What if grief were the goal? What if unbridled, consummate, body-wracking grief were the only decision to make, the only cross to bear for the next week? Month? Year? Lifetime? What if we collectively acknowledged our profound sorrow over Orlando without letting political rhetoric and gerrymandering of emotions take over for a minute, a second even.

I think one of the more challenging aspects of a large national trauma that is rarely, if ever, acknowledged, is the way such an event taps into our deeper grief, personal and collective – a sudden, subconscious plunge into dark and murky, and yes painful, waters. The grief we’ve accumulated from childhood traumas like abuse and abandonment, built upon with destructive relationships, and sustained by playing witness to numerous other traumas both large and small over a lifetime, all resides in the infinite cutaneous crevices, along the receding hairlines, and between the calloused fingers and toes of every.single.person. Much of the time, this grief goes unnoticed. It’s masked by the tappity-tap of cell phone buttons, the clink of wine glasses, and the popping of pill bottles.

This is not to say that we should eschew our handy and ubiquitous coping mechanisms for subduing intense feelings of grief and pain, for how else would we effectively move through our days, preparing meals and completing homework and work tasks with focus and diligence? But there must also be a place for grief and grief alone.

I have a friend who works as a librarian in a public elementary school in Brooklyn, who has taken it upon herself to quietly and unassumingly impart mindfulness techniques to her students, their parents, faculty, and staff, and in the process, has gained some notoriety for her work. And in my humble opinion, she is doing more to both combat terrorism, and certainly to permit grief, than anyone on the grander political stage. Because denying grief is, not surprisingly, where dis-ease and instability start, a chaotic state that leads to mental illness, self-destructive behaviors, and yes, even mass murders.

It comes full circle then. In mourning our personal and national tragedies, we learn to address and disarm the root causes of future destruction and devastation. Watching the Tony Awards this past weekend, I was reminded of what can happen when we acknowledge our scarred histories and move forward from that enlightened state, instead of from a place of circuitous speech and blame and hate. From Lin-Manuel Miranda’s now famous acceptance speech for his award for ‘Best Score’ for Hamilton:

When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.


Why Shop Local?

chapala farms

It may seem as trendy as the Paleo Diet, but buying locally grown and produced foods is more than a passing fad. Explore why spending your dollars within your own city limits creates a win-win for producers and consumers.

To say that Mark Von Dollen wakes at the crack of dawn is no hyperbole; by the time his long limbs make the short trip from mattress to floor, he has already mindfully walked through the myriad steps he will take over the next 72 hours to mix, proof, rise, bake, and sell the crusty sourdough loaves he sells under the Standard Loaf label. And that’s only a small fraction of his work week.

In fact Mark will spend those many hours to bake and sell only 20 or so loaves in any given week. “I love it.” he says matter of factly. “I look forward to baking all week long.”
That refrain rings true for Santa Barbara and Central Coast artisans across the board, many of whom rarely see a profit from their labor and dedication to producing the highest quality foods possible using mostly local ingredients. These individuals are committed to a higher principle of communal sustainability, based on a hypothetic, though not-too-distant, future where the world’s food demand by its 10 billion residents threatens to exceed the available supply.

According to the new comprehensive and cautionary documentary 10 Billion: What’s On Your Plate? by German Director Valentin Thurn, the tenuous economic balance between agricultural supply and demand is poised to implode by the year 2050, without some drastic interventions over the new few decades. Thurn’s conclusion? We can vastly improve our odds of meeting food needs by growing, raising, and producing food within the very communities we call home. Not only that, but 75% of every consumer dollar spent goes directly back into the local economy for improving other infrastructure, including schools, byways, events and more. Some towns around the world are taking this a step further and registering as “Transition Towns,” built on sustainable measures that meet the needs of current citizens without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

While most cities in the US currently define “buying local” as purchasing products grown or produced from within a 200-mile radius, more progressive Transition Towns, like Totnes, England define it as those foods produced from within a 30-mile radius. Regardless of the perimeter size, the intent remains the same: Cut down on the energy consumed to deliver a product long distances while ensuring that it was produced using small plots of land with sustainable and organic growing and cultivating procedures, all while keeping money within the community where it originated. Michelle Chavez and her partner Jason Banks of Chapala Farms in Santa Barbara are prime examples of this intimate model. The couple craft their own jams and marmalades from produce primarily grown on their urban backyard farm in downtown Santa Barbara.

But growers and producers are only one half of the equation; they require distributors to get their goods to market and into the hands of consumers. In some of the smallest towns (and even some more liberal cities), the old-fashioned roadside stand still serves it’s quaint purpose, while many more locales now host weekly or more frequent Farmers Markets that allow those producers who locally-source their ingredients to sell to the public.

Even Farmer’s Markets are not without their drawbacks; dozens of well-qualified artisans vie for only a handful of coveted spots and waitlists can be years long. Counties like Santa Barbara go a step further by requiring that the vendors be certified farms in order to sells at local Farmers Markets. As a result, some towns are harkening back to the days of down-home general stores and cozy co-ops where familiarity, comfort, and hospitality are the name of the game. Shopping at small mom-and-pop shops has a trickle down effect, where money spent is going back to the small-batch artisans while simultaneously going directly to the community in the form of taxes and other local retail-associated expenditures, like advertising and marketing, decor, and professional fees.

The next time you’re deliberating a local food purchase, take a moment to consider the far-reaching implications of your choice – for the grower, for the storefront, for your health, and for the community at large. In an era where the food practices that connected us to our past are rapidly becoming extinct, it is incumbent upon us an individuals to remain connected to our roots and traditions, by tracing the journey our food takes to reach us. It is, in fact, the the very lifebone of our food supply for years to come.


It’s a Small World After the Fall

I lived in Manhattan on 9/11, freshman year of college. And I wept when I heard about the Boston Marathon bombings in my college city, while living in Santa Barbara. And now Paris is under attack, a city where I made my inaugural visit just one short year ago. I realize that am not unique in this; everyone is connected to these cities, these ground zeroes, by a few flimsy degrees of separation.

And initially there is something profoundly disturbing in that. So far-reaching are these attacks into our daily lexicon that we now have a library of images to serve as stamps for cities wracked by terror: A Boston city skyline capstoned by the words “Boston Strong”; a pair of bold cylindrical towers conveying both the World Trade Center and the number 11, captioned with “Never Forget”; and now a peace sign with the Eiffel Tower sketched into the interior, encouraging us to, “Pray for Paris”.

And what strikes me in considering these badges of sorts is how we continue to collect them despite a heightened level of security never seen before in the history of our world. Like my old Girl Scout sash, filled with stitched images (a diamond patch for Manners, an oval for Camping), so it is that our earth is amassing its own set of badges, but these are not badges of merit, but rather a Star of David of sorts, branding these cities as forever marred by the horror that is terrorism, as belonging to a club they never sought to join.

We all mourn. We all face these attacks together in a sort of proximate trauma, connecting to our own subterranean rivers of sorrow and pain and grief, to borrow a metaphor from author Cheryl Strayed. It is truly no wonder that our world is under more emotional duress than ever before. Yes, we have technology to contribute to that too, but we are becoming more and more connected by universal trauma, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. In fact, technology facilitates that degree of empathy, by allowing unprecedented access to the depths of so many human souls simultaneously.

I would simply offer that this is not a negative result of the attacks. While unbelievably painful at times, that level of shared human grief can serve as a means for us to explore our boundless ability to persevere, to persist, and yes, even to thrive. So I wear your badges New York, and Boston, and Paris, and Syria, and Lebanon, and Oklahoma City, and Madrid, and Bahgdad, and Mali. And I never forget.


Baked With Love: The Syrian Refugee Crisis Hits Home

Maamoul+halfThese days, I’ve taken to listening to NPR in place of music when I run. Unlike traditional news, NPR generally provides some compelling insight and human interest angle on otherwise ubiquitous news stories that usually end in me changing the channel or shutting the newspaper with a jaded sigh.

These days, many of the stories focus on the Syrian Refugee Crisis, as hundreds of thousands of Syrian (and Iraqi and African) refugees flee war-torn countries for the safety of the EU and abroad. Even the popular social media handle “Humans of New York” has devoted the past two weeks to chronicling the often tragic and sometimes triumphant stories of these migrants making their way to a new life.

While some of these stories, with their images both horrific and hopeful, have literally halted me in my tracks during my runs, the one that hits me most frequently is the one I stare at all day: A clear cellophane package of Ma’Moul, a Syrian shortbread cookie, sits quietly on the counter at my shop, tied with a white silk ribbon, its simple label featuring what appears to be a cherry blossom sprig above the ingredient list and a tagline that reads, “Baked with Love.”

These cookies come from the hands of a Syrian couple currently residing in Santa Barbara, having fled their homeland in late 2014. Their daughter-in-law, Hala, also a Syrian refugee, approached me back in June to let me know that she had recently obtained a Cottage Food Permit to allow her in-laws to bake Ma’Moul for sale at local shops so that they might send the profits back to their children in Syrian for their impending migration.

Hala herself has worked for the the Four Seasons Hotel chain for years and was fortunate enough to be transferred to the The Biltmore in Montecito, along with her husband Maurice, and away from the chaos in Syria. When we meet, she speaks with warmth, and yet there is a glimmer of anxiety behind her eyes and I try to imagine what she has seen, what she can’t forget, and how the news coming out of Syria daily affects her. To me, it sounds like living the horror of 9/11 over and over again, a sort of ongoing proximate trauma.

But then I glance at the Ma’Moul on my counter and I see the cherry blossom and the bow and the tagline, and I marvel at how love still manages to wriggle through in the midst of chaos and unspeakable horror, how, while the nightmares of Hala and her family are far from over, they choose to shine their hope through a little cookie sitting quietly on a shelf.


First Taste


Some might argue that 15 is too young to have “the best food experience of your life”, before savory, sexy words like burrata and hamachi are whispered into virgin ears. But somehow Europe blurs the line between adulthood and youth and implores you to don a more mature palate, schooling you in a nuanced appreciation of subtle textures and flavors well ahead of your time.

So it was on a boiling June afternoon in Madrid, a foreign acrid air piercing all my senses indiscriminately, but nevertheless with stalwart determination to woo and court me along ancient stone corridors and the uneven cobblestones of the Plaza Mayor. Having just arrived in Spain the day prior with my mother and grandmother, my cousin and I were barely 15 (in fact, I had celebrated the occasion the previous evening in a tiny tapas bar while student minstrels, crimson brocade peeking through velvet black lapels, serenaded me with an angsty version of ‘La Paloma’, its depth far exceeding my short years on earth).  On the day in question, we were lucky enough to have been placed under the local foodie tutelage of a local couple, she a fair-skinned American expat and he a mustachioed Spanish national, and we were pleased to be whisked from bar to bar, tiny tapas plates of cecida (deer) shaved thin and crusty bread smeared with queso de Cabrales or Spanish blue cheese, each containing a larger story than their “small bites” translation would imply.

But the culmination of our casual gourmand meanderings came around 2pm, during the sleepy siesta hours when most restaurants would be shuttered against the heavy and unforgiving sun. I don’t know how we were welcomed into a restaurant at such an untraditional hour – no doubt a gentle acquiescence to our American sensibilities – but right away, I knew the we were about to experience something extraordinary.  Perhaps it was the novelty of the space, but in my mind, the room where we lunched appeared like that of a dining room in a private home (for all I know, it was just that, as I recall no signage on the exterior), a dark space and perhaps mildly musty, being shuttered against the baking streets. As far as I can recall, it was the only table in the room, a long Tuscan-style piece of furniture that began as an empty wooden canvas. And then how it evolved! Terra cotta skillets, ceramic platters, and tin bowls were grandly placed upon the table like splashes of paint from the artist’s palatte, skillfully delivered by a small contingent of servers who may very well have doubled as our talented chefs behind the closed doors from which they emerged and retreated with a quiet but detectable pride.

It was no surprise that the traditional paella stood out, a monstrous saffron-colored swath of color punctuated by glistening baby pink chorizo and rose-lacquered shrimp. But if my mind struggled to take in the complexity of this landscape, it nearly blew wide open as a second platter, equally grand, was placed at the other end of the table, this one as black as night, masking the razor sharp edges of mussels, slippery pieces of squid, and a sprinkling of kelly green cubanelle peppers. The first bite of the arroz negro must have been a dare, and as my cousin and I grinned at each other across the table, our teeth as black as pirates, we lasted only seconds before our teenage self-consciousness took over and we sprinted as politely as possible to los servicios for a down-and-dirty mouth scrub.

In between the more exotic dishes, familiar morsels of cebollas (onions) and Manzanillas (Spanish green olives) punctuated our rapidly diminishing canvas, all washed down by swigs of Fanta Naranja (my Sangria awakening would come only days later). When we finally emerged into the blistering sun over 2 hours later, the light seemed to penetrate every crevice and the heat exacerbated our food comas; we moved like the chalk-white living statues on the streets of many international cities, their imperceptible movements only evident in time lapse photography.

We would have dozens more opportunities to partake in traditional and sumptuous Spanish (and even Moroccan) fare during our 2-week stay on the Iberian peninsula, but this clandestine lunch would continue to surpass them all, for its quiet splendor, its mirage-like quality, and the fact that it popped my proverbial gourmet cherry, a trial-by-paella welcome into the world of Spanish cuisine and beyond.


Life Hacks:

ted talks life hacksWith Ted Talks topics now a part of our quotidian dialogue, I decided that I could easily rustle up some apropos ‘Life Hacks’ of my own, particularly when it comes to saving pennies in a town as spend-y as Santa Barbara. Read on for my humble suggestions – they may not get you into that dream home, but employ just one or two and watch the savings add up!

Polish change vs. Pedicure
Did you know that most nail salons will offer up a nail polish change for a mere $5? Sure you’ll forgo the heavenly foot soak and calf rub-down, but take 10 minutes in the privacy of your bathroom to give your feet a good scrub with a pumice stone, and then head down to the salon. Bonus: Your toes will look fresh in those new peep-toe wedges for Summer!
Savings: $25

If you haven’t already found this alternative to facial waxing, I suggest you consult Google immediately for the nearest threading studio. Not only is threading less painful and more precise than waxing, but an eyebrow thread will only set you back about $10, and other facial areas a mere $5. Compare this to salon waxing prices and you’ll be a lifetime convert!
Savings: $10-25+ per visit

According to experts, we wear only a small fraction of the of clothing in our wardrobe. Why not pass along the overflow to someone who will rock those paisley pants and jean vest, and make some cold hard cash in the process? In Santa Barbara alone, we have nearly a dozen consignment stores to choose from, each appealing to its own demographic and style – from The Closet and Renaissance to Jessica Consignment to Crossroads Trading Co, most of these stores will pay you cash on the spot for your retired threads.
Savings: $5 avg per garment

Selling airline points
When I moved to Santa Barbara in 2005, a nifty little website called Craigslist became by new best friend. In our 10-year relationship, it has led to me from plum apartments and used cars to velvet love seats and friendly ride shares, with nary a lemon in the bunch! But more recently, as CL has grown in scope, I discovered the vast number of people looking to purchase airline points/miles to save a few bucks on their upcoming trips. As you accumulate airline points via credit cards, actual travel, and even vouchers from volunteering to give up your seat on an overbooked flight, fellow travelers are constantly looking to buy your points or vouchers at prices cheaper than purchasing an actual flight. So if you’re not planning on using the points yourself anytime soon, consider perusing the Tickets section of CL for people looking to buy, or write a post of your own. As with any person-to-person internet transaction, use caution when accepting payment; Paypal is generally the safest way to proceed.
Savings: Up to $375 for a Roundtrip flight

Axxess Card
If you’re lucky enough to live in Santa Barbara, get ready to (literally) save hundreds of dollars this year. For just a $30 investment, you can purchase the Santa Barbara Axxess Card, granting you discounts at nearly 500 local restaurants, retailers, and service businesses in the area. Savings range from the “Buy 1 Entree, Get 1 Free” to ongoing 10-20% discounts at your favorite stores (two-for-one McConnell’s Ice Cream anyone?). Because nearly every other business in Santa Barbara is an Axxess member, you’ll rack up the savings in no time (if you remember to whip out your card at the time of purchase!).
Savings: $10 per use on average

Ditch the car, ride a scooter!
Having ridden a Vespa as my sole mode of transportation for the last 8 years, I may be a bit bias, but owning a scooter in place of a car may be the single best money-saving trick I’ve ever employed. Most people initially balk at thought, citing long weekends out of town, inclement weather, and grocery shopping as primary excuses for ditching their 4-wheeled vehicle, but when it comes down to it, savings quickly allay any logistical misgivings. Between renting cars for road trips, Uber-ing during extremely rare rains, and cleverly maneuvering my Trader Joe’s bags, I have rarely found a transportation situation I can’t handle. And holding up costs against national statistics, I can roughly estimate savings of $6,000 MINIMUM per year on car payments, maintenance, parking, insurance, and gas ($6 to fill the tank at 70mpg!). Obviously, this won’t be an ideal solution for a family or for people living outside of Southern California, but it’s worth considering if your lifestyle fits the bill!
Savings: $6000 per year and counting…

Regardless of where you live, most singles and couples without children are paying top dollar to rent a decent (read: 4 walls) apartment across our nation’s cities and towns. And really, how much time do we really spend in a space that eats up nearly half our monthly incomes? Many renters (and homeowners for that matter) are opting to take advantage of spare rooms and weekends away to make a buck by allowing others to crash for a nominal fee, through hosting sites like Airbnb and VRBO. While some have managed to hone their home sharing skills to a science, others may be wary of leaving strangers alone in their private space. Others who avoid the practice eschew the hassles of storing valuables and other personal items each time guests come to stay. But for those who live fairly minimally and have the time and means to devote to systemizing the process, home-sharing sites can be a wonderful source of supplemental income or simply rainy day savings. City-to-city rules and regulations differ, so be sure to follow the proper channels for complying with yours.
Savings: $50-150/night, based on accommodations offered

Add up all those savings over the course of a few months or the year and watch your piggy bank bulge. Maybe you’re that much closer to your dream home after all…


Yoga is My Teddy Bear

I’ll admit it, I have attachment issues: To places, to people, to times of my life now shelved in gold and glittery boxes in my brain. Call it the Cancer sign in me, but I can wax nostalgic with the best of them, conjuring shinier, happier times (whether they were authentically so or not). But my yoga memories live in box all their own, on the highest shelf away from the others. They are unique in the sense that they are not always happy and joyful memories, but they are Real with a capital R.

Oceanfront Yoga, Pacific Beach, San Diego

Oceanfront Yoga, Pacific Beach, San Diego

The yoga box contains snapshots of me as a sobbing puddle in the middle of an emotionally charged hot yoga class in Boston, and also houses moments of euphoria as I bursted from studios near-floating down the sidewalk, feeling as light and buoyant as Buddha himself. From New York to Boston, and from Palm Springs to Paris, yoga has served as my well-worn security blanket, the common mat if you will, connecting all my life experiences into a neat little yoga bundle.

I should start by admitting that I don’t actually own a yoga mat. While some yogis swear by their trusty Gaiams and Mandukas, I somehow prefer to rent or borrow mats from the studios, imaging the hundreds of yogi toes and flattened palms that have pressed into those well-worn bamboo and rubber fibers. Plus I’ve always walked or taken public transportation just about everywhere I’ve lived, and prefer a streamlined commute, sans mat. In the beginning, before yoga regained its mass popularity, it was rare to own yoga swag anyway.

Yoga Center of Carmel

Yoga Center of Carmel

When I transferred to Simmons College in Boston in 2002, I was so pleased to finally find a college community where I felt both at home and safe; my Barnard days had been marred by the 9/11 tragedy a mere 10 days after my arrival in the Big Apple, and the city’s devastation continued to rumble at a low boil under the Manhattan sidewalks throughout my freshman year. And so Simmons brought me back to life. It was through a campus-wide program offering free extracurriculars that I discovered yoga that year: A short, semester-long series of intro-level classes offered in the campus dance studio (where, much to my dismay, no dance classes actually took place).

Baptiste Power Yoga, Boston

Baptiste Power Yoga, Boston

Instead, I sought solace in the near-lyrical flow through Warriors Ones and Downward Dogs, and at the conclusion of the series, found myself craving more. The instructor was from a Baptiste Power Yoga studio on Arlington St (Ahh-lington, according to the MBTA conductor), in downtown Boston, and it wasn’t long before the 2-mile trek there and back became my daily ritual 3-4 days a week. I can still close my eyes and place myself on the thinly worn, moss-green mats, the 100+ degree heat and humidity enveloping me like an everlasting embrace, and the sweet, pungent smell of Nag Champa incense and sweat mingling pleasantly in the hallway and stairwell. That particular studio shut down quite a few years ago, but I could conjure it up in a heartbeat, a mirage of a studio hovering on the backside of Vigo’s Italian Deli, behind frosted glass windows. It was during that time that the studio owner, Baron Baptiste, was a celebrity yogi on the rise, and so he would still come to personally teach classes once or twice a month, instructing us in his slightly nasal and yet oddly hypnotic voice: “Don’t think, just sink,” he would croon, as we settled into an intense Crescent Moon pose, shoulder to perspiring shoulder.

Baptiste studio

Baptiste Power Yoga, Arlington St, Boston (now closed)

Ironically, my favorite Boston yoga memory comes from one New Year’s that I spent in a midnight class at the Baptiste studio across the Charles River, in Cambridge – the only time I ever visited that particular space. It must have been hovering in the single digits outside but inside, 100 yogis were packed into the steamy room that easily reached 115+ degrees F by the end of the 90-minute class. At the stroke of midnight, as the class concluded in 3 rounds of chanting Om, the doors to the studio were swung wide and steam rushed out and upward into the frigid starry night in great, rolling cotton candy waves. To passersby it must have looked like a house on fire, but the sidewalk studded with glistening bodies parred down to their sports bras and shorts told a different story. Those Baptiste studios were also the first space where I acknowledged deep, painful wounds that were fueling my eating disorder in those years, and though I was still many more years away from seeking meaningful, life-changing help, those many, many mats, each holding an anthology of stories to which they had silently and solidly born witness, were the very first step to finding peace.

Power Of Your Om, Santa Barbara

Power Of Your Om, Santa Barbara

My 2005 migration to Santa Barbara at the age of 22 necessitated a grand change in my yoga life. No longer did I have my warm cocoon of a studio to serve as a safe incubator for the adult I was slowly becoming. Emerging from the chrysalis, I made my way from the humble, welcoming walls of the single-room Source Yoga studio on De La Vina St behind the laundromat, to the church-like sanctuary of Santa Barbara Yoga Center, to the sunny studios and whimsical ways of Eddie Ellner’s Yoga Soup, tucked away on tiny Parker Way. Several years into my SB stay, Power of Your Om, an affiliate Baptiste Studio, opened and provided a brief moment of familiarity and a link to my past, but I quickly discovered that what I thought I had been searching to reclaim all along was actually right where it belonged: In the past. I was ready for the next phase of my yoga journey, but it would take several more years of exploring various teachers and studios (even discarding yoga entirely for a year to try Bar Method classes, in hopes of recapturing an even earlier period of my ballet life), until I alighted on Divinitree, a yoga studio that opened in Santa Cruz and spread its wings to Santa Barbara in the Summer of 2013.

Divinitree Acroyoga, Santa Barbara (I am not pictured!)

Divinitree Acroyoga, Santa Barbara (I am not pictured!)

Initially, I was leery of the goddess paintings splashed on the walls of the studio, and feared an almost cult-like experience with too much pagan ritual for my New England sensibilities. What I have come to learn is that Divinitree is like a giant smorgaasboard, allowing you to create the yoga experience you choose. Don’t know what you want? Even better; you are free to create something entirely new that you didn’t even know existed, changing yourself in deep and powerful ways in the process. I have tried out more rituals, chants, breath work, and meditations in 2 short years than I ever imagined I would invest in in a lifetime, and it as been my saving grace all over again. For at the core, it is still simply yoga: Body and breath, on a mat (not my own!), in a studio set up for the sole purpose of housing the weary, the athletic, the curious, the broken, and the reborn, for a few cleansing hours a week.