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Sharael Kolberg: Making the most out of everything

BY: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Sharael Kolberg is someone who makes the most out of things.  A telling example of this is when she, just out of high school, worked as a bank teller in her hometown of Eureka, CA.  A customer at the bank mentioned the trouble her family was having finding good employees to run the family frozen yogurt business in Hawaii. Kolberg knew just the person to help them run their shop, and, not surprisingly, her customers agreed with her. So it wasn’t long before the girl from Eureka was off on her first big adventure to run a yogurt shop on Maui (with a condo and car provided, to boot).  Opportunity seen; opportunity taken.

Sharael Kolberg:

Writer, Director of SEEDS, Master Gardener, community volunteer

Embracing opportunities

Kolberg is a long way from the frozen yogurt shop, both literally and figuratively, as she now resides in Laguna Beach and works as a writer and as the Director of SEEDS Art and Education.  However, her willingness to embrace opportunities and make the most of them traveled back with her across the Pacific.

Kolberg left Hawaii after 10 years with a degree in journalism from the University of Hawaii.  She wasn’t anxious to return stateside, but…

“After I graduated from college I realized that all the jobs that paid a decent salary in Hawaii…those people weren’t going to leave.  My best friend was in San Francisco and she told me the apartment upstairs was open so that’s where I went.”  And it was a fortuitous choice because that is where she met her husband, Jeff.  

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Photo courtesy the Kolbergs

From left: Sharael Kolberg, her daughter, Katelyn, husband Jeff and Charlie

 

A chance to return to small town living

After 15 years in the Bay Area, a business opportunity provided a way for the Kolbergs to relocate to southern California. Choosing Laguna was easy. Jeff is a native Lagunan (even his mother went to Thurston Middle School).  

“He cherished growing up here.  We both grew up in small towns and we missed that,” explains Kolberg.  Plus, their daughter, Katelyn, is an only child. “We wanted her to grow up with her cousins who are all within 30 minutes of us. Jeff’s parents are still in the same house on Bluebird Canyon,” she says.  So for the last five years, the Kolbergs have called Laguna home and Kolberg, in typical fashion, has made the most of the opportunities she has found here – so much so that it’s hard to imagine how she manages to do it all.

“Workwise, I write for Firebrand Media. I write for Riviera Magazine, Orange Coast, and the St. Regis and some others.” Then she tells me laughing, “I actually have a job as the Director of SEEDS, a non-profit that provides educational enrichment programs for kids and families with a focus on the arts, the environment and wellness.”  

She’s also a Master Gardener who has worked on the El Morro Elementary School garden, the Thurston Middle School Garden and just helped complete a $50,000 renovation of Anneliese’s Willowbrook campus garden that was destroyed in the storms of 2010.  “This was a really fun project. We just got a grant from the water district to get irrigation installed.  It is really cool,” she says enthusiastically. 

Next up is the Laguna Presbyterian Preschool garden.  “I have seen how learning can be taken to the next level with a hands-on experience, which is why I love helping with these gardens.”

Then there’s the non-profit groups she does PR for: the Laguna Beach Garden Club, TMS PTA and the Interscholastic Mountain Bike Team.  She is also president of the PTA’s Coffee Break parent education program and a SchoolPower trustee. Oh, yes, and her third book is just about to be released.  As I said, she jumped into living and working in Laguna with both feet -- so much so it’s hard to know how she stays afloat! 

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Some of the tools of one of Sharael Kolberg’s many trades

Writing is a passion

“I love writing.  That’s my passion. That’s what I love doing the most,” Kolberg tells me emphatically.  And while she tends to focus on “family travel and green living” in her articles, she has three books to her credit on topics as far ranging as a marriage guide, a year she and Jeff spent in Australia and, her latest, a memoir of the year she and her family “unplugged” prior to moving to Laguna. 

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Sharael Kolberg with her dog, Charlie, a frequent companion at Zinc Cafe

“A Year Unplugged” leads to many things

This year without technology was what led her to gardening. “Because we didn’t have technology I decided to volunteer at Katelyn’s school and the local farm. I read every book on school gardening, took classes and became an expert.  When we moved, I got my Master Gardener degree from the UC Davis extension program in Costa Mesa.  It’s a four-month, intensive program where you learn snippets of everything from irrigation, grafting, seedlings.  The quality is really good, really interesting,” she tells me.

But back to the book.  “Three months ago I was asked to be on the panel of the AAUW (American Association of University Woman) Literary Luncheon (March 14),” says Kolberg.  “They told me to come ‘with my book.’ Only it wasn’t a book yet.  I had just kept a daily journal about what our lives were like without any technology; it was just a bunch of notes in a binder!  So I had to get busy,” she says laughing. Using her three month window, Kolberg compiled her notes into a book she proudly describes as “the best one yet.”

Just another 26 mile run

So when I jokingly ask her what she does in her spare time, I’m not the least bit surprised when she tells me she is training for a marathon.  She wasn’t keen to mention it because a lot can happen between the training for a marathon and the actual running of one (like injuries, for one), but that would be, in my opinion, the only way her marathon doesn’t get run.  

Anyone who writes a book in three months while holding down a job, volunteering all over the place while still being a devoted wife and mother understands commitment and dedication (and is made of different stuff than I, that’s for sure).  

For Sharael Kolberg, running 26.2 miles is just another run – that she’s going to make the most of, whether she makes it to the starting line or not.


Sandi Werthe: 

The woman who’s launched a thousand floats

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Sandi Werthe started volunteering for the Patriots Day Parade in 1975. The lady has seen all the red, white, and blue you can imagine – and she’s not had her fill yet.

The Patriots Day Parade has kept Laguna swelling with pride for 49 years now thanks to volunteers such as Sandi, who serves as its treasurer. She’s seen the parade from every angle, but she’s only been in it twice: in 1993 when she and her husband were “Citizens of the Year”, and once with the Exchange Club. She defies the axiom: the whole town is in the parade. 

In fact, she’s a big part of the hidden mechanics making it all happen. 

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Submitted photo

Hal and Sandi Werthe in 1977

“Everything Hal did, I joined him,” Sandi explains of her civic volunteerism. Sandi’s husband, Hal, passed away two and a half years ago, but in his time he not only repaired just about all of the appliances in Laguna, he was an active with, among other things, the Exchange Club, the Police Department and its Citizen Academy, the American Legion, and the Parade Association. 

He was even Santa Claus, on Forest Avenue for several years.

She’s a leader too

While Sandi bypassed the role of Mrs. Claus, she has been an inveterate champion for civic causes just like Hal. “If he quit doing something, I took over,” she said. Let’s see now – that amounts to various jobs with the Parade Association, the Exchange Club, the Citizen Academy, the American Legion, the Laguna Presbyterian Church Foundation, and working at election poll stations.

Sandi Werthe

But this week the hoopla is all about the parade. Sandi has actually been preparing for it almost all year. The parade committee begins planning in August. That’s when the permits are issued. Then by September they come up with a theme, and the special Laguna honorees. Following that, all the back office stuff begins, like organizing the participants, judges and ribbons, getting advertisers, printing the programs, doing the bookkeeping, and generally putting the word out.

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Not that the Patriots Day Parade needs much of a shout-out in Laguna. It’s pretty much carved in stone on the City calendar. The first Saturday of each March is a day highly anticipated by thousands and thousands of people. 

By February, the Adventure Guides have pulled out their best tribal outfits and started preparing for the big day. The school marching bands have been practicing for weeks in anticipation. The antique cars are spit and polished. The batons are twirling. It seems everyone in town is ready and willing to participate in Laguna’s historic parade, which will be this Saturday.

A well-loved tradition, the parade does not just happen on its own. As they say, many hands make light the work. Well, Sandi Werthe possesses at least several of those hands. “I don’t really get to see the parade,” she says. “I’m running around doing things.” 

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The day before, she gets the trophies over to Tivoli Too! where they’ll be ready come show time. Early on the morning of the parade she’s off with boxes of programs to distribution sites, setting up the check-in desk on Short St., sorting bins of rosettes and arm bands and ribbons, giving out car assignment numbers, and trying to remember every niggling little detail that will make all the difference in a smooth parade.

A can-do spirit

Sandi is just that sort of organized person. She’s got facts and figures in her head like you would expect of the Treasurer, plus her hair is neatly combed. She’s got meetings, and emails, and work-shifts, plus her house is clean. It seems fitting that her way to relax – when she has the time – is to needlepoint; a very careful and exacting art form. 

There are neat and colorful needlepoint and embroidery works framed all around her house. One piece that’s near and dear to her heart is the needlepoint cushioned chest she made for her wedding day in 1977. It has lovebirds around the sides, and she and Hal knelt upon it at the Tivoli Wedding Chapel.

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Sandi and Hal were adventurous. They loved to go motor homing, and they took that little big home over all the rough roads of Alaska. When they married, Hal was still a volunteer with the junior firefighters club, “Fire Explorers”. Sandi jokes that their first honeymoon was with the Exchange Club, and the second was with the Fire Explorers. Hiking, and camping no less, “In the rain!” she laughs. 

Sandi is not afraid to rough it, and she knows how to follow-through on her many volunteer jobs. That’s something that is hard to find nowadays. People seem to be “too busy” in this technology-driven era, and hands-on volunteers are ever harder to come by.  “Everyone’s getting older,” Sandi said. “Like at Legion Hall, but we just keep going at it.”

According to Sandi, for example, the Parade Committee consists of eight or nine volunteers, but the day of the parade dozens more are required.

Her stick-to-itiveness is evident in another of Sandi’s pastimes; she has had pen pals over the years, from all over the world. Started as a schoolchild project, Sandi made friends via hand-written letters with other children in England, New Zealand, and Austria. And they’re still in touch! She’s met several of them, and has been communicating with one pen pal since 1947.

Sandi Werthe is a kind of captain that has steered many of Laguna’s civic and philanthropic organizations. It’s been smooth sailing only because of the untold hours, persistent drive, and community loyalty she possesses. 

We salute you Sandi!


Mark Dressler: Saying “Bye Bye” with a bang

Story by: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

 “I am a teacher of an incredible art form.”  This is the biggest reason LBHS and Thurston drama teacher, Mark Dressler, gives for the success of the drama programs at both schools.  

“Everybody loves the theater.  It’s part of the human character, this need to tell stories.”  And while that may be true, it is also true that in the 25 years that Dressler has been working for LBUSD, he transformed a drama program that had deteriorated to extinction into a local treasure that is now nationally known and respected.  

Dressler is retiring at the end of this school year, but he’s not going quietly.  His spring production of “Bye Bye Birdie” is going to be the largest production he has ever produced.  And that’s saying something.

Mark Dressler, LBHS and Thurston Middle School Drama Teacher

A coalescing of forces

Hired as an English and history teacher, the school district held a teachers meeting in the Artist’s Theatre.  “I was there thinking, ‘This could be a great theater.’  But there were no drama classes.  This got me thinking.  I had experience teaching drama so I went to the school board and said, ‘It’s a shame. We could make our arts program something that defines us, like our water polo programs.” he remembers.  And while the LBHS water polo teams are still great, it is undeniable that Dressler’s goal of making the LBUSD arts program another point of pride for LBUSD has been achieved.

In talking with Dressler, however, he is quick to share the success of the drama program with others.  Several factors, according to Dressler, have played a huge role in the programs’ success.  For one, having a place to perform is, as he sees it, critical. “We could not do what we do without the Artists Theatre.  Cindy Prewitt organized a community campaign that helped raise $1.5 million to enhance the theater at just about the same time I was hired as a teacher. She was a really important voice of the theater.  In the 1950’s they had done a really bad remodel.  Before the campaign restored it, the ceiling had been lowered, the seats were ripped, there were rodents running around, and mold on the walls,” says Dressler.  

Looking at the theater now in all its glory, it’s hard to believe.

Getting them while they’re young

Another factor Dressler says has been key to the program’s success, is the continuity he gets from working at Thurston and LBHS. “I’m able to grab a kid by the shoulders in 6th grade and say, ‘You are so good!’ That’s what other school districts don’t have. We’re a little, tiny school district. I know all the teachers.  I have my feet in both worlds.  I know them from the time they are little kids to the time they are adults.  They know me.  They trust me.  This intimacy has a lot to do with the success of the program.”  

It also provides Dressler and his cast with what he says is their favorite part of the production: the elementary school previews. “It’s such a great thing for these kids to go back and see their teachers and let their teachers see them.  You know, sometimes the teachers wonder ‘What’s going to happen to that kid?’ and then they see that everything turned out,” he says laughing.

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Some of the cast from “Bye Bye Birdie” doing a preview of the show at El Morro 

All kids deserve a supportive community

So while Dressler celebrates the things intrinsic to Laguna schools that aid in the program’s success, he laments that other districts aren’t as fortunate. “The kids – and I mean all kids – just need a community that supports them. It sounds corny, but programs like ours make this country better. It makes better Americans.  All kids can benefit; they just need the chance.  I was an athlete in school. It’s the same kind of structure as a team. The director is like the coach, and everyone works together toward a singular vision.  Wherever you are in the show, it’s a vehicle for collaboration.  These are skills these kids will take with them throughout their life. It kills me that other schools don’t have the ability to do what we do here.”

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Mark Dressler with senior cast members of  “Bye Bye Birdie”

A supportive school district still means he has to sell tickets

Dressler says another reason he is able to do what he does here is because he has the support of the school district.  “Fortunately, the school board has been behind me 100%.”  When he started, however, there were skeptics.  

“My first production was ‘Grease’.  No one came to the audition. This really unpleasant history teacher came up to me and said, ‘How dare you take a section!’  He was upset because I was given oneclass for drama,” laughs Dressler.  

Undeterred, Dressler hustled and cajoled to get a cast. “‘Grease’ ran for three nights.  “There was a line down Park Ave. to Short St.  We didn’t do pre-sales back then.  People were starving for this.  We made $10,000 and it started to build,” he says. With shows that regularly have $30,000-$50,000 budgets, the building process has definitely been successful.  And, while the school district is supportive, “I’ve got to sell tickets. The superintendent never says, ‘How much money do you need?’” says Dressler with a smile.  Pretty soon, however, selling tickets will be someone else’s concern. 

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Cast members run through a number from LBHS presentation of “Bye Bye Birdie”

Leaping into retirement with characteristic enthusiasm

“I have to retire,” says Dressler with his trademark enthusiasm. “I’m really excited – it’s a brand new adventure.” One that he will undoubtedly embrace with the same passion he brings – and has brought – to his job for all these years.  And passion is what he says his replacement (or replacements) will need.  

“Whoever takes this job has to inspire people to do great things.  Once people have faith in you, there’s nothing they (and we) can’t do.”  Which is why choosing “Bye Bye Birdie” as his final musical is a fitting send off.  “There are 100 kids involved in this show!  It’s the biggest show we’ve ever done!” he says energetically. His final production will be the appropriately titled: “You Can’t Take it With You.”  He may be retiring, but he’s definitely not coasting to the finish line.  And for those who can’t imagine the drama program without him, the only thing Dressler is worried about is finding a new stage manager.  “Mine is graduating,” he says with a sigh.

Mark Dressler enthusiastically sets the stage for his El Morro audience

Leaving but hoping to stay close

 “I will not consider myself successful if the program doesn’t flourish after I’m gone,” he says.  And while he may officially be “gone” he won’t be far away. “I’m just going to be in San Juan Capistrano.  I’m hoping I can continue having that relationship.  I’d love to be able to help out,” he says.  

Plus, he feels there’s room for improvement. “There are a lot of things we can do better; a lot of areas where we can improve,” says Dressler.  I suppose there’s always room for improvement, but to an outside observer, it’s hard to see where. “Bye Bye Birdie” opens Friday, March 13th so buy your tickets. 

It will be a great show, plus there aren’t many opportunities left to give Mark Dressler the standing ovation he deserves.


Doug Miller: from the other side of the lens

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He has a mind for facts and figures, and a library of journals to back it up. Doug Miller has kept count of every photo he’s ever taken: who, when, and where. The number of individuals hover around 40,000. I shouldn’t say hover, because the man knows the figures – the exact figures. Just ask him. He also has taken some 350,000 spontaneous photos from the streets of Laguna Beach.

He tracks the names and dates, and piles the journals in his filled-to-the-brim compact studio, in his own particular style of order. 

“Over there are my albums,” he points out. “And that stack is ordered by date.” I look around the stool I’m seated on and mentally take note, lest I knock over the perfectly chronological journals, which may require several days worth of re-cataloguing.

He Found his Vice

I remember the first time Doug Miller captured my children with his camera. “Oh yeah,” he says. “I’ve done a lot at Top of the World.” And Boo Blast, and Sawdust, and the Patriots Day Parade… and along his daily walks from his artist’s studio on South Coast Hwy into the downtown area.

Doug Miller

He is a walker. “I never got my license,” he explains, even though he drove his VW bus until it died. Since then he has opted for foot travel, and that has put him direct line of sight with just about everyone in Laguna. Everything fascinates him with his lens.

“Everyone else has vices,” he says. “Mine is film: I’m addicted.”

As his portfolio of slides and stacks of journals grew, Miller has become an incidental archivist. At many points he has documented moments, people and places of historic significance, like the morning just before the devastating fire in 1993. 

“I was down on the boardwalk that morning. When it started, I was out in the canyon,” he recalls. “The next day, I walked from our house down the beach to downtown. I got right on through. I walked up Park Avenue to Skyline, taking pictures as I went.”

He’s scanning and posting from his photo albums on Facebook these days to the tune of some 1,800 albums. At 30 – 40 photos per album, well, do the math. Suffice to say, there are a lot of photos to look at on Facebook for many a rainy day. “I’ll post it, and it’s fine,” he says. “I don’t copyright my pictures.”

It may be hard to get potential patrons to cross the busy coastal highway, but Miller welcomes many strollers-by every day into his studio, nonetheless. You’ll find him amongst his stacks, working on a painting, or looking through the magnifying lens at sheets of slides, or cataloging his many photo albums, but he’ll shout out, “Hi! Come on in!”

So, take the opportunity. Pull up a step stool, and allow his stories to unfold – of all the years and all the visual references this one-man history book has documented in and around Laguna.

The Early Days

Miller was a lanky teenager in Long Beach when he upped for the Navy. He served as a radarman. The best part of that experience was being away on leave, aka “liberty”, when he could visit his Aunt and Grandma in Laguna Beach. “My grandma had a house on Flora Street,” he said. “It was great here, much more fun than Long Beach.” 

Meanwhile he got hooked on photography with a Minolta he bought in Hong Kong. He started out doing photography for the Navy, including the ship’s crews. “I took to it like a duck to water,” he recalls. “I spent all my money on film.” 

After the Navy, he moved into the home of his friend Barbara Stuart in Laguna. He lived there for eight years during which time he met the love of his life, Becky. They were married in 1979, and briefly moved to her hometown of Jackson Hole, where they lived in a teepee. When Barbara passed away in 1998, Doug and Becky were able to purchase from her children the family property where the studio and home still reside. 

The two buildings were from the early 1930’s, and the one that is now his studio was pretty rickety. It took lots of mechanical ratcheting with a bunch of friends to keep the place from falling apart. Go visit the studio today and you’ll see where the roof-beams were created and the little shack that stood beside a two-lane dirt road has morphed into an art studio along Coast Highway. 

The Miller’s charming and authentic cottage is just behind the studio, and it’s where they raised their two sons, Jesse and Josiah.

The Sawdust Calling

Something just resonated between Miller’s brain and the lens. He took that passion post-Navy, and entered into his first years at the Sawdust Festival.

His initial works were photographic, and then he branched into painting.

“I did photography at the Sawdust, but that didn’t sell much. I had some dreadful oil paintings in 1971, but I managed to sell a few,” he admits. Selling improved, as did his painting technique.

In his Sawdust booth, Miller always has a train set running. “I pick the spot so I can have my HO train there,” he said. “Now all the kids come to see the train. A kid at heart, he also gives out toys. “People bring me bags of toys, or I get them from the thrift store. If I find something neat I put it in the window at the studio.”

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The paintings he did then have progressed into today’s exhibits: Laguna and its environs. For the most part, they are miniature, colorful, floral aspects of nature and coastlines. Miller has managed to follow the advice of a mentor who told him to do a painting every day.  And all the paintings are photographed and catalogued, of course.

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“I can look something up,” he explains as he peruses a photo journal. “I go through my phases.” His phase now is focused on scenes of Three Arch Bay.

And then there are some paintings that combine the almost mathematical cataloging that colors Miller’s mind. Of these, he has a series of large works that are his “birthday series”. Every year at his booth, Miller invites people to tell him their birthdays. The names and birthdays are interlocked into one painting. Since the 1980’s he’s done 14 birthday paintings, which include some 20,000 people.

Then there’s the calculation for the exact spot to post the birthday information with ink into one of four quadrants on the canvas. It goes something like this, if your birthday is October 4: Ten plus four equals fourteen, then that number is divided by four, because there are four corners in a painting. You with me so far? 

He has numbers associated with corners, so that the ten inches by four inches is divided by four, and the remainder is two… Voila! Somehow this works out as the number two corner, with ten inches over, and four inches down. My head hurts already!

“Somebody said it’s a Greek formula,” Miller says. “I don’t know. I’m not a mathematician. But I know where to find people’s names!” Very handy, because people will return to his booth, and ask the existential question – “Where am I?”

I particularly like his “Where they did it” paintings. Close your eyes if this is too much for your sensibilities, but it is as it says – Where did you “do it?” Yes, that “it”!

Miller asks people for their most intimate secret: where did you do it? He wants to know. “Not the house. Not the honeymoon,” he implores. He’s looking for something more exotic. “Surprisingly, it’s mostly females who tell me.” 

Upon the canvas he inscribes the itsy-bitsy calligraphy of names – and places. The most intriguing? (You had to ask!). The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland! “The staff applauded, because it was on video,” Miller shared. “It was the last ride of the day.” Good stuff.

The Other Siren Call

The Sunday-side of Doug Miller is an accomplished violinist. He’s played regularly for church services at both Laguna Presbyterian and the Neighborhood Congregational Church for ten years now. He occasionally likes to improvise. “I’ll relax, and hit a high note, and make everyone’s hair stand up,” he jokes.

He’s been playing since he was nine years old. “My grandmother got me into the free music program in Long Beach,” he explains. “The choice was either flute or violin.” Violin won out. He continued, and found that he had a knack for remembering melodies and for finding a way to fit in amongst other instrumentalists. 

When he was in the Navy, he was pretty much forced into a talent show. “I found I could play with anyone off the top of my head,” he says. 

These days, Miller is really excited about his band, Moon Police, and their first CD, which is coming out in April. “It’s all original, and written by us,” he said. He describes the Moon Police sound as “not a bunch of rock and roll junk…some songs sound like they’re out of a cathedral, some are in French. It’s pretty.”

Taking the lead is their 17 year-old keyboardist and singer, Grace Freeman. “She’s going to make a mark on the music world,” Miller tells us. “She’s incredible. Impeccable.

“I’m of a different ilk,” he continued. “They’re a bunch of kids! I’m playing with the best in this band. The music will speak for itself …being appreciated is where it’s at.”

The band gets together to practice once a week, and they also have a concert coming up at the Neighborhood Congregational Church on April 18.

The Whole of the Parts

For Miller, there is a connection and order to the arts for which he holds so much passion. Whether it’s from behind his lens, with paintbrush atop his canvas, with chin on the violin, or within his analytical system of organization. All of his senses play a part in the composition. 

“I can taste colors in my head,” he says poetically. “I can taste music too. What doesn’t work doesn’t taste good. I see greens in relation to blues. Too much purple is too sweet.”

Music inspires other sensations. “Music is a feeling of life, from a place that’s inspiring,” he says. “It’s like someone visits you when you play well.”

Putting all the pieces together, Miller expresses the feeling of completion.

“It’s all composition. It’s a strange perfection – music and art. It’s all the same,” he says. “And every so often there’s a breakthrough.”

Here’s to those moments. 

Thank you for the perspective from your life’s lens Doug Miller!


Robin Fuld: Teaching the business of art at LCAD

BY: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

As Director of Career Services at the Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD), Robin Fuld is charged with “empowering our artists in the business of art,” as she describes it.  Her own career path, a brilliant example of resourcefulness, tenacity, serendipity and, above all else, a love of art, makes her ideally suited for the career she has now.

“I grew up on Cape Cod.  It’s an art town and we had an incredible art program in high school.  I didn’t have the passion or discipline to keep creating, but I developed a love of art,” Fuld explains.  However, she pursued a degree in education, not art, from the University of Massachusetts.  But before she could get too far away from her passion, fate stepped in.

Director of Career Service and Instructor of Professional Studies at LCAD

A lucky ticket launches a career

“My friends found out that Logan Airport was having a raffle.  If you bought a ticket (for $1.69) and won you had to get on a plane that day and go wherever you were going.  So we all went down there at 5 a.m.  My sister took me and bought a ticket to better my chances.  My sister won and gave me her ticket. It all happened so fast.  I went to Vail, CO because that’s the only place where I knew someone, and I wanted to go for the whole summer, not just a week somewhere,” explains Fuld.  

Not only did the $1.69 spent on that raffle ticket provide a change of scenery, it also launched her career, though she was unaware of that fact at the time.  “An art gallery had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window.  I never thought…but I got that job because of my love of art – and because I’m a people person,” she says.  After just a few minutes with Fuld both of these qualities are very apparent. 

From Cape Cod to Vail to Rodeo Drive to…

“After four years, one of the artists said I should check out LA.  So I went. I was on Rodeo Drive and went into a gallery there and they hired me on the spot.  The woman who hired me said I was ‘refreshing’, and that she’d protect me from the ‘vultures’ – which she did,” says Fuld with a laugh.  “I learned so much.  I sawso much. Unfortunately, after a year, the gallery closed due to ‘questionable activity’ – like fraud and money laundering. But that’s another story,” she says with enthusiasm. 

From LA, Fuld used her networking skills and worked in galleries in Palm Desert, Brea and Irvine.  Always, it seems, people she had worked with along the way wanted the chance to work with her again.  Finally, however, after the owners closed the Irvine gallery, despite the fact that it was doing well financially, Fuld decided to work for herself, starting her own art consulting business.  This was during the recession of the early ’90’s. 

“So many galleries had closed.  I approached one, Starry Sheets, in Irvine.  They specialized in California Regionalism – historic work.  I asked if they had space.  I told them I’d bring my clients and introduce them to the work in the gallery while representing other artists. They thought that was a great idea.  I stayed there for a couple of years until they downsized.  It was great.”

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Laguna Beach is “where you should be living.”

Finally, a collector/friend from the Rodeo gallery days “took me to Laguna Beach and said ‘this is where you should be living.’  It was she who introduced me to Laguna.”  After deciding that working from a home/office was not right for her, Fuld “started approaching galleries in Laguna and seeing if they needed help,” she explains.  She met an artist who had a temporary space in Irvine and eventually helped him open a gallery in Laguna while still retaining her own consulting business.  

“That’s what got me back in Laguna full time,” she says.  In 1995, Fuld was visiting a gallery to show them one of her artists.  They told her that a woman had just stopped in and mentioned she wanted to open a gallery in the space next door.  Fuld says they commanded her to, “‘Run after her!’ so I did.”

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Painting by a former LCAD student and Russian Impressionism from J. Kamin

Russian Impressionism comes to the west coast

Her pursuit turned into J. Kamin Fine Art.  “Jackie” (the ‘J’ in ‘J. Kamin’) discovered Russian Impressionism at the International Film Expo,” explains Fuld.  We brought it to the west coast.  It was awesome! It is important work, hidden from the world until that time,” explains Fuld who has two large pieces hanging on the walls of her office at LCAD.

A fortuitous teaching position at LCAD

During that time Fuld joined the Art Walk Board and that introduced her to a lot of non-profits in town. “I realized my artistic matchmaking skills,” she says laughing.  Then, as happens with Fuld, her past reached out to her.  

“The woman I worked for in Vail and again in Irvine was teaching a class at LCAD called ‘Professional Studies for the Fine Artist’.  She was pregnant and asked me if I’d take over teaching her class.  I said, ‘yes’.  Around the same time, my clients had asked me to be on the Collector’s Choice Committee for the school, which is their big fundraiser.  That got me more involved with the College. Then the rent doubled on the gallery space so Jackie and I decided it was time for a change.  

“She went into teaching and I applied to LCAD.  I had that network because I was already teaching there.  They asked if I could do what I did for all majors.  And that’s how I got here.”  Fuld has been the Director of Career Services at LCAD for the last eight years, and has taught her course for 12.

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LCAD students are in demand in all majors

In demand students create welcome challenges

“Treat your art career as the business that it is. Have a plan.”  

That is Fuld’s mandate for her students.  And it seems to be working.  LCAD’s employment statistics are above the national average, according to Fuld.  “I don’t believe in the myth of the starving artist,” she says slyly. “Our students are in demand.  That’s a wonderful challenge to have,” she says. 

From Cape Cod to Laguna Beach, Fuld’s understanding of “the business of art” – as well as her ability to bring people together – is exemplified by the longevity of her own career.  “My B.A. is in Education.  I was running away from it and now that’s all I do!” she says with her signature good humor.  

And that is something her students are undoubtedly grateful for.


Sid Fanarof: a local trendsetter on a global scale

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If it’s Saturday morning, you’ll likely find him treasure hunting around Laguna’s garage sales. The rest of the week, he’s more apt to be found checking in on his zpizzas. Meet Sid Fanarof, the guy ahead of the curve. The guy who can sense a trend on the horizon, catch it and run with it.

Sid Fanarof

I met with Fanarof between his trip to the annual pizza convention in Las Vegas and a fun trip with Laguna friends to a wedding in San Francisco. He travels a lot, yet is very grounded in life in Laguna with family and loved ones nearby. Every Tuesday he and his wife of 30 years, Claire, host family dinners for anywhere from 10 – 20 people. And, no, it’s not pizza; they both love to cook.

The Fanarof family includes each of their children (“We were ‘The Brady Bunch’,” says Claire), three of the four living in town, and now six grandchildren. Getting ready for Tuesday night’s dinner includes lots of helping hands. 

“My favorite is a taco buffet,” Sid says. “I do it with grass-fed beef on the grill, I roast potatoes, and make burnt salsa and guacamole.” Sounds good, and knowing Fanarof’s big success with zpizza with its relaxed-yet-gourmet concept, I know the big Tuesday dinners must be unique, organic, and delicious.

The Z Concept 

Fanarof started zpizza in Laguna, and now it’s grown to an international scale. There are zpizzas in 15 US States, Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Dubai. It’s a concept restaurant that was ahead of its time when he founded it, with organic and gluten-free crust options, as well as carefully sourced and health-conscious ingredients. Sid tells us that the concept is catching on all over, even in places you wouldn’t think would be on the California wave of dietary trends. 

“In Korea they’re even more health conscious than we are,” he says.

Around the globe there’s a hankering for good pizza. Sid Fanarof has the last laugh, “I’m like the Colonel Sanders of pizza.” 

He’s been the man ahead of that trend for more than 30 years now, and he’s proud of the family that has been cultivated by this locally grown business. “I have wonderful employees who have worked for me for thirty years,” he said. “Now their children are working for me!”

Photo by Maggi

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One of the unique trends that Fanarof anticipated and rode with was the gluten-free diet. His own backstory is that he was gluten intolerant, and decided to make some of those options available at zpizza about six years ago. This year he noted at the pizza convention that about 20% of the exhibitors were promoting gluten-free products. 

zpizza is also a fun place. “We like doing build-your-own pizza events,” Fanarof tells us. “We’ll do team cooking, and make it a special place for birthday parties.” They’ve got a big, long red table (20 feet long) that’s the favorite party spot. Additionally, zpizza has been making Friendship Shelter residents happy for 10 years by providing pizza every first Sunday of the month.

The funny thing is, Sid Fanarof was never a fan of pizza. 

“I never loved pizza!” he says. “I really wanted to do Mexican food, and my partner wanted to do French.” But they found the right spot in South Laguna, and it was good to go for pizza. “It was already set up.” And the rest is history!

The path to the present

Fanarof came to the food business in a round about kind of way. He was a lifeguard. Maybe a hungry lifeguard. But after six years as a lifeguard, followed by a stint as a realtor, he bought the Spigot Liquor store. He converted it into a beach store with craft beers and wine. 

Sensing new trends as always, he introduced beach paddle racquets, which he had shipped in from Israel (thus the beginning of the paddle craze), and the very first Swatch watches (“We sold them like crazy in the liquor store”)… And then he had another brilliant idea – to bring in sandwiches. 

“I went to San Juan to meet a baker,” he said. “He sent me next door to a couple who would make sandwiches.” 

Fanarof worked with them, creating new taste sensations like ham and cream cheese, and turkey with cranberry sauce, to sell in the shop. Everybody loved those sandwiches that came in a brown bag. He declined the opportunity to partner with the couple as they expanded the business, but this was the beginning of the Brown Bag Sandwich Company. It’s now a successful giant of a company.

Being present

Perhaps the knack for seeking new trends in the marketplace is like a treasure hunt. Because treasure hunting is something Fanarof enjoys too, in the modern way: one garage sale at a time.

He happily showed me some of the favorite things he’s bought on Saturday mornings. Granted, garage sales in Laguna tend to be pretty high caliber stuff, but Fanarof has found some cool, trending pieces, like the Murano sculptural glass that he then had made into a chandelier. 

Garage sale treasure, turned into a beautiful chandelier

He told me of the time Claire said, “We could use a bench”, and he went on the hunt, finding a perfect bench that same day. “It’s fun,” he said. “I look for esthetics at garage sales.”

After a long day at garage sales, or shopping in the ethnic food markets he also loves, Fanarof has found a practice that relaxes him. “It’s like water shiatsu,” he explains of the gentle form of body therapy called Watsu. He swears by it for himself and is also a practitioner.

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Fanarof and his Watsu pool 

Sid Fanarof has travelled all over the world, but there’s nothing like returning home. It’s given him the perspective from a visitor’s point of view. 

“It’s always great to come home,” he says. He’ll walk the dog along Heisler Park, and just shout out ironically, “Wouldn’t it be great to live here?” 

Because of course, it is, and sometimes he just has to pinch himself.


Ben Simon:

Passion for architecture, design and Laguna

Written by: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

When Ben Simon was 10 years old, he and his family rented a vacation house in Emerald Bay.  “I remember the house had a triple-decker bed; there was a tunnel to the beach…we went to the Sawdust Festival and The Cottage, and I thought ‘I’m going to live here one day.’”  

At the time, he and his family lived in Washington, DC so this personal mission was by no means a slam-dunk. Nevertheless, true to his 10-year old self, Simon eventually made his way to Laguna Beach where he has become an important voice in residential design.

Ben Simon, of Acme Architecture and Interior Design Group

A childhood interest becomes a career

As a child, Simon says he sketched “impossible” houses, many of them set on the cliffs of Laguna.  With a mother and grandmother who were artists and a father who was trained as an aerospace engineer, architecture was “the perfect blending of right brain and left brain,” explains Simon.  His childhood interest continued and Simon ultimately graduated from the University of Maryland with a BS in Architecture.  Post-graduation, he took a job in Los Angeles with Albert C. Martin and Associates, a large architectural firm that “designs structures like City Hall and the Bank of America building” in downtown Los Angeles. 

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Ben Simon at his home/office. Partner, Linda Morgenlander, lives right next door

Coming to Laguna Beach – for good

A few years of Los Angeles was enough for Simon, so he relocated to Albert C. Martin’s Irvine office. Finally, he was close enough to realize his childhood goal of living in Laguna Beach.  “I was only there (at Albert C. Martin) a couple of years before I went out on my own.  I always wanted to be my own boss…doesn’t everybody?” asks Simon. 

“This was in the ’80’s so I got my real estate license - everybody got their real estate license in the ’80’s.  I worked for Coldwell Banker, with the office on Crescent Bay Drive and met so many great people.  Then I started staging houses and it just grew and grew.”  There was one detour before Simon jumped back into design wholeheartedly — modeling. “Mostly cheesy romance novel covers,” he says with a laugh.  After a few years, Simon decided he needed a “grown up” job. “Modeling was great for the ego,” laughs Simon, but it was time to get back to his true passion: design. 

Design Review nets a partner

In 1998 Simon was elected to the sit on the Design Review Board.  “I loved it!  It felt very natural for me to participate. It wasn’t always easy, but I really enjoyed it,” says Simon about his time on the Board.  During his last year, in 2004, the architect, Linda Morgenlander, also joined the Board.  The two hit it off immediately.  ‘We were born three days apart.  We’re both from New York.  We’re both Jewish.  We just have a lot of fun together,” says Simon enthusiastically.  A few years after meeting, they became business partners and Acme Architecture and Interior Design was born.  

“It just evolved.  It was meant be. The first house we designed together was my parents’ house.”  Bought with the idea that it would be a second home, the house turned out so nicely, Simon’s parents relocated from Rancho Santa Fe to live in it permanently.  It was an auspicious beginning for the new firm.  It also meant Simon could now just “walk to their house for Thanksgiving” – no more navigating the 405 to Rancho Santa Fe!

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Personal mementos, artfully displayed at Ben Simon’s home

While his parents are close, Morgenlander is even closer.  She lives right next door.  “We talk constantly, Monday through Friday, from 9 to 5.  We do not talk at all on the weekends,” explains Simon with a laugh.  

His house, formerly lived in by Timothy Leary, serves as the main office for Acme.  Spread out around his desk are samples of tile and fabrics to show clients.  “We do the architecture; we do interiors.  We prefer to do both, but will do either, depending on the clients’ needs.  We get very involved with them.  It’s important that the house reflects who they are, and doesn’t just look like the back page of a Restoration Hardware catalog,” says Simon emphatically.

A personal vision

Simon’s home-office is definitely not a re-working of anyone else’s aesthetic vision, rather a very personal statement of meaningful things collected to make a home.  “Right now, I’m having a love-affair with my house,” Simon tells me.  After a brief tour, his affection for the house and its history is obvious. He kept some original bathroom tile, for example, even though it isn’t really to his taste because, “It had to stay.  It’s just part of the house.”

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The upper terrace of Ben Simon’s home is a great place to relax

Hopes for the Planning Commission and something “spectacular”

When asked, “What’s next?” Simon replied that he would like to secure a position on the Planning Commission.  “I’m passionate about Laguna. I understand a lot of different aspects: preservation, real estate, business interests, the tourist economy.  I think a lot of my professional and life experiences could be an awesome addition,” he says.  And his future plans don’t end there. “I know that because I am so lucky and have been given so many gifts it’s important that I show my appreciation by trying to do something important.”  

He smiles slyly when pressed for more details. “I fantasize about doing something spectacular.  Time will tell.”  Regardless of whether or not his mystery plans materialize, Acme Architecture and Interior Design will continue to deliver “classic, timeless and appropriate design.”  

ForSimon’s clients, “spectacular” may have already been achieved.  


The many facets of Molly Zurflueh

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

What a treat to meet Molly Zurflueh and her adorable one-month-old baby, Lana. Two beautiful people at once! While we talked, more than a few passers-by stopped to coo and shower the baby with attention. Who can resist? 

Certainly Molly can’t. For her whole life she wanted to be a mom. Happily, now Lana’s brother, Chase (“almost eight”), mom Molly and her fiancée, Greg Carpenter (“Oh, God, he’s just a wonderful farm boy from Indiana!”), are one big family and enjoying every moment. It is a conscious choice amidst a busy life for this lawyer, who is also El Morro’s Garden Club director, and the Girl’s Night Out event chair for the Boys & Girls Club. 

Somehow all these roles circle around the joy of children and community, and Molly Zurflueh (the eh is silent) accomplishes it all with grace and charm.

Molly Zurflueh

Whee!

Molly considers herself blessed to have arrived in Laguna. Her dad, a Swiss geophysicist, brought his family to California initially. He fell in love with the place, but, alas, his career took the family back east to reside in Washington DC for all of Molly’s growing up years. It was her grandma who immigrated to the US, and set out for the west coast. She convinced Molly to look into law schools in California. Molly, with her zest for life, had already gone part of the way westward, studying at the University of Texas for her undergrad degree. She moved onward to Whittier Law School.  

She loved it. “I was like, wow, why did we ever leave?” 

Life’s too short to spend it anywhere else but here. The rest of her family remains in the DC area, but Molly was cut of a different cloth in many respects. “I was the youngest of four, but the more adventurous,” as she explains it. “I was the one that was, ‘Whee!’”

Molly was able to spend time with her grandmother before she passed away. “I got two great years with her here,” she says fondly. And she brought to California a skill she had grown up with in DC, and sharpened in Texas: a keen interest in politics.

On the Campaign Trail

“That’s my thing,” she says. “I’m fascinated by the statistics, the political news. I like campaigns and strategy …I’d read all day if I could!”

As a college youngster, Molly Zurflueh jumped out of the gate in a fortuitous campaign for governor; she threw her cowboy hat in the ring for George W. Bush. 

“I campaigned for George Bush when he ran for governor. It was my start,” she said. “When I was in school in Texas I met him, and said, ‘I want to get on board’, and he gave me the [contact] card for his people.”

She campaigned for him for president too, and ultimately there was a place for Molly back in DC. 

She took a job with HUD advocating for elderly and disabled housing, and battling their discrimination. This was a rewarding experience, though she was none too thrilled to be back in DC. Things improved after a call from a colleague in the State Department. She was offered the chance to travel as the president’s press advance, where she would organize and plan strategic areas for the press corps. 

“I did G8 Summit work, then a summit in Mexico, and one in Ireland,” she said. She met the president of Japan and Tony Blair, and even got to ride on Air Force One. “They even give you a certificate for that!” 

She was impressed with how President Bush was with the press corps, she tells us. “He was all access. He knew them all by name, and he knew their families.”

But it was active and physical work, and one day Molly seriously twisted an ankle requiring surgery. If she did work in that arena again, she’d rather be on the policymaking end than on the physical running-around-with-the-press side of things.

Number one priority

After law school, Molly found her way to Laguna through a friend who worked for attorneys Tom Davis and Larry Nokes. She was overjoyed to join that office, and work of council. “I loved their personalities,” she says. “They’re real.” 

And there’s not much better than living and working in Laguna. “I thought, how much better could this be?” And then it was better. When she had a child, her priorities shifted.

It’s the quandary of the modern woman; how much can I take on, and what does “having it all” mean? There was a time when Molly thought she could do it all. But with her baby in the equation she found there was just not enough time to be a complete parent while at the office all day. It was a giant leap into the unknown, but every instinct inside her said, “you’ve got to try!” And so she left the law firm, and went home on her own terms.

“I just went home,” she said. “That’s the beauty of working for yourself.”

The at-home office

With a good sense of where her priorities were, she got to spend time with Chase, take him to his karate classes and to school events. 

“It’s almost selfish how much fun I have with him, we have a blast,” she says. “It’s a privilege and a blessing to raise your children.” 

Ultimately, most of Molly’s clients are friends, and they came knocking on her door. Now she has found the sweet spot between handling as much legal work as she can from home, while enjoying Chase, and now Lana.

Digging in the dirt

A big part of the joy in being a parent is becoming more childlike. When the parent sees the world through their child’s eyes, they can join with them in exploring the wonders of the world around them. For Molly, the happiest place to share that wonder is in the garden. 

She’s gone and gotten her hands dirty in the good earth by volunteering at El Morro’s popular garden club. It’s a two-way street of excitement about every little bud and vegetable they help create. “The kids are amazing! We have such a good time together, I really get more out of it than I give,” she says.

It was Molly’s grandma that introduced her to the joys of gardening when she was six years old. She laughs, “I used to pretend I had a gardening show!”

It’s tomato time

This year Molly took the reins as director of the El Morro Garden Club. Together they plant and harvest vegetables, grow a wildflower garden, and learn about butterflies. Next up she has big, exciting plans to start a worm box and that actually gets all the kids jumping for joy. “They’re so grateful,” she tells us. 

Just like they’re doing now at El Morro, Molly reminds us that now is the time to plant tomatoes. 

Girls Night Out

Even when she didn’t have free time, Molly made time to volunteer in the community. Her first stop of choice was at the Boys & Girls Club. 

Helping out at the club is great for the kids, and fun for Molly too. But to help the club into the future, she’s big into fundraising. There are a lot of expenses associated with the hundreds of children nurtured at the club every day, and the events committees are on top of that. 

“They don’t get discouraged about expenses,” Molly says. “They say, ‘it’s just another hurdle’.” Thankfully the club has a number of hurdlers.

There are two events that really boost the Boys & Girls Club coffers: the Gala, in the spring, and “Girls Night Out” in the fall. Molly is the “fun” part in “fundraising” with Girls Night Out, as this year she chaired the event.

“It’s all women, and everyone dresses to the nines for each other. It’s a night to have fun!” she says.

Behind the scenes, many hands make light(er) the work. There are volunteers out soliciting donations from businesses, others coordinating the food and drink, and more wrapping up baskets for the silent auction. The evening includes a DJ, Starfish catered food, cocktail bars, and a live auction. Oh, and jewelry.

It all begins with a walk down the red carpet into the home of Holly and David Wilson. Along the red carpet are models from the jewelry house of Lugano Diamonds, just dripping in gems. Guests are encouraged to drape the jewels on themselves, and drink fancy cocktails, and go deep in their purses for the success of the Boys & Girls Club. It’s for the kids!

“It’s really decadent fun,” Molly assures.

Keeping it real

Molly, Greg, and Lana

Let’s take a pause to admire the beautiful baby Lana. Ooh, I just can’t help but ooh and awww! 

There’s no one who feels more grateful than Molly. “I really wanted another child, and now I have my daughter,” she beams. The future goes from squiggly baby feet to taking giant steps, and life’s lessons along the way. “I want to teach my kids that we are privileged to be here, but that there are people in need,” she said. “You’re lucky – so get out there and help.”

As for Molly’s future, she’s a self-proclaimed “softie for kids and old people”, so it will involve work on their behalf. 

“I feel like I still haven’t done enough,” she said. “I need to make more time to give back more.”

Yes, invent that – more time!


Diane Armitage: Sharing all the Best of Laguna

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“When you have vision and commitment, a path unfolds.” So says Diane Armitage, author of “The Best of Laguna Beach: The best places to dine, drink and play”. Upon meeting Armitage it becomes apparent very quickly that she has an abundance of both.

Her “path” looks more like a bustling highway of projects, but these day she’s motoring full steam towards her book launch, a complete update on her 2013 Laguna Beach’s Best

Expanded from 170 to 380 pages, Armitage lists her favorites of just about everything Laguna has to offer: Best margaritas? Check. Best breakfast burritos? Check. Best of what to do, when? Check. But her favorite of favorites is highlighting “the culinary mecca”, as she calls it, of Laguna Beach.  

To say Armitage is passionate about the artistry and commitment of some of our local chefs is an understatement. “It’s an insane job. It’s a marriage to their craft. They never stop!” Armitage is talking about the chefs she has gotten to know and admire, but she could just as easily be describing herself and her commitment to finding the best of Laguna.

Photo by Mike Altishin

Diane Armitage and her “Best of Laguna” culinary greats: 

Many chefs and GMs of Laguna Beach join Armitage (center) 

for a “best of” celebration 

(First row from left, Lindsay Smith-Rosales of Nirvana Grille, Michael and Christine Avila of Avila›s El Ranchito, Jim Tolbert and Kurt Bjorkman of The Ranch, David Fune of Splashes and Surf & Sand Resort, Neil Skewes of Starfish Asian Cuisine, Camron Woods of The Ranch, George Poulos of Mozambique Steakhouse, Josh Severson of Selanne Steak Tavern, Debra Sims of Maro Wood Grill, Thomas Crijns of Brussels Bistro. Top row from left, John Nye of Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck, Chis Keller and Amy Amaradio of Juice & Shakes, K›ya, Rooftop and Marine Room, Demetri Catsouras of The White House, Armando Ortega of Lumberyard, Jonathan Pflueger of Sourced Cuisine, Cary Redfearn of Lumberyard, John Bodrero of Orange Inn, Maro Molteni of Maro Wood Grill, Rainer Schwarz of Driftwood Kitchen & The Deck) 

Making it happen

In 2000 Armitage took a job in Carlsbad, despite having her own successful marketing agency, Armitage, Inc., in Colorado. “I was early in the whole Internet marketing thing. They signed me to a three-year contract. It was a very corporate structure. After eight months, I said, ‘It’s fixed, new marketing strategy in place, it’s selling and I gotta get back to running my own company.’ So I called Bob Proctor (a client, mentor and friend) and said, ‘I’m done.’ He said, ‘Where do you want to be?’  I said, ‘Italy!’ He recommended I go some place where I knew they had Internet service,” she says laughing. “So I said, ‘I loveLaguna Beach, but it’s too expensive.’ And you just don’t say that kind of stuff to Bob. He told me ‘Drive up there right now and get a PO box. Make it happen.’ So I did. A week and a half later I got a random email about a rental. I moved in three weeks later.” 

And she has enthusiastically called Laguna Beach “home” ever since.

Submitted photo

“The Best of Laguna Beach: The best places to dine, drink and play

Stepping boldly forward

Securing a P.O. Box without first securing a place to live is not the way most people do things. However, for Armitage, her philosophy of “boldly stepping forward” is a textbook case for creating one’s opportunities. Another “bold step” was when Armitage decided to purchase paint, rugs and patio furniture for an apartment that wasn’t going to be available for two years. 

“I told the manager that I wanted to be the first name on the waiting list when that apartment became available. She told me the couple who lived there had just moved in, signed a two-year lease and were extremely happy. I said, ‘That’s great. Put my name on the list.’” 

Armitage went about selecting items for the apartment and putting them in a storage unit. Five months later, the couple moved out, deciding to buy a house in Dana Point. “I just went to my storage unit and unloaded all my stuff I’d bought and moved in. It was hysterical.” Armitage lived there for seven years.

Creating a “spotlight” on Laguna Beach

As Armitage’s marketing agency continued to grow, her niche expanded to include high-end restaurants and resorts. In 2008, she had an epiphany. “I realized as I was running my team all over the world to these amazing resorts, that I lived in an amazing resort. And there was no spotlight on the culinary world in Laguna Beach. That’s when I started my blog, “Laguna Beach’s Best.”  

With Armitage, Inc. clients that include Michelin-star restaurants in Las Vegas, Armitage had developed a true appreciation for the passion and dedication of great chefs. Getting to know the ones closer to home motivated her to create “a spotlight” on them. “Laguna has this crazy personality. Everyone who is here has chosen to be here.  Restaurateurs choose to be here. This is a magical place where they want to create their magic,” she says.  

It all starts with Mom

The blog had one very dedicated reader when it was in its infancy. 

“My only reader was my mother. Just like that book, Julie and Julia,” Armitage says, laughing. “But I kept going at a good pace. I know what to do to get blogs visible, so I kept working at it and the audience grew. Then I got busy and stepped away from it for a few months. When I checked back in someone had posted, ‘This blog sucks! Everything is old!’ So that got me fired up, and I jumped back into it. Now that I think of it, the person who posted that was probably my mother,” says Armitage, with a knowing smile. “She knows how to get me going.”

Now with an audience of 20,000 subscribers, Armitage no longer needs her mother’s motivation. 

Submitted photo

 

Starfish co-owners Archie McConnell (left) and Gretchen Andrews (right) have been regular and generous contributors to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center since the restaurant’s opening party three years ago. They’re working with Diane Armitage now on a third-year anniversary party at Starfish in June.  

Widget-izing a labor of love

With her blog such a success, turning it into a book seemed a natural progression.  “I talked about it for three years,” says Armitage. “I work with businesses all the time on this kind of thing, but I haven’t necessarily applied what I know to myself. The thing I tell them is, ‘We’ve got to widgetize’. Meaning, they need to create a repeatable something.  Well, I needed to create my own widget! The book was it. It was a lot harder than I expected, partly because my best friend, Lisa, said it had to have color photos,” says Armitage with mock exasperation.  

With her first edition a hit, Armitage decided to produce an updated version. “So much has changed. I needed to update it.  Now, just about every entry is in the book,” she says with pride.  

And while she has written about every nook and cranny of Laguna Beach, it all comes back to her interest in the culinary scene. “The chefs I know are so passionate and so amazing,” she says. 

And that is why she works so hard to highlight their work.  Her blog and her book are true labors of love. No one pays her to promote them; if you’re in her book or blog it is because she is truly excited about what you’re doing. This honest enthusiasm has helped her to become a culinary resource. Where it will lead to next remains to be seen, but Armitage isn’t lacking for ideas or people willing to follow her lead. 

Bringing chefs together, literally and figuratively

The day before we met she had organized a photo shoot with 22 local chefs. “A lot of them didn’t know each other.  They don’t collaborate.  Not because they’re competitors – they aren’t. They’re just too busy,” explains Armitage. And if she has her way, they’ll be even busier. Food truck wars, progressive dinners, beer tastings, and, the thing that is near and dear to her heart, a big dinner benefitting the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC). “They don’t know about that one yet,” she says slyly. However, I’m sure she will be able to convince them to support her cause.

She overflows with gratitude when she talks about the PMMC event that local restaurants, The Deck, and Driftwood Kitchen, put on last year. As she recounted their generosity, she literally got tears in her eyes. “It was such an amazing event!  What they did and how they did it…it was fabulous. They inspired other chefs to get involved.”  

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Diane Armitage with Kirsten Sedlick, 

Pacific Marine Mammal Center’s Senior Animal Care Supervisor, and also a previously featured person in Stu News’ Laguna Life & People

Those sea lions eat a lot of fish

Armitage’s friend, Ruben Flores, got her involved in the PMMC. “I don’t even know how I got to be friends with him!” she says about Flores, laughing. “He is the most amazing person.” She began working on the PMMC events and helping them with their visibility. Now, she’s on the Board. 

“I’m drawn to people with passion and commitment,” she says when talking about the people she works with there. “The cost to run that place is insane!” That’s why a portion of the proceeds from her book, Laguna Beach’s Best will go to the PMMC. “The amount of fish that get eaten every day is extraordinary!” she says. “Argh…not more tears,” she says smiling. “I get emotional when I talk about that place.” 

A full plate of clients, books, blogs and, of course, StuNews

However, there is nothing – not even sick sea lions – that ignites Armitage’s passion like exploring her adopted home town, especially the food scene here. She has embraced Laguna as only one who took a risk to live here can. 

While running a 20-person strong marketing agency, writing a blog that requires a lot of research (hey, finding the best margarita might be fun, but it’s still research!), writing and compiling a 380 page book, volunteering for the PMMC, and writing the “Laguna Dining” column for StuNews, she still has enough energy to plan for and dream of “what’s next.” So it’s almost laughable when Armitage comments, “I guess I’m never not busy.” Uh…I guess not! 

Book signing celebration at Laguna Beach Books

Next up is her book signing at Laguna Beach Books on Sunday, April 26 at 4 p.m.,  “I want to have a lot of people there! It’s a celebration of Laguna Beach.” 

Spend five minutes with Diane Armitage and you will see there is so much to celebrate. Whether you’re here for a weekend or you’ve lived here your whole life, Laguna Beach’s Best will undoubtedly inspire you to explore the best of what our town has to offer.  

Of course you can always check in to see what’s the latest on Diane’s plate at her website, www.LagunaBeachBest.com and in Stu News Laguna – for all her best.


Artist Fitz Maurice is “out there”, heart and soul 

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“It frees my soul to be out in nature. In order to do it right, you’ve got to head out,” says Fitz Maurice.  “Why wait for the mountain to come to you? Go to the mountain!”

I talked with the artist in her Laguna Canyon gallery, surrounded by impressions of forests, mountains, lakes and streams. Maurice’s art is a creation comprised of one part soul, one part passion, her God given talents along with classical training, and a whole lott’a inspiration from nature. 

“Don’t Fence Me In” ought to be her theme song.

Fitz Maurice

The works hanging on the studio walls these days represent the beginnings of her most recent and heartfelt endeavor: to paint live at all of America’s National Parks. 

“My soul as an artist gravitates toward pure nature.” 

This artist’s technique involves layering “veils” of color-saturated pigment on linen canvas, all painted in a natural setting. Her paintings require weeks and often months to complete. All the materials are archival – meant to last the ages just as the Great Master’s paintings that Maurice is fond of studying. Her images depict scenes from the years she’s spent in Europe, and the hills and valleys all over the US. 

Among the many awards and accomplishments, her “Tree Series” of paintings earned her the Jackson Pollock-Lee Krasner Award. She was also recently selected by Acadia National Park to be artist-in-residence alternate for the year 2016. 

Many of her works are currently exhibited at the Roberto Pellechia studio in the Laguna Design Center. “These are large and major paintings – almost a retrospective,” she says. “It really shows a good spectrum.” 

Maurice has created more than 1,000 paintings, and devotes five days a week to it. She happily admits to going strong, “A thousand so far, and I’m alive and kickin’!” The other two days she takes a break for fun and relaxation. “I play outside!” Of course.

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Maurice’s canyon art gallery

The ambitious mission to paint all the national parks, live, promises to be a long and adventurous journey. There are 59 national parks, and almost 400 under the park service jurisdiction when you include the national memorials and monuments. 

“I’m just really excited because I know how much truth and beauty I’ll encounter,” Maurice says. “These are the things that soothe your soul.”

The checklist in preparation for Fitz’s grand adventure reads like a gypsy tale. First, take your home with you. Check. She’s got the mobile trailer, and a truck to haul it. Next, reduce and simplify your “stuff”, so that you own just what you need. Check. Then go where the road leads you. Check.

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Truck. Check. Ready to get to the national parks!

Well, she will make some priorities on her calendar according to the best the parks have to give, like flower blossom time in Death Valley, or autumn foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She’s gotten as far as selecting the first two she’ll visit: Bryce Canyon National Park, in Utah, followed by Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado.

“Then I’ll see what happens,” the gypsy says. “When you climb a mountain, it’s better not to focus on the top!”

Born an artist

Raised in Westchester County, NY, Fitz felt her calling early on. “I’ve known all my life,” she says. “I’m not a painter, I’m an artist. I have an artist’s soul.” 

Knowing who she was and what she wanted has certainly contributed to her success as an artist. Fitz Maurice pursued art in her education, from her BFA through training at major museums and art schools, and on to follow the Old Master’s footsteps in Europe, training at the International School of Art in Umbria, Italy. She paid her way all along as an artist, moved to Laguna Beach, and raised a child here, all with the income of an artist. No small accomplishment.

The inspiration she takes from nature was also bred in her bones. Her family introduced her to the national parks and the joys of camping out, from as long ago as she can remember. She passed that passion on to her son, Dylan, and even to her nieces, nephews and friends. 

“It doesn’t cost a lot… you have treasured memories, and it’s a blast!” she says. Her challenge to American families now is to get out and enjoy the national parks. “It’s every American’s birthright. Get your hands dirty! Get outside!”

She hopes to turn the next generation on to the wonders of our national parks, and to preserving the environment. 

“When you’re immersed in nature you lose interest in ‘things’. I no longer care about materialism. It’s freedom when you have passion, and put on your play clothes. You turn into a kid again.”  

The Spirit

Maurice found her way to a more spiritual life about ten years ago, by living alone in the middle of nowhere. 

“I lived in the Zuni Mountains for years,” she said. “All alone for four seasons – no cell phone, no TV, no computer… I learned to listen to God. The greatest gift he’s given us is nature. I listened to the birds, learned about the migrations of the seasons, the phases of the moon… I was painting, painting, painting, reading and studying the ebb and flow of nature. 

“It’s a spiritual journey to set your mind free and let your spirit have peace.”

The future is weighing more heavily on Fitz Maurice’s mind, as she considers the preservation of open spaces, particularly lakes and rivers. 

“Water – that’s what the next world war is going to be about,” she says. “Water is a priceless, irreplaceable necessity. People have got to take it personally.”

She has seen lakebeds reduced by half and giant trees left above the former water line simply fall down. 

“The planet running out of water starts in your family… it starts with you. Don’t let the shower run. Get in!”

These are the kinds of issues that Maurice will blog about during her national parks painting adventure. She’ll be sending Stu News updates about her experiences along the road too. She’s very excited to have gotten the website: nationalparkpaintings.com

What she hopes to accomplish with her national parks series is a growing concern for their conservation, and a growing appreciation for their beauty. Plus it’s fun.

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“I want to show the essence and wonders that are unique to each park,” she says. 

And she wants others to follow along. “I want every family to get out there! Learn how to use a compass… learn how to find water. These are the things that are important. It’s about building a generation that’s going to appreciate this heritage we have.”

“As far as I know, I’m the only one who has set out to paint all the parks,” she continued. “But when Fitz says she’s going to do something, she does it! No doubt about it!”

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