Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Spirit Lives in Goleta

Santa Barbara Seems Depressed by Comparison

By Silvia Uribe

Ah, the winter season! Everyone is filled with the holiday spirit-or are we? As do many others, I spend half of my days in Santa Barbara and the other half in Goleta. In talking to my friends I've found out that it has been quite difficult for many, especially in Santa Barbara, to get into the holiday mood this year.

"I think that people in Santa Barbara are a little depressed with all of the financial problems that the whole country is facing," one of my friends said, while the rest nodded in agreement. Many have planned to reduce the ornament buying, the food cooking, and the gift giving. For those who lost their homes due to a calamity such as fire or a foreclosure it is even worse. Their holiday spirits, in some cases, have gone into deep comas.

Santa Barbara's malls seem way less busy this year. Last week I went to what's commonly known as a "high end" store in which I was the only customer. I'm not kidding you! I was attracted inside by the curiosity of seeing a lovely purse discounted from $1,300 to only $650. What a bargain not! I came out empty handed, as you probably already guessed.

Another thing that seems to have an effect on people's perception of the magnitude of the crisis are the stores and restaurants that no longer exist, and the ones that will disappear shortly, notwithstanding what seem to me the permanently empty commercial spaces, and the notion that there will be more of them. These give us the impression that things are not going to be better any time soon. Not even in a town that people consider to be well-off, like Santa Barbara. How landlords can maintain these commercial spaces empty, for such a long time, is beyond my comprehension. It goes against logic and pragmatic commercial tactics, which indicate that a reduced income is better than no income at all, but what do I know!

In Goleta, for some reason the situation feels more hopeful. It is like we are looking at our problems with a different perspective. People seem more into the celebrations; stores at the various commercial conglomerates on Calle Real, on Fairview, and at Storke and Hollister, as well as in Old Town, seem as busy as any other Christmas, and the store fronts around the city are filled with lights and merchandise, inviting even the most frugal of people to go inside, look around, and buy one or two things. What the heck!

Roaming around Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace and talking with the president of Wynmark Company, Mark Linehan (the force behind the Marketplace's development and the visionary of Girsh Park), I learned that most businesses are not only staying in Goleta, but new ones are trying to get into the area as soon as possible and fill the few empty spaces available. But what is the secret to retaining businesses and attracting more in an economy that's less than certain? Simple, said Linehan. "The Marketplace is locally owned and this makes it unique."

According to Linehan, the operating costs of other malls are extremely high, and this is reflected in the rents they charge. All the marketing that other malls do ends up being added to their lease contracts. "At the Marketplace, each business is in charge of their own marketing, making the spaces quite affordable, and that's why our tenants want to get leases here for 10 or 20 years in some cases."

Although the general financial situation might not be propitious-the national chain Linens 'n Things went out of business and CompUSA (sold to Systemax) closed its Goleta branch-Linehan believes that the space that Linens 'n Things occupied will have a new tenant by the end of January. If that's the case, you'll read about it here first. For now, as you probably already know, Best Buy is remodeling the old CompUSA space. If everything goes as planned, it will open its doors in April. Another tenant that just signed a contract to come to the Marketplace is Holdren's Steak and Seafood. It will be housed across from the Hollister Brewing Company, next to Chili's.

The Grapevine has also learned that a project to build an "urban village" is in its preliminary stages. It is to include some 300 living units and a number of commercial spaces for small local businesses. The proposed location is that big vacant tract on Hollister, right across from the Marketplace.

So, for all intents and purposes we can be reassured that Goleta is truly the Good Land, where people share hope for better times; and that we Goletanos know how to make a delicious lemonade when handed lemons.

Happy holidays!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Taste Of Tradition

By Silvia Uribe
Christmas in Mexico equates to a series of festivities that go farther and deeper than most would think. It is a cold season weather-wise, but a very cozy one in which the social and the religious aspects meet in a wonderful celebration of the spirit. I enjoyed those festivities, made into traditions at friends' homes or out in the community, from the time I was a girl until I left to come live in Santa Barbara. Memories of the images, smells, and sensations bring happiness a bit of nostalgia.
The 16th of December is the first of nine posadas; one per night, starting usually at 7 or 8pm. The posadas serve as a remembrance of Joseph and Mary looking for a place for baby Jesus to be born. Half of the posada attendees go outside the home and the other half stays inside. With candles in their hands, in a short procession, and singingLos Peregrinos (the pilgrims) both groups talk to each other in musical waves until the group inside offers posada (lodging) to the pilgrims. Once inside, the party starts with the ruthless smashing of piñatas and a mad scramble for the shower of fruits, sugar canes, peanuts, and candies released from within. Then, the potluck meal and the ponche (a hot fruit punch), sidra (sparkling cider) or other beverages are served for the holiday brindis (toast). Lots of fun for children and adults!
PASTORELAS (Shepherd stories)
The Pastorela plays an important role in teaching children the Nativity story. It usually starts with Maria being announced by an angel that she's pregnant with baby Jesus. It also encompasses a commemoration of King Herod's ordering the slaughter of all male infants in his kingdom, intended to include the Christ Child, and how Jesus' life was spared. And, it also includes the Epiphany story of the brilliant star guiding the wise men to Jesus. These pastorelas are presented at schools, at churches, and as plays in theatres.
EL NACIMIENTO (Nativity Scene)
The focal point of Christmas decorations is the traditional Nacimiento, which is an at-scale stable where clay figurines of the Holy Family are sheltered. Depending on the available space, the scene may also include an angel, Los Reyes Magos (the Wise men), the ass, shepherds, other people, and livestock. The figures may be simply positioned in a bed of heno (Spanish moss), or scattered throughout an elaborate landscape. The Nacimiento may be inside the home or on the outside for community enjoyment. The Christmas tree became very popular, and it is now an important part of the Christmas decorations.
LA NOCHE BUENA (Christmas Eve)
This is also considered the very last posada. Families get together in the late evening for a supper that may include tamales and atole or other regional dishes. A more exotic one may have bacalao a la vizcaína (Biscayan cod) and romeritos (wild greens with mole). Roasted turkey, ham, or suckling pig are popular choices among those who can afford them. Then the whole family attends the Misa de Gallo (a late night mass). Back at home, the celebration is rounded out with the opening of gifts, and theluces de Belen or de Bengala (sparklers). As the next day everyone is tired, December 25 is set aside as a day to rest and enjoy that universal holiday bonus - el recalentado (leftovers).
The Christmas season is not over yet. The celebration of Epiphany (arrival of Los Reyes Magos) is next and for many, last. January 5th is the preamble to their arrival. The family gathers around the Rosca de Reyes (pictured above) that is a crown-shaped sweet bread decorated with jewel-like candied fruits. Inside, tiny baby shaped figurines are hidden in the dough before baking. There is much excitement as each partaker cuts his or her own slice, for whoever gets a piece containing a baby is obliged to host another party on or before La Candelaria on February 2, when Mexico's traditional holiday season finally comes to an end. A common variation for those who do not celebrate the Candelaria, but still participate in the Rosca and get the baby, is to organize the Rosca de Reyes the next year to continue the tradition. The night of January 5th, the Reyes Magos bring toys to those kids who wrote a letter asking for them and placed it on top of their shoes. The next day children go out on the street to play with the newly found favors.
If you get invited by your friend, your neighbor, your co-worker, or your employee to celebrate any aspect of these festivities, try not to pass on it. Otherwise, you'll miss the first hand experience of the tastes, colors, warmth, sweetness and joy of these Mexican traditions.
Feliz Navidad!
Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.
Cross-posted at

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Who Are You?

By Silvia Uribe

If you think you have your answer to this question, think again! Before risking failure try and peel off a few layers that hide our true selves rather than to help us to see who we are.

In today's world, people's identity is largely based on what they do. Our value equals our net worth. As a consequence, we tend to want more than what we have - better jobs and more money so we can accumulate possessions to gain greater status. It is as if we we're little ants carrying goods ten times bigger than ourselves to our nest. We want to have the best house, the fastest car, to travel the world, and to buy brand name clothes and shoes. We compete with our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, and with complete strangers. We compete to compete.

In order to be able to have the status we want, we have to work hard, too hard; sometimes we live to work. Many of us are workaholics who live in a constant state of stress and rarely have time to enjoy life. Our life is full of responsibilities with very little room for mental relaxation. No wonder depression is now a common ailment. It is a great paradox that societies poorer than ours (in Latin America, for instance) are happier. Their members are more willing to smile, have fun, and they rarely feel lonely or depressed.

But what happens if we peel off the layers of work, responsibilities, seriousness, and get to the root of who we really are? What happens if we forget adjectives like ‘professional', ‘punctual' and ‘organized', and try to think instead of what we enjoy the most. Maybe we could find a couple of words that define our inner self and write them down on a piece of paper. We could keep that paper in our wallet and go back to it every time we feel stressed or out of balance.

If who we are and what we enjoy is clear, we can look for balance in our lives by integrating time that's NOT available for responsibilities. But beware of the common excuses we use. A 57-year-old friend of mine, and successful dentist once told me that he would like to play the guitar. But, he said, "I don't have the time to take a class now; I'll do it when I retire." "When?" I asked He shrugged his shoulders and said, "When hell freezes over."

We know that hobbies are a great tool to bring happiness to our lives. And hobbies make us be present and enjoy the moment like little children with a balloon in their hands. The problem is, we never set time aside to practice our hobby. We ought to change this! Remember that the more life enjoyment we produce, the more productive we will be. That's when we can achieve balance and dramatically reduce stress in our live.

It is during this time of the year, that we have the perfect opportunity to start anew. We can let go of what doesn't work for us anymore. To enjoy our live more, regardless of the problems or of the people that cause them, could be a New Years resolution! There is no such thing as a life without problems, but we can manage the stress and avoid stress from managing our life.

OTHER TIPS TO REDUCE STRESS (These really work for me):

1. Think of something to look forward every day, no matter how little it may be.
2. Remember that you always have at least two options when facing a problem, a positive and a negative. Choose the positive one and put it in practice as soon as you can.
3. After something stressful or bad happens, don't dwell on it. Get distracted.
4. Do not resist the inevitable.
5. Trust that things happen for a reason

After all, the source of our stress is not as important as the way we react to it.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at