Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mallory Garcia attends a Seven Golden Secrets to Writing workshop where she crafted a story about her animals and a guitar.

Student Writes What She Knows When It Comes to Her Fiction Story; And Dana Middle School Holds June Fundraiser for Crohn’s Disease to Aid 17-Year-Old Derek Esquibel in His Fight to Raise Funds for the Debilitating Illness

Write What You Know

Dear Readers: I was really pleased with this story. Mallory is one of my newest students to the Seven Golden Secrets to Writing class. She used expressive words in this work which stemmed from that old caveat: “Write what you know.”  It turns out she owns a bearded dragon and plays guitar.  This gave her some of the best knowledge to craft this fun story. Diana

The Wiener Dog that Plays Guitar

By Mallory Garcia, 10

There once was a wiener dog that played guitar. Her name was Sheila. Sheila had a friend named Tiger. He was a bearded dragon. His orange neck would puff out to warn you not come near.  I have a bearded dragon named Tiger. I named the lizard in this story after mine.

Well, anyway, Sheila wanted to perform in front of people on a stage. But that didn’t go well. One day, Sheila went to Fredrick’s house and left her guitar at home. She forgot all about her guitar. Well, Tiger snuck into Sheila’s house and took her guitar.

He began to play and then: “Screeeeeeeeeetch! Snap!!!!”

Tiger gasped: “I broker her guitar!”

There were only five strings left. As he began to play, his sharp, slick claws broke another string.

“Ahhhhhhh,” Tiger screamed. But even though he was scared, he was going to be torn to shreds, he kept playing. Then three more strings broke. There was only one string left now.

Tiger suddenly heard Sheila running up stairs. He hid under her bed and plugged his ears.

She screamed: “Who broke my guitar? I’m going to rip you to shreds!”

As she turned around, Tiger ran out of the room, out the door and into the bush. She ran outside after him and yelled: “You broke my guitar.”

Tiger said: “What are you talking about. I wanted to surprise you.”

“For what?” she asked.

“I, Um…wanted to get you a brand new guitar because I broke yours and I want to get you a new one. Please don’t rip me to shreds.”

“Why would I rip you to shreds?” Sheila asked.

“Because I destroyed your guitar,” Tiger said crying.

Sheila picked him up, hugged him and said: “That’s OK. I still love you. When do I get my new guitar?”

Derek Esquibel who battles with Crohn's disease.
Crohn’s Fundraiser at Dana Middle School Snared More Than a $1,000 with Coins and the Campus Will Continue Fundraising at Acapulco June 7

In honor of its past ecology president, Dana Middle School collected coins for a cure for Crohn’s disease raising $1,046 and will host a June 7 fundraiser at Acapulco at Ports O Call.

Former ecology president, Derek Esquibel, who now attends San Pedro High and has Crohn’s, inspired the school’s current ecology club to raise funds to fight the painful disease, which inflames the stomach and bowels.

Derek was diagnosed when he was 11, said Michelle Fortune, a Dana English teacher, who runs the Ecology Club.

“Derek has been so positive and eager to work for a cure,” Fortune said. “He is one of those kids you meet and are just so glad to know exist in this world. Derek has two types of Crohn’s, a rare situation where he has it in the small and large intestine, but he doesn’t let him get it down.

“He went public with his disease in high school and began speaking about it to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation for America.”

Last year, Derek, who loves to race cars, held a fundraiser for the foundation at K-1, an indoor go-cart racetrack, in Torrance garnering $2,500.

To help Derek to raise money to fight for a cure, go to dinner at Acapulco’s from 5 to  9 p.m. at Ports O Call in San Pedro June 7. The restaurant will donate 25 percent from food sales toward the foundation.

In order to honor the fundraiser, the restaurant wants fliers from the school. Students will pass out fliers outside the restaurant or they can be picked up in the main office at Dana Middle School, 1501 S. Cabrillo, San Pedro.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Zumba founder Beto Perez showing students how to exercise and enjoy it.

Aileen Padilla, of Torrance, will begin Zumba fitness at San Pedro High Wednesday.
The Dance-Style  “Zumba” Fitness Workout That Has Gone Wild Internationally Will Soon Land at an LAUSD School As “Exercise in Disguise”; The Pilot Program Was Blessed By School Board Member Richard Vladovic Who Sponsored It

By Diana L. Chapman

This Wednesday, a non-traditional school exercise will land boldly at San Pedro High and students will find themselves doing a bit of hip shaking and foot stomping while tamping out cumbia, merengue, salsa, flamenco and other dance forms -- with enthusiasm and rigor.

The use of Zumba Fitness -- a contagious dance-style workout which has hooked thousands of would-be dancers into addictive exercise --  will have a shot at getting a work out of its own at the second largest school district in the nation.

It’s an experimental pilot to see if teenagers like it – and I don’t have a single doubt that they will.

“I want to try it, “said 16-year-old Kimberly Hernandez, a junior, who will attend the program after school when it begins at 3:30. “I’m really excited. You’re exercising and dancing at the same time.”

Freshman Vanessa Ruiz, 14, and her sister, Jazmin, 17, a junior, both high school volley ball players, plan to jump feet first into Zumba which will be held in the San Pedro High auditorium.

“I don’t like exercise at all,” Vanessa complained. “I hate running. I hate push-ups. I hate crunches. I think this will actually help me in a fun way.”

Jazmin said while she’s never heard of Zumba, she wants to try it anyway.

“I’m a bit hesitant, but all my friends are all going to do it,” she said. “Maybe it will get me into shape for volley ball.”

With child obesity levels on the rise across the nation, it seemed time to try a creative approach to get teens to exercise – one where they can have fun, feel confident and forget altogether they are working out. It also takes little equipment and students don’t have to know how to dance to do it. They only need a licensed Zumba instructor to learn.

That’s why I picked it as a pilot after school program for San Pedro High where I volunteer, besides that it has an international flavor, embracing many types of cultures that also reflect the school district

 Once I tried it at home for over three months, I was ecstatic that the program was a possibility for nearly everyone --one woman does a modified version from her wheelchair. The music and dance carries with it so much “spicy flavor” and a party atmosphere -- that I wanted to see how it would succeed at our schools. The San Pedro High Community Outreach Club helped bring the workout to the campus.

Beto Perez, creator of Zumba showing one of his moves
I also was pleasantly surprised that the founder, Beto Perez,  who accidentally stumbled on his creation in the 1990s , encourages all participants to come up with their own styles, a refreshing approach to dance, and the programs officials nickname it “exercise in disguise.”

 Millions have shed weight using the popular dance workout, say Zumba officials, and tout record numbers. Twelve million “people take a Zumba class every week” in 125 countries in 110,000 locations and about 10 million of the program’s DVDs have sold, said Allison Robins, media director for the fitness company.

 Zumba officials readily agreed to do a try-out at the high school and arranged for me to meet with Aileen Padilla, a 34-year-old woman who now trains and certifies Zumba instructors in California.

But it wasn’t that long ago that Aileen hated exercise, sat at a desk job in Indio

and refused to go to the gym with her husband. She had “no dance background whatsoever,” and could barely run.

Her cousin, Eliza Stone, asked her to attend a training for Zumba in 2005, at a time when people were asking: “What is Zumba? Nobody even knew what Zumba was,” she added.

 She fell in love with the program and so did her husband, Alfredo, 35. They both trained and became instructors and “education specialists.” Aileen quit her full time job, trading in for Zumba, and said her first class at a Palm Springs gym was so packed, they had to bring in more instructors. She now lives in Torrance, teaches at gyms in the South Bay and travels to Zumba international festivals when asked, saying she’s now visited countries such as Sweden, India and Scotland.

“I considered myself happy before,” Aileen said, “but now I have more friends, more social life partly because Zumba relaxes me. It doesn’t feel like a workout at all.”

The reason Aileen believes it will be successful at high school despite that it’s fun and healthy stems from the social aspect. Her students, she explains, tend to become friends and forge close bonds – which she suspects will happen with many of the teenagers involved.

More than that, Gina Grant, one of the leading education specialists for Zumba and a star attraction in many of the videos, said it’s time this type of programming comes into schools. Grant, a professional dancer and choreographer who launched Zumba in California, found not only that her participants were getting in better shape, it also eased their depression.

Because she so strongly believes in the fitness program, she helped design Zumbatomic classes for children ages four to 12. Teenagers are capable of doing regular Zumba lessons.

“Zumba puts the fun back into fitness and physical exercise and it offers a great alternative to traditional workouts or sports activities,” Gina e-mailed. “If kids develop healthy habits early on, it will provide a more health conscious outlook in their adult life.

“It’s a cardio workout and it’s something they’ll really enjoy doing. All kids like to go to dances or listen to music so this is the perfect workout that combines both.”

As a volunteer who sadly has watched scores of teenagers entering high school get rejected across the board for teams, basketball, dance, baseball, football and other activities – I realized we were sending the wrong message to our youth.

The message seemed to be: If you don’t make the team, you’re done. But sports for teens should just be beginning for both girls and boys. Instead of weeding them out, I want to weave them back in so they continue, as Gina said, and form healthy habits for the rest of their lives especially for students who don’t like traditional athletics programs.

Ironically, Zumba wouldn’t have existed at all if Beto, a fitness instructor in the 1990s in Colombia, hadn’t landed on the idea when he left his regular music tapes at home for his class. With a bit of improvisation, he used some of his favorite traditional Latin music, such as the salsa and the merengue that he had in his backpack, and had his students exercising to it on the spot.

His program grew so popular, he was later able to move to Miami to continue teaching when two entrepreneurs approached him and helped transform it into a global company.

While this program at San Pedro High is only a pilot, I figure we have to start somewhere and find new ways to teach students to continue exercise for the rest of their lives.

LAUSD School Board Member Richard Vladovic agreed, sponsoring the four week-after school pilot.

“It is wonderful to hear that our students are taking an active role in physical education and dance,” said David Kooper, Vladovic’s chief-of-staff. “Zumba appears to be a great workout that combines dance with exercise.

“The students will be getting fit and having fun.”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Paige Marquez, who died of cancer at age four, is still honored at the American Cancer Society Relay for Life every year.
Two Los Angeles Unified school teachers, Cathy Skubic, left, and Tami Marino, walk for life at the American Cancer Society relay in San Pedro.
Every year, these gals, starting with Kim Blanks on the left, Vicki in the middle and Sylvia Lares-Ramirez on the right, raise thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society.
2011 American Cancer Society Relay for Life: Another Success at San Pedro High School

San Pedro High Outreach for Life Team poses, with President Yesenia Hernandez, a survivor wearing purple, in the middle.

Hundreds turned out once again for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in San Pedro. Friends supported friends. Families supported families. Their were tears, laughter, hugs and love spilling amongst the participants. A special thank you to Diana Chavez-Feipel who donated $300 to the Outreach for Life Team made up of San Pedro High Students. Not all the students had enough money to make the team, so Diana pitched in so all the students could participate. This year's relay has so far made $170,000 and counting! -- Diana

Student on the left in front said she came to remember her uncle, with several of her friends.

Families and friends make hundreds of luminaries honoring those they lost and those who have survived cancer.
On her own, Lauryn Maes raised more than $10,000 to research blood cancers because so many young friends either died or had cancer. Later, she learned her mother had kidney cancer.
The Marquez family comes to honor the family member they lost, Paige, who died at the age of four pictured above.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cora Webber, mentor to Adrienne McColl, calls Adriennes' story a true fairy tale.

An Unsuspecting San Pedro High Student Rakes in a First Place Award at an International Science Competition That Brought Her Accolades along With $8,000; She Did So Despite Facing Tragic Times and Without Having Done Any Research Until the Last Two Years of Her Young Life

By Diana L. Chapman

 Having lost both her mother and grandmother to cancer within a year and then learning she had a severe back injury that permanently killed her athletic prowess, Adrienne McColl’s attitude toward life became hostile.

The surfer, dancer, volley ball player, cross country runner and all around athlete kept “thinking how things should have been and how they were really not turning out” at the age of 16.

“Who cares what will happen three years down the road when you don’t know what will even happen in three months,” reflected Adrienne, now 18, revealing her angry attitude toward life before she started research two years ago and then this month scored big time in the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in May. “I was pretty angry.”

But when attending the American Cancer Relay at San Pedro High two years ago – and listening to cancer survivors – Adrienne had an epiphany that this giving-up attitude was not what her mother, who died of brain cancer at age 49, would want of her. So she tossed herself into research at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium – and shocked even herself when she came in first place in her study of spiny lobster hatchlings and keeping them alive 179 days,  breaking the record of keeping them alive longer in captivity than even professional scientists.

Adrienne became one of 17 students who competed from around the world who received “best of category” and out of 1,500 students, received first place in animal biology along with $8,000.

“Speechless is the word that comes to mind,” said Cora Webber, who mentored Adrienne’s research at the aquarium. “I don’t think you can express it in words.  The past history she’s been through, the hardships, the disappointments. It’s just incredible. It’s one of those fairy tale stories that comes true.”

It is the first time ever a student at San Pedro High School has won such a prominent award leading school officials to be thrilled that they had such a researcher in their mists.

“Adrienne’s award is phenomenal,” said Sandra Martin-Alvarenga, San Pedro High’s Marine Magnet coordinator which Adrienne attended. “It is the first time anybody at SP High has won and it is a very big deal. This is like  the Academy Awards of Science Fairs. Last year, she won second at LA County and 2nd at the state for her work with Red Rock shrimp.

“I am so proud of Adrienne! She is an amazing young woman with an wonderful spirit and personality.”

Principal Jeanette Stevens was enthralled.

“I am extremely proud of Adrienne’s accomplishments,” Stevens said. “Her fervor and dedication are commendable, especially in her chosen field of science! I am confident that with her talent, her new college program at the University of Washington and her gifted ability of research that we will be enjoyed farm raised lobster soon!”

Having sat with Adrienne for more than two hours in an interview – where she was getting excited about a visit to University of Washington where she plans to study fisheries – I couldn’t agree more.

Here was a student who lost first her mother, Denise to brain cancer in 2008, and then directly after lost her grandmother who “didn’t tell anybody” at first because of what was already happening with the family of four girls, Adrienne being the youngest. Her grandmother died from colon and liver cancer six months later.

 By 2009, Adrienne’s back began to twinge when she was first sailing. She ignored it, but felt the pain again when she was running.

When she went to the doctor, she learned – possibly because her hips were already misaligned – that she had severely fractured her lower back and nearly all athletics now were out of her reach – another tragic setback.

Her frustrated direction turned, however, when her biology teacher, Alisa Schulman-Janiger, recommended she apply for a paid research internship at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, where she’d already been a docent for five years.

During the interviews for the program, Adrienne confessed she’d only done one “stupid” research project in her life. The word stupid disappointed aquarium officials who then ranked her as fifth in line when there were only four spots available. Having lost that opportunity, Adrienne later attended a Catalina trip where aquarium employees spotted her keen enthusiasm to study and collect ocean creatures – and her hard dedication.

Webber said she was so encouraged with Adrienne’s intensity that aquarium officials prepared to open another spot just for her before another student dropped out.

Half-Scottish and a quarter-Cherokee, Adrienne, a senior, who now free dives, paddle surfs and occasionally snow boards,  said she never did much research until her sophomore year where she first studied the density of red rock shrimp at the aquarium, replicating the same experiment six times until she became bored.

Later, she shifted her focus to spiny lobsters. She talks enthusiastically about how each lobster has 200,000 to two million babies. Her research, she decided in the world of aquaculture, would be to keep the hatchlings alive as long as possible by providing them the right foods, in this case larval fish

“I used five different diets,” she explained, “and that was the best mix of protein, calcium and DHA, fish fat. It’s like what’s in breast milk. It’s an understudied species because it’s hard to study and they are hard to raise. It’s like if you have a kid and you want to study it, but you don’t even know what to feed it.”

They are born as plankton and are “like tiny spiders,” she said, and because of overfishing of so many species, humans need to determine ways to salvage them before they become threatened and “overfished like everything is.”

While Adrienne hadn’t settled on becoming a researcher, she knew from the time she was a small girl that the outdoors and nature were a natural curiosity to her when she grew up at the Naval base in Bremerton, Washington.

“I always loved science,” she said. “I grew up in the a forest that was my backyard. I was always asking about plants. We’d take the ferries. We’d see killer whales. I fell in love with the ocean.

Her father, Angus, a submarine commander, also took her on ships and subs which reinforced her passion for the sea.

Despite her losses, Adrienne says she believes she hasn’t suffered more than anyone else has.

“I definitely grew up fast and independent, but now I think everybody has things to overcome,” she said, adding she connected with another student at the fair -- a disabled researcher named Dianna Hu.
Adrienne and her new friend,
Dianna Hu, also a major researcher in the area of spinal muscular dystrophy.

Dianna, who is in a wheelchair and flew in for the fair from New York, studied the cause for her condition --  spinal muscular atrophy.

Adrienne went out of her way to meet Dianna because she was mesmerized by the girl’s difficulties and her ability to still do phenomenal research. The two agreed that they should link up and possibly do research together. Dianna will attend Harvard in the fall.

“I just told her it’s so inspiring to study something so close to you and to try to make a difference in the condition,” Adrienne said.

Eventually, the young researcher said, she plans to open a fish market, or a lobster farm or work in the aquaculture industry.

For Adrienne, the ocean is the limit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Student Writes About a “Blank Puppy,” New Seven Golden Secrets to Writing Workshop Begins Wednesday as Well As An Important Dana Middle School  Fundraiser to Help Students Who Were Evacuated Out of Yosemite to a Replacement Trip This Summer

------------Student Writes About Blank Puppy----

Dear Readers: This student is most enjoyable in my class and comes up with some unique ideas that always makes her writing interesting and just a bit different than others. Enjoy her story! Diana

The Blank Puppy
By Alaina Bucy, 9

Once upon a puppy litter, there was a puppy. It was the smallest of all the dogs and it was white.

So the other puppies called her the “Blank Puppy.”

After the puppy turned one, she was up for adoption. But nobody wanted to adopt the dog because she was blank. One day, a little girl came up to the box that the Blank Puppy was in and picked her up. The girl started thinking about taking her home.

Then the girl said: “This is the puppy I want. It’s perfect. It’s dull, blank and boring just like what I want.”

The girl named the dog, Blank. The dog didn’t really like the name, but she stuck with it. One day, the girl got tired of the color of her dog and painted the dog blue. Blank loved her new color a lot!

The owner renamed Blank, Skyler. Skyler was now the envy of every dog and that’s when the little girl decided to enter her in a dog show. In the contest, the judges remarked repeatedly on Skyler’s color and she won the show!

Skyler would never be called a “Blank puppy” again.

-----Seven Golden Secrets Writing Shop Begins Wednesday at the Corner Store: The Six Week Session Teachers Students to Love Writing While Enjoying the Craft

A new Seven Golden Secrets to Writing workshop will begin at the Corner Store on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.

Students may enroll that day from ages 6 to 12. The six-week workshop teaches children to become more comfortable with writing and to enjoy the skill so they are no longer inhibited in the classroom.

Costs are $60 for the entire session. For further information, email Diana at or sign up on Wednesday before the class at 1118 37th Street.

Dana Middle Schoolers Spent Hours on School Bus and Due to a Powerful Storm Returned Empty Handed Without A Scientific Trip; Teachers Plan Fundraiser at Acapulco Restaurant Wednesday for a Replacement Trip to the Santa Monica Institute

Spending 26 hours on a bus ride and only 23 in Yosemite, scores of Dana Middle School students were evacuated when the valley flooded, roads were closed and the power went out this school season.  Teachers are urging residents to help replace their trip at a fundraiser Wednesday.

The Port's O Call Acapulco has agreed to give 10 percent toward the fundraiser from those having dinner from 5 to 9 p.m.  The money will be for a replacement trip this summer to take students to the Santa Monica Institute. The restaurant needs a Dana flier to include any dinners toward  the fundraising efforts.

Teacher Michelle Fortune, one of the Yosemite lead teacher’s, said the Yosemite evacuation was the first since 1997.

“We had to be convoyed out, so it was quite a bus trip,” Fortune said. “The kids kept their spirits up and we were really proud how well they took it so we want to reschedule for a summer replacement trip.”

To go on the Yosemite trip, students had raised $200 a piece and received some money back.  For the new journey, however, the students are short $5,000 and need  your help.

Fliers can be picked up at Dana Middle School and some students will pass out fliers outside the restaurant.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

A happy day at Nosh when Susan McKenna, the owner, and her friend, Marisa Giuffre, serve tea time to a group of young writing students.

After Four Years, Hundreds of Lunches and Thousands of Customers Later, She’s Pulling Back the Zucchini Tortes and the Tandoor Chicken and Shutting Down Nosh’s Doors Despite that Susan McKenna Rekindled Our Community Spirit

By Diana L. Chapman

Four years ago, Susan McKenna, with a kick of Aussie flair, opened up a tantalizing café in downtown San Pedro, filled with tasty goods --  ginger tandoor chicken, sausage rolls and hazelnut bread pudding.

It was a place friends gathered from across San Pedro – and a café that even brought a gaggle of interest from outsiders. The LA Times did a food review as did the website, JoeEatsLA, bringing many customers from across Los Angeles to taste Nosh’s goodies.

The café was full of bright promise, decked with a burst of lime-green trim and a charming atmosphere of warm friendship accompanied with creamy lattes and tasty soups. Once again,  Chef Susan baked up a community-oriented place that brought locals, residents, port officials and business leaders,  together to talk business, tighten friendships and build dreams. She did this too at her former business, the Corner Store on 37th Street which she ran with Marisa Giuffre.

But on May 27, Nosh will close its doors. Despite the dreams that downtown San Pedro was about to undergo a revival, the economy tanked – and downtown seemed to slip back into the drab scene that has haunted it for more than twenty years, which has doomed several small businesses.

Although it’s hemmed by the Port of Los Angeles, the largest port in the world – with a myriad of cruise ships docking a few blocks away, downtown’s business life remains grim as ever – a historic repeating pattern of getting a small burst of life, then dying again, sucking the life out of many, small and struggling businesses.

It’s not as terrible as when I moved here, but it still has an atmosphere that smacks of slow, rotting deterioration. I’ve never understood why our city officials and business leaders don’t comprehend that folks don’t want to visit a crusty gem. They want a glittering gem – a place of beauty, clean with plants, trees, colorful flowers, inviting benches, thriving businesses and easy parking.

The heart of our town needs this to happen or we will continue to lose upstanding entrepreneurs like Susan, who has our community in mind. She created a popular skinless sausage festival with Slobodan Dimitrov, opened two businesses that tightened bonds in our community and worked tirelessly as an advocate of White Point Preserve.

She just recently put out a three foot high glass vase at Nosh to collect $1 bills to save and restore the Korean Bell and embraced struggling residents around her giving them small jobs and sometimes feeding those who had no money.

“I am proud of what we did,” Susan said. “And I’m ready to move on,” alluding to after a break and rejuvenation she’ll decide what to do next.

While she blames no one for closing, she agrees that downtown needs much more than mere cosmetic stimulation to come back to life.

“I can’t single-handedly change downtown San Pedro,” she explained during an interview at her cafe. “I look out the window and I see no trees on my streets. The sidewalks are stained and not clean. I think we as a community need to be more forceful about parking.

“Starbucks closing (on 6th and Centre Streets across from Nosh) was terrible because it brought in traffic. It tells me something about downtown San Pedro.”

That tells me a lot about downtown too and I blame Los Angeles, the giant we are tied to. Our fate is tied to the bureaucratic nonsense. Nosh’s closing seemed to especially come due to the horrific parking downtown run by -- Los Angeles. The first three years the café was opened, it was always difficult to find a space, which visitors struggled with but seemed to accept.

But as soon as Los Angeles raised parking fees along with Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s approval (who is running for the 36th District), there were suddenly plenty of empty paces right across from Nosh on Centre Street – which told me there was a rapid decline of customers to the area.

A woman came into  Nosh one afternoon recently complaining profusely about the parking, saying one ticket means people “won’t come back.” When my girlfriend and I were lunching there the other day, she left the table three times to fill the parking meters.

But a recent study done for the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment agency blamed the businesses for the trouble, calling them lackluster. I can’t think of anything further from the truth.  As soon as parking prices quadrupled,  business began to lag all over downtown.

Every day, I dream of a town no longer connected to Los Angeles, because the people who live and work here would make it a success. I’ve seen them heroically take on projects – only forced to face a tremendous obstacle course from Los Angeles officials who just don’t seem to understand we want our town to be so much better.

The whole downtown situation is déjà vu for me, having witnessed the same story over repeatedly.

When I moved here more than twenty years ago, downtown was shabby but there was a spirit that it was about to undergo its renaissance just as it seemed when Nosh opened.

Two friends opened up small businesses – a coffee house and a gift shop. They were ecstatic with all the brimming promises that downtown was renewing its life and spirit and would be back again to its heyday – filled with strolling customers.

It never happened and within a few years, they both went out of business along with scores of others.

To me, Susan’s closure of Nosh after faithfully working to make a go of it isn’t about her failure – it’s about downtown’s failure. I suspect if we changed the following things, it might get better:

·        Eliminate all parking fees in this economically depressed area, but post signs with three hour time limits so cars aren’t left there day and night.

·        Beautify this place: plant trees, put in flowers and paint a little for god sakes! Add benches. Clean the streets. Create a place we all want to be. But keep it up. Past attempts to put planter boxes to beautify the area died when the plants died.

·        Downtown property owners who haven’t, please take advantage of the funds that exist with the Community Redevelopment Agency. Don’t leave all the work to your renters. Team up with them. Bring back the pulse and heartbeat to our downtown.

·        Convince the Port of Los Angeles to carry their theme of towering, blue lighted palm trees into downtown to provide a continuum between the cruise ships and the area that so badly needs business. Not only will this beautify the area, but it will provide a psychological link between the port and downtown.

·        Maybe this is a crazy idea, but close down Sixth Street to through traffic, allowing trolleys to shuttle folks to and fro to our gems from the Cabrillo Aquarium, Ports O Call, the cruise ships, the Maritime Museum, the Lane Victory, Point Fermin, White Point and all our other amazing sites – to gear up business.

I’ve witnessed so many plans by so many good people trying to make downtown a decent place – but unless our city officials back us a 100 percent – we can forget about breathing life back into a deflated horse.

We will all be lucky if Susan goes back into business somewhere else – but I can guarantee one place it won’t be. Sadly, it won’t be downtown San Pedro. That says a lot about what we need to do as a community, if we want the heart of our town to beat back to life.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Lion and the Lamb - our nicknames for our canine team.

Bad Baxter who keeps us busy cleaning up.
Boo, the lion, or the king of the house

The Lion and the Lamb

We call him Bad Bax.

That’s our Baxter, a bearded collie/poodle mix, white with black ears, loving, needy – and playful. Day and night playful.

At only a year old, he’s eaten several pairs of my shoes, gnawed our brand new dining chairs, chomped down mosquito screens hanging from our doors, torn up the walls with his mighty teeth, chewed through our blinds, destroyed our couch  – and to top it off -- barks with a high-pitched chirp that echoes through the house, keeping the rest of us on pins and needles.

We made this choice to add Baxter to our brood to keep our 9-year-old dog company, a daytime companion, we decided, when we are all not around, Jim working, Ryan in school and myself – volunteering. Despite all these unforseen woes, this tiny, adorable puppy, eyes ringed in pink, made us all fall in love when we met him at the Hearts for Hounds rescue group in Long Beach. He came to our home to live with Boo, our golden-red shepherd mix, and a black-and-white cat, Buddy, whom I call our biker cat.

Ryan, who’s 17, chose Baxter among a crop of adorable, yipping, happy, bouncing puppies. We, the parents, leaned toward Baxter’s sister, a copper-colored quiet, docile and timid baby. Definitely a sweetie.

 That was our style. But not our son’s.

So the tiny canine came home with us on his small leash and that’s when we discovered one of Baxter’s immediate ailments; he gets scary carsick – unbearably carsick. This already was one major drawback as we like to hop Boo in the car to Napa to visit with my mom. Now, it was clear that the little one couldn’t go.

And our idea of a pleasurable partnership between our dogs didn’t happen quite the way we imagined. It took time because, Baxter, being Baxter has no sense – and still does not to this day – what might irritate others to the extreme, whether its human or animal.

Boo, for some odd reason, didn’t immedaitely like Baxter, who at the time was smaller than our cat and was gladly cuddled by the whole family. Boo was a bit jealous, but it also might have had a lot to do with the smaller canine’s tendency to charge by Boo’s food dish, grab a biteful of Boo’s nuggets, and snigger away like Sylvester, the cartoon cat who thought he got another biteful of the lemon-colored bird Tweetie.

Finally – an unamused Boo (but it still didn’t change Baxter’s stealing habits) nipped him on the rump.

Boo still doesn’t appreciate the food stealing or the little dog -- silver white beard dripping down from his chin -- when he gets on his 15 plus minute barking rampages to get Boo to play, when in fact, the older guy just wants to curl up on the porch and drink in the sun. The barking escapades leads Boo to shout back and the chorus in the household sparks inharmonious misery among the human half.

We started to wonder about the error of our ways. Were we wrong to add Baxter to our clan? After all, he chases the cat like he’s a toy. Finally Buddy learned to get to high ground and box Baxter in the face.

But there were times we knew we made the right choice. We do absolutely love him. He’s pretty near impossible not to love when he plants his round, furry paws first on your legs and then on your face. It’s impossible not to love him when he keeps Boo company.

The two will curl up tightly together on their plethora of blankets (the only thing Baxter hasn’t chewed) and Baxter rolls over sleeping on his back, paws in the air – looking like Snoopy in flight.

Often, they pal around in the day. But since we’ve had Boo, we always knew one thing. His shepherd heritage presents an inherent trait – he wants to herd. From the moment we had him, he could leap as high as our door – and skitter, hop, leap and charge all around our backyard. Our son claimed – even though Boo was a copper-red – that he was most likely a border collie.

Just like a border collie, that was part of the reason that most of the time Boo was bored. He’s a working dog, and probably needed to live on some ranch – which we didn’t have and we’re not going to have any time soon.

When Baxter arrived, he didn’t know he would become a lamb when he got a few months older and neither did we. And that’s what we learned one day, when we went out to look at the dusky sky in our backyard.

It was 5 in the late afternoon, and the sun and wind were still hovering.  Boo was showing off his aggravation that we were playing ball with Baxter – a game Boo now showed only disdain for since he was now the older, alpha. Suddenly, Boo charged Baxter, herding him around the yard.

We had never seen anything like it! Boo chased, charged, herded, skipped, dashed, corralled and boxed Baxter in behind our giant fern. We were laughing  uproariously as this was like watching a movie. Watching Boo treat Baxter like a lamb was a treat beyond realization. Always, we’d wanted to take Boo to a ranch to herd – and now – here we were watching him do what he was meant to do in our backyard.

Baxter liked the game and did everything in his power to skitter away, but time and time again, the two wound up playing peak-a-boo, as Boo and Baxter circled each other around the fern, then the tree. Then Baxter would make a run for it flaring by us at top speed and making it benath the patio table while Boo charged him from behind.

This had been a mysterious life that had been going on in our backyard – and we didn’t even know it. The only thing we’d ever spotted was Baxter charging inside the house, skittering like a speed demon across our tile floors, with Boo close behind – with howling going on the whole way.

After that glorious day – and we’ve since had more --  we have new names for our dogs. Now we call them, teasingly, the lion and the lamb.

Friday, May 06, 2011

British Chef Jamie Oliver Has Gone Back To England, His Show Pulled Until June;  No Food Revolution Will Happen at San Pedro High and LAUSD Might Not Eliminate Flavored Milk For Its Students….

…But the food revolution truck rolls on

By Diana L. Chapman

Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver won’t be shaking on down to San Pedro High School to help whip the campuses’ after school cooking club into “food revolution” shape and he and his mixing bowls have apparently gone back to England.

At least until the fall, an Oliver spokeswoman said. But I still think Oliver did some good challenging the Los Angeles Unified School District and America at large to improve its food with his reality show, Food Revolution, an attempt obliterate obesity in America.

While he might not have gone into Los Angeles schools cafeterias with cameras in hand, he did get school officials to rethink ways to improve food at the second largest district in the nation. 

"We are always seeking ways to improve our menu," said Robert Alaniz, who also explained the district only has 77 cents to spend on each meal it makes. "The district already serves ample servings of fresh foods and vegetables on that limited amount for thousands of students."

If you spotted my article more than a week ago, I excitedly slipped in an invitation to Oliver to come down to San Pedro High and help a lonely volunteer with its after school cooking club. Up until two years ago, the campus had a culinary program until the teacher, who had waiting lists of up to 500 students at a time, retired and was not replaced due to severe cuts.

To show how popular Oliver remains, the City Watch editor reported the story had over 200,000 hits. And I did receive a quick response more than a week ago on my request from Oliver’s folks.

“Thanks so much for sending along the information about your after school program,” emailed Kim Yorio, with YCMedia in New York. “It sounds amazing. Unfortunately, Jamie’s schedule is completely booked for the two days he’s in LA and then he’s back to England until the fall. Please keep us posted on your classes.

“Maybe we can cover it in the Food Revolution newsletter.”

The famous chef had thought he could revolutionize LAUSD  with his reality show – on ABC –  called “The Food Revolution,” but schools officials were quick to gag at his menu to enter school cafeterias with cameras on and like most reality shows – would likely of honed in on the negative involving the district’s food, which concocts 120 million meals a year.

Although Oliver did make some headway when the new LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said he would agree to a proposal to remove “flavored milk” from the district’s menu, the school board still needs to approve such an action in July, Alaniz, the district spokesman said.

Things aren’t looking too delicious at the moment for the chef either.

His Tuesday night show was pulled during May sweeps to make way for exciting reruns or expanded shows of Dances With the Stars and won’t air again until Fridays beginning June 3 at 9 p.m., according to TV By the Numbers website.

Oliver’s  “woeful ratings,” might make the show “disappear for awhile,” wrote Robert Seidman, on the site.

When TED, a non-profit devoted to spreading worthy ideas, invited Oliver to appear in the U.S., the chef started with his fearful verdict that Americans and Brits were dying because of what they were eating – pizzas, fries, hamburgers and foods soaked in fats. Death came early for many from health-related obesity issues and years of life were being sliced away for our children, he said.

“My wish is for you to help a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food to inspire families to cook again and to empower people everywhere to fight obesity,” Oliver told the crowd.

Los Angeles school officials, fretting over the negativity and drama such a show would bring, only agreed to let Oliver come aboard with a proposal and give the district’s food service supervisors suggestions – but without cameras. Oliver did not fill that request, Alaniz said.

As far as LAUSD banning flavored milk – another sore point with Oliver as he carted out hordes of sugars on the TED program that a single child consumes in a few years from flavored milk  –  only time will tell whether the school board will approve it.

The milk issue remains, only  a recommendation, Alaniz added, and explained when tried in the past, school officials noticed a severe decrease in the milk students drank – a huge concern because milk includes so many nutrients.

“The overall thought,”Alaniz explained, “was that the nutrients and vitamins (in flavored milk) outweighed the negatives.”

Celebrity fitness trainer Mike Torchia, who intends to make America fit and runs Operation Fitness, said he’s encouraged the school district for years to drop flavored milks.

If Oliver succeeds in this, Torchia said, even though he disagrees with the chef’s approach to come “into our schools with camera crews and dissect our cafeterias,”  he’d be thrilled if flavored milk was dumped.

“Milk contains many nutrients that are important for children,” Torchia emailed me. “Unfortunately, flavored milk contains much higher levels of sugar, which can potentially lead to health problems if consumed in large quantities and long term use.

“We must stop feeding our children high sugar food products and focus on  providing them healthier and well balanced food choices in our schools. I support the decision of L.A. Schools Superintendent  John Deasy to no longer offer chocolate and strawberry flavored milk.”

Torchia, in the meantime, complained that Los Angeles schools still served highly-sweetened cookies on their daily menu.

Since Oliver couldn’t visit, which made sense since we came in late on our request, I then asked if we could have the Food Revolution truck drop by. The 70-foot-long truck, run under the auspices of Oliver’s foundation, comes complete with stations to teach children how to cook. But it will only saturate four areas, explained Laurie Malkin, the operations and legal director for the foundation.

The first year, the truck will be handled in a pilot project with The California Endowment’s “Building Healthy Communities,” and will be “embedded in four communities” in South Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Ana and Boyle Heights, Malkin said.

“It will not be traveling from school to school,” Malkin added explaining the truck takes hours to set up and break down. “The truck will most likely find a home in those four communities and stay planted. Programming will be run by chef-instructors and their assistants fully trained in Jamie Oliver food ethos and healthy scratch cooking curriculum.”

Even though San Pedro High didn’t score with this project, thousands of students across Long Beach and Los Angeles will. That’s what we really should care about because that will impact generations to come.

To spread Oliver’s word, catch his talk at