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The Latest News from the Community of Del Mar
Updated: 9 hours 14 min ago

Solana Vista Walk-a-Thon

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 13:03

◄ Back Next ► Picture 1 of 11

Solana Vista Elementary School held its popular PTA fundraiser, the
Walk-a-Thon, on March 7.

Photos/Jon Clark

Redevelopment project draws mixed opinions from Solana Beach residents

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 07:08

By Kristina Houck

Community members voiced mixed views on the proposed redevelopment of a Solana Beach apartment complex during the first of two open houses March 4 at St. James Church.

Built in the early 1970s, Solana Highlands features 194 one- two- and three-bedroom units located at 701 South Nardo Ave. H.G. Fenton Company, which owns and manages the property that sits on more than 13 acres, would like to rebuild the complex. Plans propose 260 units.

“We are trying to create value for the community, as well as create an experience for our customer that isn’t really available in this area right now — certainly not in an apartment building,” said Mike Neal, president and CEO of H.G. Fenton Company, which has owned the apartment community since 1998.

The proposed project features 120 one-bedroom and 140 two-bedroom units. All homes will feature updated interiors, storage space, and washers and dryers.

The Craftsman-inspired design of the three neighborhood areas will feature covered porches, stone detailing and tapered columns.

“We went into the Solana Beach community and found this type of architecture out there,” said Project Manager John La Raia. “We think it fits very well into what the community has today and what the community wants to see.”

Gabriel and Alice Granados, who own a home next to the property, were pleased with the project designs.

“From what we saw, it’s a great improvement,” said Gabriel Granados, a Solana Beach native.

“It would make it look beautiful compared to what they look like now,” added his wife, Alice Granados, who has lived in Solana Beach for more than 50 years. “The ones that have been here have been here forever.”

Other nearby residents agreed that the proposed upgrades were pleasing to the eye, but expressed concerns about traffic, parking and public safety.

“I think it’s a beautiful idea, but I think it’s too many people,” said 40-year Solana Beach resident Ginny Gonzalez. “I don’t believe there’s going to be enough parking for the amount of people that they’re planning on putting in here. … That’s way too much traffic for Nardo, and I think the crime rate is going to go up.”

To improve traffic flow, project plans reduce and relocate the current four entrances so that there are just two entrances to the apartment community.

Plans also include 525 parking spaces, an increase from the current 285 parking spaces. In addition, approximately 250 of the 260 units will have a private garage, according to the latest plans.

Other community members inquired about the length of construction.

Still in development, finalized plans have not yet been submitted to the city for review. Currently, there is no formal construction plan or schedule, but developers anticipate construction will be completed in phases.

“I think it’s a good improvement — I like it — but all that noise and all that dust. And we need to really know a length of time,” said Phil Weber, who has lived in Solana Beach for seven years. “I think the neighborhood would rather have it all done in one year than take three or four years.”

Weber was also concerned about the community’s current residents.

“I always have concern about the people,” he added. “What’s going to happen? Are they going to be displaced? Will they be allowed back in? Are the rents going to go way high?”

Veronica Marco has lived in a one-bedroom at Solana Highlands for six years. Excited about the potential revitalization of her apartment community, Marco hopes to continue living at the complex for years to come.

“I’m happy where I am now, but it is old,” she said.

Currently, Marco said she pays $1,400 per month for rent.

“I try not to worry too far ahead of time,” she said. “I don’t want rent to go up, but at the same time, this is a real upgrade. I’d like to stay because I like Solana Beach.”

Currently, rent ranges from $1,545 to $1,650 for one-bedroom units, $1,810 to $1,855 for two-bedroom units, and $2,145 to $2,205 for three-bedroom units, according to Solana Highlands’ website.

La Raia said rent for the upgraded units has not yet been determined, but construction will be done in phases so current residents can relocate to a different building and return to their home once construction is completed.

During the open house, members of the public had the opportunity to ask questions and share comments with H.G. Fenton Company representatives who were stationed at architecture, site plan and landscape, traffic and parking, and sustainability and operations informational booths. A second open house is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. on March 13.

For more information about the project, visit

Del Mar resident searches for extraterrestrial intelligence with home-based station

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 07:05

Del Mar’s James Brown built SETI Network to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Photos/Kristina Houck

By Kristina Houck

Are we alone?

It’s a question most of us have asked ourselves, and a question a Del Mar resident hopes to one day answer.

For nearly three decades, James Brown has spent countless hours searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. The search began with a book.

A Salt Lake City native, Brown relocated to Del Mar with his wife, Cherie, from the Bay Area in 1976. He had also just finished building a computer — a computer he believes to be the first ever built by a single person.

That’s when he came across “Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence” in a local bookstore. Edited by astronomer and author Carl Sagan, the book suggested that as computers became more powerful, they could become an important part of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

“I read all that and a light dawned on me that I was probably one of the very few people on Earth that could actually build a thing like that,” said Brown, who worked as an engineer for 35 years, retiring from SAIC in 1999. “I knew about computers, electronics and radiofrequency, and I had time to do it.”

Brown set out to develop hardware and software to detect extraterrestrial intelligence, which is known as the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, or SETI.

He built the first SETI search system on his second computer, a Z80 machine he called “Zeke.” He also purchased and installed a 12-foot antenna, and developed early software before Windows had even released.

His first SETI system was born.

Since retiring, Brown has spent much of his time developing and operating the new system, SETI Network.

“A lot of people think that we must have groups of people searching for extraterrestrial intelligence in the United States and around the world. There must be government-sponsored projects because it seems pretty important,” said Brown, who is also known by his amateur radio call sign W6KYP. “But there are only four SETI stations.”

Brown’s station, SETI Network, is located at his Del Mar home. He believes it is the only amateur search station in operation.

He knows of three professional SETI stations in operation. These include the Allen Telescope Array in Northern California, Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and SETI Italia.

“Four stations on Planet Earth searching for extraterrestrials — that doesn’t seem right to me!” he said.

Using his equipment, Brown searches for a “beacon” every day.

“Let’s say there’s an extraterrestrial out here,” said Brown, as he pointed to an image of the solar system on his screen. “If he wanted to be found — if he had the ability, the money, the time and the technology — he would probably send a beacon to each of the stars in the Milky Way. … He would go through the whole Milky Way, one star at a time, and finally he would get around to our sun and shoot the beacon toward us.”

It would take a high-powered beacon to make it all the way to Earth, but that’s not the only problem.

For starters, there are about 300 billion stars in the galaxy.

“The odds are very small — miniscule — but they’re worth a shot,” Brown said.

There is also a vast space for Brown to search for a beacon. Although he has narrowed his search to a clear spot known as the “water hole,” that alone is a large area.

“The problem is that the beacon may not be pointed to us for another 300 billion years and I may be looking in the wrong place for the beacon,” Brown said. “So the odds are pretty small. Nevertheless, that’s what I’m doing, and that’s probably why other people are not.”

The SETI League honored Brown for his technical contributions to amateur SETI science with the Giordano Bruno Memorial Award in 2005.

But his contributions weren’t cheap.

In all, Brown estimates it has cost about $20,000 to build and maintain his station over the years. But it’s all worth it, he said, because he believes life is out there.

“I do, not because I have any evidence, but because the odds are simply in favor of it,” Brown said. “In our Milky Way, there’s 300 billion stars. … There’s billions and billions of galaxies. There’s trillions and trillions of planets. From that, you’ve got to think there’s intelligent life on at least one other one.”

For more information about SETI Network, visit

TPHS graduate and accomplished software developer gives inspirational presentation in Carmel Valley

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 06:08

Torrey Pines Yellow Ribbon Week speaker Oliver Miao with his 12th grade AP English teacher at Torrey Pines, Barbara Swovelin. Courtesy photo

By Karen Billing

The yellow posters were pasted around the Torrey Pines High School campus like advertisements in a coffee shop, “Take what you need” it read, but instead of a telephone number to tear away, there were words: Love, hope, patience, understanding, a chance, laughter, healing. All of the tabs on one poster had been torn away and kept, leaving just the quote on the poster: “Every day may not be good but there is something good in every day.”

The yellow posters were part of the high school’s Yellow Ribbon Week, a week devoted to suicide prevention and removing the stigmas of mental illness, encouraging students to not be afraid to ask for help and support each other.

“The most important resource for suicide prevention is each other,” said Don Hollins, Peer Assistance Listeners (PALS) advisor.

Throughout the week, students watched PSA videos made by their peers and heard from a lineup of speakers, including Dr. Paul Sargent, the psychiatrist for all of the Navy SEALS, and Torrey Pines graduate Oliver Miao, the CEO and co-founder at Pixelberry Studios. Miao founded Centerscore with three friends and sold his company to  Electronic Arts (EA). Through Pixelberry, he released the game “High School Story.” The game has seven million downloads and about 10 percent of high school students in the country have it on their phones.

Miao grew up in Del Mar and was a student at Del Mar Heights, Earl Warren Middle School and Torrey Pines High School. He went on to attend Stanford University, graduating in 1997.

Miao talked about his memorable days at Torrey Pines with teachers such as Barbara Swovelin, who is still teaching there. He talked about his fellow classmates: the cheerleader who went on to be a professor at Yale University; the class clown that used to write papers with references to bodily functions who is now a brain surgeon. A person who never played any sports or was part of any club went on to do customer outreach at GoPro. A member of the Torrey Pines academic team who helped Miao and the team win two national championships is now a sports anchor on the local news.

“The point is that we all change. Who you are in high school doesn’t have to define who you become,” Miao said. “You have a whole future after school that will define who you can be.”

Miao was a self-described “nerd” who overcame some cruel bullies in his younger years.

In Del Mar, while in elementary school, he was one of few Asians but didn’t realize he was considered “different” until being picked on by older kids. He recalled coming home from school crying after being picked on for his last name, Miao, and when students mocked him by pulling their eyes. His mom helped teach him that his name was unique and that it was better to laugh along with people making fun of him than to get angry in return.

In seventh grade he had a terrible experience with a bully who used to pick him up and dangle him over a trash can or put him in a headlock. What he hated most was the helplessness he felt.

Miao said one of the biggest regrets of his life was becoming a bully himself and teasing another student. The student then passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm and Miao felt horrible that he never apologized for the way he treated him.

“Some of the last things I said to him were making fun of him for something he should’ve been proud of,” Miao said. “It’s natural to tease friends or people you don’t know but next time, think about how you would feel if that person is no longer with you the next day. I hope you won’t have those same types of regrets.”

Miao talked about being an engineer who didn’t like talking to people, but then he got very lucky with his game designs and had to go outside of his comfort zone to expand his business. The guy who in high school couldn’t even say “yes” to a girl who asked him to leave a football game was suddenly taxed with having to speak to people he didn’t know to make business connections. He willed himself to go to conferences and speak to everyone he met — two of those people happened to work for companies such as Sega and Sony, companies he ended up working with that helped grow his business.

After becoming a father to twins, Miao felt like he wasn’t making enough of a difference in the world and wanted to make some kind of impact. With his game “High School Story” reaching millions of young students, he realized he had a platform. In addition to slipping in elements of learning and education in a fun way, he also used his game to promote diversity and acceptance and counteract cyberbullying and other high school issues.

He partnered with Cybersmile Foundation, a cyberbullying charity and has raised more than $100,000 for the group.

Unexpectedly, a user contacted the game through the support system to tell them she intended to kill herself. Miao and his team sent her messages to let her know that they cared and found resources for her to get help. After a week, she told them she was going to get help.

“We wrote the game to entertain people and it ended up saving a life,” Miao said.

Miao and Hollins told the students that as much pressure as they may feel or whatever they are going though, each one of them has the power to set their intentions and make decisions that can change their lives or the lives of others.

“We all have the survival instinct. I think we’re naturally wired to keep on going,” Miao said. “The best lifeline you have is your friends and I really encourage you to look out for your friends.”

As Yellow Ribbon Week came to a close, a PALS member received a text from a senior that showed just how powerful the week can be. The text read:

“I just wanted to talk, I am not usually the one to be moved by spirit weeks but the last video that we watched of the girl who committed suicide really spoke to me. I did not think it was important to talk about the thoughts that I was having and the damage I was doing to my own body because of the depression I went through because of the things that I went through and having to live with the people who did them to me.  But now I know that I have people to talk to and I can be helped without being judged. I don’t know what to say right now, I guess I just need someone to vent to.”

SDG&E issues another alert regarding ongoing wire fraud

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 18:03

SDG&E is continuing to alert customers to be aware of an ongoing wire fraud that has been targeting SDG&E residential and business customers. Reports indicate that individuals are misrepresenting themselves as utility employees by calling customers and threatening to turn off electric and gas service if an immediate payment is not made.

Customers are instructed to purchase a pre-pay credit card, and are directed to another phone number where information is then obtained from the card and the cash value is then removed.

SDG&E wants to warn customers of this fraud in an effort to prevent them from becoming potential victims. The company assures customers that SDG&E does not proactively contact them and ask for credit card information over the phone.

SDG&E customers should not provide any financial information by phone unless they have initiated the conversation. If any customers receives a phone call that makes them feel uncomfortable, and they know they have an outstanding balance that needs to be resolved, they should hang up and call SDG&E directly at 1-800-411-7343.

Here are some additional key messages:

• SDG&E does not proactively contact customers to ask for credit card information over the phone.

•SDG&E always provides past due notices in writing before service is shut-off for non- payment.

•If customers receive a phone call that makes them feel uncomfortable, and they know they have an outstanding balance that needs to be resolved, they should hang up and call SDG&E directly at 1-800-411-7343.

•Customers should not provide financial information by telephone unless they call SDG&E directly.

•It’s important to report this type of fraudulent activity to SDG&E by calling 1-800-411- 7343.

•Customers should not be afraid to call SDG&E if they have an outstanding balance.

Customer service agents are trained to work with customers to arrange for a payment plan or other payment process and cannot authorize a shut-off without proper written notification.

Parents ‘furious’ over dismissal of SAT prep school CEO

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 14:30

By Joe Tash

Parents of students who attend a SAT prep school based in Carmel Valley are demanding the reinstatement of the school’s former CEO and co-founder, who said he was fired abruptly Feb. 28 with no  explanation.

“All the parents are furious about this issue,” said Shirley Wang, of Torrey Hills, who has enrolled her daughter in a SAT prep course this summer at a cost of nearly $3,000.

The decision by management of Summa Education to part ways with CEO Chris Hamilton was announced in a March 1 email to families.  The school has locations in Carmel Valley and Rancho Bernardo, and current enrollment is 883 students.

The school’s action has led to the establishment of a Facebook page called “Bring Back Mr. Hamilton!” as well as an online petition asking the school to change its decision.  On Sunday, disgruntled parents met with new CEO Lori Todd and other school officials at the school’s Carmel Valley office.

According to a Facebook post about the meeting, some 100 parents and students crammed into the lobby, and over the two-hour meeting, they “pleaded loudly and passionately to bring back Mr. Hamilton in any capacity! It was made abundantly clear by the new CEO that Mr. Hamilton would NOT be returning to Summa. No reasons were proffered for his departure except for ‘business issues’ that surfaced over a 3 month period.”

Todd acknowledged that what she had to say to families Sunday was “not what they wanted to hear” because Hamilton won’t be coming back to Summa, and she declined to state a reason for Hamilton’s dismissal.  “We cannot discuss internal personnel matters.”

But she said every other staff member, including teachers, counselors and office workers, will remain with the school, and Summa will continue to use the same techniques and teaching materials.  The school has offered refunds to those who have already enrolled and, so far, no one has actually asked for their money back because of Hamilton’s departure, Todd said.

“It is the same Summa with one absence — it is a key absence — but Summa is not one person,” she said.

Wang and other parents, however, attributed much of Summa’s success to Hamilton, who ran the school and also worked directly with students as a teacher and counselor.

Since the school was founded in 2011, Hamilton said, 27 Summa students scored perfect 2400s on the SAT college admissions test.  He said students who have gone through Summa’s program boosted their SAT scores by 500 to 700 points, or even 1,000 points, and also were admitted to prestigious universities.  But Hamilton’s influence seemed to go beyond test scores.

“What appeals to me the most about (Hamilton) is his role as a mentor in a child’s life,” said Hema Krishnamurthi of Carmel Valley, who sent her two sons to Summa.  “He has an amazing ability to connect with them.  A child walking out of his office feels motivated to read a lot of books, and do better in their studies, and has a better sense of self-worth.”

Sharon Lee Rhodes, a Carmel Valley resident, said all four of her children have worked with Hamilton, either for SAT prep or college guidance counseling.  Rhodes, who is also dean of economic development at the San Diego Community College District, said the decision to dismiss Hamilton was “an awful mistake.”

She credited Hamilton and Summa with helping to “place (San Diego) on the map with a lot of the elite colleges.”  Her three older children — including a son at Yale who was also accepted at Harvard and Princeton — are now in college, and her younger daughter is in high school.

“I hope the leadership at Summa realizes what a bad choice of executive management decision they made and I hope they’ll reverse it,” Rhodes said.

Hamilton, 44, said he was informed by the school’s administration that he was fired on Feb. 28 and told not to come back to the office.  He said he was not given a reason for the decision.

Before co-founding Summa, Hamilton worked for another SAT prep program called Elite Educational Institute, and also taught at UCLA, where he earned graduate degrees.  Following his departure from Elite, the rival company sued Hamilton and Summa, and according to published reports, won a $3 million judgment.  In its lawsuit, Elite alleged that Hamilton stole proprietary information, including client lists, and recruited key Elite staff for his new business.

Hamilton said the judge later overturned part of the verdict, and that the judge’s decision bodes well for an appeal of the remaining verdict. He denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

Hamilton said he is “shell-shocked” from his firing, but touched by the outpouring of support from parents and students.

“This whole thing for me is a great sense of personal loss. It’s sad I’m not allowed to continue my work at Summa. I would come back in a heartbeat,” Hamilton said.

Even Todd acknowledged Hamilton’s rapport with students, which she described as “magical.”  Two of her own sons worked with Hamilton both at Elite and then Summa.  While she is an attorney, and not an educator, she said she was brought in by a group of investment partners last fall to save the school.

“I was hired by my partners to go in and make this business work.  And that’s what I’m doing,” she said.

Del Mar Pines student publishes children’s adventure book

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 07:04

Jessica Smith holding a Hyacinth Macaw. Courtesy photos

By Kristina Houck

It all started with a Christmas challenge.

Two years ago, Jessica Smith received a blank notebook from a family friend for Christmas. Vic Mackenzie, a retired illustrator, encouraged the then-third grader to write a story.

“He said, ‘If you want to write a book, I can illustrate it for you, and then you’ll be rich and famous one day,’” recalled 10-year-old Jessica.

A week later, she wrote “A Bird Lost in Paradise.”

“It’s really amazing,” said Jessica, now a fifth grader at Del Mar Pines School. “I never thought that it would come this far.”

Inspired by her love of animals, Jessica’s book follows Caitlin, a lost bird in the Amazon rainforest. After meeting a squirrel monkey named Alvin, the pair travels to the Galápagos Islands and other faraway lands, meeting new friends along the way.

“I put some work into it,” Jessica said. “Some people might not realize it’s hard and it takes so much time.”

Although it took only a week to write the story, it took roughly 18 months for the Del Mar girl to complete the book. Her father, Bruce Smith, edited the story and compiled the learning resources section so young readers could learn about the animals mentioned in the story.

“There’s so many books that are just stories, but they don’t teach the children anything except to read,” said Smith, an engineer with SANDAG. “We thought it was good to have something about the animals in the back just so readers could learn something real about the animals.”

And, like he promised, Mackenzie created the illustrations, which Jessica and her father colored using watercolor pencils.

“He’s so creative,” said Smith, who noted Mackenzie worked as a cartoonist for the daily newspaper, Rhodesia Herald. “We were amazed.”

Jessica held a book signing March 9 at Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla. She also recently shared “A Bird Lost in Paradise” with her classmates.

“I just hope kids like it,” she said. “And I hope that they’re inspired to do something themselves.”

To purchase a copy of Jessica’s book, visit or (Or visit and search using Jessica’s name or the title of the book.)

Petition seeks to stop cell towers at Carmel Valley Library

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 07:01

By Karen Billing

An online petition to stop AT&T from installing cell towers on the Carmel Valley Library is gaining support, already generating 160 signatures.

To increase coverage and capacity needs, AT&T has proposed 12 antennas and 24 new remote radio units (RRUs) mounted inside raised cupola enclosures on the library on Townsgate Drive in Carmel Valley.

AT&T is currently in the process of adjusting height and location concerns for the cupolas, which are towers with a domed roof. The cupola structures were originally proposed to be 45 feet high, taller than the library’s existing dome of 41 feet.

According to Stephanie Lucero, one of the residents who started the petition, the community should oppose the project for the health risks associated with cell towers, the potential impacts on home values, the negative impact to the aesthetics of the Carmel Valley Library, and noise and safety concerns associated with construction.

“This proposed project has many negative impacts on our community and does not offer anything positive in return. Sure, AT&T claims that we will have improved cell phone reception. This may be true, but at what expense?” said Lucero. “We are exposing our children and residents of our community to a possible health threat. We will potentially see decreased home values in the adjacent residential community. We are destroying the architectural design of our library and altering the skyline in a negative way.”

So far there has been one community outreach meeting about the cell sites on Jan. 28 and, according to Jaime Moore, a spokesperson for AT&T, a second meeting will be scheduled and residents will be notified.

“AT&T plans to continue to invest in the Carmel Valley wireless network with the goal of improving call quality and data speeds. We remain committed to working with the community,” Moore said. “Currently, our engineers are refining our proposed design. Once updated plans are available, we plan to present them to the community. We are dedicated to transparency throughout this process.”

The petition can be signed at

Healthy Living Festival coming to Del Mar Fairgrounds

Sun, 03/09/2014 - 09:00

Come to the Healthy Living Festival March 22-23 and learn more about eating healthier, finding a healthy weight, getting into healthy activities and keeping a healthier home. Listen to experts share new ideas about lifestyle changes that can help you prevent disease and lower stress. Take part in free medical testing and screening.

Watch chefs prepare and then sample healthy and ultra-tasty dishes with take home recipes. Catch the belly dancing show, join in a Zumba class, or receive a massage.

The biggest attraction of the event is its 200 exhibitors who have come to Del Mar from across the nation. Stroll through the festival and sample organic foods and beverages, visit health professionals and sports and fitness experts, learn about the latest in nutrition, skin care and green living products.

Free medical screenings and testing through Sharp HealthCare including measurements of cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index. A number of other exhibitors will also be giving free tests and screenings. Admission is free.

For more information, visit  or call 805-461-6700.

Guitarist Patrick Berrogain to perform at Carmel Valley Library

Sun, 03/09/2014 - 09:00

March’s free family music program sponsored by the Friends of the Carmel Valley Library will be presented on Wednesday, March 12, at 7 p.m. in the library’s community room. It will feature guitarist Patrick Berrogain in a program of gypsy jazz. This is a style of jazz often said to have been started by guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt in the 1930s. He was foremost among a group of Romani guitarists working in and around Paris in the 1930s through the 1950s, and was noted for combining a dark, chromatic gypsy flavor with the swing articulation of the period. This combination is critical to this style of jazz. His approach continues to form the basis for contemporary gypsy jazz guitar. The program will last 45 minutes.

Born in the south of France, Patrick Berrogain bought his first guitar at the age of 14 and began playing semi-professionally while finishing high school. At 19 he got a job with an Italian pop band and traveled the world with it for five years. Then he moved to Ivory Coast, Africa where he performed pop and musette music with a local band. In 1984 Berrogain moved to America and enrolled in the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood where he honed his jazz guitar skills and studied composition and arranging at the Dick Groove School of Music. He graduated from the Institute in 1985 and moved to San Diego in 1986 where he has lived since then. His interest in gypsy jazz peaked in 1998 when he co-founded a gypsy jazz band called the Hot Club of San Diego. Today, Berrogain enjoys writing and arranging for the band. His music has been used on radio and television around the world.

The library is located at 3919 Townsgate Drive in Carmel Valley. For more information, call (858) 552-1668.

Rancho San Dieguito Swim Team wins San Diego Junior Olympics Championship

Sat, 03/08/2014 - 17:51

The Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito’s Rancho San Dieguito Swim Team won the San Diego Junior Olympics Championship Feb. 22 for the third time in a row!

Course Junior Olympics, sponsored by San Diego-Imperial Swimming (SI), is an event held bi-yearly and is open to all SI swimmers that meet qualifying times. This time the event was held at Poway Community Swim Center Pool.

“Our swimmers did a phenomenal job and trained long hours to prepare for the event,” said Joe Benjamin, head coach and director of the Pardee Aquatics Center at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito. “We were the most spirited and cohesive team at the meet, and as always, our team values shined through.  Many team records were broken, many of our swimmers made it to finals, and everyone brought their best efforts and best attitudes. It is clear that we are sure to see a lot more success to come from the RSD Swim Team.”

RSD swim team is compromised of a strong combination between athletes and coaches. Their success is also attributed to the endless support the team receives from the parents and families of the athletes. Even older swimmers who are also a part of the RSD Swim Team came to the event this past weekend to show support to the younger athletes and provide mentoring when needed.

Not only did RSD Swim Team take overall victory and blow out the competition with 3223.5 points, followed by North Coast Aquatics with 2799 points and Pacific Swim with 2509.5 points, but they also set new records at the event. Rebecca Madden, age 10, received the High Point Award for the Girls 10 & under category. She also broke the 36-year-old San Diego Imperial record in the 200 IM. The RSD boys also flourished during the meet.  They broke the SI record for the fastest 800 freestyle relay.

If interested in learning more about the Pardee Aquatics Center or the RSD Swim Team, please visit the BGC San Dieguito website at or call (858) 755-9371.

AutoMatters: Muscle Cars at the San Diego Automotive Museum & ‘NON-STOP’

Sat, 03/08/2014 - 17:29

Muscle cars at the San Diego Automotive Museum

By Jan Wagner

This week AutoMatters visits an exhibit of classic muscle cars. Then it’s off for some high-flying, thrilling entertainment with a review of the action-packed movie “NON-STOP,” now playing at a theater near you.

Ah, muscle cars – I remember them well. Glossy brochure pictures featured these loud, in your face machines in surreal settings like idyllic fields covered in flowers to stimulate your imagination. They were drag raced and many spent their Friday and Saturday nights at impromptu car shows at the local drive-in (movie or burger). These were nostalgic times, recalled by “Muscle Cars: 50 Years of American Horsepower” – a new exhibit at the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park.

Muscle car horsepower

All of the major U.S. auto manufacturers got in on the action. Their very names evoked speed: GTO, AMX, Superbird, Firebird, Mustang, 4-4-2, Road Runner, Torino, Javelin, Charger, Camaro, Barracuda and more.

I was fortunate to have been a teenager with my very own muscle car back in those days. It was a bright red, 1970 Plymouth Duster 340.

Racing stripes

What muscle cars lacked in sophistication, build quality and reliability, they made up for with style and brute horsepower. Bright, bold colors included lime green, purple and arrest-me-red. With their big, powerful, carbureted V-8s, these high-performance, four-wheeled pavement pounders had a voracious thirst for what was then inexpensive and plentiful gas.

Revving the engine would really get the heart pumping. Punching the gas pedal resulted in billowing clouds of tire smoke. These cars were brutally fast – in a straight line. A nasty encounter with a roadside wooden fence called into question my Duster’s cornering ability on its skittish bias-ply tires. This was just before radial tires started to take over the performance tire market.

Muscle cars

High-speed stability and poor aerodynamics left a lot to be desired too, as a very foolish, flat-out run to its upper limit made my car lift and start to lose directional control. I was lucky to have survived my youth.

Back then these cars were relatively affordable, but now – forget it. They sell at auctions for astronomical prices. Fortunately we are in the midst of a resurgence of automotive performance, only this time it is all-around performance: not just powerful acceleration but also handling, reliability, safety, economy, comfort, electronic entertainment, styling and more.

“Muscle Cars: 50 Years of American Horsepower” is at the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park and open daily, through May 30, 2014. Perhaps if we ask nicely the museum will blast a soundtrack of loud, revving engines into the exhibit hall. That would be the perfect accompaniment to the cars in this exhibit.

Spend some time reading the informative display cards and check out the variety of other automobiles on display – from antiques, one-of-a-kinds and more, to one of the largest collections of motorcycles on the West Coast. Visit the museum’s well-stocked, automotive-themed store, and perhaps allow some time to explore the rest of Balboa Park with its many excellent museums, beautiful grounds, restaurants and, of course, the world famous San Diego Zoo. For museum hours, admission prices and other information, go to

While we’re on the subject of high-speed, adrenalin-pumping travel, you’ve got to see “NON-STOP” starring Liam Neeson. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as Neeson’s character – a Federal air marshal, frantically tries to locate a deranged lunatic who is responsible for the systematic murder of the passengers, one at a time. The performances by the actors are believable and emotional, as is a story that provides just enough background to cause us to care about the characters. There are many unexpected twists and turns, and the movie moves along quickly; so much so that you might need to see it twice in order to catch important details that you could easily miss the first time.

So who is responsible? You might think that you know but trust me, you will be kept guessing right until the very end.

I should warn those of you who have a fear of flying. I don’t want to be a spoiler so I’ll just say that the many action sequences are extremely well done and they will take you by surprise. This is one very exciting, suspenseful film.

Racing season has begun so watch for AutoMatters’ coverage of NASCAR and then IndyCar, as well as a review of the Logitech G27 racing wheel, gear shifter and pedals.

As always, please write to with your comments and suggestions.

Copyright © 2014 by Jan Wagner – #322r1 AutoMatters

Authors educate and inspire students at annual Canyon Crest Academy Writers Conference in Carmel Valley

Sat, 03/08/2014 - 09:00

Author Kristin Elizabeth Clark with Mary Ford and Kate Sequeira, both students from San Dieguito Academy. Photos/Diane Welch

By Diane Y. Welch

Canyon Crest Academy’s Creative Writing Club held its third annual Canyon Crest Academy (CCA) Writers Conference on Saturday, Feb. 22. Best-selling authors, agents and other writing professionals addressed county-wide high school students, leading inspirational and educational workshops.

The event was free for attendees due to generous support from Gold Sponsors: OSIsoft, Summa Education and Chipotle, and Silver Sponsors: Entangled Publishing, DoubleTree Hotels, and Wells Fargo.

The conference, founded by CCA senior Devyn Krevat, drew almost 200 students, she said. Krevat served as emcee, introducing the first keynote speaker of the day, Kristin Elizabeth Clark, author of the novel “Freakboy.”

Clark’s talk focused on how to tackle a controversial subject matter bravely and dodge the “bumps and bruises we’re likely to encounter from coming face to face with the tough subjects that choose us,” she said.

Using the metaphor of a protective helmet, she urged the audience to chant, “No more helmets” to express a willingness to “write without fear in order to bring light to difficult topics.” Clark’s novel spotlights transgender, a subject matter that she said chose her.

Devyn Krevat, CCA senior and founder of the CCA Creative Writing Club.

She also gave highlights from the work of fellow authors Ellen Hopkins, who wrote “Crank” about her daughter’s drug addiction, and Laurie Halse Andersen, author of “SPEAK,” who writes about sexual assault and depression.

By writing these difficult edgy works authors are “holding up mirrors to what is out there” so that issues may be faced head on and possible solutions found, said Clark. In closing, Clark advised aspiring authors to “write what chooses you and create light!”

After the opening speech, students broke out into separate workshop sessions on several aspects of writing, including freelance magazine writing, self publishing, flash fiction, crafting great plots, point of view, stage plays, fantasy, romance, suspense, action scenes, song writing, book packaging, poetry, college application essays, and career building. Lissa Price, the second keynote speaker, talked passionately about her award-winning dystopic thriller series “Starters” and “Enders,” and gave tips on how to write page-turning novels with memorable characters.

A panel of agents gave candid advice on the benefits of having an agent and tips for aspiring agents on how to intern with a literary agency. Natalie Lakosil, Thao Le and Kelly Sonnack spoke about their roles in the publishing world and how they are there to springboard authors to success by taking care of the contractual details and the selling of a manuscript, leaving authors free to focus on their next book.

Advice on how to submit to an agent was covered, what genres are still hot, resources to find an agent and the importance of reading extensively and writing daily.

“You have to carve out that time every day, even if it means getting up really early in the morning,” said Sonnack.

Kelly advised, “Write from the heart and be true to yourself,” and Le told the audience, “Stand out by having a terrific book.”

Aiden McGeath, a junior at High Tech High, appreciated the advice from the agent panel. Although he is not currently working on a book, he said it was good to hear what the requirements are. “Five years down the line I might actually write something,” he joked.

Krevat, whose play “Fairy Tale” was one of the winning entries in the Playwrights Project and will be staged at The Old Globe this month, said that the conference was founded primarily to inspire students. “It’s really a thrill to be around these people who care so much about writing and it’s great to come to a place where you get such specific information to do it.”

Del Mar Foundation to hold a Meet & Greet at Poseidon Restaurant

Sat, 03/08/2014 - 09:00

The Del Mar Foundation is holding its first no-host Meet & Greet of the year at Poseidon Restaurant on Monday, March 10, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Organized by the Foundation’s Special Events committee, this event offers an extended Happy Hour to 7 p.m. Meet & Greet events bring people together in a casual setting to connect with one another in the community over a drink and optional dining. Poseidon Restaurant is located at Coast Boulevard and 17th Street.  Reservations are requested at or by calling 858-635-1363. For more information about the Del Mar Foundation or to make a donation today visit

Carmel Valley Middle School Junior Varsity Field Hockey Team captures Big 8 League Championship

Sat, 03/08/2014 - 09:00

The Carmel Valley Middle School Junior Varsity Field Hockey Team won the Big 8 League Championship on Feb. 25 at Oak Crest Middle School, with a score of 2-1. Team players include: Mira Ananthanarayanan, Zoe Antonoff, Gretchen Burklund, Kerri Byrne, Lindy Byrne, Helena Cook, Laurel Easley, Nicole Eberhardt, Nicole Golden, Mia Harris, Riley Holcomb, Anna Hong, Kate Leonard, Valentina Macchione, Maclaine Parish, Teresa Perez, Cami Ramseyer, Alex Walling, Amy Wong, and Jill Yamanishi. Coaches for the team were Caroline Bowman, Anita Kelleher, Haley Schroeder, and Paige Weinstein.

Friends Of Jung will present a lecture titled ‘Nightmares – Urgent Messages from the Guiding Self’ in Del Mar

Sat, 03/08/2014 - 09:00

San Diego Friends Of Jung will present a lecture titled “Nightmares – Urgent Messages from the Guiding Self’ by Howard Tyas on Friday, March 14, at 7:30 p.m. at The Winston School in Del Mar (215 9th St. Del Mar).

A workshop will be held on Saturday, March 15, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Mueller Collage, San Diego. Tyas is a certified Jungian analyst and licensed pastoral counselor.

He will explore and examine the personal and psychological context out of which nightmares arise, with an eye toward understanding both their urgent message and timely meaning.  Friday lecture: $20 non-members; Sat., workshop $60 non-members. Contact:;

Education Matters: Teacher training vs. time in the classroom: How Del Mar walks the tightrope

Fri, 03/07/2014 - 10:41

Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

Last week’s column discussed the Del Mar Union School District’s balancing act as it tries to provide professional development for its teachers without negatively impacting students and impeding learning in the classroom.

Tiffany Kinney and Gina Vargus, co-presidents of the Del Mar California Teachers Association, discussed the discomfort some teachers have with the training.

Kinney, a DMUSD classroom teacher since 2000, said teachers are unsettled “because we want to do such a good job. I know what works really well and now I’m having to use some of that but I’m having to add some of the other [techniques].”

“Veteran teachers haven’t felt like a first-year teacher in a long time,” said Vargus, who has been teaching in Del Mar since 1991. “You have to think on your feet, and you don’t know how long something’s going to take, and you don’t know where your kids are going to be at the end of your [lesson] plan, and maybe it’s not such a great plan and I’ll have to go back and rework that.”

Despite scattered criticism that pulling teachers from their classrooms for the training sessions is not in the best interests of students, Kinney and Vargus said the training definitely puts students first.

“It’s really preparing them,” Kinney said.

“What we’ve heard over the last several years is that kids are coming out of college not prepared to be workers and … they’re not independent thinkers,” Vargus said. “I think this gives kids ownership of that.”

Former Del Mar parent Melissa Myrhum vehemently disagreed. “Absolutely not,” she said, when asked if the focus on staff development in Del Mar is placing kids’ interests first. “The priority is not the students.”

Myrhum, who moved to the Del Mar district in 2011 with three children, two of whom were in fourth and fifth grades at the time, took aim at DMUSD superintendent Holly McClurg who in 2011 was assistant superintendent under then-superintendent Jim Peabody.

“She doesn’t have her client’s best interests at heart, and that’s the kids,” Myrhum said, of McClurg.

Myrhum said the schedule has meant lost time for students and adversely affects learning, and said substitute teachers are often just babysitters.

“You cannot continue to pull these teachers out and expect a great result,” she said. “It’s terrible for the learning environment.”

Myrhum took her complaints first to the principal, who she said told her nothing could be done. Then she spoke with McClurg, who she said justified it repeatedly, “to the point where I was so incredibly frustrated.”

After that she talked to Peabody, who she said told her, “It would be too hard to fight the unions to get all of this changed.”

She said she told him it was McClurg, not the teachers, who was mandating all the staff development. “But I guess it was easier for Peabody to blame the union,” she said.

“All this development, that was her baby,” Myrhum said of McClurg. “She wasn’t going to let go, no matter how much criticism she got.”

Myrhum is not alone. One frustrated parent, exasperated after two years of what she described as lost learning time for her children, protests this year by pulling her kids out of school on the days when their classroom teachers will be absent for training.

In an interview in January, McClurg defended her emphasis on staff development, saying teacher training is “the most powerful thing, [by] empowering our teachers how to teach as effectively as possible.”

She said she has no regrets about the professional development, “not for a moment.”

“Teaching is grounded in solid research,” McClurg said.

The district encourages teachers to do some of their training over the summer, to minimize lost classroom time, but McClurg said attendance can’t be compelled per the district’s contract with teachers.

“I don’t make apologies and I think it’s absolutely the right work,” she said. “That said, we are trying to determine the best possible ways to train our teachers and keep our teachers in the classroom as much as possible. I do realize when they’re not there, it’s a substitute and that is one of the pieces we take into consideration.”

Benefiting the kids

Kinney and Vargus acknowledged that many parents were initially unhappy about all the professional development during school hours.

But parents who at first objected are coming around, once they become aware of how the training and new standards will benefit the students, Kinney said.

“We’re starting to see parents becoming more and more comfortable with it,” she said. “Also, when we go to the staff development, we are getting things we can use the next day when we walk into the classroom.”

Vargus recommended that parents attend informational sessions. “The parents who have attended the evenings have been just wowed by the information they’re getting,” she said. “It is getting the word out about how valuable it is, how great it is for kids.”

“It’s our job as professionals to explain the value of this professional development – why it’s of benefit to the children,” she said.

Kinney said teachers know in August the dates they are required to be out of the classroom for training for the coming school year. She suggested that teachers secure substitute teachers well in advance and call the ones they trust, to ensure consistency and confidence that the lesson plans will be followed.

Although teachers are not required to find their own subs, “it’s in your best interest and it’s in your children’s best interest,” Vargus said. “And it’s in your best interest to find someone who knows how you run your classroom and someone who wants to come back.”

“I’ve always felt personally that it’s been my responsibility,” Kinney said. “If I’m going to be out, I need to find someone to cover my job.”

Vargus and Kinney said they know the capable subs and try to book them early. They also rely on student teachers who are not just place-holders but are motivated to follow lesson plans closely and do real teaching.

Because all districts have to prepare for the Common Core roll-out this fall by training teachers for the new standards, finding qualified substitute teachers is a county-wide problem, they said.

Teachers not resistant

Kinney and Vargus said teachers are not resistant but simply uneasy.

“It’s not about going to the training at all – it’s about making sure that in your absence things run smoothly for the kids,” Vargus said. “Any time we’re not there, we want to make sure it’s a day just as if we were there … which is impossible to replicate. So there is stress about that.”

When asked to comment on the controversy, former DMCTA president and Ocean Air fifth-grade teacher Katrina Campbell refused to discuss the issue, writing in an email, “I am not interested in speaking to anyone in the media. I prefer to focus solely on my students.”

Carmel Del Mar fourth-grade teacher David Skinner, who served as president of the DMCTA before Campbell, did speak to the issue, saying in an email, “I don’t feel I am being pulled out of the classroom an unreasonable amount of time, but I know other teachers feel differently.”

Skinner said the Common Core roll-out “has been a bit rocky” but is not sure how it could have been done better, given the delay in the state’s approval of adequate instructional materials.

“We are going in the right direction in my opinion,” he said. “I am thrilled we are finally looking critically at how we teach and learn mathematics in DMUSD. The real shame would be reversing course just because we haven’t been perfect in our application of the Common Core standards and how to teach them.”

He said parents and teachers need to understand why the professional development is important and effective.

“We need to explain what we are doing and keep doing it,” he said. “I think the research backs us up.”

Myrhum doesn’t disagree that training for teachers is important. “Everybody needs to continue their education, teachers included,” she said. But the way it’s provided, and the consequence of lost classroom time, “is not good for the kids.”

She and many other parents believe the Wednesday afternoons when teachers leave early should be used for training sessions.

“Do it on-line, or at the school on those Wednesday afternoons,” she said. “The half-day thing is putting the teachers first.”

McClurg said professional development is also offered on the two Wednesday afternoons each month when teachers are permitted to leave work at 12:30, but those are not work hours.

“We do try to schedule … trainings and meetings on those days as much as possible, but it’s not in their contract so we can’t require attendance,” McClurg said.

The two Wednesdays when teachers are required to stay at school are consistently used for professional learning and meetings, she said, this year focused on mathematics.

Kinney and Vargus said they are working closely with district administrators, teachers and parents to identify alternative delivery methods for the training, to minimize teacher absences from the classroom.

As co-presidents of the DMUSD’s teachers union, they said they support the professional development and feel it is vital to student success, while at the same time acknowledging that it is stressful for teachers and parents.

“We all want the best for our kids,” Vargus said. “We as Del Mar teachers are lifelong learners and we relish the opportunity to learn new things and we know that the CGI training is good for kids. It’s very valuable.”

Recognizing that the missed time with their students is a great concern, Kinney and Vargus said teachers are “excited about all the great ideas” that are being presented to change the delivery of teacher training.

“We’re getting great ideas from members as well as the administration about how this can look different,” Vargus said. “There’s no one who’s stuck in that ‘this is the way it has to be’ [position].”

“We’re all looking at ways to make it better,” Kinney said, “so that we’re not having to be pulled out of our classroom [as much]. The forefront of our teaching is the children in our classroom. They are our number one priority. And we want to make sure we are the best at what we do to be able to prepare them to be lifelong learners, to be successful.”

End of Part Two of a three-part series

Next week: Sitting in on professional development

Marsha Sutton can be reached at

TPHS Girls Soccer Palomar League Champions

Fri, 03/07/2014 - 10:37

The Torrey Pines Girls Varsity Soccer team are Palomar League Champions with a 9-0-1 record in league play. The team celebrated Senior Night with a 4-0 win over Canyon Crest Academy.  Seniors honored were: Courtney Coate, Gianna Giacalone, Stephanie Merida, Zoe Purcell, Cami Tirandazi, and Macy Vrabel.   The Falcons, ranked #1 in San Diego and #7 in the nation, then advanced to the CIF Open Division quarter-finals, where they defeated Poway in a decisive 5-1 victory.   Next up was CIF semi-finals versus Westview on March 4.  The winner will play in the finals on Friday, March 7, at Mesa College, game time 5 p.m.  The Falcons are led by Head Coach Martyn Hansford and Assistant Coach Shana Carr.  Photo/Anna Scipione

San Diego Jewish Academy students in Carmel Valley organize third annual ‘Walk to End Genocide’

Fri, 03/07/2014 - 10:30

Organized by San Diego Jewish Academy students, the third annual Walk to End Genocide is set for March 23 at Nobel Park in La Jolla. (Above, l-r) Naomi Suminski, Zander Cowan, Ilana Engel

By Kristina Houck

After learning about the genocides in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in his eighth-grade Jewish studies class, Zander Cowan wanted to do something to help. Now a junior at San Diego Jewish Academy, Zander is once again organizing a walk to raise awareness, support and hope for survivors of genocide.

“We want to bring across a powerful, yet positive message about spreading genocide awareness,” said 17-year-old Zander. He and his classmates, Ilana Engel and Naomi Suminski, are planning the third annual Walk to End Genocide on March 23 at Nobel Park in La Jolla.

More than 6 million people have lost their lives to the genocide and mass atrocities in Sudan and DRC, according to Jewish World Watch, which is sponsoring the walk.

After studying the Holocaust and learning about ongoing genocides in eighth grade, Zander and his fellow students raised $1,700 for JWW by selling blue rubber bracelets stamped with the words “Decide to End Genocide.”

“We said, ‘We’re not just going to sit around and get really upset about this issue,’” he recalled. “We wanted to do something about it.”

As freshmen, Zander, Ilana and Naomi organized the first walk at their campus. The inaugural walk had 100 walkers and raised $5,000 for JWW.

Last year, the trio expanded their efforts by reaching out to other high schools and religious institutions. About 175 walkers raised $7,500 during the second annual walk at Ocean Air Community Park in Carmel Valley.

“Genocide is not just a one religion, one race issue. It affects a broad base of faiths and ethnicities,” Zander said. “We reached out to church groups and other ethnic groups and clubs. That’s how the walk grew.”

With Congresswoman Susan Davis as honorary walk chair this year, organizers hope to raise $10,000 and increase participation to 300 walkers.

Davis or a representative from her office is scheduled to speak. Other speakers are still being confirmed, Zander said.

Proceeds will fund JWW programs. Founded in 2004, the nonprofit organization educates others about genocide, and establishes relief and development projects to empower and alleviate the suffering of survivors.

Women and girls who have fled the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, are particularly vulnerable to rape while collecting firewood for cooking. One of JWW’s projects equips refugee women with solar cookers so they can use energy from the sun to heat meals and avoid the often dangerous walks to collect firewood.

It costs $40 to supply one family with two solar cookers. The cookers will be on display during the walk.

“It’s really exciting because you sow the seed that’s your idea. It can only be grown and nurtured and turn into this tree after a bunch of other people have embraced it,” Zander said about the walk. “It gives me hope to see a lot of other people are passionate and as engaged in this as I am.”

The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 23 at Nobel Park, located at 8810 Judicial Drive in La Jolla. Registration includes a T-shirt and costs $20 for adults, $15 for students and $5 for children ages 5-11. Children 4 and younger walk for free.

This year’s event will include two one-mile walks at 10:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. Beginning at 11 a.m., a rally and action fair will feature informational booths and hands-on projects.

One of the projects is SDJA’s butterfly project. Through the educational art program, the school aims to create 1.5 million ceramic butterflies to represent the number of Jewish children killed by the Nazis during World War II.

“The walk is a local grassroots student-led event,” Zander said. “It would be great to get as much local support as possible.”

For more information and to register for the walk, visit

To learn more about Jewish World Watch, visit

Expert brings popular ‘mobile teaching kitchen’ to Del Mar Hills Academy

Fri, 03/07/2014 - 10:27

Peter watches in anticipation as Fernanda Larson serves up student-made pita bread in her Cook for Thought class after-school at Del Mar Hills.

By Karen Billing

The Del Mar Hills art room was transformed into a mini kitchen for mini chefs recently as it was overtaken by a Cook for Thought children’s cooking class after school. Cook for Thought founder and director Fernanda Larson led an enthusiastic group of students through making their own pita bread from scratch, paired with hummus and grilled eggplant they prepared.

Larson, a Del Mar resident and Hills parent, started Cook for Thought to provide curriculum-integrated culinary experiences for “curious minds that are hungry for knowledge.”

Her group last week was very hungry.

“I couldn’t walk here my body was so excited, I had to run,” said a student named Dora.

Larson brings her “mobile teaching kitchen” to the Del Mar Union School District for five classes a week in addition to teaching at local preschools. In March, she will be hosting some classes open to the community at Whole Foods in Del Mar, one class will be on Brazilian Carnaval cooking and one a tribute to Dr. Seuss.

Larson was born and raised in Southern Brazil in a family of Italian descent, resulting in an eclectic culinary background. The family’s backbone was in the kitchen.

Some of her most treasured memories of her childhood surround preparing lunch, starting in the morning with a walk to the butcher and then to the produce stand and the grocer. She had a full sit down-lunch every day of the week.

“One of my favorite things to make is black beans in a pressure cooker,” said Larson. “The rhythmic sound of the steam escaping the valve instantly transports me back to my childhood.”

Lauren and Sophia enjoy their finished product. Photos/Karen Billing

She has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nutrition, is a certified nutritionist and a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and recently was accepted as an ambassador for Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution Foundation in Del Mar.

Before having her two children she worked mainly with adults, but since becoming a mom she saw the potential for combining food, cooking, academic and social learning to close the “nourishment gap.”

Larson believes cooking is a vital life skill and it has become her dream, mission and passion to pass it on.

“To see how able they are, that’s something that’s so overlooked when working with kids,” Larson said. “They’re so capable and willing to try new things. They’re able to incorporate any technique that I teach them. And they remember and teach each other,”

As her Cook for Thought classes pair education with cooking, children have made roasted quail when studying Native American traditions, a “Hangtown fry” when studying the Gold Run, and tomato sauce caviar when they learned about futuristic molecular gastronomy.

Lauren and Sophia enjoy their finished product. Photos/Karen Billing

While studying American cuisine, kids have whipped up Philly cheese steaks, gumbo, New England clam chowder and cedar planked salmon.

Her current session at Del Mar Hills is about cooking through the world’s history, from Egypt to Morocco to France. The last class will incorporate the French Revolution and students will celebrate by having a French crepe party with their parents.

Last week the kids learned abut one of the oldest populations of the world, the Mesopotamians who, Larson said, were very famous for setting the technique for making one of the most delicious foods eaten today: bread.

Larson talked about how they used to grind the grains and discovered how to use yeast.

“I think it’s made of dirt,” one child guessed about the origins of yeast before Larson explained it’s actually from the fungi kingdom and has the power to “transform flour into something yummy.”

Two young cooks “proofed” the yeast, waking it up with sugar. Larson explained that the sugar makes the yeast come alive and bubble and know it’s time to do its job to raise the bread.

The children rolled out their dough and flattened them into circles to grill. Using kid-safe knives they used the proper technique to slice eggplants and coat them in olive oil and carefully measured spoonfuls of spices to grill up as well.

Larson mans the stovetop and the grill in her classes for safety reasons.

The kids also grinded their own fragrant cumin, broke up a clove of garlic with a “ninja karate chop” and combined the ingredients with mashed-up garbanzo beans for the hummus.

“Hummus is one of my favorite meals,” said student Peter, inspecting the consistency of their hummus. Some insisted the dip needed more spice but as not all palates are the same, Larson settled for an extra sprinkling of salt.

The students remembered the shape and size of their pitas as they came off the grill and sat down to sample their cooking. Even the eggplant-wary students tried at least a bite of the vegetable and many came back for second helpings of their hummus.

“The biggest reward really is in each and every student that shares their cooking stories, that are excited about making and trying new foods and they write me the most amazing thank you notes,” Larson said. “It’s the feeling of making a positive impact by teaching kids a vital life skill.”

Cook for Thought classes can also be part of fundraisers or team building, birthday parties, Girl Scout “cook” badges, food writing or speaking, and custom-tailored projects. For more information, call (858) 242-2341 or visit