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By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150When you saw first read this headline, did it rhyme? Or did it sound like Reed/Dred?

How well would you do in the classroom—where reading is everything—if you couldn’t figure out the sounds that letters make?

“Just try harder.” “Just concentrate.” “Just care more.” That’s what struggling readers are told often told.

Or even better, “Just sound it out.” Right. In fact, sound out the word right, tight, might. If you can’t remember that gh is silent, it’s not much help.

Then if you do remember that gh is silent, it’s not much help when you encounter words like rough or tough or cough (oh, and by the way, rough and tough sound the same but cough doesn’t). Because in those words, the gh sounds like F.

Remember that, too.

‘F’ like in the Feeling of Failure that surrounds so many students in school today. ‘F’ as in the grade too many of them receive. Kids who are smart, motivated and curious. Kids who have a neurological difference in their brains that can make the typical classroom tasks, like remembering all the rules of spelling, silent letters, and sight words, reasons for no end of their misery.

Compounding their difficulty is that they may be able to tell you a richly detailed story, but writing it is problematic—so their assessments rarely reflect their knowledge or their intelligence.

That’s the dilemma faced by 1 in 5 students who must to be taught to read in a different way from the rest of the kids. The kids with dyslexia. And if they’re not taught with a multi-sensory, multi-modal, research-based reading program proven to work, their ability to read will plateau off at about a third-grade level and stay there.

Until some adult figures it out, and helps them get the specific help they need. But parents, teachers, administrators are often baffled by these kids who work hard and have the reputation as “slow readers” or kids who “don’t test well.”

Far too many of these kids manage to underachieve their way all the way through the school system, and show up at City College, where they finally get tested and learn the reason for their difficulties: an undiagnosed learning disability, with processing issues, often times dyslexia.

Too often, they don’t find out until they are adults working to help their own children who are struggling to read. Count the financial wizard Charles Schwab (and Santa Barbara High School graduate Class of 1955) and the brilliant director Steven Spielberg in that group.

Dyslexia Awareness Month displayOctober is National Dyslexia Awareness Month. Locally, it’s been so designated by our County Board of Supervisors and by our Mayor and City Council. Our Santa Barbara Unified School District is doing more to increase local awareness than ever before—including creating a display at La Cumbre Mall.

And this Thursday, at the Parent Resource Center at the school district office (720 Santa Barbara Street), I’ll be holding an Open House from 1p.m. to 5 p.m., and showing the acclaimed film, “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia.” It’s the least we can do for our 1 in 5 kids who learn differently and depend on us to know how to teach them so they can learn to read, write, and do their best in school.

For more information, contact Cheri Rae at

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(Cough) Déjà-vu All Over Again (Cough, Cough)

by Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150A decade ago, my healthy, strong second-grade son contracted pertussis, aka whooping cough. He had been fully immunized against this bacterial disease, but he got it anyway. Of all the childhood colds and flus, aches and pains, accidents and infections, the bout with whooping cough was by far the worst—and the after-effects went on forever.

In all the heated discussion about vaccines and anti-vaccines, here’s a little light: No one hears about the broken ribs, the weakened immune systems, the damaged bronchial tubes, the lost stamina, the time away from school. The amount of time it takes to fully heal.

Because his bronchial tubes were so damaged from the weeks that turned into months of coughing spasms, my son was left with “reactive airway disease,” and was under the care of our community’s asthma guru, Dr. Liebhaber. For four years he had an inhaler, one at home, one at school. He took Advair and Singulair, and sometimes, when his breathing was bad, he had to take doses of Prednisone. The humidifier was our best friend; dry, hot weather our worst enemy. During the ashy, particulate-filled days of the Tea, Zaca and Jesusita fires, he had to leave town.

There were ugly side effects to the powerful drugs, but he needed them to get better.

It was a long, tough journey back, and now that strapping high school senior is a picture of good health.

But here come the news reports that vaccine-preventable whooping cough is back in Santa Barbara. A disease that was nearly eradicated nationwide has taken hold across the state and far beyond—and there have been a few additional breakouts in town in the past 10 years.

I’ve been keeping track because it was such an unexpected and traumatic upheaval in our lives, that included a period when our family was quarantined in our home. I researched whooping cough. Wrote about it. Spoke out about it years ago on the “Today Show” and just last year I flew across the country to appear on a medical show on Public Television called “Second Opinion.” In short, I know more about whooping cough than any parent ought to.

In the past 10 years, a few things have changed: The FDA approved a booster shot for whooping cough, and it’s supposed to be given to every incoming high school student. But now, more parents have learned about “Personal Belief waivers” and have declined to immunize their children.

Despite widespread scientific evidence debunking the link between autism and vaccines the myth continues out of the mouths of politicians and celebrities and internet anti-vaxx “experts.” And we also know that the concept of herd immunity requires individuals to take responsibility for public health, and collectively vaccinate—to protect our own children and the community at large.

But still incidence of this awful disease keeps rising. And it is awful long after the 100 days of coughing finally subside.

These new cases of whooping cough will once again raise the voices of the organic, holistic, homeopathic-for-everything, believers in the notion that thinking positive thoughts and lots of fresh air and sunshine will keep the negative things in life away. They won’t want to listen to the fact that Bordetella pertussis is one highly communicable and very nasty germ that attacks anyway, no matter how pure your diet or your thoughts. And unless and until we change our thinking, and our actions, now that it’s taken hold again, it’s never going away.

Editor’s Note: A healthy herd immunity rate is around 95 percent. Waldorf is hardly the only school that has had an outbreak of whooping cough in recent years. Plenty of other public and private schools have had them as well. A Look up the immunization rate at your child’s school:

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Water Waste/Water Wise

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150The drought is never far from our minds, and certainly not out of sight, here in parched Santa Barbara. Our lawns are long-gone, native plants are drying out, specimen trees are giving up, and even succulents are drooping. It’s been a long time since the dolphins in the landmark fountain have been splashed with water.

Governor Brown might have declared a water emergency for all the state, but from what I’ve seen lately, not everyone is paying much attention at all.

I often visit relatives in Orange County, and as far as I can tell, no one notices there’s a drought there, where sprinklers flow and gardens grow lush and green just miles from the Happiest Place on Earth.

WESTLAKEThis past weekend, I had lunch with friends who live in LA at our halfway point, Westlake Village. We met at a restaurant where, apparently there is no worries about the drought there, either. At this faux Tuscan villa, complete with a well-tended vineyard, the fountains are flowing, the misters are misting, even on just a day that didn’t get past the 80s.

While the drought is certainly statewide issue, it’s obviously a matter of politics and community awareness in the ways it’s approached. Some, apparently unconcerned about the drought, hold onto the unforgettable words uttered by William Mullholland when he opened the California Aqueduct in 1913, “There it is. Take it.”

And they just keep on taking with little thought of where it comes from. Or who else might be affected.

Here on the Central Coast, we don’t exactly have the luxury of ignoring water worries, as my friend pointed out. She is a professor of California History at a state university—someone who understands well the history of Water Wars in the Golden State. As she and her husband contemplate retirement some years from now, access to water is one of their main considerations. Last time we talked, they were still thinking about relocating to the Santa Barbara area as a retirement destination, but not anymore.

“Let’s face it,” she reminded me, “The Central Coast is one of the most vulnerable spots in all of California when it comes to water.” All we have to do is look at Lake Cachuma, and it becomes pretty obvious—there isn’t much left around here. And re-furbishing the long-mothballed and virtually unused desal plant raises all kinds of environmental and economic questions for residents and potential ones.

During our ladies’ lunch we also touched on drought-emergency craziness of growing alfalfa and cotton in our state; a huge corporation like Nestle’s pumping aquifers in the desert to sell bottled water; and losing our cool over the wet misters spraying right above our heads.

Which got me to thinking, on the drive home, about the number of visitors who travel from those water-wasting communities to Santa Barbara, where our local residents scrimp and sacrifice to cut our water usage. I hope they’re not bringing that Mulholland philosophy of “There it is. Take it,” right here with them.

But I bet they are. They come here on vacation, after all. And there’s a certain feeling of entitlement that comes with that.

At this point, it’s not about the cost; it’s about our collective ability to adapt to the reality of a (very) limited and rapidly dwindling essential resource. Once again, we’re reminded of the dubious notion of packing people into Santa Barbara with a limited carrying capacity and rainfall nowhere in sight.

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The Dodgers of Santa Barbara

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150It was already bad enough that loyal Dodgers fans could only watch a handful of games this season, due to the failure of Time Warner to negotiate acceptable prices with cable and satellite providers. Cox in Santa Barbara, it should be noticed, didn’t even carry the final six regular season games that were finally allowed the right to broadcast by an Orange County station.

Heck, we could hardly even hear the legendary Vin Scully call the games on radio, since the Ventura station has a tendency to drift once the sun goes down. And we die-hard fans were stunned, unable to watch two Dodgers’ no-hitters in a season that seemed to offer so much promise.

We consoled ourselves: At least we could watch the playoff games—except the exciting Dodger win on Saturday night, carried only on MLB Network. And the idea of making it all the way to the World Series this year almost made the long blackout worth it.

So it was particularly sad to see the Boys in Blue strike out in the first round of the National League Division Series, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals. Again.

That refrain of “wait until next year” is getting old. But Dodgers fans, especially those is Santa Barbara, have high hopes and long memories. For nearly three decades, from the 1940s through the 1960s, Santa Barbara was home to Dodgers’-affiliated minor league teams.

That classic old 6-acre, WPA-built major league-sized ballfield at Laguna Park was home to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm team, the Saints. Play was suspended during World War II, but began again in 1946, with the debut of the Santa Barbara Dodgers, a strong team in the California League.


Laguna Ball Field Circa 1940

The relationship between Santa Barbara and the Dodgers continued after the team moved west, until 1967, when management announced that the Dodgers had lost $100,000 on the team that was drawing tiny crowds, so they moved to the always-more-affordable Bakersfield.

And as has been noted here before, the old ballpark didn’t last much longer. It was demolished in 1970 to make way for a parking lot for city buses. It was an unceremonious end to America’s game in Santa Barbara, by way of a historic team.

But baseball fans in this town are getting used to it. In fact, Santa Barbara was once home to Ernest Thayer, after he wrote “Casey At the Bat.” The classic American poem ends, much like the Dodgers’ season:

“Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.”

Wait until next year.

Santa Barbara Dodgers

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The Man Who Planted Trees: Dr. Augustus Boyd Doremus

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150Recent focus on the dead, dying and dried-out Italian Stone Pines of Anapamu Street failed to provide much historic context for how they got here in the first place. Yet they still manage to hold on, 77 years after the death of Dr. Augustus Boyd Doremus, the man who planted them.

doremusDr. Doremus was born on the Fourth of July, a Civil War veteran and a dentist, with a passion for horticulture. He moved to Santa Barbara for his health and lived to be 95 years old. Doremus is known as the “Father of Santa Barbara’s Parks.”

When Dr. Doremus and his wife purchased a huge lot in the 600 block of Anapamu Street in 1891, the property was described as “a barren half-block.” But even before their house was completed, they set about creating a garden on the hillside that was, “filled with unusual flora planted with the thought of special groupings around an expansive view. The garden was much admired by the many visitors, including outstanding horticulturalists who came to Santa Barbara.”

Horticulture was all the rage back in those days, and Santa Barbara was a hot spot for the trading and securing of seeds and cuttings from around the world. Both Dr. Doremus and his friend Dr. Francesco Franceschi participated, and enjoyed raising the seedlings and small plants in their respective nurseries. They planted them in their own gardens, in city parks and in parkways.

In 1908, Dr. Doremus planted a double row of Italian Stone Pines seedlings on either side of the narrow dirt Anapamu Street between Milpas and Canal (now Olive) streets. In 1929, he extended the planting all the way to Garden Street using seeds sent from Europe by his brother. The trees grew strong in the Mediterranean climate.

The huge Doremus estate was a destination of garden-lovers from around the world, and a number of grand parties, weddings and other gala events were held at the large mansion and expansive gardens on the property. Standout specimen plants were regularly featured in the pages of “Santa Barbara Gardener,” edited by Lockwood and Elizabeth de Forest (parents of Kellam de Forest) and published by the Plans and Planting Committee of Santa Barbara.

After his wife passed away, Dr. Doremus moved in next door with his daughter in her equally expansive home and garden. Upon his death in 1937, he was remembered in Santa Barbara Gardener: “The spirit of gardening shone in Dr. Doremus as in few men—the spirit of zeal tempered by a sense of humor.At the age of ninety he chopped down some large trees in his garden and planted young ones for the joy of seeing them grow and he actually lived to see them good sized specimens.”

A 1981 article in Noticias noted, “Dr. Doremus was remembered by all who knew him—the bank tellers, the gardeners, the many intimate friends—as a tall, stately, kindly man, ‘a real gentleman,’ ‘a gallant and noble spirit.’ With fifty-five of his ninety-five years devoted to Santa Barbara, he is remembered as one of the city’s foremost benefactors through his work in behalf of the parks and street tree plantings. Those who know the story can scarcely go anywhere in Santa Barbara without being reminded of Dr. A. Boyd Doremus.

Widely respected in his day for bringing so much life and beauty to this city, he has largely been forgotten. Yes, there’s an old plaque in Alameda Park, but nothing near the tree-shaded street of Anapamu where he left his still-growing legacy.

The magnificent old Doremus mansions were demolished and the graceful gardens destroyed, replaced in the 1960s by two massive apartment complexes. Back then, the developer was required to preserve the historic sandstone walls and the buildings were situated around the specimen trees on the property to save as many of them as possible. Unfortunately, a few years ago, the developer who purchased the property destroyed one of the original sandstone walls, and chopped down a thriving urban forest.

The Stone Pines struggle on—as they have for decades. That 1981 article noted: “Today, the pavement reaches the bases of the trees and their roots fight the encroachment. Several of the pines have been lost, yet the remaining overarching branches are admired, and their cooling shade appreciated, by all who pass that way.”

According to a recent city report on the 79 Italian Stone Pines that remain standing, “Four are currently dead…12 are in poor health, 24 are in fair health, 26 are in good health, and 19 are in excellent health.”

It’s time we correct our long neglect of the arboreal legacy of Dr. Doremus and create some on-the-ground interpretation of this historic part of Santa Barbara, where the city’s first park superintendent once lived, worked, and extended his vision far beyond his earthly years. We may not be able to save all his trees, but we can educate and preserve his memory. Call it the A. Boyd Doremus Historic Walk. Have a ribbon-cutting, install plaques, invite residents and visitors to keep his memory green. It’s the least we owe him, this man who planted trees.

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Busted on a Bike

By Cheri Rae

cheriIn all the recent back-and forth about bikes or cars in Santa Barbara, it seems like we’re missing something. It’s bikes and cars, and there are rules to help everyone share the road safely.

For several years, I made my living writing articles and editing magazines about the sport and utility of bicycling, and I’ve learned a lot about the right way to ride. But years before that, I learned one important lesson that seems to be lost on far too many bike riders: Stop at the STOP sign.

Every time I see a bike rider roll right through an intersection without heeding the sign, I’m reminded of the time I did the same thing. It didn’t turn out too well.


When I was growing up, my strict father was a stickler for punctuality. The surefire way to get in trouble at home when we were teenagers was arriving late—even just five minutes late. My sister and I knew it, and were usually conscientious about staying on the right side of time.

But there was this one long summer day at the local swim club where we regularly hung out; we just couldn’t seem to break away from the enticing pleasures of adolescent fun under the sun. When we could finally stay not a moment longer without risking restriction, we pulled on our Levi cut-offs and hopped on our 10-speeds. Since we were already late, we didn’t even take an extra minute to cover up our bikini tops before we headed home.

In high gear, we pedaled as fast as we could through the familiar neighborhood route on the 4-mile ride. Paying no attention to the typical rules of the road, we blasted through the wide, clear suburban intersections to beat the clock. We had made up enough time that we were on track to avoid Getting in Trouble.

We would have, too, if it hadn’t been for the cop parked down the block who caught us zooming past a stop sign just before the entrance to our subdivision. He turned on his lights and pulled us over. On our bikes. Wearing our skimpy bikini tops.

He looked, lectured and took his time. As the clock ticked past zero hour, we were out of time and officially In Big Trouble. He wrote us up and handed us our tickets for running the stop sign. He told us we were lucky and that he was doing us a favor; that maybe because he had done his job he had saved our lives.

That seemed unlikely. By then, a good 20 minutes late, the prospect of showing up so late with tickets in our hands seemed like life as we knew it was pretty much over anyway.

We faced our father: Busted, grounded, and humiliated with no plausible excuses.

We had to explain ourselves: our bad decision-making and poor judgments in choosing fun-in-the sun while we ignored the time; failing to cover up; riding recklessly through the intersections. And our run-in with the law.

Then, when the summons came in the mail, we had to go to court.

Dressed in our Sunday best, we appeared tearfully before the judge and accepted responsibility for our transgression as he sternly admonished us about the dangers of running a stop sign on a bicycle. Since the whole family showed up and we obviously showed remorse, he dismissed the charges. The judge was more lenient than our dad: We finally worked our way back into our parents’ good graces, but it took a good part of the summer before we were allowed back in the pool or on the bikes.


These days, I regularly notice cyclists ignore the rules of the road and get away with it. And it always reminds me of that hot summer afternoon, a million years ago, when my sister and I didn’t. Maybe that cop was right, that he did us a favor by teaching us a lesson we never forgot. What I know for sure is that neither of us ever again tempted fate by running a stop sign—and we’re still here to tell the story.

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Who’ll Start the Rain?

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150In these parched times, we are all rain lovers, call us Pluviophiles, worshiping the rain gods who might bring forth much-needed droplets from the sky. But where do we go to make our pleas?

There’s a hidden spot in town where it’s raining every day. Actually, it’s a whimsical celebration of rain, expressed in a colorful mosaic fountain that features the repeated motif of storm clouds and raindrops with the term “It’s raining” translated into dozens of languages, including Navajo, Welsh, French and even Esperanto.

The late local artist Marge Dunlap created this work of art in 1985 as a project of the then-Visual Arts in Public Places Task Force. Over the years, it had fallen into a state of disrepair, but was recently renovated with the addition of new grout; new ceramic tiles, bits of pottery and the like contributed by community members; Zen-like black river rocks and agaves atop and below the whole wonderful jumble.

When early Santa Barbara leader Bernhard Hoffmann spoke of the “community mosaic” he probably didn’t imagine something that qualifies—literally and figuratively—as this, the most obvious example in town. It tugs at my heart to see the names of dear, departed members of the art community memorialized here, and it always makes me smile to see the funny little offering by the godfather of local publishing, Noel Young of Capra Press. On a tile he glued a cup handle (now missing) and drew a picture of a cat and wrote, “This is the handle of the cup made for me by a dear friend. A cup I lifted to my lips a thousand times for my wake-up coffee. A time-crafted cup it was until the cat did it in.”

Seeking some relief from the recent hot, dry, late-summer days, I paid an early morning visit to the lovely little fountain in the Las Aves business park, lined with financial services, doctors’ offices, and places extolling health, fitness and beauty. It’s one of those hidden gems in Santa Barbara—located just a stone’s throw from the Bird Refuge.

There are those who might say that this exuberant artwork shouldn’t be tucked away in a largely unknown place so far from view; bring it out into the public square for all to see.

I think maybe it’s good that this fountain dedicated to rain has remained in its obscure location, far from the masses; it should require a bit of a trek for Pilgrims of every faith, every heritage, to make offerings to the rain gods of any name: Zeus (Greek), Jupiter (Roman), Tlaloc (Aztec), Chaac (Mayan), Yu Shi (China), Tó Neinilii (Navajo), Lono (ancient Hawaiian), Indra (India).

These supplications to the deities of the world fit right in with the humanitarian feel of the fountain, celebrating all cultures, equal under the sky. Clearly long droughts and pleas for rain are nothing new.

Some 1300 years ago, Rabbi Elazar ha Kallir, prayed toAf Bri, the angel of rain:  “May He send rain from the heavenly towers, To soften the earth with its crystal showers.”

From The Catholic’s “Rural Life Prayer Book” comes this entreaty: “Almighty God, we are in need of rain. We realize now, looking up into the clear, blue sky, what a marvel even the least drop of rain really is.”

We have faith that the day will come when our dusty community will be refreshed. We will reach our hands to the sky and exclaim in many voices, “It’s raining!”

Until then, we have a happy place to contemplate that joyful day.

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The Loraxes and the Arborist

The Italian Stone Pines on Anapamu are suffering from drought and are on our minds. One year ago this week Cheri penned the below article—at the time, only one of the trees was dead, now 4 are gone. Last week, the Santa Barbara Independent had this update  after reading that article, here is a column from the View Vault to compare and contrast what has and hasn’t been done over the last 12 months to save the trees.

For more information on how you can help the City of Santa Barbara help trees during the drought, specifically the Italian Stone Pines, call (805) 564-5433 or click here.

By Cheri Rae

I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”

–Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

cherilogo-150x150When the City Arborist/Urban Forest Superintendent Tim Downey was summoned recently to appear before the Historic Landmarks Commission, the subject was, of course, trees. But not just any trees. Specifically, he was asked to report on the health of the Historic Doremus Stone Pines of the 300 to 800 blocks of Anapamu Street, which have long been designated City Historic Landmarks.

A Little History: Those mature Italian Stone Pines form a pleasantly cool, green canopy on Anapamu even the hottest day; they smell like a forest in the middle of the city, and they provide valuable natural habitat for local creatures and even other plants. On one of the trees, an opportunistic jade plant has taken up residence, high above the ground.


Photo credit: Cathy Berry,

Beyond that, they were planted by two important historical figures in Santa Barbara botany: Dr. Augustus Boyd Doremus, who brought the seeds from the French Riviera, and his friend, Dr. Francesco Franchesci, who propagated them. Dr. Doremus (the City’s first Parks Superintendent) planted the seeds all along Anapamu Street, around 1908. The trees typically have a life span of about 150 to 200 years in optimal conditions.

When those seeds were originally planted, the street was a narrow gravel road, and the trees were free to spread their roots and limbs. Modern life has paved this piece of paradise, adding asphalt and concrete, encasing the root structure and stressing their ability to find deep water. The tough trees have buckled sidewalks, swallowed up sandstone hitching posts and cracked curbs and roadways in their struggle to survive modern life. Call it Mother Nature fighting back.

The landmarked trees have been a source of pride and have been prioritized as something worthy of great care in this town for more than a century. A careful program of trimming the roots and the tops of the trees even passed muster with Pearl Chase, who was very fond of them.

treePresent-Day Problems: But the problem now is that one of the trees was cut down a couple of weeks ago, without any advance notice to the usual powers-that-be who usually weigh-in on such matters.

The members of the HLC didn’t know about it; neither did the city employees who staff the counter and typically hand out the appropriate paperwork to allow a decision to be made about the condition of the tree.

And, the public was not informed in advance either. The big, old tree was not tagged before it was chopped down, leaving a sad, ugly stump in its place.

City Arborist Downey told the HLC that the tree had been monitored for several years and pronounced dead. He quoted municipal code noting that he has the right to have dead trees cut down without notifying anyone, without getting any permission from anyone. Downey complained that the city is having a hard time watering all the city’s trees, old and new, during this time of extended drought. Several times he referred to the city’s new Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP).

But when he continued defending his right to axe trees first and answer questions later; blamed the budget and the weather, and offered little in the way of urgent concern to protect these particular historic landmarks—the historic-minded commissioners stripped the bark off the arborist.

Turns out the HLC members had plenty of ideas about how to proactively to protect and defend landmark trees; and they did not hold back in offering valuable insights:

One commissioner suggested developing a crisis management plan; another offered the idea that creative methods of irrigation could be utilized; and other pointed out that permeable surfaces have been required of private parties—and placed in the parking lots of some parks, and ought to be considered by the City as well. Still another provided a lengthy lecture about how communication needs to improve, and at the very least, notify the HLC with a letter before cutting down a landmark tree, provide a plan for its replacement, and tag the trees so the public could be informed in advance.

When a lone dissenting commissioner complained that 15 minutes had already been spent on the subject and it was time to move along, his comment barely registered with his peers—but there were several eye rolls in the audience for the insensitivity on display.

The stump has now been ground into dust. And there’s news that another of the trees—on located across the street from Santa Barbara High School—has died and will need to be removed. We’ve lost a couple more in recent years, most notably one in front of the Methodist Church, where a small stone pine is doing quite nicely, but has a long way to grow before it becomes a canopy tree.

Personally, I’d like to see the protection of these trees prioritized, with a complete inventory of the entire stand, along with a comprehensive assessment of the current health of each one—and a plan to treat them with the tender loving care these giants in the city deserve in order to survive. After all, they were here first—and we have infringed on their breathing space, encasing their roots and cutting off their natural habitat.

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Warming up to Another Challenge: Expressing Gratitude

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150It’s been quite a past few weeks on social media as the ice bucket challenge for ALS has raised an unprecedented amount of cold, hard cash to fight one wicked disease.

At last count some $100 million has been donated, thanks to the willingness of plenty of people to take the challenge and call out their friends to do the same.

It’s a cool way to make money for research and increase knowledge about a devastating disease that destroys the promising lives of individuals and families. It may change the face of fund-raising, causing many to question the need to organize fancy charity galas that cost big bucks. Maybe there’s another way to go—both for raising funds and raising awareness.

While so many were making a splash and writing checks for that challenge, there was another, quieter one making the rounds: The Seven-Day Gratitude Challenge.

Writing the check in honor of my favorite college professor who passed too soon due to ALS was one thing; soul searching for seven days of expressions of gratitude was something else. No ice cubes or freezing water, no public display on video—just taking the time to sit down, contemplate and communicate what makes life great. And then telling the world about it.

Three expressions of gratitude per day for seven days posted to your Facebook page. The first couple of days are easy: friends, family, good health, creative work. By day three or so, it’s time for deeper reflection, and by day seven, it’s a pretty good snapshot of personal values, personality, talents and interests.


More importantly, it’s become a commitment to sit down daily and take an inventory of feelings of personal gratitude, and express it. It doesn’t have to go out to the world of social media, or even a private journal. It’s the act of taking the time to slow down for some honest soul-searching, of calming the mind, listening to the inner voice and hearing the heart. And feeling grateful.

That discipline might just help make this world a better place in so many ways, even raising money and awareness, no ice buckets needed.

The Seven-Day Gratitude Challenge: I nominate you.

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Getting Schooled: Educators

By Cheri Rae

cherilogoWhile parents and students stand in line for new school supplies at Staples and Office Max, teachers have been in their classrooms, preparing for the start of a new school year. Moving furniture, arranging shelves, decorating walls, and attending meetings and training sessions are all part of their end-of-summer routines

And every year, before the beginning of classes, Santa Barbara Unified School District hosts an all-day, all-educator, in-service day. It’s all-hands on deck, with Superintendent Dr. David Cash setting the tone with a welcome to the huge gathering of new and returning staff at 8:00 a.m. sharp.


Dr. David Cash

His enthusiasm for the event was once again obvious on August 21, as he addressed the group that filled the auditorium at San Marcos High School. He ticked off major goals: Implementation of Common Core, developing technology learning environments and embracing culturally proficient classrooms and district awareness.

Beyond that, he sounded very bit the educational innovator and forward-thinker that has characterized his three years of leading the district. He stated, “Technology is not a tool, it is the way kids learn.” He asserted, “We are 14 years in to the 21st century.” And prodded, “What are the skills we expect our students to have?” And more than anything, he urged teachers to “Think outside the box,” to “encourage problem-solving by students, to believe in each other.”

He even quoted Sir Kenneth Robinson, “Creativity is as important now in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”

He finished up noting, “The intelligence of our students is diverse and dynamic,” encouraging teachers to “Celebrate the incredible work you have done this past year,” and enthused, “I am really excited to see what happens this year!”

With that, he sent the educators off to choose among more than 60 different workshops for the day—ranging from Understanding Benefits to Mental Health Awareness; from Four Agreements for Teachers to Differentiated Instruction; from Building Lasting Relationships with Students to Grill the Superintendent.

I participated in several workshop, including onepresented by Just Communities. Titled “One Room, Many Voices: Planning Cross-Language Communication,” it raised my awareness about the challenges that are posed to non-English speakers when they interact with the schools. The difficulties of needing translation services and the feeling of “other, were demonstrated in a memorable way when we were instructed, “If you aren’t bilingual, you need to get a headset.” Much enlightenment and many lessons in sensitivity were learned in that session.

This was the second year I was privileged to present a discussion about dyslexia; last year about a dozen educators joined in. This year there were more than 30 in the room—and they included a school board member; a principal; an athletics director; several teachers and counselors—from elementary through high school; special education personnel and administrators. In short, a cross-section of the education community, all motivated and interested to learn more about this very common learning difference that affects 1 in 5 individuals. It was a lively session about life in DyslexiaLand, as I call it, with engaged individuals who asked good questions and indicated they want to know even more to help their students succeed. Even after lunch, they were enthusiastic participants who expressed their appreciation for the new insights.

That was the greatest part of the entire day: the sense of teamwork and positivity, the encouragement of innovation and creativity and the understanding that there is a whole spectrum of education-related issues that need to be understood because they affect everyone.

The day ended with a closing session focused on district changes in HR expectations and Disciplinary processes, and was topped off with an inspirational video that encouraged viewers to stand tall, stand together, to trust yourself and trust each other. And one last comment by Dr. Cash, who boomed, “Let’s have a great year!”

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes the combined efforts of an entire district—and a supportive community—working together to educate each one. These days, the district’s motto of “Every Child, Every Chance, Every Day” seems more like a reality than a lofty goal.

I, for one, feel privileged to be a part of it.  _____________________________________________________

Note: Cheri Rae works with the Santa Barbara Unified School District on a limited basis as a consultant on dyslexia-related matters and to facilitate use of the Parent Resource Center—including weekly meetings on Thursdays, 5-6:30—at the district office.

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An Appreciation: Doing Something in DyslexiaLand

By Cheri Rae

A friend and colleague just sent me an urgent e-mail with the subject line, “Can you do something about this?” I opened the attached photo and was surprised to see an image of a t-shirt display from a downtown shop. There were a number of slogans, but I realized immediately what he meant about “do something.”

The shirt read, “Dyslexics are teople poo.”

Not OK.
T-shirt 1
My friend who sent the picture isn’t involved in dyslexia advocacy to the level that I am, but he is pretty aware of the issue. He teaches a couple of classes at City College, and is a youth coach very committed to understanding different learning styles and adjusting his teaching and coaching accordingly.

As the mother of a son with dyslexia, as an advocate for the 1 in 5 individuals with it, as someone who raises awareness in the school district and the community, and with the concern expressed by my friend, I knew I had to “do something.”

DyslexiaLand Cover[1]So I put on my baseball cap embroidered with “The Dyslexia Project,” packed a copy of my book, “DyslexiaLand” and took a walk downtown to the t-shirt shop in question. Nestled between Restoration Hardware and Panera, the shop, Moon River, caters mostly to tourists. It is packed full with a huge selection of souvenir shirts about partying, Santa Barbara, the surf lifestyle, and the California state flag.

I went in the shop, introduced myself to the shop owners and politely expressed my concern to them: “I understand that you might not see it this way, but that slogan is disrespectful, hurtful and offensive to anyone who has dyslexia, or deals with dyslexia. Since dyslexia is so common, affecting 20 percent of the population, that’s a lot of people—and maybe they won’t want to come in to buy any of your shirts when they see that one on display outside the shop.”

At first they didn’t quite understand the concern. The gentleman who runs the shop told me that he is sent shirts from the supplier, and he just puts them on display. His co-worker was more argumentative: “You want to buy all the shirts?” she demanded. I told her no, that I just didn’t want them to carry that shirt anymore because it was so insulting. The shopkeeper explained to her the meaning of “poo,” and she seemed to understand. He turned back to me and agreed to remove the offending shirt from the outside display that evening.

When I returned home, I surfed the internet and saw that the not-so-clever slogan is sold all over the place—but this shop is the only one that’s been brought to my attention with a specific request to “do something” about it.

I went back to the shop a couple of days later, and—frankly to my surprise—the shirt was gone.

I went in and shook the owner’s hand, thanking him for making a difference and keeping his word. He smiled and dismissed me, likely happy to be done with the issue.

Back at home I asked my son—the easygoing 17-year-old who quietly deals with his dyslexia every day—what he thought, if he thought I’d made too much a deal of it. He paused for a moment, and said, “Mom, good for you for doing that. I think it’s one of those shirts where it’s just not a funny topic.”

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Getting Schooled: Students and Parents

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150When you have kids in school, those first few glorious weeks of summer vacation seem to stretch on forever. But those last few weeks seem to speed up and pass way too fast in anticipation of the next school year.

And here we are, poised and waiting for the school bells to signify the start of 2014-2015. The local economy has experienced a boom in purchases of back-to-school clothes and shoes, notebooks and backpacks, essential electronics and all those extras like locker decorations, water bottles and reusable lunch containers.

As the First Day of School approaches, parents and kids of all ages anticipate, speculate and calculate the days ahead.

And so do their teachers, administrators and a whole host of volunteers who want to start the school year off in the most positive way possible.

Early in the week, along with scores of other parents, students and school staff, I worked a few shifts at the annual Dons Derby at Santa Barbara High School, where the entire student body shows up to turn in their paperwork, pick up their schedules, and face the reality of back to school.

As I processed their newly issued student ID cards in the timeworn building known as the “little gym,” I had the chance to interact with a lot of teens.

It was a reminder that despite all the technological advances—Digital, instantaneous photography! Smart phones! Texting!—the basics of high school society really haven’t changed that much in the many years since I was a high school student. Seniors still acted like they own the place; Juniors seemed a little stressed; Sophomores seem as through they have just about got their bearings, and the new little Freshmen just seem dazed and confused.

Passing through were student government kids; jocks and the surfers; giggly girls and drama queens; the determined individualists—all mostly cooperative, polite and conscientious about accomplishing their tasks and figuring out the system. There was a small amount of sullenness among those who worked hard to be too cool for school, and only a handful who really seemed like they didn’t want to be there at all.

Most of all, a couple of mornings of work on that historic campus made me proud of these kids growing into young adults staying on path and doing their best to accomplish their high school goals in challenging times—just as more than 100 classes before them.
At the end of this school year, graduates, including my own son, will be heading out into the “real world” to pursue their dreams and chart their course to achieve their full potential to the best of their ability. They will be grounded in the values taught by their parents, the example shown by their community and the lessons they’ve learned in school—year after year, on that long pathway from pre-school to high school graduation.

May we be worthy of fulfilling that awesome responsibility to the next generation in our midst—wherever they are on that pathway—just headed back to school in a few short days.

Part II:  teachers get schooled

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An Appreciation: Neighbors, Favors and Unexpected Rewards

By Cheri Rae

A pleasant-looking young man stood on the old front porch and knocked at the screen door. He introduced himself and I braced for the come-on. Typically, it’s someone from Los Angeles trying to sell magazine subscriptions; someone collecting money for an environmental cause playing the guilt card by showing me the pledges of support my neighbors have made; or even someone with one of those overly complicated, cockamamie stories claiming to need money for gas to get to some faraway destination.

This time it was different.

He began his story: “My name is Ben and I live a few blocks from here, where there is street cleaning. I need to park my car someplace where it won’t get towed while I visit my parents in Portland for a couple of weeks. You guys don’t have street cleaning here, so I was thinking it would work out.”

“Okay,” I replied, wondering what the gimmick was. “When do you leave?”

“My plane leaves in two hours,” he said sheepishly.

Before I could think, my critical parent voice responded: “And you just now thought about this?”

“Well, yes. It costs too much to leave the car at the airport, so I want to leave it here and I was just hoping that it would be okay with you if I put it here while I’m gone…” His voice trailed off, his eyes pleaded.

My heart softened; my nice mommy self jumped in and argued with my cynical self: He’s just a kid trying to be responsible and work things out. Why not help him? He could be one of your kids one day.

“You’re in luck,” I said, and showed him a place to park on the long parkway where it would have the least impact on the neighborhood. We would be the only residents affected, since there’s a vacation rental across the street with people coming and going all the time, and next door to that one, a neighbor who was off on vacation and never parks there anyway. This one car wouldn’t really make much difference, and no one would even notice, much less call it in for being there too long.

A few minutes later he parked the car; it sat there undisturbed, just getting dirtier day after day. And then one afternoon, I noticed it was gone. Ben must have returned home, I thought. Hoping he and his family had a nice visit, I pondered our own fast-approaching empty-nest syndrome and what it must be like for his parents to have him back home for awhile, and then to say good-bye again.

BENA couple days later, I opened the front door, and noticed a small envelope tucked in by the beveled glass. It was a Starbucks card with a handwritten note, “ Thank you for letting me park my car outside your house! Hope you enjoy Starbucks—Ben.”

I’ve always taught my kids to do more than is expected, and to express their appreciation. Obviously Ben’s parents taught him the same thing—a nice young man just making his way in life, in this Santa Barbara neighborhood, his home away from home, right where he belongs.

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An Appreciation: The Library

By Cheri Rae

doorThe very thought of the library brings me back to my childhood when I rode my bike to the local great sanctuary of books, with the cool air, the quiet rooms, the smart and helpful librarians. It was a place I could go and feel I belonged. Most of all it was the freedom to browse the card catalog and wander amongst the shelves filled with endless rows of literary works. More than that, I could take home an armful of these treasures to read on my own time, in my own room.

Reading books in the summertime provided windows on the world for a girl growing up in the small town of Orange: They took me places I couldn’t have imagined; they taught me about people I learned to admire; they helped me dream about possibilities that had never occurred to me.

When my daughter was small in Santa Barbara, every Tuesday and Thursday morning we walked to the library for storytime. Back then, the long-time childrens’ librarian Shirley Morrison read with great dramatic flair; she and her helpers opened the books and let the stories fly out, charming and delighting the audience with their enthusiasm as they unlocked the secrets held between the covers of those colorful books.

It’s been quite some time since I got to sit with a group of little kids in the library, celebrating the stories contained in books. But last Thursday, I had the chance to witness a graduation ceremony for 15 enthusiastic new readers—students at Franklin School—who were recognized for their participation in a summer reading program. These children, each of whom had read more than 10 books during the program, were termed “Reading Ambassadors.”

The library staff enthusiastically welcomed them, commended them for their achievements, and reminded them how they could read aloud in funny voices, tell jokes while they read to their friends, and point out details on pictures. As a recorded version of Pomp and Circumstance played, each child was called up by full name—resulting in giggles and laughter from their friends—and asked to sign a chart-sized document, the Reading Ambassador Promise. It read:

I hereby promise to read stories to my friends and family

And share the fun of storytelling with my community.

With proud smiles and shy handshakes, each child was recognized, applauded and appreciated for making the effort to embrace reading.

Talk about positive reinforcement! These kids received goodie bags filled with discount coupons for local products and attractions, a free book from Granada Books, stickers, and even free admission to Legoland. Since it was a hot day, they even got popsicles to eat on the library lawn.

The message they all embraced is that the library is a cool place where they fit in. Once child noted, “You can borrow books for zero dollars.” Another observed, “And there are computers.”

Smart kids: They already understand the library belongs to them, and with computers, they library provides access to written materials, even for those who may have difficulty reading, due to dyslexia or other learning differences. Downloadable audiobooks—so kids can hear with their ears, rather than read with their eyes—offer another form of access to the magical world of reading. And the library also offers adult literacy services, where well-trained volunteer tutors discreetly help grown-ups decode the elusive secrets of the written word.

The decorative arch outside our Central Library—formerly the main entrance—is worth revisiting: it depicts Plato and Aristotle and our city’s coat of arms, and surrounding them are the shields of the great libraries of the world: University of Bologna, Bibliotheque Nationale, University of Salamanca and Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

Those storied European libraries have their place. But what goes on inside our local community treasure—each and every day—is every bit as significant in providing access to the written word to individuals right here at home. And for those newly minted Reading Ambassadors, the whole world is wide open for them to discover.

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Opening Day, Play Ball

Opening Day post 2013: A Rite of Spring
Opening Day post 2012: Santa Barbara’s Baseball Legacy

By Cheri Rae

From the patriotic notes of The Star Spangled Banner to the final strains of Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World, each Dons baseball game played on Warrecker Diamond at Eddie Mathews Field is a link to the great legacy of the past and the shining promise of the future.

It’s the grassy infield, the raked and tamped pitcher’s mound, the carefully chalked lines, the view of the Riviera in the distance, the sight of neighbors hanging over the fences, friends and family filling the stands, cheering on the baseball team.

From the long green stirrups to the crisp, white uniforms, the Dons represent historic Santa Barbara—the City and the School—on their home field and far away.

Over the years these baseball players who have played for this fine school have been called the Donlets, the Horsehiders and the Diamonders; they’ve been known as powerhouses, workhorses, and most of all, a great team that plays a great game with a sense of tradition and character and pride.

In this place, on this field, dreams become reality, boys become men, and history is written for all time.

Play Ball!

1914 dons

Caption 1914 : The 1914 Dons Baseball team, as seen 2014 baseball program published by the Santa Barbara Baseball Parents Association as a fund-raiser for the team. The program incudes the story about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig’s appearance Santa Barbara High on their barnstorming tour of 1927, and a thoughtful tribute to Hall-of-Famer Eddie Mathews by Ron Shelton, both standout Dons players. Shelton, of course, is the award-winning screenwriter of memorable sports films like “Bull Durham” and “Tin Cup.”

1924 Dons

Caption 1924 : The 1924 Dons Baseball team, the first year the newly built school was occupied. Note the pinstripes worn by the players, and the suits worn by the coaches.

The programs are available for $5 at the Snack Bar during Dons home games.
Go Dons! (Click to enlarge photos)

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