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Garden(er) of the Month

Delight in an edible garden, in a produce-producing haven that nourishes mind, body, and soul

Story by SUZIE HARRISON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

While beautiful, Monica Thompson’s enticing garden is not your typical garden, rather it’s a veritable vegetable haven filled with heart and history. Working with what was once a victory garden during WWII, Thompson has turned her love for organics into a work of agricultural architecture, carefully created and cultivated with utmost care. 

A work of art itself, its history relates to Norman St. Clair, the founding father of Laguna’s artist colony – his son Aubrey lived in the house. Aubrey was a famous local architect for the Water Department, the Wells Fargo Building, and City Hall, among others, Thompson explained. 

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A historic home hosts a garden filled with heart and soul via Monica Thompson’s passion for goodness

“We can’t build anything else on the property because of its historic nature. But when we bought the house two years ago, I can show you the weeds were up to here. No one had seen the house for years,” Thompson said.

Well, a lot has changed over those two years. She and her husband Rich had the yard leveled, plants and fruit trees planted, boxes made for Thompson to start her beloved vegetable garden, and they created a gorgeous stone river that adds to the special nuance of the property. 

“We eat organic and we believe in organic. We really believe in growing our own food, and we think that lawns are a waste,” Thompson said. “You know, I am not a master gardener, but we eat from out of our garden daily. We just like fresh vegetables.”

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Producing produce fresh and organic is Monica Thompson’s garden joy

Indeed they do…I got a tour and loved seeing all the growing fruits and vegetables.

The gleam in her eyes makes it obvious that Thompson has a passion for her tasty garden. You name it, they’re growing it, from every type of lettuce, fruit, berries, carrots, celery, and beets, to avocados, peaches, pumpkins, broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, quinoa, and Swiss chard, just to mention a few. Yes, there’s a lot of growing on at the Thompson’s garden, from A- apricots to Z- Zucchini! Wow!

“These are beets and this is lettuce, butter lettuce. And I have new spinach coming in over there. Then these are peppers and then carrots. Look at the size of the puppies; they’re all really big,” Thompson said. “This is the variegated romaine; isn’t it gorgeous,” she said, touching the rich colors of purple and green.

We stepped into her office, the huge window actually opens to pure nature, a new addition she relishes. It’s a front row seat to her garden, and the hummers that frequently visit, which makes her glow.

“I was a hospice doctor, and a single mom, I raised kids and worked and did absolutely nothing else. And then, I retired, met my husband, got married, empty nested, and moved here,” Thompson said. And Rich said, ‘what do you want to do’, and I said I want to be a gardener.” 

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It’s easy and fun to veg out and relax enjoying Monica Thompson’s beautiful bounty and peaceful tranquility of nature

Pointing to the abundant fruit trees, she explained, “This is a navel orange, this is pomegranate. This one is apricot and this is a Santa Rosa plum. It’s cool isn’t it,” she said with humble pride and excitement. “It’s beyond my imagination. It just like all happened.”

Not really, not without her dedication – she grows everything from seed. “I don’t plant any seedlings at all, everything from seed. I buy my seeds and I put them directly in the ground,” Thompson said.

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Lettuce grow, lettuce grow, lettuce grow…in every shape and color in Monica Thompson’s garden

As for watering, she controls a drip irrigation system for all their fruits and vegetables. Thompson actually controls it from her phone. The only plants she waters by hand, she said are “just the pots, just some pretty stuff.” For Thompson, plants and flowers are last on the food chain; she adores her fruit, vegetables and nature.

“See my hummers on the tree branch. They are out there all the time,” she said. “I have to tell you it just thrills me. It absolutely thrills me.”

As for being a member of the Laguna Beach Garden Club, Thompson adores it, especially the lectures. “I joined the Garden Club immediately when I came here because I knew what I was planning to do,” Thompson said. “I thought that they would be able to give me ideas and coach me when I was having trouble. I love the Garden Club.”

She called gardening and growing fresh organic vegetables for all their meals an awesome chapter in her life.

“Gardening is very soulful thing for me. It’s very spiritual thing for me. I love digging in the dirt. I love feeling the warmth. I love being out with nature,” Thompson said. “I can’t tell you how excited I get when I see new things coming up or when we’re able to pick something to eat that we haven’t had before. It’s just well with my soul being in my garden.”


Holiday elves work year-round, knitting and crocheting at Susi Q Community Needle Arts Guild

“Many hands make light work” has been the mantra of the Laguna Beach Susi Q Community Needle Arts Guild since its inception seven years ago. The volunteers’ mission is to create beautiful and practical knitted or crocheted gifts for the most vulnerable in LB and local communities.

Last month, members gathered to celebrate the season by packaging nearly 160 handmade knitted and crocheted items to donate to charitable organizations which serve disadvantaged youth, seniors, hospice patients, and developmentally-disabled adults.  

These organizations include Human Options, the Glennwood Housing Foundation, Susi Q Age Well Services and Case Management, the Friendship Shelter, and the Wayfarers Laguna Beach Youth Shelter.

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Photo by Jo Eckbad

Susi Q Needle Arts Guild

Back Row, l to r— Yves Newmen, Stephanie Masaki-Schatz, Roberta Luque

Front Row, l to r— Lisa Triebwasser, Jean Arovas, Adrienne Sheinwald

Gifts of blankets, scarves, gloves, hats, shawls, sweaters, baby garments, and yarn toys were also provided to emergency shelters for victims of domestic violence, at-risk youth, and homeless adults.

“It lets them know we are thinking of them,” said Jean Arovas, an organizer along with Maureen Buffington and Lisa Triebwasser.

This year the Guild extended its donations to include SoCal families of veterans and active military. 

The Guild meets the last Friday of each month from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at Susi Q Center. New and experienced crafters are welcome to join. At the Jan 26 meeting, the Guild will provide free instruction and yarn to new members.  

The Susi Q Center is located at 380 Third St.

For more information, call the center at 949-464-6645 or contact Maureen Buffington at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Joann Situ Allen is an accidental naturalist – she’ll explain why at the Garden Club meeting on Jan 12

On Friday, Jan 12, Joann Situ Allen, author of The Accidental Naturalist, will speak at the LB Garden Club meeting. In creating the adult coloring book, Allen pulled from childhood memories of budding freesias in springtime and dandelions peeking through concrete sidewalks of Chinatown, LA, as she created her first in a series of books:  these were love letters sent from the universe.  

As an artist and comic-book illustrator, Allen’s book explores the various ecosystems, starting with a focus on Laguna Beach. Her website gives an insight about her, that an artist doesn’t always get it right with the first sketch: www.dirtyeraser.com.  

Joann with her book, The Accidental Naturalist

Her love of literature in mythical, historical and scientific worlds where Hans Christian Anderson, Amelia Earhart, and underwater explorers enhanced her imagination expressed in her art.  A self-proclaimed “ecology nerd” and “style dreamer”, she will share her insights on the geology and geography of Laguna Beach as well as highlighting native and endemic species in the community. Her books will be for sale after the presentation and she will be happy to sign them.

The Laguna Beach Garden Club Inc. meets on the second Friday of every month, Sept through May at the Laguna Presbyterian Church, 415 Forest Ave. At 9:30 a.m. the social meeting begins, followed by the 10 a.m. General Meeting. The public is welcome: there is no charge for guests on their first visit.  

Before or after the meeting, browse the outdoor Garden Boutique where donated garden-related items and plants can be purchased at “dirt-cheap” prices. Fantastic garden gloves only $7/pair. Parking: Free in the Laguna Canyon Road lot (spaces 300-422) or $3 for all day in spaces 185-228. 

For more information on the garden club: www.lagunabeachgardenclub.org

The non-profit Laguna Beach Garden Club, Inc. was founded in 1928 and will celebrate its 90th anniversary in February.  Its members support a wide variety of projects related to education in gardening, horticulture, landscape and floral design, conservation, ecology and bird life.

Monthly meetings on the second Friday during the months of September through May, where we host many presenters on a variety of topics.


Mindful Parenting Series, instructed by Lucas Leardmann, begins on Sat Jan 27 at Susi Q

Are you looking to bring calm into your home and improve communication with your children? If so, this Mindful Parenting Series workshop is for you. This event will be instructed by Lucas Leardmann, UCSD School of Mindfulness, on every Sat Jan 27 - Feb 10, from 9:30 - 11:30 a.m. and will be located at the Community & Susi Q Senior Center. The cost will be $15 for the 3 part series. 

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Submitted photo

Mindful parenting results in mindful, happy kids

A mindful approach to parenting helps children and their parents feel happier, calmer, and less stressed. This series will aid in managing strong emotions and cultivating compassion, while teaching skills that enhance the parent-child relationship.

Studies show that children whose parents are more mindful are significantly less likely to report being stressed. Practicing mindfulness strengthens pathways in the brain and can change how the brain responds to stress, explaining why people who practice mindfulness have a more positive outlook on life and are better equipped to handle daily stress and anxiety.

To register or to find out about available scholarships, call the City of Laguna Beach at (949) 464-6645 or visit www.Lagunabeachcity.net

More information, contact Marci Mednick at (949) 499-7292 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


McGillivray Freeman film, America’s Musical Journey, will premiere in February

MacGillivray Freeman Films will release America’s Musical Journey, a 3D giant-screen film that celebrates the rich, cultural diversity of America as seen through the story of its music, on IMAX and giant screen theatres on Feb 16. 

America’s Musical Journey follows Grammy Award®-nominated singer and songwriter Aloe Blacc as he traces the roots of America’s music and follows the footsteps of Louis Armstrong through the colorful locales and cultures where America’s music was born.  

Moving through the nation’s most iconic cityscapes, from New Orleans and New York City to Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, Miami and beyond, the film captures the essence of American creativity and explores a musical heritage shaped by a collision of cultures coming together from all over the world.

Greg McGillivray introduces one of his films in 2015

 “In America’s Musical Journey we tell the fascinating story of why America, in a relatively short span of time, became the cradle of so many electrifying new forms of music, from jazz and the blues to gospel, soul, country and rock and roll,” says director Greg MacGillivray. 

“We explore how our nation’s mingling of cultures sparked unique creative changes in our musical tapestry, starting with music brought from West Africa by slaves to Louis Armstrong’s improvisational jazz to the rock and roll cultural revolution inspired by Elvis to the hip hop explosion of today.” 

At a recent educator symposium hosted by MacGillivray Freeman Films and Discovery Place, museum educators embraced the film and applauded the opportunity it gives them to start a conversation in their communities about diversity, immigration, history, music and how these relate to science.

“America’s Musical Journey is the perfect film to help educators connect curriculum dots across subject matter,” says Susan Borland, Education Manager at the Challenger Learning Center in Tallahassee, Florida.  “It weaves history, music, science, culture and technology in a way that will be helpful in any classroom

“The story of America is the story of immigrants—and the story of music in America is intrinsically linked to that notion,” says Aloe Blacc.  “From the spiritual songs born from slave fields to the blues sound that followed—to jazz, soul music, gospel and everything in between—these different styles from different communities have come together to create this incredibly rich, shared musical heritage.”

America’s Musical Journey will debut at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum world premiere on Feb 15 and will be released globally in IMAX and giant screen theatres starting Feb 16.

The trailer can be viewed at www.americasmusicaljourney.com.


Mark Towns Latin Jazz featuring Diana Purim will be presented by Laguna Beach Live! on Jan 17

Mark Towns is one of the world’s leading exponents of guitar-based instrumental Afro-Cuban Jazz, composing and performing music which blurs the lines between Latin Jazz, Flamenco Jazz, Salsa, Funk, and Fusion. 

Towns’ guitar work and arrangements combine the technical sophistication of jazz and flamenco with the down-to-earth feel of the blues and rock from his Texas upbringing to create something brand new. 

As Paul MacArthur (writer for Downbeat) says, “Mark Towns isn’t just playing Latin Jazz, he’s making sure it continues to evolve.”  

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Submitted photo

Mark Towns

Mark Towns will be joined by vocalist Diana Purim, daughter of Brazilian Jazz legends Flora Purim, Ross Schodek on bass and Euro Zambrano on drums.

Jazz Wednesdays Winter 2018 takes place in the distinctive [seven-degrees] event facility, 891 Laguna Canyon Rd., for seven concerts, January 17-April 11, every two weeks. 

Concerts are 6 - 8 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m.. Full bar and buffet dinner menus are available for purchase starting at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Seating is assigned. 

Reservations are accepted until noon on day of concert or until sold out. For more information visit www.lagunabeachlive.org or call 949-715-9713.


Dennis’ Tidbits

By DENNIS McTIGHE

January 9, 2018

There’s drama in the air: this week’s weather menu has something for everyone – rain & snow, then wind & heat

Starting Wednesday the sun will set after 5 p.m. By the end of the month it will set at 5:19 p.m. it will set at 5: 47 by the end of February. Planet Earth is now beginning its tilt to the south and the noontime sun will climb a little bit higher each day.

If you’re a fan of dramatic weather changes, you’re going to love this week. From coats, jeans, and boots to shorts and flops, this week’s weather menu has a bit of everything to offer. The first significant winter storm is poised to assault California instead of the soggy, dreary Northwest with the main energy focusing on Central and Southern California, thanks to the convergence of both the subtropical and North Pacific jet streams on steroids with no offshore high pressure ridge to block them or slow them down. We’re looking at two to four inches of rain in the lowlands and upwards of six and maybe up to eight inches in the foothills and south facing coastal slopes. Heavy snow will fall above 7,000 ft. at first and those levels will drop to 4-5,000 ft. when all is said and done.

This is the latest in the season that the first major storm has hit our state and boy are we far behind. Here in Laguna we’re at four-tenths of an inch since last July 1 and we should be at nearly five inches by this time. Winds up to 50 mph could hit some areas and strong thunderstorms may also occur on Tuesday with even a few waterspouts not out of the question. 

Things clear out by early Thursday leading to a Santana wind event with temps flirting with the 80 degree mark next weekend. One word of caution: there’s going to be almost everything imaginable draining into our local waters with very high bacteria counts for at least 72 hours or more once the rain stops. Not that there’ll be any surf to ride, but if there is, bring your doctor and plenty of antibiotics with you to the beach!

Stay tuned, it could get interesting, ALOHA!


AIDS Services Foundation founders resign from board

By BARBARA DIAMOND

Al Roberts and Ken Jillson cut their ties this week to the AIDS Services Foundation (ASF), which they created in the mid-1980s to help folks cope with effects of the pandemic that was taking the lives of so many of their friends. 

Roberts and Jillson announced their resignations in letters made public this week, before leaving on a trip. They stated that changes in the Foundation’s mission and leadership have rendered their participation untenable. Both men asked to have their names removed immediately from all website and marketing materials. 

“Sadly, I guess it’s my turn to formally resign as a thirty-two year ASF volunteer since ASF is no more,” wrote Roberts. 

Jillson’s letter explicitly explained the reasons the pair felt impelled to resign. 

Roberts and Jillson explain the reasons for their resignation

“Unfortunately, in the last few years, some board presidents and executive committees have unwisely allowed the executive director to have free rein with minimal accountability and oversight and make poorly-judged hiring and firing decisions with sometimes disastrous results,” wrote Jillson. 

“Jumping the gun and rebranding the agency, opening a medical clinic to supposedly serve the LGBT community of Orange County, and erasing the extraordinary history of ASF is a prime example. Several people have called this decision simply job preservation. 

“I’m all for moving forward with progress when future plans are well thought out, input is taken and listened to from all stakeholders, and then cautiously and carefully executed. 

“Unfortunately, I can no longer be associated with mediocre, self-serving management and that is the basis for my resignation. ASF’s original clear vision and mission was about helping its clients. Period.”

Response from Radiant Health Centers

Stu News sought a response from Radiant Health Centers, the new name for the AIDS Services Foundation, and received this statement moments after deadline:  “Our community, clients and everyone at our agency – including the staff, volunteers, and fellow board members – are so appreciative of Al and Ken,” wrote Mark Gonzales, vice president of the board of directors of Radiant Health Centers.

“We are eternally grateful for their courage, vision and valiant effort over the years and stand ready to continue their work to end the AIDS epidemic in Orange County.” 

History of the Foundation

The Foundation was created in a Laguna Beach home in the fall of 1985. AIDS was scary, mysterious and deadly. It was not a popular cause to support in those days. Raising money was difficult in the shadow of the stigma of the times, Roberts recalled.  

They found a way and raised millions of dollars through the iconic “Splash,” a backyard musical spoof set around the pool of their Arch Beach Heights home, produced and acted in by Jillson. The show featured the hairy Aquanettes’ not-exactly-precision swim team a la Esther Williams, and celebrity voice-overs. 

Project Runway finalist Mondo Guerra comments on Elizabeth Taylor’s fashion prowess as Ken Jillson, ASF co-founder listens intently at a fundraiser in 2011

Roberts and Jillson were also instrumental, with the help of Dr. Arnie Klein, in bringing Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson to Laguna for a joint fundraiser for the Laguna Art Museum and the Foundation. 

“It has been an enormously rewarding experience to be part of a group starting a Foundation from the ground up, nurturing it and watching it grow, and now come to a close knowing that we all did a great job and made a difference for our clients,” wrote Roberts.

Neither mentioned their own contributions, which earned them recognition as they were awarded Laguna Beach Seniors Legacy Award in 2010 and participated as the Grand Marshals of the Patriots Day Parade in 2011.

Roberts and Jillson are not looking back, nor resting on their laurels.  

“There are many worthwhile charities in Orange County that Ken and I will continue to support and volunteer for including the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach Susie Q Senior Center, the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, the Center O.C., and Men Alive – The Gay Men’s Chorus.

“The future is bright. As one chapter comes to a close, many new and exciting volunteer chapters begin.” 

Lucky Laguna. 

Both men praised donors, volunteers and dedicated staff who worked diligently to better the lives of folks impacted by HIV/AIDs.

Jillson said those were the people who made his 32 years with the Foundation an incredible, magical experience, one he will always cherish.


Power line explosion on Agate Street near Mozambique ignites new debate on undergrounding

On Wednesday, Jan 3, around 8:30 p.m., numerous Laguna residents noticed a blue flash emanating from Coast Highway near Mozambique Restaurant, followed by an explosion. 

The explosion – caused by a failed cable, according to Edison representative Mary Ann Milbourn – sent a live wire onto the ground. 

“When the power went down at 8:30 p.m., a live wire dropped to the Mozambique parking lot, creating its own sparky dance for more than an hour,” a restaurant spokesperson said. 

“There was no loss of life or injury, which we’re grateful for,” says Ivan Spiers, Mozambique Restaurateur. “We didn’t charge anyone in the building, of course, because we had bigger issues at hand - their safety - and we didn’t have power anyway.” 

Police and fire personnel immediately responded, blocking off the area around Coast Hwy, Agate and Glenneyre Streets. 

Mozambique guests were evacuated. Power was not restored until around 7 p.m. on Thursday evening, the restaurant spokesperson said. 

The incident once again raised concerns about the fire danger posed by above-ground power poles. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Heavy traffic along Laguna Cyn Rd, a key evacuation route

Councilmember Toni Iseman was quick to react. “Southern California Edison needs to tell us what their maintenance schedule is for all the vaults in Laguna. This Agate explosion could have caused a disastrous fire on a windy day,” Iseman said. “Previous fires can be traced back to Edison’s neglect. We need to hear from them soon. Edison must not ignore one of their oldest communities.” 

The City is paying consultants to develop a survey to gauge residents’ willingness to support two different bonds intended for the 2018 ballot. Each deals with financing the undergrounding of the poles, with a primary focus on evacuation routes. Feedback from the survey, it is hoped, will help determine financial strategies going forward.

Agate Street resident Maggi Henrikson says her block of Agate would be a hard sell. “Most houses are owned by landlords and they don’t want to pay,” Henrikson said. “As I understand it, the big expense is connecting from the street to the house, which homeowners would have to pay for.”

Whalen explains the two proposed ballot measures

In a recent guest column for Stu News, Bob Whalen explained the two proposed ballot measures as follows: “My goal is to place two ballot measures on the November 2018 ballot so voters will have a chance to vote on a citywide financing plan. One ballot measure, to be voted on by all voters in the City, would be to approve financing to underground Laguna Canyon Road and the other evacuation routes [identified in last week’s agenda]. These are safety improvements that benefit all of us citywide. 

 “In the event of a major fire or other disaster requiring evacuation, we all need these routes to get out of town as quickly as possible and to ensure that emergency personnel have access to the fire zone. 

“The second ballot measure would apply only to the areas in the city that are not yet undergrounded. Residents in these areas will be asked to approve and pay for the cost of undergrounding their own neighborhoods. This approach makes sense in that it avoids having neighborhoods that have already paid to underground from paying a second time, which would not be fair.

“Power lines, transformers and poles looming overhead are the single biggest threat to public safety in our city. Every day they pose an imminent risk of starting a devastating fire that could take lives and destroy homes. 

“This is a watershed moment for our City and we need to be bold in our proposals to address the number one threat to our public safety.”


Merritt Farms issues statement regarding future of oceanfront hotel; three businesses in building remain open

By BARBARA DIAMOND

Three businesses located in the oceanfront building in which Andersen Hotels previously operated Hotel Laguna, will continue to operate although the hotel is closed.

Merritt Farms issued a statement on Saturday announcing that it had hoped to have a new hotel operator in place on Jan 1, is working to reach an agreement with Kimbark Group, LLC, and expects the hotel will reopen when an agreement has been signed.

“In the interim, we offered the owners of the stores at the hotel the option to remain open,” read the announcement from Jacob Shepard on behalf of Merritt Farms. “We are pleased that Narrative Gallery, International Hair Salon and Laguna Parking Co. Valet Service have chosen to continue to operate at the hotel.”

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

International Hair Salon, Narrative Gallery and Laguna Parking Co Valet remain open

The statement from Merritt Farms did not identify a lawsuit filed by Andersen Hotels as the cause for the delay in negotiations with Kimbark Group, but did state that the allegations in the complaint are without merit. 

Business owners, which included Puppies and People Too, Bubbles, Narrative Gallery, International Hair Salon and Laguna Parking Co. Valet Service, were all offered the option of remaining open after the hotel closure, according to Merritt Farms.

Attempts to contact the business owners were unsuccessful.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

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