Monthly Archives: May 2013

Embrace the Santa Cruz Challenge

challenge“Start with Yourself,” is the motto created by local LeTa Jussila and it encourages concentration on one’s own health before helping others. In a country filled with citizens who are overweight and stressed out, Jussila is hoping to help the country become healthy physically, mentally and spiritually with the Santa Cruz Challenge. According to Jussila, change needs to “start local if you want to create a ripple effect.” Keeping that in mind, beginning on March 7, participants will have the opportunity to visit various fitness studios around town and attend seminars to learn how to improve their diets, relationships, and their lives as a whole.

Every week, locals can engage in different challenges: one to enhance their physical health and another to better other parts of their life such as their finances, their actions to help the environment, and their relationships. Weekly fitness themes include yoga, martial arts, dance and spinning. By offering many different types of exercise, Jussila hopes to “match people up with things that excite them.” Unlike other fitness competitions, the Challenge urges participants to focus on improving every part of their lives rather than just their bodies.

The seminars each week are one-hour long and help contestants achieve overall health—because … when a person’s finances or relationships are disordered, for instance, it affects their mental and physical health, as well. One of the seminars dealing with improving relationships is led by Rev. Deborah Johnson, the founder of the omni faith institution, Inner Light Ministries. John Amaral, a prominent energy healer whose work in the field of Network Spinal Analysis, will also host a seminar on how to reduce stress through increased consciousness and breath work.

The challenge can unravel in one of two ways. Participants can choose the measurable option in which they take a fitness and endurance test and have their body composition evaluated using BioImpedance Analysis. After 12 weeks of exercise, participants are re-evaluated and the one with the greatest percentage of improvement wins the grand prize of $2,000. Runners up receive a surfboard, a bicycle, and a Santa Cruz weekend staycation at the Dream Inn.

In the second option, contestants gain points by exercising, eating healthy and participating in weekly events. Although this option is still challenging, participants will not qualify for the major prizes. Instead, they can win massages and acupuncture treatments, Feng Shui services in their homes, and spa visits.

The holistic methods used in the course of the Challenge stem from Jussila’s background in Chinese Medicine. Jussila, who was born during the Vietnam War, found comfort and inspiration amidst the beauty of Santa Cruz when she moved to the city a decade ago to work toward her master’s degree in Chinese medicine from Five Branches University. While residing in the picturesque town, she became struck with the idea that, “We all want to live in a place where people make good choices.” From this seed that was planted grew a movement to encourage complete health and create long-lasting lifestyle changes. |  Christina Kharbertyan

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Field to Fork: First Event of The Taste


ff2“I only know two things to be true: wine is fun. And free wine tastes better than wine that you pay for,” said Fred Dame, a Master Sommelier, in his wine seminar entitled “How to Taste Wine like a Master Sommelier.” In the seminar held on the first day of The Taste food and drink festival, we learned about wines from visual, olfactory, and taste perspectives.

The first leg of the festival centered on farm-to-table cuisine, and the beverages that accompany them. A treat for all the senses, with mountains of food samples such as fried avocado wedges with Thai chile sauce from Avalon Grille (located a hop, skip, and jump across the Pacific to Catalina Island), The Taste truly gifted attendees an extravagant tasting experience. Creative pairings of flavors were abundant at each booth; one of the more memorable dishes emerged from Crème Caramel LA with its emerald plum and almond crème caramel which had delicate flavors of plum and almond extract.

To accompany the sweets and savories were wines, beers and spirits from all over the California, ranging from the dry, acidic Chardonnay of Bernardus Winery to the sweet, rosy Moscato of Rose ‘N’ Blum. In addition to the food and wine, the organic spirits were a breath of fresh air. The most notable were Farmer’s botanical organic gin and Crop organic vodka which made refreshing cocktails.

ff1Organic ingredients were prevalent throughout the entire event, such as the dishes at Blvd 16 like chilled Piquillo pepper and strawberry soup, all of which were made with organic produce from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. The panel “State of the Farmer’s Market” included three speakers: Tara Kolla, Diana Rodgers, and Jordan Toft. Kolla is an independent grower, Rodgers serves as the manager of the Sunset Strip Farmer’s Market, and Toft is the executive chef of Eveleigh. The three speakers discussed the role of local and organic ingredients in restaurants and the future of farmers markets in Los Angeles.

In the panel, Rodgers revealed the reason why farmers markets are in such high demand in Los Angeles at the moment. “They are real community builders,” she said. “Every little town wants one. The food is there and the food brings people together.” This idea rang even truer being spoken in the center of one of the largest gatherings of food enthusiasts in California.

So much of what humans consume on a daily basis pleases and utilizes every one of our senses. Food festivals give us a chance to fuel and exercise these senses and make them more attuned to nuances in flavor. By tasting foods we have never heard of, such as a salad made with Freekeh grain, or partaking in this essential community of food enthusiasm, we get back in touch with a basic instinct in being human, the instinct to connect with one another through what we eat.

Night of the Alien Film Review



In true Santa Cruz fashion, the movie, Night of the Alien, playing at the Santa Cruz Film Festival, revolves around themes of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, not to mention the psychedelic and supernatural. The movie was written and directed by Vaughn Verdi and co-produced by Pia Helm, who grew up in Santa Cruz. Night of the Alien is a micro-budget film about a mind-bending compilation of strange occurrences all in an effort to save the world.

A mash-up of many different cinematic genres, Helm claims the movie was once described by Verdi as, “The Hangover meets Starman somewhere in the Twilight Zone.” It goes like this: A group of stoners and pill-poppers are convinced by a hitchhiking alien from the planet Zoltran to go on a mission to save Earth by creating a band to win American Idol. Throughout the film, the characters are constantly high or drugged out, begging the question: Is all the action in the movie a consequence of their hallucinations or is it a reality?

The quasi-schizophrenic plot may take a second or third viewing to fully understand and will make you wonder if you are, in fact, the one that is high. The “magical crew” is composed of actors who worked on the film without pay and portray a wide array of characters. From the main character, The Lord of Evil and Darkness, played by Scott C. Leeds, a Johnny Depp doppelganger, who is never sober throughout the film, to the silver clad, amulet wearing, drumming alien who wants to save Earth, your mind will be swimming as the story takes you through the deserts of Southern California and into the Vortex of Destiny. In all senses of the phrase, “It’s a trip,” and the creators intended it to be that way.

The non-linear plot is “completely out of the box” and goes along the lines of Quentin Tarantino. Fran, an aspiring singer, is completely dependent on her father for money and she wants a pet that is easy to take care of. On her way to pick up a fish tank with her best friend, The Lord of Evil and Darkness, they stop to pick up a hitchhiker claiming to be an alien. She reveals to them that they must form a band, since Fran is a singer and The Lord of Evil and Darkness used to be a guitarist.

Along the way, they meet many unscrupulous characters such as an effeminate drug lord who threatens to shoot all who cannot answer the question, “Who is the 24th president of the United States?”; a medieval reenactment battler who gives out prescription drugs; an heir of a huge sum of money who is obsessed with conspiracy theories and has dreams of creating a porn empire; not to mention Helm’s favorites, King Taco, a stoner security guard who plays bass guitar, and Danny, a mentally challenged window washer who finds clarity only when on drugs. The lives of these complicated individuals intertwine in an attempt to save the world from imminent destruction.

Shooting of the film began in December 2009 and the film was not completed until March of this year. With all the work she put into making the film a success, from scheduling to props to sending the film to multiple film festivals in hopes of being accepted, Helm admits that the film was really a “labor of love.” A graduate from San Francisco State University with a TV production degree and having worked as a manager of a video store for five years, Helm has always had a passion for the television and film business. She truly got her start when moving to Los Angeles and meeting fiancé and co-producer of Night of the Alien, Rob Howeth. Due to all of her efforts, Helm hopes that “people go out and see it. There’s a lot to be got from it. It’s refreshing and something they’ve never seen before.”

The local motto, “Keep Santa Cruz Weird,” is perfectly exemplified in this film and fits in among the many unique residents. Helm is “thrilled to have Night of the Alien shown in Santa Cruz. It feels cool and surreal” because the Rio Theater is where she saw E.T. with her grandparents as a child. Everyone in Santa Cruz who watches Night of the Alien will be able to relate to the funky, psychedelic vibe of the characters and plot because they closely resemble the aura of our own small town. Although the end of the movie poses many questions, Helm hopes that after viewing the film, audience members will discuss and interpret the movie over a cup of java in a coffee shop.