Montessori Center School held its 20th annual benefit auction and dinner turning Rockwood Women’s Center into an “Enchanted Forest.” As Head of School Nelda Nutter states, “From its ‘once upon a time’ four decades ago to its ‘happily ever after’ present and future, our story has its share of heroes, magical moments, challenges and triumphs.” Many of the heroes, including faculty, staff and parents, were attending this event, whose proceeds help fund scholarships, capital improvements and the future permanent site for the school.

No one minded the wind blowing us around on the Enchanted Terrace as we bid on the huge silent auction. The children’s art was saved for the live auction. How can parents resist? The auction raised about $215,000.

Montessori Dad Bryan Babcock and wife, Lisa, donated the wine for the cocktail hour. I remember visiting the winery in the ‘80s when Bryan was one of the youngest winemakers in the Santa Ynez Valley. Now he is the only American to be named one of the “Top Ten Small Production Winemakers in the World” by the James Beard Foundation. Way to go, Bryan.

Another treat of the evening was provided by young entrepreneur Matti Anttila and wife, Jennifer. They are owners of a new Brazilian rum company called Cabana Cachaca Company that imports Cachaca rum. “This rum is twice distilled from fresh sugar cane instead of molasses that is the usual rum,” Matti explains. The popular drink of the evening was the Cabana with lime, lemon, sugar and mint leaves.

Entering the Enchanting Forest (dining room) was like a fairy tale with each table having its unique centerpiece of floral and fauna, lanterns and moss trees with votive candles hanging in the branches. There were giant butterflies “resting” on the walls. Purple and green were the theme colors. Kudos go to décor chair Pascale Beale-Groom and floral designer Tricia Fountaine, who donated her professional time for this creation.

Head of School Nelda called event chair Ella Brittingham a queen and said, “It not only takes a village, it takes a tribe” to have an event like this. Unfortunately, the tribe is so big I can only name a few. Steven Giles from Sage and Onion was the caterer. Caroline Harrah was in charge of finding “stuff” for the silent auction and Michele McGovern Gilbert was the communications and marketing chair for the auction. One of my favorite writers, Starshine Roshell (a new mom), wrote the catalog in Shakespearean style – “A fair maiden ne’er wrote so sweet (whilst waking with a newborn).”

The printing on the cocktail napkins, though, said it all: “You are a hero! Our school thanks you! Our children thank you! Montessori Center School 2006.”

The Great Race Place

My husband, Don, has never forgotten betting on the wrong horse. Back in the 1940s his aunt used to pick him up from school and take him to Wheeling Downs Race Track in West Virginia. He bet a whopping (in that era) $2 on War Admiral to win in the Santa Anita Handicap. Anyone who saw “Seabiscuit” knows who won. Don still roots for War Admiral when we watch the movie.

A local group from Santa Barbara Bank & Trust Our Gang Travel recently headed for Santa Anita on a bus for a day at the track. We “jumped” on a tram for a tour of the highly secured stable area. “We stable two thousand horses here during the season (some worth millions), which runs from late December through April,” our guide Greg Grohs told us. “And six hundred people live right here on the grounds near the horses. There is a rec center that serves meals, has TVs etc. Horses like company, so there is a potbellied pig who has the run of the place, along with roaming goats, rabbits and chickens.”

As we went by Seabiscuit’s old stall Greg said, “Most of the stalls are twelve-by-twelve but Seabiscuit’s is twelve-by-twenty so there was room for his companion pony Pumpkin, who kept his spirits up. It costs one hundred dollars per day to board a horse and one hundred dollars for shoeing once a month. The used hay from the stalls is sent to mushroom farms for recycling.”

Everyone’s up around 4 or 5 am when the horses are fed grain. Then morning exercise of a gallop of one or two miles at 20 to 25 miles per hour. “You’d better hope your horse does thirty or forty miles an hour in the afternoon,” Greg joked. After exercise the animals are walked for one to two hours to cool down. There is a full equine hospital and 25 state-licensed veterinarians on board. In the morning the horses wear the colors of the trainers and in the afternoon the colors of the owners.

The horses weigh around 1,000 pounds and the jockeys a mere 115 pounds. Several famous trainers call Santa Anita “home” – one of the most successful being D. Wayne Lucas, whose horses have brought in $200 million. He has been quoted as saying, “I cannot make a champion but I can teach how to be one.” As our stable tour came to an end we learned that seagulls are smart. They fly into Santa Anita December 18 and fly out on closing day in April.

During lunch in the Club Court part of the grandstand, Bob Ike from the Los Angeles Times talked to us about handicapping, “That is how to pick the wrong horse! The track is a good place to bring kids to learn math. Like how long is a furlong, winning by tenths of a second (fractions), betting odds and more.” He laughed, “The racetrack is very spiritual. Nowhere is there so much praying going on.”

Santa Anita (312 acres) opened Christmas Day, 1934 and more than 30,000 people filled the grandstand. The Los Angeles Times reported, “Celebrities like Al Jolson, Clark Gable and Will Rogers rubbed elbows at the new track,” but it was soon the horses that became the stars. The famous have all been here, like Citation, Affirmed and Alysheba. Fighting Furraris was one of several horses that played Seabiscuit in the film. He now appears on weekends. Much of the filming was done at Santa Anita and in our Santa Ynez Valley. There is a life-size statue of Seabiscuit and his jockey George Woolf in the Paddock area.

Since the first race was dedicated to Our Gang Travel Club, my husband and I got to be in the Winner’s Circle for a photo posing with the horse, She’s an Eleven, the jockey and owner. It was easy to pretend we were really part of the Sport of Kings, though I only won a paltry three bucks.

Flower Power

To walk into Earl Warren Showground for the 61st International Orchid Show was like jumping into a rainbow. Who knew when I was a small town teenage girl that there were more than the one kind of orchid everyone hoped to be given for the Junior Prom – purple, white and rather large. I now know there are about 25,000 species and only Antarctica doesn’t grow them. Orchids may soon beat out poinsettias as the favorite flower.

As we strolled through the sumptuous displays we saw entries from all over the world, including New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Malaysia. The judges had been busy awarding trophies and ribbons. The John Payne Quartet played jazz while guests pinned on their free orchid corsages (unless you were wearing leather) and sipped Brander and Beckman wines. Everyone “dived into” the hearty tri-tip sandwiches and gourmet crab, chicken and brie quesadillas with mango sauce for dipping.

Sansum Diabetes Research Institute (SDRI) put on the show with co-chairs Yolanda Baptiste and Sandra Svoboda at the helm. SDRI Development Director Rochelle Rose greeted guests as they arrived. Gold Sponsor was Mid-State Bank & Trust, Silver Sponsors were KEYT Channel 3, Sensys Medical, Inc., and Tom, Jr. and Nancy Crawford along with more than a dozen Bronze Sponsors.

Prior to the gala there had been a Diabetes Education & Health Fair free and open to the public for three hours. CEO and Chief of SDRI Dr. Lois Jovanovic told me, “There are fifteen thousand people in Santa Barbara county with diabetes and more that don’t know they have it.” The late Dorothy Shea was honored with a Phalaenopsis orchid named after her. She was a devoted board trustee and supporter of SDRI.

If you need an orchid fix don’t miss the 62nd Orchid Show in 2007.