About Martha Michael


A professional writer for decades and the editor of multiple products from Valley Publications, Martha is in a constant search for new challenges. While maintaining her editing post for more than eight years, she also opened an antiques business and authored her first book, “Canyon Country,” by Arcadia Publishing.

Martha manages two blogs—one for business and one that is more personal—and works to market and perfect her craft in every arena. Lack of energy is never a problem, and Martha is daily generating ideas, taking photos and talking to members of the community. She believes strongly that “everybody has a story.”

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Live Entertainment Review Canyon Theatre Guild

| Canyon Country Magazine, Entertainment | June 6, 2019

It’s been years since I took in a double feature. And not only that – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen two live theatre performances in one day … until a couple of weeks ago. I saw a matinee performance of “Moonlight & Magnolias” and went to the opening night of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” both at Canyon Theatre Guild in Newhall.

Moonlight & Magnolias
One of the things that attracted me to “Moonlight & Magnolias” is its relationship to “Gone with the Wind.” Being a big GWTW fan, I’m well acquainted with the characters, plotline and some of the off-camera drama of the 1939 “Best Picture” Academy Award winner.

Set in the office of David O. Selznick (who won “Best Director” honors from the Academy for GWTW), there are only three other cast members, including Selznick’s secretary, “Miss Poppenghul” (played by Linda Thompson), director “Victor Fleming,” and “Ben Hecht,” a screenwriter.

The play is a farcical account of Selznick’s efforts to save the film from its flawed script, but the characters are based on real individuals. The real-life Selznick did replace the movie’s original director – George Cukor – with Fleming, and he actually did hire Hecht to doctor the script.

Like most satires, it’s a hyperbolic depiction of true events, but the setup was historical. Selznick did practically hold the two men hostage for days while they worked on the screenplay.

The four actors in Canyon Theatre Guild’s production were all up to the level, especially their comedic timing. It’s hard to believe the three men – Michael Collins (Fleming), Barry Agin (Hecht), and lead, Paul Michael Nieman (Selznick) could memorize that many lines.

Audience members who will like M&M the most, I believe, are: those who like Hollywood inside stories; “Gone With the Wind” fans; and people who like physical comedy.

Like a lot of satirical material, you learn some of the back story by reading between the lines. At times the actors mimic GWTW characters from “Rhett” to “Prissy” and take calls from the likes of Hedda Hopper and Vivien Leigh.

Canyon Theatre’s production begins with a short screening of clips from “The Three Stooges,” which is an excellent tie-in to the type of humor you can expect in M&M. A lot of it involves falling, slapping and poking, so if you love Moe, Larry & Curly you’ll be laughing a lot in Newhall.

The Importance of Being Earnest
A jewel from the late Oscar Wilde, “The Importance of Being Earnest” is fun to see over and over again. The lead character is the apparently upstanding “Jack” (played by Christopher Flowers) who is guardian to “Cecily” (played by James Coblenz) and has an imaginary brother named “Ernest.”

Jack’s love interest is “Gwendolen,” (played by Keri Green) whose cousin is his best friend, “Algernon” (played by Matthew Fernandez). Because “Jack” goes by “Ernest” while in London, there is confusion, particularly when “Algernon” poses as imaginary brother “Ernest,” and Jack’s beloved, Gwendolen, states that she only wants to marry a man named “Ernest,” adding to the irony and general befuddlement.

Confused? You’re kind of supposed to be.

The Canyon Theatre Guild cast did a great job. They clearly worked on their British accents and delivered them believably. Some of the casting was unusual, but it added to the intrigue that Wilde was known for. The performance lived up to my expectations – amusing and fun.

May Day Call for Cure Local Parent Fights for Childhood Cancer Research

| Canyon Country Magazine | May 13, 2019

Janet Demeter of Agua Dulce took her seven-year fight to Capitol Hill on May 1, 2019 with a band of parents advocating for pediatric cancer research. After losing her 3-year-old son, Jack, to DIPG, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, which is the deadliest of pediatric cancers, she founded Jack’s Angels to bring patients closer to treatment by removing the disease from total obscurity. There has been no change in either treatment or prognosis since Neil Armstrong’s daughter, Karen, died of it in 1962.
“My main motivation for working for this cause has always been the experience we had, out of the gate, hearing that there were no solutions for my son because ‘the numbers aren’t great enough for investors’ – which was a clear message at the time,” Demeter says. “My son’s life had no value to the medical research system in place. I didn’t know that it was one of the most common and deadliest forms of childhood brain cancer.”

The DIPG Advocacy Group held meetings with both members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, bringing information and support from constituents and evidence of the vast number of affected families across the United States. House Leadership and members of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee are especially important, as these members decide the fate of H. Res. 114, which indicates the need for greater research funding for pediatric cancers in general.

Thanks to pressure from Demeter and others, May 17 has been named Brain Tumor Awareness Day.

Approximately 200-400 children are diagnosed with DIPG annually in the United States and it is considered a rare disease, as is every form of childhood cancer. As the leading cause of death in children in the United States after accidents and injuries, cancer strikes all ages, but brain cancer tops the list for pediatric cancer mortalities – and DIPG is responsible for the majority of those deaths.

For more information, visit DIPGadvocacy.org or JacksAngels.org.

Birtwick Park Equestrian Center 3rd Annual Win Place Home Gala

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | May 11, 2019

A barn party is coming to the Canyon – and your attendance supports the rescue of retired racehorses.

Birtwick Park Equestrian Center is hosting the 3rd Annual Win, Place, Home Gala and Silent Auction fundraiser on Saturday, May 18 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

In addition to taking in the atmosphere of a country-western celebration, you can shop from a large collection of auction items in the barn, where you can also see the horses you’re supporting. The auction will include hundreds of items for bidding and there will be a raffle to win two Disneyland one-day Park Hopper tickets (you have to be present to win).

Last year, more than 100 guests attended the event at Birtwick Park, which raised more than $11,000 for the non-profit. Beginning at 5 p.m. guests can peruse the silent auction, meet the horses, visit the crafts table, and buy food and drinks.

Located on Lost Canyon Road in Sand Canyon, the ranch has plenty of room for the family-friendly event, which will include the chance to see two miniature unicorns; free glitter tattoo and caricature from Taylor Entertainment; free psychic reading from Michael Mirth-Magical Entertainer; giant games provided by Joymode; scavenger hunt trivia game to win raffle tickets; a bounce house; a kid’s craft table; food provided by Jersey Mike’s; drinks provided by Firestone Walker and Garage Brewing Co.; a SynNutra booth and much more.

CJ Marinaccio, the founder/CEO of Win Place Home, Inc., created the non-profit after working at a racetrack in the early part of her career. When she moved to Sand Canyon she brought some horses with her and decided to begin taking them in to care for them after their life on the track. She gets them treated for injuries and lets them retire there.

“I worked at the racetrack from 2005 until 2015 and saw many horses come to the track and go from being treated like champions to being forgotten about when they were done,” Marinaccio said. “I decided to be in their lives in a different capacity. They had enough to help them on the track. They needed help getting off of it.”

The first boarder to move in to Birtwick Park with Win Place Home was Thorin in February of 2016. The nonprofit provides surgery when needed and finds adoptive homes for some of them.

When horses leave the electrified scene of the racetrack they have a vastly different lifestyle at Birtwick Park, which Marinaccio named for an estate in “Black Beauty.”

“When we get a horse we gently let them down from being a racehorse,” Marinaccio said.

Her horses eventually get a job to do at Win Place Home. “When they get off the track and can settle into just being a horse, it’s amazing how much their personality shifts!” the founder said. “And when they are put into a second job that they WANT to do they are so willing to please.”

Birtwick Park is located at 16257 Lost Canyon Road in Canyon Country. For more information about the non-profit, visit WinPlaceHome.org. Tickets can be ordered online at WPH.givesmart.com and auction items are available for bidding online before the event.

The Unshrinkable Riley Weinstein

| Canyon Country Magazine | May 10, 2019

She’s a Canyon High grad, a horseback rider, a dancer, a dance teacher, an actor, and “Miss Amazing California.” She’s also a longtime Canyon Country resident who lives life to the fullest.

Riley Weinstein, who turns 27 this month, doesn’t let anything get between her and her dreams – not even her disabilities. At the age of 2 she had a brain aneurysm followed by two strokes, which left her paralyzed on the left side. The next few years were devoted to helping her physically catch up to whatever level was possible.

Though she began with setbacks that would cause a lot of us to give up, Weinstein gained a forward momentum that never seems to stop.

“I had to relearn how to do everything – how to walk and talk – everything,” she explained. “That’s where dance came into my life. My mother was a dancer herself and got me into my first dance class at 5 years old.”

The expressive art form became a powerful force for Weinstein. “Dance is my passion,” she said. “Dance will never be out of my life.”

And in a show of tenacity, she didn’t stop at dance lessons.

“Growing up there were not dance classes for students with disabilities,” she said. “So, at the age of 14, I started my own dance class with the help of Becky Graham & Denise Redmond, owner and directors of Carousel Ranch, a therapeutic horseback riding center for students with disabilities.”

Weinstein rode at Carousel Ranch in Agua Dulce from about the age of 5 into her teens.

Love of Dance
“I started volunteer teaching at Vibe Performing Arts Center under the supervision of another teacher and then I went on to Santa Clarita School of Performing Arts, where I taught dance for students with special needs for about six years,” she said. “I also started benefit concerts called ‘Getting the Word Out,’ where we had singers, bands such as Malbec and BlueSky Reality, and we had Jerry Ferris who’s famous for ‘The Bachelorette’ and ‘Switched at Birth.’”

Ferris had emceed a Make a Wish Foundation event when an 11-year-old Riley Weinstein’s wish was granted to have her life story made into a documentary. The film premiered at The Grove in Los Angeles. He also emceed her dancing showcase called “INSPIRE,” and Weinstein has involved other celebrities in her projects, including Alex Frost of “So You Think You Can Dance” and actress/dancer/choreographer Zina Bethune.
Before Weinstein rented space independently at New World Dance, she was a student for about six years at the studio.

“There I was taught by Jessica Shull and started from a teen to adult dancing with her,” she said. “I remember getting so excited to see her every lesson and class because she was more than just a teacher to me, she was a mentor and friend.”

She also took dance classes from Brandy Thilesen, who was creative director, and Terry Bixler, who was owner of New World Dance at the time.

Bixler, who she calls her ‘Dance Dad,’ not only allowed her to teach dance to individuals with special needs, he has supported Weinstein throughout many of her endeavors, including the Miss Amazing pageant.

“He also let me choreograph in his studio whenever students and I needed it for my showcase events and let me use students from his studio,” she said. “I can’t thank this man enough for what he has given me. There’s so much more he has done for me.”

Weinstein is interested in teaching again, but needs to get a group of students together. She needs about 8-10 individuals with disabilities who are interested in taking a class, and she also needs to find a studio where she can rent space.
Calling her style “rhythmic jazz tap,” Weinstein teaches jazz techniques for the first half and tap for the second. “My class is not like any other tap class,” she explained. “Because I have students with disabilities, they learn rhythm and listening skills. Also a little bit of rhythm dance routines with tap.”

In addition to the Miss Amazing Foundation and Carousel Ranch, Weinstein is also involved with the Academy Of Special Dreams, an organization giving artists with disabilities an opportunity to show off their art.

Pageant Winner
“Miss Amazing is a pageant for young women and girls with disabilities and it’s to help them with confidence, learn social skills and basically just gain self-esteem,” the new statewide title holder explained.

Each participant chooses a “buddy” to help her throughout the day with makeup and hair and get her ready for the verbal introduction at the beginning of the pageant. Buddies also help girls practice their walk onstage, their talent and interview skills.

For the interview, participants meet with judges before the pageant. “Some participants do have mental disabilities, so (the judges) will ask them, ‘Do you have a dog? What’s its name?’ I get asked harder questions,” Weinstein said. “They asked me, ‘What makes somebody beautiful?’”

Part of the challenge also, she said, is that you don’t have a lot of time to answer. “The trick to these interviews is you have to basically have a conversation with them. They don’t like when you take too long to answer a question,” she said, pointing out the intimidating factors involved. “One of the judges won Miss Universe, so here I was talking to Miss Universe!”

The pageant participants walk in gowns with male escorts across the stage “and pose while they are saying our special qualities,” she explained. “This year my escort was pretty cute, so I liked that.”

Janice Dosh of Canyon Country was one of Riley Weinstein’s elementary school teachers and she recently reconnected with her former student, who invited her to attend the pageant.

“The Miss Amazing pageant provided such a favorable setting for all the contestants,” Dosh said, “fostering confidence and poise with a lot of positive attention from the audience.”

And because Weinstein has been crowned Miss Amazing in other divisions when she was younger, she knows how to prepare for the national competition held in Chicago in August.

“I’ve gained a lot of skills, I’ve learned a lot about being independent and learning leadership,” she said. “When you’re crowned you’re a leader to everybody else.”

The Gym
Weinstein’s “pageant buddy” was Sawyer Gordon, a trainer at Results Fitness in Newhall.
“Sawyer is my trainer at my gym … she’s also a friend,” Weinstein said. “She was an amazing buddy this year.”

Training with Gordon and others at Results Fitness has had a lasting effect, according to Weinstein.

“It definitely makes me feel a lot stronger,” she said. “I have a left-sided weakness from paralysis. … Having the physical limitations I do with my disability, (working out) makes the left side of my body a lot stronger. I couldn’t lift a kettle bell at first. I’m now lifting 40 kilograms. That’s like 80 pounds.”

Serving as a buddy was Gordon’s first experience with the Miss Amazing Foundation, which she admired for its message about empowering women.

“Riley has really inspired me,” Gordon said. “As a female athlete and a coach I always like watching people push themselves in whatever way they can, and these girls are doing that. … It doesn’t matter if you have a disability, you can accomplish what you want.”

And in more proof that Riley Weinstein can’t be stopped, she’s been acting for the last few years alongside Hollywood heavy hitters.

“Two years ago I did a show called ‘Scream Queens’ with Emma Roberts, Abigail Breslin, Lea Michele, Jamie Lee Curtis and John Stamos,” Weinstein said. “It was so much fun. I started out getting a guest role; then it moved on to a recurring role on the show.”

She said the show is available to viewers on Hulu. And last year she did a short film for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, where directors are instructed to cast at least one person with a disability. She played a part in a short film called “Ain’t Woke” by writer/director Cory Reeder.

“I played a teen millennial hit man with Debra Wilson,” Weinstein said. “It was a great experience. Cory Reeder and I are beyond friends. He took me to the red carpet with him last year for it. … He called me and asked me to be his date. He literally went over and beyond for me just casting me in this role.”

Weinstein said she is always looking for opportunities to do more acting.
“I’m hoping for this really big opportunity to do a role for Abigail Breslin. She is writing a show and she wanted to cast me in it to play somebody who is, like, goth, which I’ve never played before,” she said. “That would be so much fun. I love Abigail Breslin.”

Weinstein and her two siblings attended Sulphur Springs Community School, Sierra Vista Junior High and Canyon High School. She graduated in 2010.

She has a fraternal twin named Taylor who Riley says she’s “attached to for life.”

“We are totally the opposite from one another, but we are more than sisters – we are best friends,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine my life without my sister.”

She also has a younger brother whose name is Max.

“I loved watching him grow up,” she said. “I still always remember him as a little boy and am amazed how incredible a man he is becoming.”

Many would agree that Riley Weinstein could use the same adjectives about herself. In less than three decades she’s accomplished more than many of us do in a lifetime, and the sky’s the limit from here. Regardless of what happens at the national pageant in August, one can hardly describe her as anything but “amazing.”

Canyon Country Kids ‘Come On Down!’

| Canyon Country Magazine | April 16, 2019

For the Lankford family, the game is always afoot. Johnny and Kelly Lankford of Canyon Country are not satisfied with just watching their favorite TV game shows from their family room. They have been part of live studio audiences several times and they don’t show any signs of slowing down.

The couple has been to “The Price is Right,” “Ellen’s Game of Games,” and “Winsanity,” where Johnny was chosen to be an active audience participant. And now, their kids have caught the bug.

Last month their daughters Kailey, 11, and Kiki, 5, had their game show debuts.

“We were all watching ‘The Price Is Right’ one day, and Kailey said, ‘When can we go on? Do they ever have kids’ days?’” Kelly explained. “So, I looked online and, ironically, it said they were taping ‘Kids’ Week Preschool Day’ on Kiki’s 5th birthday!”

That was just the beginning of the Lankford’s good luck. They got tickets and went to CBS, where hopeful participants were interviewed by the producer.

When he asked Kiki her favorite “Price is Right” game she screamed, “PLINKO!” And when asked if she could win anything in the world what would she want, and she screamed, “A NEW CAR!”

The producer told Kiki, “I like your energy,” so it wasn’t a huge surprise that when the taping began, the 5-year-old was the first name called to “come on down!”

Kelly and Kiki competed against two other parent-preschooler contestants standing at the bidding stations for the first round. Of course, each child was coached by the parent, but the preschoolers got to deliver their answers – which were guesses on merchandise pricing – into the microphones. When Kelly told Kiki to bid $9.99 on a product, the youngest Lankford leaned in to the microphone and announced, “9-9-9-9-9.” Responding to the comical answers the show was getting from young contestants like Kiki, game show host Drew Carey pointed out that “The Price is Right” never had kids that young competing before.

Kelly and Kiki won the round and went up onstage to play “One-Two-Three Blocks,” then advanced to spin the wheel, which sent them to the “Showcase Showdown.” (You’ll have to tune in on April 22 to see how Kiki did on that final round. Spoiler alert: It goes very, very well.)

“Trust me, it was amazing!” Kelly said.

A few weeks later was “The Price is Right Elementary/Middle School Day,” and the lucky Lankfords’ second win: Kailey was chosen to appear on the show. She brought her father, and because she was older, Johnny stayed seated when Kailey was commanded to “come on down!”

“When you’re sitting in those chairs waiting to hear your name, at that moment your heart stops – you have no idea,” said Kailey, who’s watched the show since she was 4 years old.

She stepped up to the bidding station and made it onstage. “I played the easiest game – it’s the ‘Vending Machine,’” she said, explaining that you have to choose the most expensive combination of products. Johnny weighed in from the audience and Kailey made her choice – she won the game, then headed for the wheel. Kailey’s spin didn’t send her to the Showcase, but she exited with prizes.

Neither Kailey nor Kiki are allowed to go back on “The Price is Right” for 10 years, but when the time comes, you can expect to see Kailey return to the stage. “I want to get on as many game shows as possible,” she said.

A student at Golden Oak Community School, Kailey has appeared on a television commercial as an actor. “I like being in front of people and showing my expressions,” she said. “I’m not one of those shy ones. I say, ‘Let’s go, let’s do this.’”

Kiki, whose real name is Kilani, attends Prime Time Preschool in Canyon Country, where she likes both the work and the teachers. “Miss Jennifer is nice,” Kiki said. “We read some books and do science experiments. We have sharing time and we go outside.”

Johnny and Kelly have lived in Canyon Country for 23 years. “What we love most is the beautiful mountains, plenty of shopping, our friends and family live here – and the weather, of course!” Kelly said.

Tune in to watch Kiki on Monday, April 22 at 10 a.m. on CBS and Kailey on Wednesday, April 24, also at 10 a.m. on CBS.

Sand Canyon Country Club Resort Expands – Replies from residents requested

| Sand Canyon Journal | April 13, 2019

Sand Canyon residents are asked to provide input about upcoming changes in the neighborhood.

Less than a week after the Sand Canyon Homeowners Association meeting held on Monday, March 28, 2019, an email was sent out from the Santa Clarita planning department regarding the scope of the Sand Canyon Country Club’s project. Associate Planner Hai Nguyen sent a revised Notice of Preparation, or NOP, with a new description of SCCC owner Steve Kim’s plan for the development.

The following is Nguyen’s letter to the Sand Canyon Homeowners Association:

The City of Santa Clarita is the lead agency and is preparing an Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) for the Sand Canyon Resort Project. The City previously circulated the Notice of Preparation (“NOP”) for the project between October 17, 2018 and November 16, 2018. This revised NOP has been circulated to provide opportunity for public comment and input regarding the EIR’s expanded scope which now includes updates to the project description and new project area; approximately two-acre area south of Robinson Ranch Road would be utilized as a water quality detention basin associated with the project.

We need to know the views of your agency as to the scope and content of the environmental information, which is germane to your agency’s statutory responsibilities in (connection to) the proposed project. Your agency may need to use the EIR prepared by our agency when considering your permit or other approval for the project.*

Due to the time limits mandated by State law, your response must be sent at the earliest possible date, but not later than 30 days after receipt of this notice. As such, the comment period for the Notice of Preparation begins on April 2, 2019 and ends on May 2, 2019. Please send your written response to Hai Nguyen at the address shown (below).

The approximately 77-acre project site is located at 27734 Sand Canyon Road at the northeast corner of Sand Canyon Road and Robinson Ranch Road.

The proposed project would result in the replacement of existing open space that was formerly a part of the Mountain Course of the Robinson Ranch Golf Course with a new resort and spa consisting of the following:

  • Main Hotel: three-story building with 241 rooms/keys totaling approximately 165,000 square feet, and back of house and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing space in the Main Hotel basement totaling approximately 23,000 square feet
  • Wedding Hotel: three three-story buildings with 81 rooms/keys totaling approximately 50,000 square feet air conditioned space and 17,500 square feet of open non-air-conditioned space with an outdoor wedding ground and pergola
  • View Villas: 14 two-story villas with 56 rooms/keys totaling approximately 110,000 square feet
  • Oak Villas: nine one-story villas with nine rooms/keys totaling approximately 38,000 square feet and one two-story villa with five rooms/keys totaling approximately 9,500 square feet
  • Function Wing: meeting center and celebration open air atrium (32,500 square feet), a grand ballr om (10,000 square feet), a junior ballroom (3,000 square feet), meeting rooms (4,500 square feet), and pre-function space (6,200 square feet)
  • Dining: three restaurants with kitchens, pantries and back-of-house totaling approximately 25,000 square feet
  • Children’s Center: approximately 7,000 square feet including nursery, kids program spaces, cooking classrooms, and a teen arcade
  • Spa/Gym/Salon: Spa, gym and salon facilities as well as a retail boutique totaling approximately 33,000 square feet
  • Outdoor Recreation: two pools, one tennis court, two pickle ball courts, a nine-hole miniature golf course, picnic areas, meditation garden, nature garden, and three miles of trails
  • Parking: 375 parking stalls and 18 car parking spaces in Oak Villa garages

Additionally, as part of the project, the existing approximately one-acre water quality detention basin located south of the project site and south of Robinson Ranch Road would be enlarged to a total of 1.9 acres and connected to the new resort project via a new storm drain pipe.

*(The project description, location, and the probable environmental effects are contained in materials that were attached to the original email.) To offer your opinions/concerns, contact: Hai Nguyen, Associate Planner, City of Santa Clarita Community Development Department, 23920 Valencia Boulevard, Suite 302, Santa Clarita, CA 91355 (661) 255-4365. Email: Hnguyen@santa-clarita.com.

Audrey’s Unicorns

| Canyon Country Magazine, Community | April 12, 2019

Most would agree that the Varner family has rare qualities. Longtime Santa Clarita residents Candice and Chris Varner are well-known local educators with a reputation for maintaining a supportive role in the lives of their students, even after graduation.

But in a rare and challenging situation, the teachers have become the students, as Chris and Candice have been learning to navigate circumstances beyond their control.

Chris is both a teacher and the head football coach at West Ranch High School and Candice is the director of district relations for Opportunities for Learning. They also have five children, both adoptive and biological, who are in myriad sports and activities. While the inherent challenges of a large family would be difficult for anyone, the Varners had an additional setback last year when their oldest daughter, Audrey, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

The disease is rare and Audrey’s diagnosis at the age of 6 was also unusual. “What normally happens is you get a newborn screen where they check the genes and cystic fibrosis is one of those,” Candice explained. “Audrey’s adopted and those records weren’t transferred, so we don’t know if she was flagged for that or not.”

Audrey was hospitalized for pneumonia last year and she wasn’t improving after being treated with antibiotics. The doctors were unsure why, but hinted at the possibility of cystic fibrosis.

She was placed on the waitlist for Children’s Hospital and the Varners were grateful when she advanced to the top so they could access the hospital’s experts.

“Audrey had gotten a diagnosis of asthma and they didn’t think that’s what it was,” Candice explained. “They did gene testing. For cystic fibrosis you have to have a gene from both parents. If you only have one, you’re a ‘carrier,’ but if you have both then you have cystic fibrosis.”

It’s unimaginable for most parents to keep moving forward, even with a small family. But the Varners, in rare form, continue to handle it like troopers.

“My husband and I processed it differently,” Candice said. “I was kind of in denial. (I thought) ‘33,000 is such a small number, there’s no way.’ For me it was a gut punch, but for Chris, he had already processed it. Chris was really my rock with this.”

Support from competent medical professionals is also a big help.

“She has the most amazing team at Children’s Hospital,” Candice said. “We were lucky we were immediately connected with them. The support from them and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has been incredible.”

It’s a “family affair,” Candice said about handling schedules, treatment and difficult news.

“Audrey is the middle of five kids and we’re really blessed that our kids understand that Audrey takes sometimes a little more of Mommy and Daddy’s time because she’s sick,” she said. “I’m really proud of how my kids have rallied around her. It’s a Varner family thing.”

Candice said they remain open about the facts. “Yes, it’s terminal. There’s no cure and my kids know that,” she said. “There are times, like after a bad appointment, it’s nice to come home to a supportive atmosphere. When you don’t have any other option, you make it work. Cystic Fibrosis will not define her life.”

She calls the support from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation “amazing.”

“When Audrey first got her diagnosis I knew she was getting taken care of. I needed something to take care of me too,” she said. “The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation reached out to me and connected me with some other cystic fibrosis parents in Santa Clarita. It was amazing to talk to parents who knew what I was talking about.”

Through the Foundation, the Varners were introduced to the fundraiser Great Strides. “Right away, immediately, Audrey was the one who got so excited about it,” Candice said. “It made me feel better about the whole thing – raising money to find a cure for my daughter.”

The upcoming Great Strides event gave Chris and Candice a place to convert their emotion into action, and since there’s not yet a cure, more research is needed, which means more money is needed. So, they formed a Great Strides team – Audrey’s Unicorns.

For a family fighting an epic battle with unimaginable stakes, the unicorn seems an appropriate symbol. And with the help of friends, the Varners defied odds once again.

“We immediately dove into this,” Candice said. “They told me how we could grow a team and we were lucky – with the community and West Ranch High School and Opportunities for Learning, Audrey’s Unicorns had the largest team – and we did that in three weeks.”
There are various streams of funding during the Great Strides team-building process. Topper’s Pizza held a fundraiser for Audrey’s Unicorns, the largest the Valencia pizza restaurant had ever had.

“It’s amazing to see how people are coming out to support her,” Candice said. “The football team was there – Audrey sees the football team as 50 extra big brothers for her. As a parent, it was so incredible to see it reciprocated – the community, the football players out to support her.”

The day of the Great Strides walk was also an opportunity for people to show their support. “Just seeing everybody out there in Audrey’s Unicorn shirts … she was so excited to see people there,” Candice said. “She has a tutu and a unicorn headband – amazing to see this little girl empowered.”

This year’s local Great Strides 2-mile walk will be held on Audrey’s birthday – Saturday, May 11 – at West Creek Park in Valencia. Check-in is at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 10 a.m. Register at Fightcf.cff.org/goto/AudreysUnicorns.

“It’s huge. There are activities, food, vendors and it’s really to raise awareness and understand that this is a struggle not too many people know about,” Candice explained. “There’s no federal funding for cystic fibrosis research. Cystic fibrosis doesn’t have a cure. We are optimistic that the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will continue the amazing research they’re doing.”

But as for the day-to-day coping, it’s of course not all rainbows and unicorns. “There are times I have to walk out of the room and have a good cry,” she said. “She sees sometimes up to eight doctors and specialists in a day. We like to do something special after; we usually go to Disneyland or something. If we can finish the day with something fun – she can remember, ‘I had churros and rode Space Mountain,’ rather than ‘I had to have blood drawn.’”

The Varner kids take the “Strawfie Challenge” to relate to their sister during her breathing treatment.

According to the Audrey’s Unicorns web page, there are nearly 300,000 Americans living with cystic fibrosis, and symptoms include difficulty breathing – similar to breathing through a straw. The medication is $300,000 a year, Candice said, grateful for the support from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “It’s very expensive to be sick.”

The work continues and so does the hope, especially for Audrey’s Unicorns, who are aiming to raise money for enough research to find a cure. Showing her resolve, Candice summed up her commitment to the cause: “We will walk until a cure for cystic fibrosis is found.”

Vision to Be Organized

| Canyon Country Magazine | March 25, 2019

With the popularity of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” you’ve probably done some self-examination to decide if a little change is in order. But if applying the KonMari method sounds overwhelming, it’s possible you just need a little help.

There are a lot of circumstances that might lead you to reach out to Canyon Country resident Christie Johnson:

If your “junk drawer” is a closet
If you’re the only child of a hoarder
If you’ve got mass quantities of something you defend with “What if…”
If inviting Marie Kondo to your house would make her cry

There are plenty more reasons to call a professional organizer like Johnson, and the bonus you get is she trains you to use new practices to make it easier for you to go forward without a repeat of untidy habits.

Vision to be Organized is the name of Johnson’s business, which involves her working side-by-side with you to create systems of organization that work for you. She is an objective party, able to put ownership of your belongings in perspective, while remaining sensitive to your needs and desires.

“That is a part of me as an organizer – I’m sentimental for my clients,” Johnson explained. “Other organizers might say, ‘You don’t need it anymore, it’s not doing anything for you.’ I will say, ‘Let’s document the story.’”

The clutter part of it gets addressed later in the process. Johnson approaches the client to suggest that the documentation is enough without holding onto the physical items, which may be furniture, like rocking chairs, or home goods, such as teapots or handkerchiefs. She’ll ask, “Do we really need it to document the story, or is there someone else in the family who could use it?”

One of the hurdles for an individual who has trouble parting with things is their attachment. “Why they have it in the first place, why they bought it, why they received it into their house,” she explained. “They ‘can use it someday’ or ‘why should they get rid of it if they don’t need to?’”

The majority of Johnson’s clients have read the book by the new Netflix star Marie Kondo about increasing your joy by decreasing clutter.

“Most of them have multiple organizing books in their house,” she said. “But applying the methods to it is another thing – it just doesn’t click.”

Perhaps none of us need another reason to de-clutter, but it’s helpful to be reminded of the advantages.

“Obviously, a kind of clear space, in the sense you have room to move around, so you don’t trip on anything or stumble,” Johnson said. “And health-wise, it contributes to cleanliness, because a lot of (knickknacks) bring dust into the house as well.”

She brought up another downside to ignoring the new trend toward tidiness: “The agony of throwing things in the spare bedroom and just closing the door, and then you don’t ever really have a spare bedroom available for a guest – which is impractical.”

Johnson’s home is nowhere near the image some people have of a stark, austere, sparsely-furnished house belonging to a professional organizer. She decorates with quilts, Swedish horses and plenty of memorabilia, mostly honoring family heritage, complete with a “genealogy wall” along the stairwell.

The most common articles that she’s seen residents purging are clothing and electronics. And for the latter, by the way, Johnson recommends smashing your hard drive.

One of the bigger challenges with clutter that people have is excessive paper. “Bills and receipts, trying to get away from the piles and files and the file cabinets,” she said. “If they feel uncomfortable getting rid of old papers, like tax returns, they can scan them.”

Originally from Nebraska, Johnson moved to California to work in the fashion industry, hoping for a Hollywood wardrobe connection. When it didn’t pan out that way, she ended up in retail management, later leaving the chore of working nights, weekends and holidays to launch her own business.

A scrapbooking fan during the ‘90s craze, she worked in a crafting store and found herself organizing a lot of photos as a part of assisting locals with their scrapbooks.

“They’d say, ‘There could be more photos, but they’re in that guest room’ or in ‘that closet’ or in ‘that drawer that’s messy and disorganized,’” she said. “And I’d say, ‘I can help you tidy that up.’”

That led to organizing various spaces in her clients’ homes in search of photos, and she realized she could expand her scrapbooking business, also noting the rise in organizing shows on TV. Next she found an industry affiliation to join – National Association of Professional Organizers.

She’s active in NAPO, including the Los Angeles chapter and a virtual chapter of the association. She also attends and speaks at conferences in and out of California.

Johnson will teach a class at the SCV Family History & Genealogy Fair at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, at 24443 McBean Pkwy in Valencia, on March 23. The conference is free and open to the public and will run from 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. For more information, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/scv-family-history-and-genealogy-fair-2019-tickets-55138466638.

Her trajectory got its start early. Johnson’s first job was at a pizza restaurant, where she earned an award for “most organized.” Later, her interests and experience contributed to her current expertise and, like her colleagues, she developed a specialty. There are organizers with narrow specialties, including: photo books; video transfers; memory boards; kosher kitchens; and eco-friendly organizing.

The job of a photo and genealogy organizer requires a certain amount of flexibility, as there are ongoing shifts in the technology market. And sometimes it’s the client, especially those who struggle with ADD or OCD, she said. Tasks can get bogged down when they spend too much time making decisions about one small item or if they have way too much to wade through.

“I don’t specialize in hoarding, though I have worked on the TV show twice,” Johnson said.

As an assistant to another organizer, her first gig on the A&E series “Hoarders” involved a young woman whose mother had passed away.

“She was trying to keep the memory of her mom alive, and she had young children and wanted them to remember,” Johnson said. “There were photos involved, so I came on to help her work through some of the photos and some of the memorabilia even.”

The second hoarding project was a mother and two daughters whose household had deteriorated due to personal setbacks.

“The mom went through a divorce and she had some health issues, so her life just stopped,” Johnson explained. “As we peeled back the layers you could actually see the stuff in the house get younger and younger. The top layer was the girls’ recent boy craze and the bottom was their toys and baby clothes.”

But the job wasn’t as difficult to endure as it sounds, she said.

“It wasn’t dirty or dusty – it wasn’t bad, it was just layers of their life,” she said. “A team came in and everybody specialized in something different. Someone specialized in kids, someone in paperwork, someone in organizing the kitchen, someone for closets. We all came in and as soon as we knew what we needed to do, we gravitated to that.”

You could sense the family’s relief at the end of the job, Johnson said, but those scenarios can spark problems in the future, with a likelihood of recidivism. “We’re in there for two 8-hour shifts, and then we leave,” she said. “They didn’t learn the skills … they need training.”

She’s worked with various clients for 10-15 years now, witnessing growth along the way. “When I have the same client over time, their lives change,” she said. “The system they had set up may no longer be needed, so that needs to be changed. Like when they used to pay with paper, now it needs to go online.”

Johnson’s business has also experienced change since she launched it.

“Back then there wasn’t that much information about (organizing). They’d call me because they’d say, ‘I can’t walk in my house’ or ‘I can’t find this,’” she said. “Now there’s a lot of knowledge and information put out there – the books, the shows, your best friend getting organized and you not being organized … people are more aware of it than they were 10 years ago.”

The upside to it is that now it’s not as hard to get the client sold on the job.

As far as the reason some people need help with organization is due to many factors, she said. “There’s a genetic component and also lifestyle, and exposure you’ve had, education or no education,” she explained.

Johnson has guided people through the latest DNA testing, as well, but warns that family secrets sometimes pop up.

“I have a client who’s adopted and wanted to do the genealogy to find out who her birth parents are,” she said. “As I hand her the test, I tell her, “As long as you know it could find you siblings and other relatives.”

Johnson’s client responded affirmatively. “She and I are hoping for something very exciting,” she said.
For Canyon Country residents, living in a fire zone means they have an added incentive to put genealogy documents and photos in a safe place.

“It’s not just fires – it’s earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes – it affects everyone,” Johnson said, adding that people everywhere should scan their genealogy materials and put scans into a cloud service, such as Dropbox.

It’s the dual benefit to the whole process – absence of clutter and protection of valuables.

When asked her greatest satisfaction, Johnson said, “When we have the photos in beautiful books or they’ve all been scanned and all the scanned information is given to family members.”

Visit visiontobeorganized.com.

Vista Canyon Update

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | March 20, 2019

Canyon Country Magazine checked in with Stephen Valenziano from JSB Development to find out the status of Vista Canyon, which is the property in the Sand Canyon/Lost Canyon area. The first phase, building the water reclamation plant, is pictured.

“The Water Factory is complete – equipment now being tested and certified,” he said in an email. “We will operate the Water Factory for 18-24 months before turning it over to the City of Santa Clarita.”

It is scheduled to be operational in June or July.

“The first three-story commercial office and retail building is about eight weeks away from completion, with initial proposals and leases under review,” Valenziano said. “Street paving, sidewalk and curbs, street lights, etc. is now underway.”

And what’s next?

“Bridge design is 95 percent complete,” he added. “The City has redirected a grant and will be building the bridge, with reimbursement coming from future developer bridge & thoroughfare fees. Road intersection work is beginning in summer /fall, with actual bridge construction beginning in spring 2020.”

The city bus transfer station construction will start in a few months, according to Valenziano. Grant funding for the new Metrolink station is nearing completion and station design is 95 percent complete. Station construction may start as soon as late 2019 or early 2020. Over the next 5 to 7 years, the balance of 650,000 square feet of offices, 165,000 square feet of retail, a 200-room hotel and approximately 400 luxury multifamily units will follow in the Town Center portion of the project.

How has the rain affected the Vista Canyon schedule?

“It has been a difficult winter for construction projects,” Valenziano said. “The rain has caused us, and all other builders throughout Southern California, some delays.”

Dallas builders JPI purchased the west side of the Vista Canyon development and construction is now underway for 480 luxury multifamily units.

The east end of Vista Canyon is in a land sale transaction with a major national homebuilder, which is scheduled to close at the end of the month. They will build 245 small-lot, detached homes for sale and the first models are scheduled to arrive in October.

Look in the April issue of Canyon Country Magazine for another update … and possibly an announcement!

National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day is March 29, 2019

| Canyon Country Magazine | March 20, 2019

You see them when you drop off your dry cleaning, call out a plumber and have your trees trimmed. But the local business climate is benefited when you also choose a mom and pop company for other needs, such as clothes shopping, auto parts and hardware.

March 29 is Mom and Pop Business Owners Day, where communities everywhere focus on local companies that can more easily survive when we shop with them.

“When you own a small business, you pour everything into it,” said D.W. Cookie Co. owner Devar Ward. “It’s more value to the customer and to the mom and pop. Every dime counts, everything that comes in counts. It’s a way of supporting your own community.”

According to the National Center for Business Journalism, it’s the Small Business Administration, or SBA, that determines what falls into that category. It’s industry-specific, so in some cases the size of a business is based on the number of employees the company has, but in other industries it’s based on total receipts.

The agency considers “economic characteristics comprising the structure of an industry, including degree of competition, average firm size, start-up costs and entry barriers, and distribution of firms by size,” the website says. “It also considers technological changes, competition from other industries, growth trends, historical activity within an industry, unique factors occurring in the industry which may distinguish small firms from other firms, and the objectives of its programs and the impact on those programs of different size standard levels.”

An article on NationalToday.com offers support for celebrating small business.

“Our economy couldn’t run without small mom and pop businesses,” it says. “They create economic growth and provide almost 70 percent of all new jobs in the country. That’s why every year on March 29 we acknowledge the more than 27 million small businesses in this country by celebrating National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day.

Rick and Margie Segel put the “holiday” on the calendar in honor of their parents, who ran a successful hat shop. They launched the business in 1939 and it grew to a 10,000-square-foot shop earning $2 million. The emphasis is on “long hours, hard work and dedication” that small business owners pour into their work.

Local business owner Karitza Gladden of Roast & Perk in Canyon Country also keeps her parents’ efforts in her thoughts. They had a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, which means she knows the “fine print of running a business,” including the daily perseverance involved.

One of the biggest challenges, Gladden says, is “introducing a brand new brand, and gaining customers’ trust,” which can lead to success in standing out against the sometimes bigger names available.

That’s precisely the idea behind the national day of recognition.

“Mom and Pop shops bring fresh ideas to the marketplace,” the article says. “In today’s economy, when you can find the same products in every Big Box in every city, it’s refreshing to find something new which everyone else hasn’t discovered yet.”

“With big businesses all the stuff is automated now,” Ward said. “Sometimes the only interaction with a person you can get is that human interaction of a mom and pop shop.”

Paul Dell’Olio of Paul’s Paint & Hardware in Canyon Country finds his greatest satisfaction in providing that contact.

“There are many differences between mom and pop and big box stores, but number one for us would have to be when a customer walks into our store, we smile, we help and we care – enough said,” Dell’Olio commented. “Owning your own business is a lot of hard work. The reward is all the wonderful relationships we’ve developed with our customers over the last 25 years.”

One of the other good reasons to support small business is that their success gets poured back into your community.

Gladden makes a point to hire high schoolers, so they learn to feel comfortable with people, learn a trade, and experience work in the real world.

And during a recent season of fires, Roast & Perk, which is located in the Canyon Country Theatre complex, facilitated the collection of supplies for first responders.

The benefits go both ways, Gladden says: “Even though we are small, we are still receiving a lot of love from the community.”

The website encourages everyone to “share the love” with small business owners, suggesting creative ways to pay tribute to mom and pops. The most obvious one is to “shop local,” of course. And the second is to share what you’re doing on social media. The more attention these businesses get the better.

You can also simply drop a note to your favorite business owners thanking them for their hard work. After all, you may not otherwise have access to those extra soft cookies or custom made T-shirts.

The Great Outdoors

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | March 19, 2019

Life in Sand Canyon is never dull, especially with dramatic changes in weather this year. It’s been a wet winter, so Canyon Country Magazine checked in with some of our neighbors…

Wildlife Waystation

The Wildlife Waystation has reached out to supporters more than once for assistance. The constant rain has caused mudslides and flooding that’s affecting the lives of the hundreds of animals living at the sanctuary.

An email went out on Friday, March 1 from the Wildlife Waystation saying:

Thank you for supporting us! You’ve made a big difference this week helping to address our water, heating and repair needs. We are incredibly grateful.
We asked for your help this week because it is a very challenging time right now and our resources are strained. Also, since it is National Justice for Animals Week, we wanted to share with our friends and supporters some of the issues we face while providing the very best quality of life, which all animals deserve.

We›re asking one last time for your help this week. We have a large population of animals — much larger than most municipal zoos. A significant portion of our animals are geriatric or have special needs. Medicine is expensive. Analysis is expensive.  And, treatments are expensive.

The Wildlife Waystation has a full-time veterinary team providing daily care. Most sanctuaries rely on contracted veterinary support services to care for animals weekly, or even monthly in some cases.

For more information about the nonprofit animal sanctuary, call 818-686-6681 or visit WildlifeWaystation.org.

Placerita Canyon Nature Center
They have had a lot of water in Placerita Canyon, but the Nature Center is doing very well, says Evelyne Vandersande, editor of the nonprofit’s newsletter, “The Rattler.”

“There is no major problem with the stream, but it is running, and we love to see kids coming to play in the water,” Vandersande says. “I am sorry to say that we just received the news that the Canyon Trail won’t be open any earlier than next November. We had hoped it could be sooner.”

The Placerita Canyon Nature Center is planning its annual Open House, held on May 11, 2019.

Regular Programs
Every Saturday the PCNC offers a Family Nature Walk at 11 a.m. and a Native Live Animal Presentation at 1 p.m. There is no charge for these programs.

Every second Saturday of the month there is a docent-led Bird Walk starting at 8 a.m. for beginning to advanced birders. Bring binoculars, a field guide and water.

Every third Saturday of the month there is a Twilight Hike. Here’s the schedule:
March 16 7:00 pm

April 20 7:00 pm

May 18 8:00 pm

June 15 8:00 pm

July 20 8:00 pm

Every third Sunday of the month is the Community Nature Education Series, held at the Nature Center at 2 p.m. with a different topic each month. Check the website calendar for the current schedule.

Every fourth Saturday of the month there is a “Blooms of the Season” wildflower walk from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Every second Saturday of the month there is a “Nature Tots” program for children 3 to 5 years old from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Pre-Registration is required.

Canyon Country Resident Receives Award from PCNC

The annual Paul Levine Cup was presented to Placerita Canyon Nature Center docent Suzy Hermann of Canyon Country.

“Suzy’s attention-grabbing techniques while making a classroom presentation and unique educational approaches while teaching children is exactly what the Paul Levine Cup represents,” says an article in “The Rattler.” “Suzy motivates children in a way that enables them to understand and appreciate the natural features of Placerita Canyon. Many children come away saying they had the best day of their life.”

Originally from La Canada, Hermann became enamored with the outdoors as a youngster.

“My brother and I could wander the canyons, climb trees, throw rocks and just plain run around exploring all there was to enjoy outdoors,” she says. “It’s always better outdoors. We had dogs, cats, rats and snakes to keep us busy.”

She graduated from John Muir High School in Glendale and entered the nursing program at Pasadena City College. It was a chance meeting at a gas station where she jumped out of her car and hollered, “Hi ya, handsome!” that led to a 55-year marriage, the birth of a son and daughter – and now three grandchildren as well.

The Hermann family moved to Canyon Country when it was still called Saugus, where she heard about the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates and became a member.

Life took her away from the PCNC during the years of playing softball and soccer, coaching sports, teaching swimming, teaching Sunday School, all while putting in 50 years of nursing.

“I always intended to return actively to the Nature Center and eventually did,” Hermann says. “All I had to do was retire, which came about six years ago. … For me, the best part of being a docent is time spent with the kids, enlightening them with new knowledge about the beauty of animals, plants, ecology and how to enjoy and value all that nature presents, and helping them realize that nature is not to be feared, but to be protected, while hungrily exploring it all.”

Film Screenings at Congregation Beth Shalom

| Canyon Country Magazine, Entertainment | March 16, 2019

A place of worship isn’t normally a venue for screening movie entertainment, but for the leadership at Congregation Beth Shalom’s monthly film series, being outside of the mainstream is a good thing.

“Five years ago, the CBS Film Series started as a way to bring wonderful and little known independent films to the community,” said Suzannah Warlick. “The two movie theaters in Santa Clarita typically show the same big budget blockbusters, (but) independent films don’t have those same budgets for publicity. They’re usually confined to film festivals and other venues you have to be in-the-know to find.”

The public is welcome to attend. And to get a taste of how unique the event is, among the movies they’ve screened are “Land of Milk and Funny” about an American Jewish standup comedian bringing colleagues to Israel and “93 Queen” about a Hasidic lawyer who creates the first all-female ambulance corps in New York City.

The CBS Film Series was designed to bring these diverse and lesser-known films into the public eye. At Congregation Beth Shalom’s first screening they only had 19 people in the audience, but it’s grown exponentially since then, so now they can typically expect about 100 people at the monthly event.

“With audience members spreading the word and bringing their friends, the film series even attracts people from neighboring communities as close as the San Fernando Valley and as far as Los Angeles,” Warlick said.

And the value is also a big draw. For the price of a $5 ticket, you get lunch and popcorn along with the movie.

“It’s a terrific way to meet new people and broaden your film horizons,” Warlick added. “We try our best to bring directors, producers, or relevant speakers to accompany the film for a Q&A. If we can’t make that happen, we still give the audience interesting information so they come away with an even better understanding of these amazing movies.”

The most recent film the group screened was “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast,” which has a score of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The film featured Carl Reiner’s interviews with 90-year-old celebrities to get their insights about life. Dick Van Dyke, Kirk Douglas and Betty White were among those in the movie.

To stay informed about the Congregation Beth Shalom Sunday movies, you can get on a list to receive updates by emailing them at cbsfilmseries@gmail.com. You can also “like” the CBS Film Series on Facebook. Or you may also join more than 1,000 members on the Santa Clarita Monthly Independent Film Series Meetup group on Meetup.com.

All Locked Up – escape rooms

| Canyon Country Magazine | February 15, 2019

It turns out a lot of people like to be locked inside a room with their friends and rely on their wits to find a way out. In fact, many of them put their money down and spend their free time in jails, crypts and police stations … well, sort of.

Escape rooms are creatively designed live action puzzles, where players get an hour to follow clues and find their way out.

If most of your neighbors are still doing the usual “dinner and a movie,” when they go out, they now have a chance to get out of a rut and try something new. As of two months ago, residents on the east side of the SCV can experience the fun and stimulation of an escape room without leaving Canyon Country. All Locked Up just opened behind Denny’s on Soledad next to Betitos in the space where Flair Beauty School existed for decades.

Mike Motherspaw and his girlfriend Danielle Desch wanted to give people of all ages a new option for entertainment and they chose a business that’s close to home – in more ways than one. Both Canyon Country natives, it’s an area that hasn’t had one of these popular live gaming sites in the past. And they chose the business model they did because they’re huge personal fans of attempting all kinds of escape rooms. So far, they’ve been to 45 different sites.

“Wherever we go we end up doing escape rooms – Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego – and we’ve done quite a few in Arizona,” Motherspaw said. “That’s what we do when we travel.”

But they’re not alone. The escape rooms at All Locked Up are already occupied at a pretty remarkable rate, a testament to the pastime’s popularity.

“We’ve met people who’ve done over 200 escape rooms,” Motherspaw said. “There are some real enthusiasts out there.”

If you haven’t been through one yourself, you may be wondering if visit after visit would get boring … but they’re all different. Motherspaw compares it to pizza, pointing out the obvious differences between what you get at a restaurant like Vincenzo’s vs. Costco. And that philosophy goes into designing their rooms at All Locked Up.

“It starts with a theme,” he explained. “One of our two rooms is a garage. Not a cave man’s garage – it’s grandpa’s garage … saws on the wall, it smells like oil, there’s still sawdust on the ground. It’s like an old garage.”

Then there’s the puzzle part of the business, which refers to the challenges participants face to “escape” the room.

“Once you get your theme you ask, ‘What do you find in a garage you could make a puzzle out of?’” Motherspaw said. “Some escape rooms are just keys and locks. Some are very simple. Sometimes we over-think puzzles … sit back and relax, don’t over-think it.”

His partner is the one who’s deep into thinking through and designing the puzzles, he said.

“My favorite aspect is when people go into our rooms and they say, ‘Wow – how do you pull this off?’” said Desch. “We love when people escape – their excitement and happiness when they get out, when they successfully do the room.”

In “The Garage,” which the couple considers a medium-to-hard range in difficulty, there’s about a 40 percent pass rate. That means that 60 percent of groups attempting to escape don’t get out within the hour allotted. But if that sounds too challenging or not challenging enough, All Locked Up has levels of difficulty you can choose from when you take on their other escape room, which is called “The Classroom.” Various paths are built into it, so it accommodates groups in a range of ages and stages.

“Every sound, everything you see, what things you see on the walls – the white boards, the clock above the white boards, like a movie, you forget that you’re in a retail location,” Motherspaw described. “Everything that comes into your brain when you think of a classroom has to be there.”

The Classroom is appropriate for all ages – 6 to 106, Motherspaw says – partly because you can choose the level of difficulty and also because they designed it to resonate with a family-centered community.

“All we care about is that they have a good time,” Desch said. “Even during the experience, we maybe give them an extra clue if they do a dance-off for instance … just as long as everyone who comes through has fun.”

Motherspaw is mostly responsible for the construction, which he said is minimal, involving just wood, dry wall and paint, for the most part. They plan to add “Aunt Debbie’s Apartment” next month and “The Morgue” close to Halloween. Their fifth room will be a rotational room, which means its theme will change regularly. “The Garage is going to stay,” Desch said. “It’s very customized.”

The business owners do their research out in the field. “Every time we leave an escape room we create a pro-con list,” Motherspaw said. “What did we like, what can we avoid, like if we’ve seen that puzzle too many times.”

The escape room themes he’s grown tired of, he said, are science labs and crime investigation rooms such as police stations. The most important aspect of the room design, he said, “is to be immersed in the experience. If you’re in The Garage there’s nothing that reminds you that you’re not in a true garage. Some people are all about the puzzles, but at the same time, it’s important to me that you walk into a room and it smells right, it feels right.”

All Locked Up is located at 18914 Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country. You can reach the staff at 661-235-6969 or book your escape room experience at ALUSCV.com.

Voice of Empowerment Karli Webster brings it home with personal music on a new EP

| Canyon Country Magazine | February 15, 2019

Many an author with a book launch or an artist with a show has echoed concerns about how much appreciation they can expect from their hometown audience.

But if you’re Karli Webster from Canyon Country, you just got confirmation you really can go home again.

After becoming a solid Season 13 contender on “The Voice,” Webster is pursuing her vocal music career, including a newly released EP, “Bittersweet,” which she shared with an audience at Wolf Creek Brewery in Valencia last month.

Suzy Arias joined her friend to see Karli Webster perform.

Karli Webster (left) visited with locals Daniel Baca, Ysela Coch and Kennedy Poirier before the show

There were more than just a few familiar faces filling the Spiegeltent at Wolf Creek, waiting for the chance to hear the 22-year-old’s latest music. You could see Webster working the room, exchanging hugs with former classmates and chatting with family friends between performances by musicians that preceded her onstage – The Band Lexington and Dakota Spencer.

She stopped at a table to talk to Kennedy Poirier, who attended Valencia High School when Webster was at Canyon High. She said she’s becoming reconnected to the singer through a mutual friend, Ysela Coch, who invited Poirier and another friend, Daniel Baca, to the concert.

A former Sylmar High School classmate of Webster’s father, Ronson, was there for the concert. Valencia residents Lisa Sickafoose and her 18-year-old daughter, Jordan, wanted to hear the latest Karli Webster music after watching her on “The Voice.”

“It was amazing,” said Lisa Sickafoose about watching Karli on TV. “I was biting my nails.”

The release party and the new album were a great forum to show the young singer’s artistic growth since “The Voice.” Webster is defining herself with more clarity, which adds depth to her original music – which, in turn, connects her to the listening audience.

The five tracks on Karli’s new EP “Bittersweet” include original music, one song that the 22-year-old wrote seven years ago.

When she wrote “Catching Air” at age 15, Webster was ruminating over an end to a relationship that taught her the importance of self-worth and personal strength. For the “Bittersweet” EP she reworked the number with songwriters Terra Naomi and Hilton Wright and the album’s producer Dennis Herring, who’s worked with Counting Crows, Modest Mouse and Jars of Clay.

Dan, Jim and Deanne Barton took a table in the Spiegeltent to hear Karli Webster sing.

The song “When It’s Over” communicates her struggle to cope with anxiety and panic disorder.

“What’s a Gal to Do,” which dropped on digital service providers early this month, sends a broad message. “This song is about embracing femininity as power, regardless of who you are or what that means to you,” Karli explained. “I wanted to play off of the ‘sensitive, innocent, hopeless’ narrative that has been consistently used to define women in film, music, and history.”

“Anyone” is the first song Karli wrote after she was released from “The Voice.”

“At this time in my life I had absolutely no idea where my life was headed, but I knew for certain that I didn’t need anyone to tell me who I needed to be, and this song is about that,” she explained.

There’s another thing Karli Webster’s experiences seem to have taught her over the last couple of years, which you could see from the way she seamlessly connected people from the past with her current message along her artistic journey.

And that is: “The longest way round is the shortest way home.”

New Urgent Care a Shot in the Arm for Canyon Country

| Canyon Country Magazine | February 15, 2019

Your son splits open his knee; your daughter sprains an ankle; and you have chest pain. The old school solution may have sent your son to the doctor’s office, your daughter to X-ray, and you to the ER.

But now, Canyon Country has one stop to treat all of those circumstances: Exer More Than Urgent Care in the Facey Medical Building on Soledad Canyon Road.

Injecting the words “new” and “convenient” into a description of the east side of the Santa Clarita Valley is, for some residents, a big win.
But another claim that may be felt even more acutely by residents is that, by contrast to hospitals, “Exer is a fraction of the cost and wait time.”
According to Truven Health Analytics, 71 percent of visits to hospital emergency departments are unnecessary or could be avoided.
“We are going to redefine what urgent care is,” said Exer More Than Urgent Care CEO Rob Mahan. “We’re pretty passionate about what we’re doing here.”

What they’re doing, Mahan said, is offering patients a wider range of services commonly associated with hospital emergency departments, which lowers patient costs. Most urgent cares, for instance, won’t administer intravenous fluids, mostly because it ties up a room, which limits the facility’s profits.

“Low-acuity patients are going to ERs, where there are the highest cost treatments,” he said. “It’s unnecessary to send someone to the ER for an IV. When someone is transferred to an ER (from Exer), we review everything. We look at why.”

Exer More Than Urgent Care has a 2 percent transfer rate, he said, while other urgent cares send up to 20 percent of their patients to hospitals due to a lack of onsite treatment options.

Canyon Country residents won’t have to darken the doors of a hospital for a comprehensive set of services from EKGs and X-rays to pharmacy and lab tests. Exer claims to treat 80 percent of the cases typically seen in an ER and patients can purchase medications on-site for a flat fee of $25. The goal is to bring emergency medicine closer to patients, so Exer More Than Urgent Care partnered with Facey Medical Group to offer the walk-in ER alternative.
You might say it’s just what the doctor ordered, considering the Canyon Country area is a 15-20 minute drive to reach an ER. The new arrival’s proximity to homes may even mitigate occurrences of code blue situations.

Mahan made a strong statement to sum up the facility’s purpose. He said, “We’re going to revolutionize what an urgent care should be.”

Exer More Than Urgent Care is located in the new Facey building at 14550 Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country and it is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is the 10th Exer facility to open in Southern California, the second in the Santa Clarita Valley. Other locations include: Calabasas, Pasadena, Northridge, Beverly Hills, Newbury Park, Sherman Oaks, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and Stevenson Ranch. For more information, visit Exerurgentcare.com/urgent-care-canyon-country.

Dueling Doulas Night Nannies to the Rich & Famous

| Canyon Country Magazine | February 15, 2019

If you’ve ever brought a newborn home from the hospital, you know the familiar cry. It sometimes starts softly and builds as it gains emotion until it’s a loud, piercing, desperate wail.

That’s not a reference to your infant calling for more milk … but rather, it’s your own cry for help as you desperately try to cope with the exhausting work of feeding, changing and rocking your baby while suffering from a debilitating lack of sleep.

Every day there are new moms and dads in Southern California who choose not to go it alone, but instead they get another set of arms to swaddle the baby, someone with the experience to offer them some training along the way. In other words, Lily Marks of Canyon Country steps in.

For more than 15 years, Marks has served as a nighttime nanny to newborns so parents get a break – including a reasonably long stretch of sleep.

“I try to make the parents as comfortable and stress-free as possible,” she said. “I find that when you bring home a baby, they can’t express how they’re feeling, so you have to put it together like a puzzle and guess. I’m helping them figure out what’s best for them. … I try to leave them with tools so they can figure it out on their own.”

A kind of “doula to the stars,” Marks has been a night nurse for major celebrities – (hint: check the “highest paid actors” list) – and musicians, including a member of Linkin Park and his wife, as well as producers, directors and other entertainment industry people.

She can’t reveal the names of clients due to confidentiality agreements, but what Marks is hired to guard is much more valuable than their privacy. And it’s clear she’s made a lot of parents very happy, as many of her clients are hiring her to return when they give birth to their second and third babies.

Lily Marks has 15 years of experience as a doula.

“Everybody’s been super, super nice for the 15 years I’ve done it,” she said. “A lot of them have instincts that kick in and I try to help those come out so they can really listen to them after I leave. A lot of them don’t feel confident to do it on their own and some postpartum creeps in. The other half of the job is being a counselor and building up their confidence.”

The seasoned night nurse owes her career choice to a neighbor she had, back when Marks was a young mother, widowed and raising two young daughters on her own.

“I was a stay-at-home mom and my neighbor was a labor and delivery nurse at Cedars-Sinai,” she said. “I had wanted to go back to school and become an RN and she told me, ‘If you ever want schooling, I teach doula classes at Cedars-Sinai.’ … It was a perfect opportunity to work nights, because I wanted to be home with the girls.”

After being trained, Marks worked for her neighbor’s company, Birth, Baby & Beyond, going to the homes of newborns, helping the women with breastfeeding and teaching them to bathe their infants. She later formed her own company, and now she is contacted by pregnant parents months in advance who want her schedule clear for them when their babies arrive. She can work several nights in a row, but has to book nannies in between so she can rest.

Mary Sloan works her magic with kids of all ages.

Sand Canyon resident Mary Sloan has served as a backup system for Marks on several occasions over the last couple of years.

“You’re there for the baby so the mom can sleep,” Sloan explained. “The baby wakes up, you change the diaper, you quietly go in and give the baby to mom. Some moms like you to bring the baby in to nurse, and some moms pump and you bottle feed. She sends you a text when she’s finished and you go get the baby, burp them and put them back to sleep.”

Getting babies to sleep has never been a big problem for Sloan.

“When they wake up and are crying you’ve got to figure it out,” she said. “I love little babies and kids. I’m comfortable with them; I don’t freak out.”

With three children of her own, Sloan has plenty of experience with kids, babysitting a lot as a girl and spending time with nieces and nephews before she became a mother. Sloan is CPR-trained and when she covers for Marks it could be in Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills or as far away as Newport, which is the farthest distance Marks has traveled for the job.

Typically, the doula has her own room, either with the baby or next door to the nursery. Or at times, there’s a comfortable couch for the night nurse next to a bassinet in a family room. Either way, the job’s the same.

“You do get some sleep,” Sloan explained. “It’s tough, though. I’ve done two nights in a row, or twice in a week. You’re exhausted the next day.”

There are often other parties involved, including housekeepers, day nannies and mothers or mothers-in-law. Sometimes doula services are gifts to the new mom and dad from grandparents of the infant.

“I make sure to ask if they’re OK with this or that,” Marks said. “I’m here to suggest tools and ideas. I never want to step on anybody’s toes. My concern is teaching parents how to deal with their babies.”

The most challenging factor, Marks said, is getting infants to sleep through the night as quickly as possible. And at times she cares for a baby with colic. “You have to figure out what formula is good,” she said. “And I just hold them; holding them upright is usually best to calm them down. Sometimes time is the best thing.”

For those who are lucky enough to hire a knowledgeable, experienced night nurse, it’s a softer, quieter introduction to parenthood. But imagine the benefits when baby whisperers like Lily Marks and Mary Sloan teach new parents to care for their infants proficiently … especially if it’s true that the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.

Adapt and Overcome – Our firefighters serve where they’re needed

| Canyon Country Magazine | December 19, 2018

If our local firefighters weren’t already heroes in your mind, you may be impressed to hear they provided manpower to battle the recent “Woolsey Fire” in Malibu. And what’s perhaps equally significant is their reaction when you ask about the dramatic scope of that blaze and the massive “Camp Fire” in Paradise, California.

They say it’s just business as usual.

“We support the incident in any way we can,” said Capt. Paul Popp of Fire Station 132, a 20-year veteran of the department, whose “structure defense” engines were sent out to save homes.

When fires break out, like the recent California blazes, the fire captains institute “telephone standby,” which puts personnel on notice, to get all hands on deck. Engineer Tony Carcioppolo was at Fire Station 132 for 12 consecutive days, because some of his staff were sent to the Woolsey Fire. He had to cover for Capt. Popp and the strike team, who went to Malibu, where they did “mop up” duty and patrolled for hot spots.

“We have engines in reserve throughout the county,” Carcioppolo said. “Some of the firefighters who cover the east end of L.A. County and Orange County moved personnel to cover our stations.”

In summer, firefighters carry “strike team bags” with extra clothes, MREs (like the military’s meals) and sleeping bags. They have to respond quickly to brush fires, which occur in the Santa Clarita Valley about 4-5 times per week during fire season.

Each station has a separate jurisdiction and respond to a lot of emergency medical services, or EMS, calls that come in. Station 132, which is located at the entrance to Stetson Ranch on Sand Canyon Road, responds to incidents on the 14 freeway, in addition to brush fires.

When fires break out, adjoining stations send backup, and the L.A. County Fire Dept. joins forces with the U.S. Forest Service.

“We integrate very well together,” Capt. Popp said. “We use common frequencies and common terminology.”

With big blazes such as the Woolsey Fire, there’s an incident command system that serves as the hub of the team efforts.

The strike team reports to “staging,” Carcioppolo said. “With big fires you’re a little more cautious, because there’s a reason it’s so big and you don’t know the area,” he said. “You’re more focused on doing the basics right, to set you up for success.”

Firefighter Aurelio Sanchez and the Station 132 team went to Malibu Lake while the fire was active. One of the challenges, he said, was ineffective radio communication, so they sent a message by computer warning that they were starting independent action. First, a crew from another engine informed them of hazards, and then Sanchez’ team drove the truck uphill, where they joined others in protecting structures – saving as many homes as possible.

As bad as the damage from the Woolsey Fire, the Camp Fire was the worst in California history. It was the result of a bad combination, according to Capt. Popp: high temperatures, wind, and a heavy fuel load.

“You have all the trees and undergrowth,” he explained. “Everything is receptive, so the rate of spread is incredibly fast.”

Preventing Fires
A lot of residential fires begin when an “ember cast” gets under the eaves of a house.

It’s not entirely preventable, of course, but if you have enough advanced notice, the firefighters said, cover the attic vents. That’s where embers tend to enter the structure and burn the whole house.

Clearing brush around your house is, of course, important. But also, you should move combustibles away from your house, such as firewood, as well.

Properties with regularly irrigated lawns help to deflect the spread of a blaze, but hosing down your roof doesn’t help much, the three firemen said.

Local fire stations are calling in extra personnel because of the threat of mudslides. Residents can pick up sand bags from the stations and some of them also have sand onsite. If the station nearest you doesn’t have sand to fill the bags, fire personnel can direct you to one that does.

For more information, you can swing by one of Canyon Country’s stations for written materials. There’s a “personal wildfire action plan” called “Ready! Set! Go!” and a booklet called “Homeowner’s Guide for Flood, Debris, and Erosion Control.”

In the meantime, though the threats will come and go, Canyon Country can rest easy because, as Carcioppolo said, an important part of their job is to “adapt and overcome.” And they’re prepared.

Code Ninjas

| Canyon Country Magazine | December 19, 2018

Choosing an after-school activity for a child leads most parents to the same dilemma: finding an activity that’s safe, educational, and most importantly, they really like it.

Santa Clarita parents are in luck, because a new business opened this month for kids age 7-14, especially those who enjoy computers. Code Ninjas offers after-school coding classes – both a drop-in class and weeklong camps – with all the flare of a martial arts experience.

The classroom is called the “dojo,” like a martial arts studio. The students are “ninjas” and instructors are “senseis.”

When they start, the ninjas are white belts, and as they learn, over time, they work their way through the 10 levels to become “black belt” code ninjas, which takes approximately four years, start to finish. At the black belt stage the ninja is able to design an app and even market it to sell in the app store.

Similar to a gym membership, the kids can show up any time for two one-hour sessions, where they work on building their own video game as they learn to code. Drop-in hours are 3-7 p.m. Monday-Friday and Saturdays 9 a.m.-noon.

“We start out with foundations of coding and it builds to become more advanced as they come through,” said Center Director Heather Cunado. “There’s nothing like it.”

It’s the first of its kind in Santa Clarita and the franchise owner is local resident Matt Reeser. More than 300 Code Ninjas sites are opening across the country.

The Code Ninjas motto is “Kids have fun, parents see results.”

“Our main goal is balancing – to make sure kids have fun while learning to code,” Cunado said.

The first camp will be held the last week of winter break – Jan. 7-11. The morning session is Java Script Camp from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. The afternoon is Minecraft Create Camp from noon to 3 p.m.

Code Ninjas is holding its first “Parents Night Out” beginning this month, just in time for holiday shopping, or whatever else they want to do. Children can be dropped off from 7-10 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14 and they will spend the evening building video games, doing STEM activities and eating pizza.

The community is invited to the grand opening of Code Ninjas on December 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can see the facility, meet the staff, enjoy refreshments and take part in a raffle.

Code Ninjas is located at 26867 Sierra Highway at Via Princessa in Newhall. You can contact them by calling 661-360-5050 or email SantaClaritaca@codeninjas.com. The website is Codeninjas.com

Better by the Dozen – Boron Family Leaves their Mark on Canyon Country

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | December 7, 2018

The last few issues of Canyon Country Magazine featured Canyon High School’s 50th anniversary celebration, where we met members of the Boron family. Their ties to the area were so compelling that we asked them to share some memories of life at Canyon High School in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Peter and Marilyn Boron and their family came to Canyon Country in 1967 and moved into a new home in a tract named “New Woodlands,” sometimes called “Woodlands II,” in Sand Canyon. Their oldest child was almost 11 at the time, and by May of 1969 they were a family of 12.

Nine of the 10 Boron children graduated from Canyon High School. Oldest son, Steve, chose to attend Crespi High School in the San Fernando Valley, where he played football for coach Harry Welch, who would later coach Steve’s brothers at Canyon High.

Seven girls followed Steve, and then two more boys, in order: Stephen, Peggy, Ann, Mary Jo, Fabienne & Suzette (twins), Stefani, Jenni, Joe and Andy.

Peter Boron, father of 10, was born in 1928 and passed away in 1997 of pancreatic cancer. He worked for Hughes Aircraft for more than 40 years and was influential in establishing Habitat for Humanity in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys and was instrumental in getting the Distinguished Graduate Award started at Canyon High School. Both parents were active in religious education in Canyon Country and a huge presence when Masses were held in the Canyon High gym.

Marilyn Boron added some of her thoughts and memories.
Pete was a very enthusiastic football fan and for a few years moved the chains for Canyon games. He also went to a meeting once to promote girls’ sports at Canyon. I don’t remember who he met with, but I presume that after that, whatever the issues were, they improved.

Our family enjoyed attending Canyon and were active participants in school affairs. I was often late in picking up my kids and their friends, too often, after practices or events. I just forgot!

Stephen Boron graduated from Crespi High School in 1974. Born in 1956, Stephen paid for his own tuition and rode his motorcycle down to Encino to attend Crespi, because he wanted to play football and join their wrestling team. He still holds the records for tackles in a game & tackles in a season.

Steve attended Cal Poly Pomona on a football scholarship and graduated with a degree in engineering. He became a pilot in the United States Air Force and for Delta Airlines. He died in 2005 of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
Peggy Boron-Downs graduated from CHS in the class of 1975. She is a court reporter living in Santa Clarita.

We all went to Sulphur Springs Elementary. At the junior high level, the south side of Sand Canyon at Soledad was bussed to Placerita with kids that lived in Princess Homes, instead of us going to Sierra Vista. I was sorry to leave my junior high friends, but looked forward to meeting new friends in high school.

My fondest memories of Canyon are the art classes with Bob Brown, who was very supportive of students’ creativity; and algebra with Mr. McGreevy. I loved attending the football games and dances afterwards with a live band, and I have a great memory of being nominated to the CHS Senior Homecoming court with a few other wonderful classmates. Our fathers escorted us.
I took business classes and had Ms. Black as a teacher in Gregg Shorthand, which piqued my interest in the field of court reporting.
All of us had a great time when we’d load up the van and go to the Mustang Drive-in. There was a playground at the base of the big screen. Every once in a great while, dad would take us to dinner at Sir George’s Smorgasbord by Friendly Valley – always a treat.

Ann Rhys graduated from CHS in 1976. She is a controller for Rush Truck Insurance Services in San Antonio and lives in Canyon Lake, Texas.

Memories of Canyon High School teachers were, notably, taking driver’s education with Mr. Kevorken and home economics class with Ms. Levand. I learned my math foundation from Mr. Burrill, and I remember a field trip to Rodeo Drive with Mr. Mast’s sociology class.

Ms. Black in the business department repeated a saying – “I don’t want to hear excuses, I want to see results.”

Back then Canyon had a legal smoking area on the balcony of the girls’ gym, and there were occasional concerts at lunch on the quad. Also, we graduated in red, white and blue gowns.

Mary Jo Widing graduated in 1978. She is retired and living in Dallas, Georgia.

I played volleyball at Canyon High School for three years. I enjoyed eating lunch on the quad with my friends and watching them film “Police Story,” a TV show with David Cassidy.

Mr. Burrill taught math, not one of my strongest subjects, but he was always patient. Once he had to go to a conference and chose a student from each class to teach, including me. The day I presented I was pretty nervous, but it definitely gave me more confidence – I still remember to this day.

I was a foreign exchange student and spent my junior year in France. I had my appendix surgically removed while in France and Mr. Diaz, my favorite biology teacher, kept my appendix in a jar in the science class.

We were Borons. It didn’t matter where we went, someone knew us – our brothers, sisters or our parents. And it wasn’t only in the Santa Clarita Valley, but in the San Fernando Valley, Mammoth Mountain, or at the beach. It was crazy. Even as we got older, this phenomenon continued.

Fabienne McGeever graduated in the class of 1979 with her twin sister, Suzette. She is an administrator with Simpatico Systems and lives in Santa Clarita.

Some experience bad high school years, but my memories of this time are great. I was active! Sports, drama, madrigals & concert choir, ski club and honor society consumed my days, but homework and study most nights. I ended up 75th in a class of 500. My twin was top 10!

As a family, we would go bowling, roller skating, participate in track and field at COC, ski trips to Mammoth Mtn., beach camping, church youth group, choir, and working at Magic Mountain was an SCV requirement. Riding a converted motorcycle or the van got the working-age kids where we needed to be at any given time. Who had time to get into any trouble!? Deciding who got what vehicle when was a challenge. We made it work somehow.

Canyon High shaped my life. My best memories are deciphering Shakespeare in Mr. Moos’ class, being a TA for Mr. Mast, and getting challenged in Mr. DeCoster’s English class – and winning the argument. Of course, my mother showed up to corroborate. I still brought in the home baked cookies, as promised, if I lost. There were trips with choir – songs from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Blue Moon” and “Grease” will always stick in my head … performing in “Little Me” and “Go Ask Alice,” and Christmas concerts. Volleyball was prominent and we all loved every minute of it. I wouldn’t mind doing it all over again!

Suzette Cass graduated in the class of 1979 with her twin, Fabienne. She is a computer programmer at NTT Data in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

I have a vivid memory of sports at Canyon High. The boys played football and the female Borons played volleyball. In 1979 there were four Boron girls on the varsity squad! I also played badminton.

The gym was a fun place. I was the girls’ athletic commissioner my senior year. Being in “politics” was not my forte. The sporting experience encouraged me to coach the volleyball team after graduating, and I rose to varsity volleyball coach for one year.

I recall school being engaging. I liked math and the sciences, although I had to teach myself math, with help from Dad. Dean Hurd, who I admired, was a great science instructor. I did get a degree in computer science from CSUN – Somebody must have done something right!

Since I had lots of sisters around, I knew lots of people. I participated in Concert Choir and Madrigals conducted by Bob Scott. Fabienne and I sang a medley of “Grease” songs in the Rock & Roll concert. That was a blast! I also remember singing “Close To You” by the Carpenters as a trio. I could always sing in public, but never wanted to speak in public, though with my current career I have to give training classes. I do think Canyon High prepared me for my future.

Stefani Brown graduated with the class of 1981. She is a teacher at Kirchgater Elementary School in Elk Grove, California.

My fondest memories were playing sports. We had awesome coaches. I played volleyball, basketball and softball and was named “Athlete of the Year” as a sophomore. We went to CIF in volleyball and basketball and I loved playing on teams with my sisters. One year, four of us Boron Girls played on the varsity volleyball team. Everyone treated each other like family. Coach Masters was like a mother: loving, dedicated and pushing us hard to play better than we thought possible!

The teachers at Canyon were excellent! I was learning higher level math concepts and was challenged in my literature and advanced biology classes. I remember Mr. Diaz teaching us how to hold our books close to our hearts because “we were scholars and these were books of knowledge.” On one assignment I wrote in my lab book that although the experiment was a failure, I had learned quite a bit, and the comment in the margin was, “You would make a great teacher!” And that is what I have become. To this day, I tell my students, “No mistake is bad if you learn something from it.”

I have very fond memories from high school and living in Canyon Country. I’d like to thank all of my teachers, coaches, and family who had an influence and impact on helping to mold me into who I am today!

Jenni Boron-Schaeffer graduated in 1982. She served as a military RN, then practiced as a NICU/PICU RN and is now a certified fertility care practitioner in Chico, California.

I had a great experience at Canyon High. Playing sports was a given. I played basketball, softball and badminton, but volleyball was my passion! And I was fortunate to play collegiate ball at University of San Francisco.

I earned a “Scholar Athlete” award and I really liked school too. My brother Joe would call me a “geek” because I would run to each of my classes – I was so excited to get to them!!! I still have a love of learning!

I hung out with a large group of women athletes and always felt like it didn’t matter what “group” you were in; people were friendly. Being #8 out of 10, it seemed like someone knew me wherever I went. I actually didn’t think we looked alike, so I never understood how people knew I was a Boron.

Having kids go through sports, I feel extremely blessed that I had such awesome coaching at the high school level. I didn’t realize how truly fortunate we were at Canyon. I am guessing that Ardyce Masters, our girls’ athletic director, had a lot to do with it. It’s astonishing that it was so exceptional. Many thank yous to all the naturally amazing teachers and coaches!!

I made a wooden plaque in the Canyon High wood shop with my dad’s motto: “Fix it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Joe Boron graduated in the class of 1984. He was part of the CIF streak at Canyon High School and was such a giving soul. Whenever anyone needed help, he was there. He drove a big truck and shared all he had. His shop classes served him well in his chosen field. He became an airplane mechanic for Van Nuys Airport and we miss him every day! He was born in 1966 and died in 2009 of an unknown heart problem or hepatitis C complications from a blood transfusion.

Andy Boron was in the 1987 graduating class. He is a loan officer at Augusta Financial in Santa Clarita.

I’m the youngest of 10 and the ninth Boron to attend Canyon High School. The path for a successful high school career was carved out by seven remarkably talented and athletic sisters and a brother three years my senior. My brother Joe was an inside linebacker and a member of the first team to play for legendary Harry Welch. There was not a teacher or counselor at Canyon who wasn’t intimately familiar with the Boron Family.

Mr. Mast was the cool sociology teacher who took a personal interest in his students. Mr. Flaherty was a favorite. No one thought Mr. Flaherty was cooler than Mr. Flaherty. He reminded me of a mix between Dean Martin and Knute Rockne. He recruited me to play football my sophomore year, a challenge, since I wanted to make my own athletic path and play basketball for Coach Hayes, who was the nicest guy on campus and proof that nice guys don’t always finish last.

If you could possibly respect, admire and love a man that you hoped drove off a cliff before Monday’s practice … that would be Coach Welch. I was lucky enough to be a part of “The Streak.” Welch appointed me defensive captain my senior year and I wondered if it was the fact he coached my brothers that made him choose me, or perhaps he felt it was a natural fit since I was ASB president.

Mr. Diaz deserves every accolade. He was to science what the teacher in “Mr. Holland’s Opus” was to music. Most of us worked at Magic Mountain while maintaining solid grades and being multi-sport athletes. My impression of Canyon High was that we were a blue-collar community with educators who genuinely loved getting to know their students and to have a hand in their future success.

New Business – E’s Closet

| Canyon Country Magazine | November 20, 2018

If you’re bored with your wardrobe, or at least tired of the usual merchandise on racks at chain stores, last month brought you some new options: the local family-owned store E’s Closet.

Not only is it close to home – near the Canyon Country Post Office – it’s a retail clothing shop for the entire family.

Edna Rodriguez, her husband and three children moved to Santa Clarita less than a year ago, to a community she felt would benefit from some retail options.

“It’s brand name clothing at discounted prices,” said the store owner, who has worked in fashion retail for more than 10 years. “I felt I was ready to take this step of opening my own store and offer people quality clothing that I like to wear.”

Rodriguez said her emphasis is on meeting the needs of the whole family, carrying men’s, women’s and a lot of kids’ clothing. There is casual wear, including workout ensembles, in addition to dresses and dressy separates.

E’s Closet depends on a relationship with vendors Rodriguez established many years ago, which she said are dependable resources that emphasize quality. The store also carries accessories, including earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings, to match the outfits on the racks.

While Rodriguez enjoys dress clothes and jewelry, which she said is one of the reasons she got into the business, she carries clothing for all kinds of styles.

“I talk to a lot of people who are very casual, who like to wear their workout clothing all day,” she said. “I go to the rack with them – if they like casual clothing, I go to the jeans and T-shirts, choosing different things to show them the variety I have. What I want to be known for is customer service. I give everyone individual attention.”

Rodriguez chose the space, which is in the same building as the post office, but at the other end of the strip, because the rent is reasonable and there is a lot of foot traffic.

“The fact that I’m in the back is not the greatest for traffic, but there’s always parking, which is awesome,” Rodriguez said. “There are also a lot of apartment complexes behind the building. I figured there’s a big population I can serve because there are families.”

The Rodriguez family moved from Pasadena and they live in the neighborhood where Newhall and Canyon Country intersect. They became acquainted with the SCV because Edna’s husband, Oscar, often works in Santa Clarita and he has co-workers who live in the area.

“My husband and I talked and said, ‘The little ones need a different school system, and the schools are better out here,’” she said. “’Maybe it’s time to make a move.’”

Their oldest, Oscar, attends College of the Canyons; Tania is a student at Golden Valley High School; and Bryan is at Golden Oak Community School.

“I love it out here,” Edna Rodriguez said. “It’s nice and quiet.”

E’s Closet is located at 18354 Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country. The hours are Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m. You can call the store at 661-367-6173.

Bill Duquette

| Canyon Country Magazine | November 16, 2018

When Bill Duquette won first place at the Santa Clarita Artists Association Art Classic Gala for his sculpture, “The Secret Spot,” there was a little bit of irony in it. Depicting a pair of men sitting with their fishing poles dropped beneath them, the artwork represents a quiet, relaxing time by an artist whose life has been anything but settled. In fact, the 71-year-old has lived in many different states of the country, completed three tours in Vietnam, has retired at least twice, and is now married to a fellow artist who is also busy creating and showing her work.

A native of Saginaw, Michigan, Duquette was a swim champion as a youth, ranked nationally in the 200-yard freestyle. He earned several university scholarships and he was aiming for the 1968 Olympic trials when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps instead.

His service in Vietnam left him with disabilities due to Agent Orange and other factors, Duquette said. Like so many bands of brothers, Duquette still communicates with members of his platoon, who have been together 45 years. They meet once a year somewhere in the United States. Last year the group lost 3-4 men and he estimates his group has about 35-40 individuals still living.

He’s a part of Together We Served, a group that reconnects veterans to one another. Duquette has also employed the services of the Veterans Administration for about 40 years and said he has no complaints. It’s been a helpful resource for him, he said.

When he returned to the States after Vietnam, he worked full-time and attended school through the GI Bill, which took nearly two decades and resulted in multiple degrees, including engineering and graphic design. From 1981-1995 he was a building contractor whose last job was the Edwards Canyon Country Theatre project.

“I finished in ‘96 and retired,” Duquette said. “Then I moved to St. Augustine, Florida and fished.”

Because he had two grandchildren in California, he returned in 2010, which is when he purchased his current home in Greenbrier Mobile Estates.

When Duquette moves to a new city, his modus operandi typically involves finding an art community. While living in Florida he joined the St. Augustine Art Association and became a member of the Oil Painters of America, as well as the Graphic Artists Guild.

“So, I just wanted to find an association here,” he said. “I wanted to find some art people.”

One of Bill Duquette’s favorite works of art is his oil painting of a beloved dachshund, “Jake.”

“Daddy’s Little Valley Girl” by Bill Duquette. He used white oak (as in the street name in the San Fernando Valley) for the base, Duquette used copper to depict a father swinging his daughter.

Duquette painted a series of lighthouses in 2001 and sold limited edition prints of them.

“The Secret Spot” won first place in the sculpture category at the Santa Clarita Artists Association Art Classic Gala last month.

He succeeded in finding other artists in Santa Clarita. But one member, in particular, stood out.

Duquette began collecting the work of some of his colleagues, and one of his favorites was photographer Carrie Dawn.

“I had never met her, didn’t know who she was,” he said. “The Artists Association had a Christmas party one year and she walked up to me and said, ‘I’m Carrie Dawn.’”

Bill and Carrie Duquette were married four years ago. Their home is currently on the market, as the couple – and their pair of parrots – are planning to move up to Pine Mountain Club.

“We just had a show together (at Pine Mountain) two months ago for a whole month,” Duquette said, “at Artworks Community Gallery.”

The couple’s work can also be viewed at the Hyatt Regency Valencia, where the hotel recently completed a remodeling project.

Always inspired, Duquette just returned from an Alaskan cruise, and his paintings are a reflection of what he saw and experienced there. The resulting artwork includes an oil painting with approximately 40 layers of paint that he calls “Golden Falls.”

“The final layer is a clear coat that looks deep,” he said. “It’s almost 3-D.”

Carrie’s work involves photography and Bill paints and creates multimedia sculptures, mostly wire and wood lately. Together the Duquettes are working on an illustrated children’s book of Carrie’s poetry, which should be released in the summer of next year.

Sand Canyon Hotel & Resort

| Canyon Country Magazine | November 16, 2018

Sand Canyon residents are keeping their eyes open and making sure leaders aren’t sleeping on the job where plans for a hotel are being considered.

Approximately 50-60 residents attended a meeting at City Hall last month to hear about the status of a proposed project at Sand Canyon Country Club. Speakers discussed the scope of the proposed changes in the Sand Canyon Hotel & Resort project submitted by CEO Steve Kim.

City associate planner Hai Nguyen presented the project and explained the process involved in the Environmental Impact Report for the 75-acre development. The EIR will study soils, land use, air/water quality and traffic, among other issues.
The “draft EIR” will become available sometime in mid-2019.

There were 14 individuals from the community who spoke publicly. Four leaned in favor of the project, citing the need for commercial resources such as hotels, ballrooms and restaurants.

Others voiced issues reflecting the “10 Points of Concern” drafted by the SCHOA board. Those include:
Water: Is there adequate public water for a project this significant?

Sewage/waste: Is there adequate public sewage infrastructure for a resort of this type and size?

Traffic: Will the required traffic analysis include current studies and future developments (Vista Canyon, Sand Canyon Plaza, Mancara, etc.) and provisions for the continuing increase of traffic on Sand Canyon already impacted by navigation applications? Will such items as proper signalization at 14 Freeway off-ramps, stop signs on Placerita, round-a-bouts, speed humps, etc. be incorporated and addressed in the traffic study?

Access: Will there be secondary access in and out of our community to accommodate the additional traffic, especially during emergency situations? With additional resort personnel & guests, an additional evacuation route is greatly needed.

Special standards district: As a Special Standards District and a rural, equestrian-oriented community, we need trails through and around this development so our Sand Canyon Trails System can connect to the U.S. Forest Service (Wilderness), City Open Space, and to the Golden Valley City Open Space. These trails are the Sand Canyon community’s “paseos.”

Economic analysis: Will there be an Economic Analysis that shows sustainability, especially if ownership changes in the future?

Zoning: Will there be studies and recommendations regarding the significant impact of a zoning change of use? The original approval of the Robinson Ranch Golf Course as Open Space eliminated further residential development for this site, and recognized and established density limits. Will this be re-addressed?

Staffing: What type of executive management staff will be established to run a resort of this magnitude? Will studies and analysis of the project’s significant scale, scope, and activities impacting our community be conducted?

Sand Canyon identity: Will this proposed resort maintain the rural and equestrian flavor of our community?

Lights/noise: What is planned for lights and noise mitigation for the surrounding homeowners who are used to a quiet, country neighborhood?

In approximately a year the proposed project comes before the first meeting of the Santa Clarita Planning Commission. Hotel projects don’t just happen overnight.

For more information, contact project planner Hai Nguyen at hnguyen@santa-clarita.com or call 661-255-4330.

Holiday Jam – Musical Treat Served at Bethlehem Lutheran

| Canyon Country Magazine, Entertainment | November 15, 2018

Chances are your Christmas traditions don’t include a backstage pass experience with dozens of A-list musicians who tour with the likes of Phil Collins, Earth, Wind & Fire and Frankie Valli. Unless, that is, you’ve been on the inside of Canyon Country’s best-kept musical secret for the last 27 years.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church holds an annual concert spearheaded by Robby Robinson, who pulls together about 30 of his friends – also professional musicians – who bring to the public a show called Jam for Jesus. It’s a free three-hour music experience featuring men and women who perform for a living, but do the concert voluntarily.

“The talent level is just off the charts, but more than the talent level is the heart that these musicians have, who are giving their talent – significant talent, I might add – to the Lord,” Robinson said. “You walk into this church and what you get is what you’d expect to see in Radio City Music Hall.”

Front-and-center is Robinson on keyboard, who created the annual event when he was the minister of music at the church in the 1990s, and his brother, Rex Robinson, on bass. Though Rex, an Agua Dulce resident, has retired from touring, both men were in Frankie Valli’s band, and Robby has been Valli’s music director for more than 40 years.

Some of the horns, guitarists, vocalists, etc. are locals who are now professionals, including Andrea Hammond, Roland and Tristan Garcia and Sara Niemietz. Jam for Jesus performers also include musicians who play in the “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol” bands.

The songs in the concert are sacred, Robby said, including a number of Christmas songs. But the group tackles many different styles, from classical to jazz/pop. Far from a rigid performance, it’s what Robby calls “somewhat loose,” where there’s only one rehearsal and a basic script, which he writes in advance.

Like a symphony, these friends of Robby create a blend that fills the rafters, using little musical construction but still following a list of songs and basic arrangements.

“It’s like flying with no net,” Robby said. “It’s a very intimate kind of concert, not formal – you feel like you’re backstage. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve been there.”

One professional who’s “been there” from the beginning is percussionist Richie Garcia. He’s recorded on soundtracks for such films as “The Italian Job” and “Emperor’s New Groove” and toured with Sting, Diana Ross, Brooks and Dunn and many others. His sons, Roland and Tristan, also perform professionally and are frequent members of the Bethlehem Lutheran band.

“It’s an honor to share the stage with my family and some of the most accomplished musicians in Los Angeles year after year,” said Tristan Garcia. “They come together for a time of giving, share their talents and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.”

Meanwhile, their friend and leader Robby Robinson keeps packing a bag. A couple of weeks ago he played in Milwaukee, followed by Chicago, and ended up in Detroit, onstage with Frankie Valli.

Rex Robinson

Last year, the Robinson brothers flew to their hometown of Litchfield, Illinois (population about 7,000) where their mother still lives. Where they held the Robinson Brothers 40th Anniversary Concert, raising more than $100,000 for a small hospital. Some of the Robinsons’ musical colleagues who flew to Litchfield to play included a member of Mel Torme’s band and one of the stars of Broadway’s “Jersey Boys.”

If you attend Bethlehem Lutheran on a Sunday morning it’s possible to hear several of the same musicians. You’re more likely to see Rex Robinson in the worship band than Robby, who is now a minister of music in Simi Valley, where he lives. But his years of leadership give him the ability to speak for many of his musician friends.

“I feel so blessed to do what I do,” Robby said. “And that’s the way these guys feel.”

Bethlehem Lutheran Church is located at 27265 Luther Drive in Canyon Country. Jam for Jesus will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. For more information, call 661-252-0622 or visit BethlehemSCV.com.

Ghost Building

| Canyon Country Magazine | October 9, 2018

Recently, Facey Medical Group moved from the 20,576-square-foot building at 17909 Soledad Canyon Road to their new 37,000-square-foot clinic at 14550 Soledad Canyon Road. If you’ve turned your head when driving past the vacated white building, you probably noticed that now there are two empty buildings side-by-side on Soledad.

Many Canyon Country residents remember when construction began on the orange (still unfinished) commercial property at 17901 Soledad Canyon Road back in 2006. Construction continued for two years and was abandoned when the original owner went through bankruptcy/receivership, according to Mayumi Miyasato of the City of Santa Clarita. It was purchased by Sinanian Development.

The 100,000-square-foot building remains unfinished and there is no word of any plans to complete the construction. It is approved primarily for professional office and some medical office space.

“While the city certainly would like to see the completion of the office building, which would bring jobs and/or other commercial services to the area, the city is unable to require the developer to complete the construction of the office building,” said James Chow, senior planner for the City of Santa Clarita. “From a building and safety standpoint, as long as the structure doesn’t violate any of our building codes and as long as there are no life safety issues, the building may remain in its current condition (unfinished shell).  We have not issued a Certificate of Occupancy for the building, so no portion of the building is legally occupiable.”

According to Chow, the approved use and original function of the building is for professional office space, with some space for medical offices and possibly a small coffee shop or restaurant. These are just two vacant buildings on the east side of the Santa Clarita Valley to put on your watch list. But please keep your eyes on the road when you’re behind the wheel!

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