. “I found out that [generally] online papers are broke. They have a hard time selling ads. But I had this concept that is StuNews. 

“I don’t mind taking risks,” says Saffer, knowing profits were going to be hard to come by.   

“It took awhile to get it how I envisioned it,” he said. “I wanted it to read like a newspaper. I wanted it to have ads along the side and in the middle, like regular newspapers. I modeled it after ‘USA Today,’ without long stories since people don’t read long stories anymore. And it worked!” Yes it did.

“People liked it once they figured out how to read it,” he says. “Plus the ads are there as in a regular newspaper, subliminally.” 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Stu with many of Stu News’ readers and friends at SNL event at GG’s

The community rallies in support of “StuNews”

Not long after Stu Saffer launched StuNews, he was diagnosed with cancer. He knew the newspaper had already made an impact on the community when the people of Laguna reached out with their hearts. 

“A wonderful bunch of women in this town decided to do a fundraiser,” he said. “They said, ‘We know you won’t accept it, but we’re not going to do it for you; we’re going to do it as a fundraiser for StuNews.’  

“They called it SOS (Save Our StuNews). Four hundred people came – and the business was only six months old!”  

This was the first time, Saffer says, he was “humbled” by his community. “They kept it afloat,” he said. “After something like that, you know you have to make it work. You have to give back.”

He has, and Stu News Laguna (SNL) flourishes.

The importance of Shaena

The “making it work” part was aided tremendously by the addition of Shaena Stabler in 2011.  

Saffer became acquainted with Stabler when she was working on a fundraiser to aid victims of the Haitian earthquake in 2010. “I told her I’d promote her event in every single issue,” he said. “That was it. Then she contacted me a year later and said she was thinking of making a change. She was at ‘The Indy’ selling ads for them. I was having trouble selling ads. So we met at Jean Paul’s and I had no idea what I was going to say to her. 

“Then it hit me as I sat down with her. I said, ‘I know how good you are. I don’t think anyone can do what you do better; I don’t think anyone can do what I do better than I do. Together we ought to be awesome. I will give you half of my business.’” Just like that, Stabler became Saffer’s business half.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Stu with his business partner, Shaena Stabler 

“Shaena became my partner,” he said. “She understood what I wanted to do. She didn’t fight it. We set mutual goals and all that, but within ten days I knew she was the right person, and she knew she was the right person. It was fun! And we’ve had fun ever since. I want her to be the best she can be. The two of us have made this work, and it never would have worked without her.” 

Shaena writes the checks, Stu writes the news. 

Health issues are an uphill battle

And how he writes the news is no easy feat. Saffer survived cancer, but has had further health problems to deal with. 

“I have this thing called pulmonary arterial hypertension,” he said. “People didn’t used to survive from it. Still, there’s no cure, but I have a wonderful doctor, Dr. Michael Rovzar, who specializes in this.”  

Dr. Rovzar has a staff dedicated to dealing with the insurance companies and writing grants so that the very expensive medication needed to keep patients with this condition alive is possible. Talking to Saffer about this was a lesson in everything that is frustrating about our health care system. Suffice it to say, he is extremely grateful to his doctor and his staff. However, even with the medication, Saffer finds almost every activity incredibly strenuous. 

“The problem is I still can’t breathe well when I’ve had to exert myself,” he explains. “It’s hard for me to walk and distance; my breathing gets stressed and it takes time for my breathing to recover. That’s the biggest problem.” 

The daunting consistency of deadline days

And yet, the deadline days come twice a week regardless of how he is feeling.  “Every Monday and Thursday are deadline days,” says Saffer. “Maggi (Henrikson) and Elizabeth (Nutt) have their assignments. Allison (Rael) goes to the police department and goes through the log for me.” That starts the publication wheels moving. 

Saffer explains the online formula, “I formulate the questions and get answers back from the police department. That whole process takes a lot of time. 

“I decide where every article goes, and I send them to Michael Sterling, our web master, around 1 or 2 a.m. Then I do the final layout. That takes time, a lot of effort.” 

And keeps him up late! Many issues are not completed until the wee hours, but Saffer feels that sense of accomplishment twice a week, every week, with no time off. 

“I’m very proud of every issue. It seems daunting, but it’s just fun,” he says. “Especially now. I really can’t do anything else! That’s one reason I love it so much. It’s my lifeline; it keeps me alive.”

A natural hitter and happiness

Another thing that undoubtedly keeps Stu Saffer going is his love of sports, particularly baseball. He is an admitted sports nut.  

Baseball is a particular favorite because back in the day he was a gifted hitter. “I was a pure hitter,” he says. “I could hit like the best of them. You can’t learn to be a hitter; you just have it. 

“People said I could do whatever I wanted in baseball, and maybe I could have, but what they didn’t tell me was the second part of that, which is that you can do anything if you make sacrifices. I learned that with Brandon. If I’d learned that sooner, who knows? I do know that I wouldn’t be any happier than I am now.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

This year, the Patriot’s Parade will celebrate 50 years – and Stu, as 

Citizen of the Year

Part of that happiness is due to his selection as this year’s Citizen of the Year.  “When Charlie Quilter [the president of the Patriots Day Parade Association] called me and said I’d been chosen, he asked, ‘Would I accept it?’ said Saffer. “I guess I have a reputation of not accepting tributes. But this really humbled me. It made me feel wonderful.  

“I love what I do. And I love it for all the right reasons. I consider myself to be the luckiest guy around. I get to write about the town that I love. I just feel lucky to be here.  And then to be Citizen of the Year…nothing could make me happier than that.” 

Finding a replacement…as if

Saffer says that he wanted StuNews to “make Laguna Beach a little smaller.” I think everyone would agree that he has achieved that goal. Next up is to find Stu II.  

“In my perfect world I will find my replacement,” he says rather hopefully. “I will find someone who has a passion for Laguna as I do.” 

And while he may entertain the idea of finding someone to fill his shoes, we all know there’s only one Stu – and he is more than StuNews, which is saying a lot.


Laguna’s Nicole Anderson on family, community and what work/life balance means to her 

Story by ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Nicole Anderson

We’re sitting in Nicole’s pristine, beautifully decorated North Laguna office—which is as warm and inviting as the attorney herself—when I ask her about the photographs that will accompany this piece. I suggest that they be portraits taken at Anderson Law Group Inc., the thriving law firm she founded and runs today. But Nicole has a different idea.

 “Can we take them at my home, with my family?” she asks. “It wouldn’t feel right to have photos done without them present. They are a better reflection of who I am.”

The sentiment is quintessential Nicole, a bright and successful self-starter who, at the end of the day, is all about her family; Nicole is married to Laguna native Peter Anderson, and they have two young sons, William and Barrett. 

But Nicole, in addition to working as a practicing attorney and spending quality time with her family, is active in the Laguna Beach community, and a devoted volunteer. I sat down with her to learn exactly what it is that motivates her, and how she balances it all.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Nicole and Peter Anderson with their sons, William (5) and Barrett (3)

Colorado—Where It All Began 

Nicole graduated in 2004 from Colorado College (CC), where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in International Political Economy and had the opportunity to study economics and international law abroad for a year at the London School of Economics.

During her freshman year at CC, she met Peter Anderson, who was studying geology and who happened to be a third-generation Lagunan. Though the two dated throughout college, they parted ways briefly to pursue graduate school opportunities. For Nicole, that meant returning to her home state of Michigan, where she earned her J.D. from Wayne State University Law School.

Nicole’s father works in estate planning and business law, and one of her first jobs growing up was making copies in her dad’s office. 

“He’s always been a mentor to me,” says Nicole.  

Following law school, Nicole clerked for the United States Attorney in Detroit, Michigan, and then served as a law clerk for the Honorable Judge Gadola, Federal Judge of the Sixth Circuit, as well as for Cline, Cline & Griffin in Michigan. 

Ultimately, Nicole relocated to Laguna Beach, married Peter Anderson, and earned her Masters of Law from Chapman University School of Law in 2011. As for adjusting to life in Laguna? “I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” she says.

Anderson Law Group, Inc.

In 2008, Nicole was working as a partner at the Law Offices of Anderson and Le in Orange County when she made an important realization: the intense hours required of her as partner were not conducive to a healthy work/life balance.

“At that point, I thought to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I wanted to become a mom, and I wanted more flexibility in my life,” says Nicole.  

She made the decision to start Laguna Beach-based Anderson Law Group Inc. in 2009, which presented to Nicole an incredible opportunity for growth, as well as a new standard for work/life balance. 

“The firm grew slowly, but it was just me. And it’s not just about practicing law—it’s learning how to run a business. After doing it all myself, I truly respect self-starters, and as a business law attorney, I’m better able to help people navigate the process of starting their own businesses,” says Nicole.

Today, it’s a highly specialized firm that’s dedicated to estate and business planning law. Roughly 90% of Nicole’s clients are based in Laguna Beach, and she’s found success largely through word-of-mouth referral. 

Founding Anderson Law Group has enabled Nicole to keep her family at the forefront, to take vacations, and to inspire her all-female staff of four to seek a similar balance. 

 For Nicole, it also means entirely free weekends with her boys. She loves to bike down to the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, practice yoga, hit the beach, and explore the trails behind her family’s Canyon Acres home during her downtime.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

The Anderson Family

And, of course, regular date nights are a must, too. She and Peter, an engineering geologist who recently founded his own company, can be found dining at local eateries such as La Sirena, Broadway, and 230 Forest. 

“Peter is very involved, and he keeps the family running!” says Nicole. 

Bettering Laguna for The Next Generation

 A flexible schedule also frees up space for Nicole to volunteer her time to multiple community organizations. Giving back has always been a part of her life, and it was her parents who instilled that value in her, having led by example. Her father was president of their hometown’s community foundation for ten years, and her mother is a nurse who has volunteered her time at a community clinic.  

Community service is essential to Nicole, and she simply can’t imagine seeing it any other way. 

“I love Laguna. Without this town and this community I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s so important to give back, and in the end you get way more than you give,” says Nicole. 

She has dedicated her time to the Laguna College of Art and Design, where she served on the Board of Trustees from 2009-2014. And today she works with the Laguna Beach Community Foundation as a three-year member of the Board of Trustees. 

With two children who will go through the Laguna Beach school system, Nicole has also taken an interest in supporting education-based non-profits. She serves on the endowment committee for both the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach and SchoolPower’s Endowment. 

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Nicole and Peter’s eldest son William with Oscar, the family’s Black Lab

Nicole is particularly excited about her volunteer work with an organization called NextGen, of which she’s been a part for several years. NextGen is aimed at engaging the ‘next generation’ of Laguna Beach locals, and inspiring them to give back to and get involved with their community, especially as it pertains to playing a role in shaping Laguna’s future. 

“If we don’t use our voices, they’ll never be heard,” she says. 

Nicole helps run and host fundraisers and events for the organization, and she works to motivate younger residents to attend City Council meetings and get involved with Laguna’s multitude of non-profit organizations. 

Ultimately, the family-focused and hardworking Nicole wants to ensure that Laguna remains the wonderful place it is both for her own children, and for generations to come. 

“I’m usually the youngest person on the boards I serve, so I’m working to engage younger generations to become a part of the decision-making in Laguna Beach that will affect all of us and our kids,” says Nicole.


Brian Crawford: Capturing the beauty of yoga

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Brian Crawford moved to Laguna as a sophomore in high school, he says it was a good, and much needed, chance to start fresh. Coming from the Bay Area, Laguna Beach was nevertheless a familiar place as his family had visited many, many times. He fit right in, becoming friends with the skim boarding crew. He says he would just sit and watch from the beach: No video, no photography, just watching.  

Before he moved south, Crawford says he used to make home movies, but in Laguna his friends made skateboarding videos. That was their thing, and so he let that interest go. His interest behind the camera would, however, return – in a big way.

Click on photo for a larger image

Brian Crawford

 “Once I graduated from Laguna [Beach High School], I needed to figure what the hell to do,” says Crawford.  First he went to work for his brother-in-law’s car dealership, but in 2008 he lost that job. It was both a curse and a blessing. He went back to his interest in videos and moved to Los Angeles to see what would come of it. 

The most important thing that came of it was Crawford’s realization that he needed to get sober, and that where he lived was “so important” to his mental state.  

So back to Laguna he came.

Stu News Laguna photographer

One evening Crawford took at picture of the sun setting at Oak Street. He remembers thinking, “This looks like a decent shot.” So he sent it to his dad for a second opinion. His dad agreed. “I’d been reading Stu News Laguna so I sent the picture to Stu, saying ‘I thought you’d like this photo’.” He did, and Crawford eventually began working for StuNews as a photographer.  

He was also working at Gina’s delivering pizzas, and says that on his deliveries, “I would drive a pizza up to Top of the World. It would be sunset, and I’d see an image while on this delivery. I’d post it to Stu and it was so awesome to get recognized for what I was doing.”

Adding a human element to his photos

Four years ago, with his creative eye working, Crawford happened to spy Liz Campbell at The Stand. Liz is a yoga instructor at Ritual Yoga.  “I love nature photography, but I’d never done people with it. But Liz has these beautiful tattoos and I thought it would be cool to shoot her at the Top of the World caves,” explains Crawford. 

“She was a little freaked out, a little hesitant, but she came, and we went to the caves. We had such a rad experience. It was just like creating a landscape photo, but adding the dimension of a human adds a whole other level…it’s harder and more beautiful. These yoga poses are so beautiful. Yoga is one of the most beautiful things!”

From these modest beginnings, Crawford has built a name for himself as a well-respected yoga photographer. 

Ritual Yoga leads to Instagram – and a career

“Liz’s shoot was really successful. I approached Ritual Yoga. When they saw the photos they were like, ‘This is so rad. We like your photographs! You’re doing our website.’ 

“So I shot a lot of images.  And I got paid!” he says with a laugh.  “I thought this might work for me. I may not be working at Gina’s for the rest of my life.”

Things really picked up when he finally acquiesced to his friend’s advice and went on Instagram.  

“I was always against it, but I thought, ‘All right, I’ll give it a shot.’ So I put some photos on Instagram and I got totally inspired,” he says. “There was this great feedback from the yoga community. I enjoyed making people feel inspired and happy.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Photos by Brian Crawford photography

Crawford’s photos combine the beauty of nature and yoga

Crawford’s niche has allowed him to travel all over the world.  

“I started to gain a following. I found a passion for yoga photography. I fell in love with it,” he says. “I love meditation – and yoga is based around meditation. As I got deeper into it I thought, I need to get involved with these people. This is my path. So I started marketing myself as a yoga photographer. 

“In two years, I have 20,000 Instagram followers. I have followers who have a million followers, who have reached out to me. Yoga is a small world, but it’s not too small. I’ve been able to make a name for myself.”

An idol becomes a friend

When we met, Crawford had just returned from Hawaii a week ago.  It marked a pinnacle of his career thus far. “I have this musician…my favorite musician ever. I listen to him every day!” He said. “Then we connected on Instagram, and he started following me. I was so honored! 

“I was working on Kauai and he lives on Maui. I reached out to him. I came to his house and I took photos of him and his daughter. He trusted me. He let me into his home. We became friends.  

“Everything I wanted to do – I accomplished last week. I joked with my parents that I was retiring,” says Crawford who seemed genuinely surprised and humbled by his good fortune. 

The musician, whose name he mentioned much later in our interview, is known as “The Grouch.”  

Since he still needs to make a living, Crawford will not be retiring, despite his recent accomplishments, anytime soon. 

 Motivated to share the beauty of yoga  

His next goal is to cultivate a celebrity clientele to elevate his exposure as well as attract a larger audience to the beauty of yoga.

 “I want to inspire people who don’t know yoga to try it,” he says. 

Crawford practices yoga every day. As a testament, he cites his personal experience. “I blew my back out a year ago. I went to the hospital; I could not move,” he said.  “I thought my career was over. Once I focused on my physical therapy, I realized it’s side by side with yoga. I just needed to hit my yoga program twice as hard.”  

Doing so has helped Crawford reach healthy, spiritual, and artistic heights.  

“That’s what life is about.  You have to get rid of these things that stand in your way. Living a healthy, conscious lifestyle inspired me to be my better self.”  

It has also helped launch a career. 

 

Brian Crawford’s work can be followed on Facebook at www.faceook.com/Briancrawfordphotography, on his website, www.briancrawfordphotography.com, or on Instagram at @Briancrawfordphotography.


Katie Bond: a caring heart in Laguna – and Africa

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Katie Bond lives with her feet firmly planted in two worlds. Here on U.S. soil, she manages to keep grounded with her practice of yoga. On the other side of the world, she connects through The Peace Exchange, her non-profit creating fair trade business opportunities for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These are the two worlds Katie has a deep connection with, body and soul. 

Katie Bond

There was a time when Katie Bond was a small-town, Midwestern farm girl. Her family still operates the Ohio farm, Bond Family Cattle, and they’ve raised grand champion cows and pigs. Most of her family were also teachers: Dad, a school principal, mom and brother both teachers. She became smitten with the west coast, though, because of great uncle Noah. He was the Deputy Sheriff of Orange County.

“Mom and dad couldn’t afford [to live here], but loved road trips to visit him for summer vacation,” Katie remembers. “Ride horses… go to Disneyland… I thought California was magical!”

When she had an opportunity to transfer from college in Ohio to Cal State Fullerton, she took it. Despite leaving familiar surroundings, Katie was drawn to the sunny side of life.

“We had just come out for Christmas, and the sun was out at Balboa Island, and I thought, wow, I’m at the beach!”

At Fullerton, Katie majored in Communication, and went on to grad school at Azusa, where she was made an offer to teach. After almost seven years of teaching, though, she realized that wasn’t her passion.

“I thought, I’m 29 and I have a great job, but I never wanted to be a school teacher,” she said. 

“I wanted to move to Laguna and teach yoga!”

Feeling the lightness in Laguna

Katie acknowledges having “always been into fitness” (she was even on the cheer team at university), but yoga was something else altogether. She learned the practice of yoga when she moved to California (of course!), and it just took hold of her – body and spirit. Being able to teach yoga was a dream come true, but folks back home thought it was a little weird, like some kind of cult.

Katie laughs, “Friends sent letters, ‘Are you okay? We’re worried about you!’”

She’s now in her eighth year of teaching yoga at The Art of Fitness, in Laguna, as well as spin classes. 

“I love the yin and yang of spin and yoga. They’re opposite,” says Katie. “It’s about good music, creating a feeling of lightness, sharing some good energy.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

On her way to yoga, by the beach. What could be better?

In addition to yoga, Katie’s mind was opened to another world once she moved to California. She was working at a store at the same time she was teaching, to make ends meet. The store, called 10,000 Villages, introduced her to the concept of Fair Trade. And in addition to being a lifelong active-fitness person, she is also a lifelong do-good-things person. Fair trade became the motto for her next phase of life.

Fair Trade makes a difference

“I always wanted to encourage people, and work internationally,” Katie said. “Fair trade makes it all come together. You’re helping people in extreme poverty – you’re getting at their basic needs. Education helps get people out of poverty. Fair trade businesses enable them to have money to send their kids to school.”

For businesses to be accredited as Fair Trade they must be certified by three different governing bodies. In this way it is ensured that workers are paid directly a fair wage, without corruption, abuse, and graft. 

“Fair Trade has to have less than five middle men. There are usually eighteen,” explains Katie. “You’re working in the poorest of the poor places and making an opportunity the people wouldn’t otherwise have.” 

One day while working at the 10,000 Villages store, an invited speaker came to talk about life in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That was it: the thing that resonated with her heart.

“Congo chose me,” she states simply.

The Peace Exchange – global and local

“Congo is poor, and known as the sexual violence capitol of the world. With that knowledge you can’t not do something,” Katie says. “Education is powerful!”

She thought, how can we help?

Katie started The Peace Exchange. Raising money and raising awareness, she found like-minded people to partner with, and set up sewing centers in the Congo to provide local women with economic opportunities.  

“We provide resources, pay shipping, and pay workers a fair wage,” says Katie. “The women there are victims of sexual violence. We have guarded, gated – protected sewing centers.” 

The danger of sexual assault is an every day fear for the women of the Congo. According to Katie, the first conviction of a rapist only happened five years ago. Women are regarded with very little respect, but the sewing centers created by The Peace Exchange have opened a window for change. The women work only in the daylight hours so they will be safely home before dark. (Laguna’s non-profit, Wheels for Life, has recently given them a grant so that the women can have bikes to ride to their work as well).

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Photo by The Peace Exchange

Seamstresses at work at one of the three Peace Exchange sewing centers

The employed seamstresses not only have money to provide for their families, but they have a newfound sense of respect and dignity.

“It’s about connecting with people,” says Katie. “I talk with a woman about her rape, and then a year later she tells me how she’s a breadwinner, and sending her kids to school. I feel I owe it to them to have the opportunity to succeed.

“It’s something I feel born to do. I love Africa.” 

Katie had an affinity for Africa ever since she was little. She smiles, “I’d ask my parents every year at Christmas for an African brother or sister.” Now she has them.

“Thirty-three sisters in the Congo who count on me!”

Products to market

The Peace Exchange products, including tote bags, yoga bags, and clothes are handmade with colorful African fabrics. They are shipped to distribution centers, such as the one Katie set up in her hometown in Ohio, staffed with volunteers, retired teachers and friends (“They’re still not sure about yoga!”). Presently, The Peace Exchange is getting their products into stores in the U.S. and the U.K, where they are doing a fashion show this year with models from Congo included.

The products can often be found at the Farmer’s Market here in Laguna, and in local stores such as Laguna Coffee Co.